Warren Ellis talks Netflix's Castlevania
If you're into comic books at all, you probably know the name Warren Ellis. His most famous work might be the cyberpunk story Transmetropolitan, his work defining the Wildstorm universe with comics like Planetary and The Authority, or his six-issue runs for Marvel on Secret Avengers and Moon Knight.
Currently, he's putting out the independent books Injection and Trees for Image and reimagining the old '90s Wildstorm superhero universe as a taut science fiction/conspiracy book in DC's The Wild Storm. His novella Normal is now available in paperback.
Ellis is also the writer and co-producer for Castlevania, which debuted yesterday on Netflix. We were able to ask him a few questions about the show.
I remember you discussing a Castlevania direct-to-DVD movie more than 10 years ago while you were putting out the Bad Signal, but it seemed like this project was stuck in development hell until relatively recently. Can you talk about the road this project's taken for you?
Honestly, I'd forgotten all about it. 10 years ago, I was [hired] to write a Castlevania movie, and the project stalled for reasons I'm still not entirely clear on. In any case, it went away, and I moved on. I have a feeling I've written two novels and one novella since then, as well as god-knows-how-many graphic novels, a few tv scripts, and etcetera. Late in 2015, I got a call from Kevin Kolde at Frederator telling me that they'd sold Castlevania, with my script, to Netflix, and asking me if I would please turn that script into four half-hour TV episodes, and also write a continuation that would fill out a one-season order. I had to spend an hour grubbing around in my storage systems just to find the last draft of the original script. So I was a little taken by surprise.
So, I have no idea what happened in the intervening decade, but by 2016, I was working on a rewrite of a script that was 10 years old. So that was a little odd, yes. Also, pretty much the worst thing you can ask a writer to do because you're just spending all day swearing at your younger self for being such a useless hack.
Art by James Jean, for the original Castlevania project.
What did you do to familiarize yourself with the series for the project? This isn't exactly a series with a firm continuity, and much of it changed over the course of the last few games.
I'm not a gamer, and there was no access to the original game to be had anyway -- at least, not 10 years ago. Luckily, even then there was an enthusiastic fan base who put an awful lot of information up on the web. So, thanks to the fans, there was a great deal of material for me to draw on.
One of the things I like about your work is that you're usually trying to do something new with a project, such as experimenting with the format, pacing, or price of a comic. What were your design goals with Castlevania?
Well, as noted, the original thinking all happened 10 years ago -- this is before Game of Thrones made it to television, in fact, or even Vikings -- so I was trying to create an adult-oriented medieval fantasy for the screen without a lot of other people really working in that space for me to push against. My goals were really to try and put a human face on this kind of weirdness, to find the relatable (or at least funny) moments between the plot beats and the action and try and make them breathe
This led to poor Richard Armitage having to voice act his journey up a medieval shit-pipe.
Can I just say here that our actors have been amazing, and have really lifted the piece beyond my every hope and expectation? We managed to convince an amazing cast to join us for this insane gig. One of my favorite things is that Alejandra Reynoso's Twitter background pic is now the selfie she took with Tony Amendola during a Castlevania recording session.
How much of a say did you have in when and where the story took place? Obviously, the geography's fairly well set in CV, but the various stories are set across the better part of a thousand years. Why CVIII and not, say, Simon's Quest or Dawn of Sorrow?
There's not an exciting or illuminating answer to this one, sorry. I was asked to adapt one specific story.
Is the series still set within the CV timeline, the way you said the D2DVD movie was?
Near as, damnit? It's CVIII, as per instruction, so it remains set pretty much within that period.
How much, if anything, does the series have in common with that treatment for the earlier film? Rich Johnston has put up a saved copy of one of your production blogs, and I've noticed that Lisa Tepes is in a script sample there, as well as the Netflix series's cast list.
I made a bunch of cuts and rewrites to accommodate and take best advantage of the new four-episode structure -- I think I lost a character or two, and removing maybe half a dozen scenes? The rewriting was done in early 2016, so a lot of that is fuzzy in my memory now. I write a lot, and I am really quite old now. But, speaking generally, this four-part opening is essentially the script I wrote 10 years ago, and my contracted task was to adapt that script for an episodic framework, not write a new one. The second, forthcoming part of Season 1 is, however, all new territory.
Is the goat scene still in?
Apparently so! And you should hear some of the things I've forced actors to say in the second part of Season 1, for 2018...
Stay tuned to GameSkinny for all things Castlevania.