Kripke goes for ‘Supernatural’ chillsWritten by Lauri Donahue | | email@example.com
Local viewers may notice something odd about the first episode of “Supernatural,” the new WB series that airs at 9 p.m. Sept. 13. Although the debut is set in California (and filmed in Vancouver), every road, street and bridge mentioned is from Toledo.
That’s because 31-year-old co-showrunner Eric Kripke is a Toledo native, a Sylvania Southview graduate who went on to the USC School of Cinema-Television in Los Angeles, and wrote the hit horror movie “Boogeyman” and the short-lived WB series “Tarzan.”
“Supernatural” is described as “The X-Files” meets “Route 66.” It’s about two 20-something brothers (played by Jared Padalecki of “Gilmore Girls” and Jensen Ackles of “Smallville”) who drive cross-country in their ‘67 Chevy Impala looking for their missing father, while fighting terrifying creatures out of folk tales and urban legends.
Kripke took a few minutes out from his 90-hour work week to talk with
Toledo Free Press.
TFP: What’s the first original story you ever wrote, and when did you decide to work in film?
EK: I wrote short stories while growing up, starting in first or second grade. They were always about monsters that killed and ate people. I decided in fifth or sixth grade to try to write a novel and got 17 pages in when the story sort of ended.
I wrote for my high school newspaper and was in a lot of plays. I directed the “Cougar Review,” which is a big show at Southview. Every time I had a paper assigned, I always asked if I could do a video instead.
From 8th grade on, I was always forcing my friends to act in videos. My first video camera was tethered to the VCR by a cable, so everything was set in the living room.
I first saw “E.T.” when I was eight or nine and came home and announced to my mom that I wanted to be a director. That’s the first real thing I can remember wanting to be, other than a stop sign and a goldfish.
TFP: Why did you decide to go to USC?
EK: USC was the only film school whose name made it back to Toledo. I knew George Lucas had gone there. I found a short story at age 12 or 13 and decided that I’d make it my thesis film at USC — and that’s what I ended up doing.
TFP: Was USC the heaven you imagined as a kid?
EK: No, not really heaven. I loved it for different reasons than I thought I would. I love it for the group of friends I made: people who love films and are passionate about filmmaking. Any real career progress I’ve made I can trace back to those people. It’s a support system I couldn’t have succeeded without.
I was a little disillusioned with the curriculum and the faculty. I had two teachers who were as good as any I’ve ever had, but too many of the faculty were interested in telling you what you couldn’t do rather than let you explore and find your voice.
For example, when it came time to make my senior thesis film, it was this 12-page script with 23 locations, car crashes, explosions. We knew the school bureaucracy would never OK it, so we took out loans and did it on our own. The administration didn’t realize that young, hungry, passionate people can accomplish the impossible if there’s no one to tell them they can’t do it. We were lovably stupid and charged forward with enthusiasm.
There’s very little you learn in film school that you couldn’t learn from three or four books. Filmmaking is a craft like carpentry: you learn by doing. The people at school who went out and actually worked on movie sets, whether or not they got paid, were always more successful.
TFP: Talk about that 1997 thesis film, “Truly Committed,” that ended up winning the Audience Award at the Slamdance Film Festival.
EK: It’s a dark comedy about an annoyingly-in-love Ozzie-and-Harriet-type couple. He’s wrongly convicted of murder, and she can’t live without him so she goes out and shoots someone too. It’s about a couple struggling to get executed on the same day, “O. Henry” with a body count, via Tim Burton.
TFP: You also had a film that year at Sundance?
EK: That was a short called “Battle of the Sexes.” It’s about a guy trying to pick up a girl in a bar. She runs into the bathroom and all of these computers pop out so she can run a background check on him.
TFP: How did these early films lead to a two-picture deal at DreamWorks?
EK: Fate and luck. Mostly luck. To have films in both festivals was a rare thing that got written up in the “Hollywood Reporter.” My agent called around to promote this. At the time, I had a full-length version of “Battle of the Sexes” ready to go. So we sent out the script. It was a resounding failure.
Then, out of the blue, DreamWorks called and said, “Would you be interested in writing two screenplays?” I only wrote one: “Little Green Men,” a comedy version of “E.T.” It was my first professional script and it was awful. But it was very exciting. I was 23 years old, working as a professional screenwriter, going into studios for meetings …
Then I spent the next five to six years hustling. Projects fell apart, I had to pick myself up and dust myself off.
TFP: How did you come to write “Boogeyman”?
EK: I wrote “Boogeyman” out of frustration. I was writing comedies up to that point and had one failure after another. No one had done a film about the boogeyman, and I wanted to come up with creative and violent ways to kill people in order to blow off steam.
I wrote it for myself, as an exercise, with no intent of getting it made. It sat on the shelf for two or three years. A producer friend was in a meeting with Sam Raimi and Rob Tapert, who said they were looking for horror movies in the $10 million range. Two months later, my script was in pre-production.
TFP: How did it feel to have the No. 1 film at the box office?
EK: I was dumbfounded, shocked but very grateful. It’s done wonderful things for my career. It really means something when you walk into a room and you’ve had a movie open at No. 1.
TFP: How did you get the idea for “Supernatural”?
EK: The subject matter behind it is something I’ve been thinking about since college: an exploration of urban legends. I find them fascinating, scary, funny, dark. There’s a very rich American mythology that I’ve always been interested in.
TFP: How did you get the gig writing the show?
EK: I’d worked with Warner on “Tarzan,” and they invited me to pitch show ideas.
TFP: Do you write all the episodes yourself, or do you have a team?
EK: There’s a team with me and five other writers. Everyone writes scripts and my primary responsibility is to give notes so that all the scripts have the same voice.
TFP: Do you have someone to help with the research?
EK: We have writers’ assistants. I can tell them, “Find me every urban legend about bugs.”
TFP: What else does a showrunner do?
EK: It’s kinda like being the boss, unfortunately. There’s a new episode shot every eight days. We need to get the scripts out and make sure the directors are shooting the footage we need. We sign off on costumes, locations, actors. We work with the editors. We make sure the network is happy.
TFP: Are you happy with the
9 p.m. slot after “Gilmore Girls”?
EK: I love that slot, actually. There’s no WB show that’s failed in that slot, and “Gilmore Girls” is one of their big shows. 65 to 70 percent of horror movie ticket buyers are young women, so it’s the same market.
TFP: How will you measure whether the show’s a success?
EK: WB is very patient with new shows. We can get modest numbers and still be a good success, like if we hit a four or five share and get our target demographic. Obviously we want to do better than that.
TFP: Do you plan to have any episodes set in Toledo?
EK: I just wrote a script set in the Toledo suburbs. It’s about seeing “Bloody Mary” in the mirror.
TFP: Do you plan to stick with TV, or do you have a dream movie project in mind?
EK: Originally I wanted to do “Supernatural” as a movie, but this is as close to a dream project as I can get. It’s exciting to wake up every morning. I would love to direct features eventually, but for now I’m going where the opportunities lie. I’m having the time of my life. I’ll stick with it until the end.