So here we are at long last – the long-promised first update for the inaugural entry in the Trailers From the Public Domain series, Dracula, has finally materialised.
Before diving into the update itself, I feel I have a bit of explaining to do first. Most of you are probably wondering why it’s taken me so long to actually post something related to the Dracula trailer. To be honest, the reason is simply that I haven’t been happy with my artistic output related to this project thus far, and I’m not going to upload any imagery until this changes.
As to why I’m so dissatisfied with my artwork to date, it mostly comes down to the fact that I’m having to train myself to draw (and paint!) with a Wacom tablet, and while the disciplines are similar, I’ve found there’s a steeper learning curve involved when moving from pen on paper to the digital canvas.
The good news is, I am making progress, and I’m going to try to devote some time each day to doodling on my tablet, so that I can hurry up and get to the stage where I can share some of the creepy visuals I have planned with you (if only I didn’t have my pesky day job – then I wouldn’t have to juggle writing articles with cartooning practice!).
I’m not going to offer any sort of deadline around when you can expect to see the first Dracula concept art etc (I think adding self-imposed deadlines is more likely to snuff my creative flame than fan it), but please just trust me when I say that mastering my tablet is high on my list of creative priorities at the moment (not just because of this project, but for the many others I plan to launch in the near-future).
Now, with the explanations out of the way, let’s move on to the update proper. First up, I’m pleased to say that I have more to show for the last few months than a teaser poster and a hard drive full of bad artwork; in actual fact, I’ve pulled together an outline of the whole (imaginary) Dracula film that my trailer will be promoting.
Yep, I’ve outlined all the beats of the story, including where I’d deviate from or expand on Bram Stoker’s original text (the document looks very similar to the plot summary in my recent Elevator Pitch post). This might seem like overkill, but to me, it’s a great way of working out not only which scenes I’d like to feature in the trailer, but also the overall story and tone the trailer should be trying to capture.
Overall, my take on Dracula stays pretty close to the source material (spoiler warning, I guess), although it is different in several key ways. The first of these is that I’ve tried to make Mina Harker a little bit more of a feminist (or proto-feminist, given the 19th Century setting).
In the original novel, Mina is an intelligent and brave young woman who plays an instrumental role in Dracula’s downfall by collating all the evidence the men-folk use to hunt down the Count; having said that, she also tends to do things less from a sense of self-accomplishment, and more out of the desire to be a good wife to her husband.
While I think her loving relationship with Jonathan Harker is a crucial element of the story in both an emotional and narrative sense, my interpretation dials back Mina’s subservience and plays up her cleverness and quest for independence (how much of this could possibly show up in a brief trailer I don’t know, but hopefully it leaks through on some level!).
The second major change I’ve made is to make the book a bit more trippy than maybe Stoker originally had in mind. My approach isn’t wildly psychedelic or anything like that, it just expands on certain surreal sequences in the novel (such as Harker’s nightmarish journey to Castle Dracula), so expect some fairly “out there”, hallucinatory imagery when the first concept art finally emerges.
The reasoning behind this alteration is mostly because I found it helped to overcome one of the main challenges of adapting a novel for the screen: the need to externalise the internal thoughts and conflicts of your characters.
For instance, in the book, Harker admits in a journal entry that should the mission to save Mina from succumbing to vampirism fail, he will allow himself to be turned by her so that they can be together for eternity.
Rather than convey this information through dialogue or a voice over, I think the best way to tackle it would be as a sinister dream sequence that shows Jonathan’s struggle rather than having him tell us about it.
I also think that incorporating dreams and visions into the story (and therefore the trailer) boosts the level of horror from the generally unsettling vibe of the novel to something a bit more overtly terrifying, which should play better for a modern audience.
This is particularly evident in the way that I’ve envisioned Van Helsing’s final confrontation with the vampiric Sisters, who you might know as the Brides of Dracula (they are never actually referred to as such by Stoker).
In the original Dracula, the old doctor discovers the tombs of the three she-vampires and, despite finding himself both attracted to and repulsed by them (not to mention reminded of Mina, which is just…weird), he stakes all three of them without opposition and in fairly anti-climactic fashion.
What I’ve done is take that small moment prior to the Sisters’ demise, where Van Helsing seems to be almost in a trance and hesitates, and developed it further.
In my outline for this scene, Van Helsing finds himself under mental attack from the moment he enters Castle Dracula. The Sisters, sensing his presence but unable to rise from their daytime slumber to defend themselves, send through mental projections of themselves, Mina and more to seduce and terrify the good doctor.
It’s only through a strong display of will that Van Helsing is able to push through this torment and then carry out his task, which makes for a more thrilling sequence and gives Van Helsing a nice character moment too (in general, I’ve tried to give the entire ending a greater sense of tension and payoff than the ending of the novel, which almost fizzles out).
The final fundamental difference between Stoker’s story and my take on it can be seen in how I’ve played around with the structure and characters.
In terms of structure, I’ve tried to balance out how many plot points are related through diary entries, news reports and other media.
While these certainly play an important part in the how the story functions (after all, for Mina’s contribution to the story to work, she needs something to pull together!), too often I find that they end up telling the audience what happened after the fact, rather than letting us see it first hand.
As I pointed out earlier, in a visual medium, it’s crucial that you try to show as much as possible, so I’ve reworked some of the events in the narrative so that they are experienced first hand, or at the very least, are shown in flashback accompanied by dialogue, which should be a bit more aesthetically pleasing, if nothing else.
I’ve also compressed the timeline of events down, as the book’s Gothic atmosphere operates on a fairly slow burn basis, filled with the repetition of similar happenings, which would probably slow the pace down too much and end up more dull than scary.
In terms of how I’ve changed the characters, in addition to my overhaul of Mina’s characterisation, I’ve also revised mental patient Renfield to be the Count’s former solictor, who returned to London a madman thanks to his experiences at Castle Dracula (I’ll admit this has been done in other adaptations before, but it works – mostly because it helps tighten up the narrative), and more importantly, the Gypsies who serve the Count now do so under the influence of hypnosis.
This last change is mostly to remain faithful to the novel, but remove the racist undercurrent of making this ethnic group a willing participant in Dracula’s evil schemes (plus, it helps to reinforce the extent of the Count’s powers).
In terms of the visual style of the trailer, despite still being in its infancy, the style I’m developing aims to highlight the Old World versus New World theme, with more stylised landscapes and colour palette for the East European/supernatural settings, compared to the more conventionally realised English surroundings.
Character designs will follow suit, with Dracula and the other unnatural creatures featuring spidery, creepy visualisations in comparison to their human counterparts.
Colour will also be a critical concern, and in addition to the environment-related palettes discussed earlier, I’m planning to use red only very, very sparingly – it will only appear when blood is present, so it really pops when it comes on screen.
Probably the biggest piece of the puzzle I’ve yet to figure out is what the soundtrack for the trailer will be like. Should it be classical music? Modern? A mix of both?! I’m guessing I should create some actual footage first, before I worry too much about what music will accompany it!
So now you have a pretty good idea of what I have planned for the trailer – hopefully soon I’ll be able to update you with some concept art and storyboards that brings to life what I’ve only been able to share with you in words so far!