WIHM: From Web to Book to Screen with a Vegan Zombie
Hard to know where the odyssey started, except a vague memory of a phrase on the back of a Christopher Moore novel. “Undead redhead?” I asked myself. “Is that not an awesome title for. . . something?”
Flash forward to a challenge I sent out to all the writers I know: write twelve 3-5 minute episodes of a web series, and I’ll produce it. Only two made it to the finish line—Andrew Heard who’s now producing the comic book version of his “Buckethead” concept and, well, me.
There’s a tendency for the practical voices around us to push us to keep some kind of a rein on our creative impulses, to exercise control. I’m here to tell you that sometimes, it’s the idea that tells you what it is, not you that gets to make the choice.
That’s how it’s been from the start with Undead Redhead. The web series version I wrote was fun and open-ended. I didn’t know entirely where it was going because I’d only written the first season and laid the foundation for a second.
Then I met a producer who liked the writing and the concept, but thought it would work as well if not better as a standalone hour of television. My lead actress for the web series had just gone union and I wasn’t able to afford to work with her anymore, so switching to a medium where there’d be more money for talent was a boon. The rise of anthology series like Black Mirror have made single episode concepts viable for the first time since the 50s, unless you count more recent remakes of Rod Serling properties. I just had to find an ending, or at least a more cohesive through-line.
Then the producer suggested that we might as well jump right to feature film. After all, it was only 50% more writing than I’d already done getting us to that hour of TV screen-time, and a more economical way to get a better bang for our bucks.
From twelve web series episodes to a 55-page TV script, and now I was looking at taking the concept to the bigs, an 80-110 page feature film script. That meant I definitely needed an ending, and I’m not too proud to say I’ve known enough producers to be nervous about how the feature would end. If I didn’t nail it down in the script, I could lose control of the one thing that really matters to me: the message of the story.
It might seem a little counterintuitive, but instead of working the feature, I took November of that year to throw myself into NaNoRiMo (Google if you don’t know it!) and wrote the novel of the feature of the web series. I had my ending, and it was in print by the beginning of the new year. If the producer wanted to fiddle, he’d have to go against both me and the source material.
Then that producer found a more pressing project and left me with a script, a book, an unshot web series, and a group of hopeful but increasingly discouraged actors. The concept had jumped off the back cover of another writer’s book into my brain, and although I’d explored at least four different media, it seemed like the final form was still out of reach.
I wanted to connect to a bigger audience. I wanted the rush of collaborating with actors, a director, a producer, designers, musicians. . . and see Undead Redhead finally come to life.
From idea to the present, eight and a half years. Pages, drafts, edits: incalculable. Passion: unchanged. This is the way it goes sometimes, friends. You have something, then it’s something else; first someone is desperate to have it, then you’re on your own again.
Today, Undead Redhead is revved up again. I’ve welcomed the marvelous George Mihalka (My Bloody Valentine) as both exec producer and mentor to me, director Winnifred Jong, and producer Robyn Laliberte. We’ve got a tight 8-minute short film version of the story ready to shoot to use as a sales tool, because it’s easier to catch investors with visuals than with words. Or, you know, if the financing doesn’t come through for that, we can always just jump ahead right to the feature film itself. Because, you know. I’m riding this pony, but I’m giving it its head.
Undead Redhead is the horror/comedy novel-web series-TV show-feature film by Jen Frankel about a ginger gal who dies in a terrible wedding bouquet accident and comes back as a zombie – and still Vegan. The book will be available in a brand-spanking new edition soon from Calumet Press. Follow @jenfrankel on Twitter, @jenfrankelauthor on Instagram, and the podcast Jen Frankel Reads Random S#it on your favorite app or iTunes. Jen’s website, where you can discover the rest of her broad talents, is www.jenfrankel.com.
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