"Hey there Little Red Riding Hood, you sure are looking good. You're everything a big bad wolf could want." Sam the Sham and the Pharaohs
What: Little Red Davies and her parents, Jennifer and Michael, are on their way to Grandma’s house when they are attacked by “wolves.”
Who: Driving in their Land Rover to Grandma’s house, Michael is much annoyed when all four of his tires blow out when they hit the camouflaged chain of road spikes at the entrance to Granny’s protected compound in the woods.
Michael: You said you told the old lady we were coming.
Jennifer: She promised to clear the path.
Michael: Look at this! Shredded!
Little Red: Can’t we just walk the rest of the way? The cottage isn’t far.
Jennifer: You stay right here on the path.
Little Red pouts, mumbles…
Little Red: I don’t like it in the woods. I want to see Granny.
Michael: I’m calling the tow service.
Jennifer: You know she won’t let outsiders on the property.
Michael: Yeah? Screw Granny.
But Little Red takes off on her own and it is then that death and destruction rain down in the form of a wolf; not just any wolf, but –
“The biggest in God’s creation, standing on its hind legs like a human, dripping saliva from eight-inch canines. Its eyes are like silver mirrors, dappling reflected sunlight over Red’s face.”
Acting on protective animal instinct, Michael and Jennifer run to Red’s aid. Red is able to escape, at least temporarily, but both Michael and Jennifer are mauled and shredded by the Wolf. Slashed by the Wolf, Red’s wounds miraculously heal instantaneously and her screams alert Granny, who
Steps out of the woods; tough broad, intolerant of shit, rigged out head-to-toe in camo. She racks an AK-74U assault rifle and blasts rounds into…The Wolf…Force of the bullets ripping into its chest lifts the Wolf off its feet and slams it down on its back…She approaches Camera, looking down at the dead wolf, O.S.
Granny: (to the Wolf) Born or bitten?
Now an orphan, Red is brought up by Granny who teaches her about the conspiracy and survival, as well as how to handle an M4A1 short barrel automatic and other helpful artillery. For ten years Granny prepared Little Red by challenging her in war games, but nothing prepared Granny for the day that Little Red informed her that she was leaving the compound to attend college.
Granny: I’ve never submitted your home-schooling records to the state. (beat) How can any college accept a girl who doesn’t exist?
Little Red: I hacked into the state university mainframe, created my own records.
Granny: You make your Granny so proud.
Red, following Granny’s advice, makes every effort to be inconspicuous, or at least as inconspicuous as a super hottie can be. She barhops with her girl friends, she has a boy friend, and she attends classes; but when she donates blood at the blood drive the results trigger a panic that travels far and wide and leads to an SOS from Granny in the form of four young survivalist conspiracy freaks, Axel, Izzy, Clarence and Squire, sent to bring Red to safety. Knowing that Red is still unconvinced, Axel plays a DVD presentation by Justin Marrs, the conspiracy theorist.
Justin Marrs: All of the organizations that rule the people of this planet, that keep us living like cattle…are werewolves.
Red shakes her head, dismissive.
Red: Another conspiracy crank.
Justin Marrs: Think, people. If you were an advanced species, relatively small in number, and you had the ability to take human form…would you sweep the streets… or run the world?
Arriving at the bunker meeting site, an abandoned Wal-Mart, Granny is nowhere to be found. The missing Granny only seems to confirm Red’s doubts about the guerilla group. If only she knew that at that very moment two werewolves, Maya and Rausch, sent by international headquarters, are blasting Granny’s compound to bits. Entering the cottage in human form they immediately set about mauling Granny.
Worried that Granny has not arrived at the compound, the group takes off for the cottage in their Hummer. Arriving at the cottage, Red finds something with silver eyes lying in Granny’s bed. It was Red that they wanted, Red, the only human in existence to have been slashed by a werewolf and not “turned.” A full scale attack on Red and her posse ensues, with Red as the victor. But her most important task is to find and rescue Granny. Too late…Granny has transformed and Red must make the final sacrifice – emptying her Ruger into Granny’s chest, because the only way to kill a werewolf is shoot it through the heart or sever its head. Bringing to mind Granny’s words:
Granny: Always empty your clip, Red. (beat) One thing the world will never run short of is bullets.
Axel and the boys lead Red back to the bunker. No longer in any doubt about the threat facing the world, Red will lead their revolution against the forces of darkness.
No Meaner Place: In some ways reminiscent of “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” and “True Blood”, but only as far as the creatures that inhabited both shows, “Little Red” is a tongue-in-cheek girl-as-action-hero slam bang filmic comic book. Everything is black and white and red all over, if you’ll excuse the pun, and larger than anything life has to offer. All the adults in responsible positions are evil – ministers, deans, professors – and the good guys are in a definite minority. What's not to like about a story where the secret password of the conspiracy theorists is “Dick Cheney is a werewolf”? Red, like Buffy, is an empowered young woman with the ability to lead. How could you not love a hummer-driving Granny who wears camo, booby traps her compound and carries an assault rifle with a bandolier full of ammo? Pity she dies in the opener. Of course there are the mystic mysteries, none of which were mentioned in the synopsis; one of which promises to be an Indiana Jones-type search for the holy grail through an Anasazi Navajo ruin. Pacing, character, thrills, chills, conspiracies, world domination, and werewolves, this series has it all.
“Little Red” would have been enormously expensive to make with the special masks and make-up needed for the werewolves and the location shooting and car stunts. What is surprising, though, is that despite the expense no one nibbled on this one. “True Blood” takes a somewhat intellectual approach to other worldly monsters in its racial prejudice take; “Supernatural” is fun in its alien-of- the-week approach; and “Buffy,” now gone, had that high school subtext viewpoint. I’m shocked given the multi-network edict last season to find interesting takes on fairy tales that someone didn’t latch on to this ultra modern retelling of Little Red Riding Hood with its wolf, granny, and potential hunter-hero in the guise of State Trooper Burns. Rescuing mankind from world domination by an axis of evil would seem to be natural television story telling. The lack of interest in this one leaves me dumbfounded. I thoroughly loved this script and I absolutely hate Sci-Fi, proving once again that great writing is great writing.
Life Lessons for Writers: Don’t go off the beaten path unless you’re armed with a great script and an AK 74U.
Conversation with the Writers:
Neely: Well the first question that jumps to mind is WHERE THE HELL DID THIS COME FROM? Were you sitting around and discussing “Fractured Fairy Tales?”
John: At the time, Erik had this brilliant idea that coincided with a manager telling him that fairy tales were going to be hot. The picture he had in his head was of Little Red Riding Hood with two silver six-shooters in her hands killing werewolves. It was the perfect one sheet. At the same time I had an idea for putting together a series based on conspiracies; also the 2012 Mayan Prophecy was getting hot (the Mayan calendar predicts that the world will end on the winter solstice in 2012). What if you had a cabal of werewolves running the world – that would be the conspiracy element.
Erik: I was a big “Buffy” fan but I felt it was a bit hokey. I had done a horror film for Lionsgate entitled “The Mangler Reborn” and thought: what if we did a horror TV show with a strong heroine, and instead of vampires, how about werewolves? It wasn’t consciously thought to be a twisted fairy tale. I mentioned my idea to John and we went from there.
Neely: It wasn’t a well kept secret last season that all the development departments were looking for updated (and presumably skewed or skewered) fairy tales. Until this week, my assumption was that the only successful pitch was by Jason Katims, although I don’t see any sign of it having been approved to script. Then on Monday (2/1/10) SyFy announces a MOW project on fairy tales that will include one entitled “Little Red” about a descendant of Little Red Riding Hood who fights werewolves. That’s uncomfortably close, especially since I assume this script was pitched to them.
John: SyFy did get “Little Red” and we know many people at SyFy read the script. Since their success with “Tin Man” and the general call for projects based on fairy tales, it’s a fair bet that they’ve read a dozen scripts and taken dozens of pitches based on Little Red Riding Hood. You hear stories that development execs cherry pick, but I can’t say for sure that’s the case here. I’m curious to see if the SyFy film has an underground conspiracy element. RHI had their own Red Riding Hood project. They read ours, but only after theirs had already gone out.
Erik: Ideas are a dime a dozen, I guess. It’s a let down but onward and upward. So you come up with ten other things. I’m curious if the SyFy show is the RHI picture that they were calling “Red.” John and I have a deep rooted love for horror. Are these other people rooted in the genre or did they just come up with a good idea? Do they understand that horror is much like comedy from the standpoint of “set-up” and “pay-off.” You set up the scare and then there’s the pay off. For instance, the set-up is a girl is walking down a dark hall and hears something; and then someone grabs her from behind – that’s an easy pay-off. When you work with a partner it allows you to check one another so you don’t always go down the easy path. I get really passionate about this stuff.
Neely: Regardless, their budget is very low and the concept is much more limited. Let’s talk about Granny – what a fabulous character. I hated that you killed her! What was your inspiration?
John: Don’t worry; she’s not dead. Remember, the only remains in the tiger trap at the end belong to the original werewolf from the teaser. Both Granny and Squire are missing. As an interesting aside, we named Squire and Clarence after two musicians in the Stone Roses; Axel and Izzy were named after band members from the original Guns ‘n Roses. I love Granny. She took on her own life. The advice she gives Little Red about always making sure to empty your clip because the one thing this world will never run out of is bullets is a brilliant philosophy. I remember looking up from the monitor and wishing I could live my life that way.
Erik: My Grandma, God rest her soul, was a tough cookie who everyone thought was so cute. They just didn’t know. You didn’t dare cross her or she’d kick your ass. So Granny was inspired by my Grandma. Kathy Bates would be so cool in that role.
Neely: I love the fact that the women are so strong. It was certainly one of the great appeals of Buffy. Sci Fi, and again I’ll emphasize that I neither read nor watch it, seems to be a bastion of male/female equality. Why do you think that is?
John: Believe it or not, I’m not a big Sci/Fi reader either. I just think that strong female protagonists draw a wider audience – I guess that’s the easy answer. It’s about empathy. A woman in danger is easier to empathize with. The image of a woman who stands up for herself and gets herself out of danger is very powerful.
Erik: I don’t know. Maybe they feel they can take more chances in Sci/Fi. But I do know, a lot of women love girl power and Men love to see hot, ass-kicking women. It’s win/win. I’ve written this one horror pic where the main character is a guy but in talking it over with my girlfriend, I think I’ll change the character to a woman. It broadens the appeal. Sometimes though, character gender just comes out of the story process.
Neely: A couple of questions here about the script. If I followed it correctly, Catherine, the evil leader, might actually be Little Red’s mother transmogrified. Does that mean she was born rather than bitten?
John: We want people to believe that, but Catherine is actually Little Red’s other grandmother. Little Red was part of Catherine’s secret project – Red was born a hybrid. Season two would have revealed the many unsuccessful attempts at creating hybrids. It’s like in “Alien Resurrection” where Ripley reappears and sees all the previously failed attempts to bring her back.
Erik: John has given it all away!
Neely: As any writer knows, you write your heart and your passion and your story and worry about production details after. Clearly you wrote your passion, so let’s talk about production which, no doubt, freaked out any unimaginative development executive who read this. This is an unbelievably expensive project. How do you think this could get done on a network or cable budget? Of course in an ideal world HBO would have picked this up and budget questions would have been (somewhat) moot; but even Showtime watches every penny.
John: This may have been partly our mistake. No one ever mentioned that the budget was too high. It was too easy for them to say “no” and move on to the next thing. Did we get nibbles? Yes, but no one ever talked about us rewriting to lower the budget. In reality, “Little Red” just got us the opportunity to pitch our other potential projects. Our mistake was probably not addressing the expense. We wanted the execs to get the full impact of our vision. Lots of people were impressed with the writing and our “world building” – where we set out the whole world inhabited by these creatures. I was really proud of that. I’ve worked on shows where it was clear the showrunner did not know where the show was going – the season arc, the series arc, character development – and that was the direct reason for those shows failing. Erik and I agreed from the start that we would not make that mistake with “Little Red”. We knew we’d get that question during meetings: “So what happens in episode 10?” Not only could we tell them the story for episode 10, we could tell the stories for every episode through the first season.
Erik: Could it have been done on budget? Yes! I understand how these guys think, but I know how to do this on a present day “X-Files” type budget. You’d crew locally; have some great EFX guys make the werewolf suits; blood is cheap; the vision is there. CGI is what costs, as well as the time to render it. I’d shoot on the RED (a camera in HD format) and shoot it practical. The technology has advanced so far. When shooting with the RED camera what you see is what you get. You don’t have to wait and worry for the film to come back. It’s just an easier medium to work in and can sometimes be ultimately cheaper. Yeah, most people said “it’s big.” The show might have sold if we could have pitched how we’d have filmed it. But I have to say, the most constructive note we got was when we were told that you have to be able to take out the horror and still have a story there. You need to think about what is there besides the horror; where’s the story? I think about that a lot now.
Neely: Have you given any thought to repurposing the material? This could make a fabulous Young Adult book series – it’s a bit too graphic to be the successor to Harry Potter, but it certainly has the makings of a Twilight-style series. And of course then you would get to double dip because this sure fire book series would lead to a features deal. Or how about a feature in which the fate of the world is resolved in the end, but only to the degree that a franchise series of films is born?
John: Well, so far our agent, Jack Dytman, has been most interested in the television possibilities, but I think there are feature franchise possibilities too. I do write fiction and have published some stories in magazines. You’re right about the serial novel idea. But Red’s future is up in the air because our writing team partnership no longer exists. Jack’s a decorated veteran in the TV business, and he’s been telling us for a while that he’s taken Red about as far as he can. As far as I know, he’s never suggested that we try to turn the script into a feature spec. Then again, I’ve never asked him if we should.
Erik: I’ve thought about doing it as a low budget horror film, so yes. We also talked about making it a comic book or even a video game, but those talks haven’t really gone anywhere.
Neely: There are royalty arrangements that could be worked out with the two of you, even if only one of you is actively writing the books.
John: I don’t know much about book publishing so I’d have to educate myself about that. You’re right, though, a book series would build the audience for the future film.
Erik: I used to write kid stuff, so a book series is a great idea. I know John is a master at prose and has written a bunch of acclaimed stories.
Neely: Let’s talk a bit about you guys. How did each of you get started?
John: Back in ’96, I moved out to Burbank, renting my own apartment, after an X-Files spec I’d written got me a TV agent. Within two months of moving, I got my first freelance script, and in less than a year I had my first job as a staff writer on a show called “Roar,” a cult favorite that starred Heath Ledger and Vera Farmiga. I went on to become a story editor and later picked up freelance scripts thanks to producers I’d worked with on previous shows. In late 2004 my wife was diagnosed with a serious illness. Over the next two years she endured five surgeries, all of them at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City. I stayed with her throughout, but thanks to a good friend – another producer I’d worked with – I was able to keep a very cheap sublet in Los Angeles. That’s how I was able to be out there in 2007 when Erik first talked about creating a show based on Little Red Riding Hood.
A producer named Tom Towler was the one who sent our initial proposal for the “Little Red” series to Jack. Jack liked the proposal but said he would not consider the project without a completed pilot spec. He didn’t want to read any other specs and my resume didn’t matter. To his credit, as soon as he read the pilot he signed us.
Erik: I went to film school in Philly; I wanted to be a DP. I was supposed to go to Maine for this DP workshop where you got to work with all these famous DPs for a month, but the week before I was supposed to go, I was in a fork lift accident and crushed my foot. I had to be off my feet for 6 months. In the meantime a buddy said that we should move to LA when I got better; so we did. The first thing we bought was a fax machine and I started faxing everywhere looking for PA jobs. I was obsessed with Sam Raimi’s work and one day I got a call from Universal about a PA job for Renaissance Pictures, Sam Raimi’s company, on a TV series called “American Gothic.” I had a meeting with Robert Palm and Shaun Cassidy. I had no idea who these guys were, I was just excited it was Sam Raimi’s company. They interviewed me and liked me because I laughed so much (I’m sure it was because of how nervous I was). I got to be their writers’ PA. I was so nervous meeting Sam for the first time and he was so great. There were some terrific writers at the beginning of their careers on this show – Steve Gaghan and his then writing partner Michael Perry, and Mitchell Burgess and Robin Green. Steve De Jarnatt was a producer on that show and he used to come in with his theremin (it’s an electronic instrument that sounds like a singing saw) and want me to be his audience. These guys fed me all this information – read this, write that, watch this. It was all great! I took it all in. And the bonus was there was lots of time to write. Shaun was my mentor, big time. I was employed by him for 5-6 years. The last show I was on with him I was supposed to write an episode but I got a full time writing job on another show. Honestly, I wish I would have stayed.
Neely: When did you become a writing team?
John: Erik and I had been friends for about ten years when he first suggested we work together on “Little Red”. We spent time face-to-face working on the world building. We talked through the outline for the pilot, developed characters and broke stories for season one and beyond. It’s true, on a smaller scale that process goes on in staff story meetings all the time. As I said, I’d never worked as a partner in a writing team before, and I’ve never sat in a room with someone and written a script. I don’t think I could. Our writing partnership wasn’t the usual in that sense, but I believe “Little Red” proved that it worked.
Erik: Two and a half years ago MGM was sold and we were all laid off. John was out staying with a friend. I told him my idea, wrote some pages up, and we said we should do this and see what we can do.
Neely: In looking at your credits, it would appear that you both have probably been working at other jobs as well since both of your credits show some significant lapses between writing jobs.
John: You can be quite successful and then have years out of work. It’s tough and you need to have people around you who are willing to help and support you. I’ve been lucky that way.
Erik: On and off for the last ten years I’ve been working at MGM, first in development and most recently in distribution.
Neely: If you had to choose one medium to work in, what would it be and why.
John: I like both television and film. I like the immediacy of TV; you write an episode and then a couple of months later you see it. I have to admit that features can be like pulling teeth to get the script read, let alone getting it made.
Erik: I’m a filmmaker. I love to write and direct film and TV. That’s my passion.
Neely: What else do you have in the hopper?
John: I’m working on a new pilot spec and I’ll give that to Jack before the start of hiring season.
Erik: John and I developed something for an independent producer who has studio ties. It has a female heroine and it’s supernatural and I don’t want to say anything that will jinx it. My name was thrown into the hopper as director for this presentation project and I’ve been working on it for free, so far. I hope to finish in the next month so it can be sold to cable outlets. I’ve also been writing a feature and a TV pilot for Jack.
Neely: Thanks for your time and keep me posted on “Little Red”. Really think about other ways to pursue this project. I know there’s an audience, and probably a very big one, for your take on this story. You’re writers, so write.