EXCLUSIVE: Interview With RESIDENT EVIL: RETRIBUTION Novelization Writer John Shirley
John Shirley is a critically acclaimed cyberpunk, sci-fi and horror writer, writing titles such as City Come-Walkin' and Dracula In Love, as well as the first screenplay of The Crow. He has also written many tie-ins including Constantine and Doom. His short story collection Black Butterflies won a Bram Stoker, the International Horror Guild Award and was one of the Publisher’s Weekly best books of 1998. You can learn more about John and his work by clicking HERE to visit his website. Thanks to Titan Books' Tom Green, I was able to submit my questions to the writer about his latest project - the novelization of Resident Evil: Retribution - and much more besides, including The Crow and his interest in writing for Marvel or DC at some point in the near future.
Critically acclaimed writer John Shirley talks to us in detail about penning the novelization of Resident Evil: Retribution for Titan Books and also goes on to look back at his career writing horror, the big screen adaptation of The Crow, and much, much more.
For our readers who may not be familiar with your work, could you tell us a little about yourself?
I'm a screenwriter, a novelist, a writer of short stories, lately a graphic novelist--my best known screenplay is The Crow (the original one). I wrote the first four drafts of the film, and share credit with David Schow. Closing a circle, I guess, IDW comics asked me to write a new The Crow graphic novel (first two parts are out as separate comics), The Crow: Death and Rebirth. I wrote some of the first cyberpunk novels, like City Come A-Walkin' and A Song Called Youth, and a good deal of horror: Demons, Crawlers, Black Butterflies--that one was awarded the Bram Stoker Award from the Horror Writers Association. My most recent novel is a dark, action-intense semi-apocalyptic near future novel, Everything Is Broken. I've written movie novelizations--like Constantine, and like the Hellblazer novels based on the character John Constantine; and a good many tie in novels, like Batman: Dead White, and novels inspired by videogames, eg Bioshock: Rapture, and Borderlands: Unconquered.
What is it about the horror genre which most appeals to you?
I go way back to my childhood, catching creature features, the occasional monster movie at the drive-in, reading Edgar Allan Poe, HP Lovecraft, Machen, people like that. Later on I was pretty stoked by Ray Bradbury's October Country, and books by Richard Matheson (creator of I Am Legend among other things) and Charles Beaumont. As a young man I read a good deal of Clive Barker. And it was all about the implication that the world has secret shadowy places in it where miraculous, if frightening, things can happen; that life can go on after death, that the existence of demons implies angels, that--as happens in most horror--the darkest places offer a glimmer of light, a way out. And going through that darkness is a grand adventure. What would any adventure tale--even an action movie, or the Lord of the Rings--be...without the villain? Horror villains,too, have a certain coolness, a certain charisma. Look at Hannibal Lecter!
Can you tell us about your latest project, the novelization of Resident Evil: Retribution?
Titan Books asked me to do it and the novelization seemed like it'd be a bit of an "E Ticket Ride" of a project. It's a very fast paced action/horror story, which is always a blast, and Alice, who's beautiful as well as deadly, is delightful to think about. Resident Evil: Retribution is of course the latest film in the Resident Evil movie franchise, inspired by the videogames. It takes up where the last movie left off, on that mysterious ship Alice and friends discover off the coast of Los Angeles, the cargo of sleeping people awakened, set free on the deck...and a fleet of attack choppers from the Umbrella Corporation on the horizon. Alice gets blasted off the deck (after raising hell first of course) and finds herself "rendered", so to speak, to an Arctic base--a retrofitted Soviet base, complete with old USSR-built nuclear subs. She's tortured with sonic weapons and isolation...until a way opens for her to escape her cell. She then kicks ass throughout the base, and discovers secret models of parts of major cities and suburban areas used in testing the T-Virus...and ongoing testing, involving zombie horrors. Major characters from the last film are deployed and developed, clones are underfoot, mind control is used on some of those characters...and new ever more monstrous monsters are stomping around. What's not to like? All of this--every bit of the script--appears in my novelization. I also expanded bits and created some new characters so a full novel could arise seamlessly from all the fertile elements of the script...Characters like Jill Valentine and Chris Redfield and Ada Wong and others are fleshed out.
What was it like for you as a writer to explore this world?
Mostly lots of fun, since there are so many wild dark fantasy elements to admire and play with, but also it's a good deal of work, as I have to absorb the world of Resident Evil, with its extensive history and characters. And I had to do all that in a contractually-defined window of time. So it can be intense. But it's a good action/horror script, and the whole series is brimming with ideas and riotous adventure...so while it's hard work it's never boring.
Could you take us through the process of adapting a film like this into a novelization?
I watched all the Resident Evil films up to Retribution, in sequence,took notes, and tried to simply osmotically absorb the feel, the atmosphere of it. Then I explored Resident Evil film wikis, as well as the videogame wikis, and other online sources. I couldn't draw on the game too much as there are occasions where the movie has its own separate reality from the games. But I did use material from the games backstory. I had to do some flashbacks to give Jill and Alice novel heft, and used game information as well as my own imagination for that. But as with Bioshock: Rapture I was careful not to contradict the source material. That is, I enhanced it without contradicting it. I did a prologue that sort of summed up some of the high points of Alice's past career in earlier films, to bring readers up to speed or remind them of what had come before, and organizing that also helped me absorb her history, and the Resident Evil world. I had to research the various kinds of resident evil zombies, monsters, living dead, mutants, and so on--and the creators of the games and films having rich imaginations, there was a lot to research there. The cloning aspect is intriguing so I looked for ways to use that dramatically...adding some characters of my own that way.
Which of the character's did you most enjoy writing and why?
Ada Wong is a vital, sexy, intense bad-ass character; the villains, too, are always fun to write. Since I'm required to be (and prefer to be!) one of the "good guys" in life, it's always satisfying to write evil characters, and to think from their point of view. It's an escape into a kind of dark psychology we do well to avoid in real life! Alice also is a great character. She lets nothing stop her yet she has depth, and a shadowy history with all kind of possibilities.
Have you seen the film? If so, what did you think?
No but I intend to. I enjoyed the script--I've seem some trailers and I like the way the action and the monsters are visualized.
Could you tell us about what it was like to work on The Crow?
That's a long story. Essentially I took the original comic book by James O'Barr to Jeff Most, he became attached as a producer, Edward Pressman optioned it and got the studio involved, based on my treatment showing how it could be a movie. There are always creative differences with people but Alex Proyas is fantastically talented so he came up with a great movie, despite the central tragedy of the film's making, the accidental death of Brandon Lee, who played The Crow, as the film was nearly finished. That had a big emotional impact on me of course.
What was it like to work on an animated series like Iron Man Armored Adventures?
I worked with Brandon Auman, a very talented writer and producer, and a very hip guy. So that was great--he was a fan of my books and that helped. The story was cyberpunk, in this particular episode, so that came naturally. It was interesting to write, for the first time, for CGI animation. As a boy I was a fan of Marvel comics so working on a Marvel character was a thrill. And I love the Iron Man movies so it was great.
Have you ever considered writing comic books for a publisher like Marvel or DC? If so, which characters would you be most interested in?
Now that I've written a The Crow comic I feel like I'm getting a handle on the process and yeah I'd love to do that. I'd love to write Daredevil for Marvel, Batman for DC--really almost anything. It's just part of my make up. When I was in my early teens I practically dreamt in comics so it comes naturally. They are more sophisticated now...more adult...and that makes them more appealing to a writer.
What other projects are you working on right now and in the near future?
I have a book called New Taboos coming out from PM Press, which I'm now re-editing, and I plan to write a wild urban fantasy novel--I've actually written the first 100 pages of it and an outline--called Fogg in the Afterlife. The entire novel takes place in an afterlife world...with its own rules and internal logic and metaphysical ideas....
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