Lit mashup master shares rapid rise

by Sofya Levina / Beacon Staff • March 22, 2012

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Seth Grahame-Smith started his career writing quirky non-fiction.
Seth Grahame-Smith started his career writing quirky non-fiction.

A million stories walk down the star-studded avenues of Hollywood. Although there is no right path on the road to recognition, author, screenwriter, and producer Seth Grahame-Smith shared his journey as a struggling writer and producer through the Hollywood maze with Emerson students on Tuesday night.

Grahame-Smith is best known for his book Pride and Prejudice and Zombies (which hit number three on the New York Times bestseller list in April 2009), a literary mashup of Jane Austen’s classic novel and tales of the undead. 

Despite his current notoriety, Grahame-Smith was a late bloomer. After graduating from Emerson in 1998 with a film degree, he set out for the sunny hills of Hollywood. His career did not take off when the wheels of the plane touched the hallowed ground.

“People were getting recognized and I wasn’t. I knew a guy who got to direct something with Robin Williams and I was so jealous,” said Grahame-Smith during his Q&A in the Bright Family Screening Room. “Why wasn’t I getting all of these opportunities?  I was the one sitting in my underwear, half-drunk in the middle of the night, writing.”

His first 10 years in Los Angeles were not easy. Grahame-Smith spent the majority of his time writing for Quirk Books: a publishing company that, its website claims, specializes in “all things awesome.” Grahame-Smith wrote a wide range of books including The Big Book of Porn: A Penetrating Look at the World of Dirty Movies and How to Survive a Horror Movie: All the Skills to Dodge the Kill. One conversation with his publisher would drive him from this peculiar non-fiction. The idea of making a mash up of a novel without any funding pushed Grahame-Smith and his editor into an intense search through the public domain of books.

“I talked to my editor, Jason Rekulak, and I begged him to let me write something fiction. We didn’t have any money to buy rights so we had to look for something in the public domain. After making lists of potential works, we decided on Pride and Prejudice,” said Grahame-Smith during the Q&A. “I owe that moment of inspiration to my editor, Jason. He was the one who realized the two ingredients [Jane Austen and zombies] would work together,” he later told the Beacon in an interview (Read the interview here).

In a single week, Grahame-Smith’s book was put onto The New York Times bestseller list and he had an agreement with MTV to produce his show, The Hard Times of RJ Berger — a coming-of-age story about a nerd in high school who finally gets the attention of his peers for his large penis. For Grahame-Smith, a single idea changed the mean streets of Hollywood into a golden land of opportunity. 

Currently, Grahame-Smith is working on film adaptations of his novels: Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter is set to be released this summer, while Pride and Prejudice and Zombies is planned for 2013. He also drafted the screenplay for Tim Burton’s Dark Shadows, which comes out in May. His company KatzSmith is planning a sequel to Beetlejuice starring Michael Keaton.  

Grahame-Smith acknowledged that his success can disappear just as quickly as he gained it. He said his goal is to fight the tides of Hollywood and stay relevant.

“I’d still like to be at a home studio, making films,” said Grahame-Smith during his interview. “But basically, I hope I’m still invited to the party in five years, because I worked hard to get in and  I want to stay for as long as I possibly can.” 

Jason Madanjian, Beacon staff, contributed reporting.