The Alchemy of Story
(initially published March 14, 2020)
If you have a deep and abiding love of horror; if you have a keen eye for design; if you love the craft of screenwriting for TV and movies; if you adore animals; if you love Halloween with the glee of a six-year-old kid about to scare up lots of candy; if you chat on Twitter to your fans in ALL CAPS… you might just be Bryan Fuller.
Bryan Fuller is an American television writer and producer whose credits include Wonderfalls, Dead Like Me, Heroes, Star Trek (DS9; Discovery), and most recently, American Gods. He is also the creator of the cheerfully offbeat Pushing Daisies, and the critically-acclaimed Hannibal. While differing wildly in tone, all of his work bear his trademarks: quirky and endearing characters (yes, even Hannibal Lecter), luxurious and liberal use of color and texture, as well as unforgettable and incisive dialogue. If you haven’t checked any of these shows out, you should give them a go.
Bryan Fuller has graciously given me a few minutes of his time to share his thoughts about consuming stories and creating them.
1. Singapore is obsessed with horror movies. Given our diverse population, we get to enjoy not only Hollywood’s offerings of horror but also Asia’s. I know that you’re a horror aficionado; is there an Asian horror film that’s stood out to you?
Asian filmmakers have not only made significant contributions to the horror genre, they have re-shaped it, instilling a sense of elegant terror that was almost forgotten in many U.S. films until many of the so-called “J-Horror” (Japanese Horror) films made an impact. They certainly made an impact on Hannibal (2013-2015). Audition (1999), Ju-On: The Grudge (2002), and Ringu (1998) with their striking visuals and surrealist tone were huge inspirations. Recently Train to Busan (2016) from South Korea transformed the zombie sub-genre into a wonderful thrill ride I thoroughly enjoyed.
But if I had to pick one favorite, I would have to say Bong Joon-ho’s The Host (2006). The melding of humor and family drama into a monster movie captured me as quickly and terrifyingly as the creature itself captured Hyun-seo!
2. Your works, such as Pushing Daisies and Hannibal have elements of fantasy. (In Pushing Daisies, the protagonist has the ability to bring the dead back to life with a touch, with the caveat that a second touch takes that life away forever. In Hannibal, elaborate murders are staged to look like installation art pieces.) Do the fantasy aspects of your work help you to tell better stories about people?
I love integrating elements of fantasy into the stories I tell. I love the metaphor fantasy can give the storyteller to delve deeper into a character’s experience. And, quite honestly, I love not being constrained by reality. So I don’t know if they help me tell better stories, but they help me tell richer stories because fantasy can be a gateway into a deeper psychological experience, if that makes sense.
3. You’re an avid consumer of stories. [Fuller has shared how he devoured novels by Thomas Harris, Anne Rice, Neil Gaiman and other authors at various conventions.] What do you enjoy most in your favorite stories? The plot, the characterization, the prose, the dialogue…?
What I enjoy most in my favorite stories is being transported out of my head and into another world. I don’t think we talk enough about the medicinal qualities of storytelling to help us escape our lives for an hour or two and re-connect to an emotional experience that would be too frightening if it were our own. I think the reason us avid consumers of stories enjoy them so much is they give us relief. I cry very easily in a movie experience, but not so easily in my life. I try to be strong and withstand the pressures of being alive. But living someone else’s life, even for an hour or two, gives me permission to feel something I might be afraid to feel in reality. And hopefully, it can teach me how to feel in a fantasy setting when I don’t quite know how to feel in reality sometimes.
So really to answer your question, it is the alchemy of plot, characterization, prose and dialogue working in tandem that I love the most. When everything comes together and works as a whole, it is a wonderful experience. Too often I see movies where I love the characters, but don’t like the story. Or love the dialogue but don’t like the look of the film. It’s rare that everything works as a unique expression of the storyteller and I forget about everything but the adventure I’m on.
4. Do you have a specific writing discipline or routine? Could you share a little about how you write?
I try to sit in front of my computer every day. There are days where I write a lot and days where I write nearly nothing at all. But I try to spend most of my day at the keyboard. I’ll quote Thomas Harris on writing. “Sometimes you really have to grunt and sweat. Some days you go to your office and you’re the only one who shows up, none of the characters show up, and you sit there by yourself, feeling like an idiot. And some days everybody shows up ready to work. You have to show up at your office every day. If an idea comes by, you want to be there to get it in.