The Thing About Carnival Row...
I’m pleased as punch to announce that Amazon has ordered Carnival Row to series. This, as I may or not have mentioned, is the series based on my first script. And it’s been a long journey for me. I was a second-year film student when I had the idea. I don’t know where it came from. Maybe that trip to England, with the production of Midsummer Night’s Dream and the Jack the Ripper walking tour. Or the film noir class and the Brian Froud book I picked up after a shift at the school library. But at some point, this imaginary place, this sooty Victorian city where humans and mythical creatures lived side by side started to come into focus. And I wrote a short student film about a police inspector who shows up at a brothel where this faerie prostitute has been un-winged and murdered. And we come to realize that he’s hiding something from the other police on the scene, that the victim means something to him.
I was probably biting off a little more than I could chew, but I was desperately in love with it. It had big wet emotions and English accents and social implications and fog and gaslight and creatures. I wanted to film it. Very badly. And I was hell-bent to figure out a way to do it. I wrangled some friends. I found a production designer. Went driving around at night after class and found like the only cobblestone street in Winston-Salem.
I was crushed when the school rejected the pitch, but my screenwriting advisor convinced me to turn it into a feature script. I didn’t want to at first. I was heartbroken. I’d wanted to make it. But he was insistent, to his credit, and the idea wouldn’t go away. So I spent the next two years writing, bringing pages to him, etc. And he’d give me notes. How to write economically. Using white space to draw the eye. Using active verbs instead of “is.” The script wasn’t just a sandbox. It was a classroom. It was the script I learned to write on.
I never thought of selling it at that point. Hollywood seemed lightyears from my little room in North Carolina. I honestly never imagined it could sell. I liked it too much to think so. It was just some fun I was having. Written for an audience of one. So in my last year at school, when an alumni in LA called to say his boss was looking for material and asked if I’d send that thing I’d been working on, I sent the script along, not really expecting anything to come of it. But a few months later, I get this call in my dorm room. And he says, “I can’t say much. But you should know — you’re about to start getting phone calls.” And my life was never the same. By the same time the following year, the script, Killing on Carnival Row, had been bought by New Line. I had reps. I had meetings on backlots. I had a career.
Even so, Carnival Row sat unproduced for over a decade. And for much of that time, I harbored almost no hope for it. It was either unlikely to get made or unlikely to get made in a way I’d have anything to say about. I had to learn to think of it as a sacrificial lamb. This thing I loved very intensely once, and gradually had to let go of. It was my first good idea. The one I bought my career with. And that was that.
The fact that it’s getting made now is extraordinary. The fact that anything gets made is extraordinary, of course. But the fact that I get to be there. Talking about the color of the wallpaper or the shape of faerie wings. Giving notes to artists. Going over lists of actors and location photos. Looking for the right cobblestone street — That, my friends, is a miracle. Because after all these years, that kid who was too dumb to be afraid he was biting off more than he could chew is back in my life, and he’s finally getting to make his weird little movie. And like Rene said at lunch the other day, “If that isn’t the fun we signed up for, it doesn’t exist.“