New York Times best-selling author, screenwriter, producer, and director of film and television Seth Grahame-Smith ’98 spoke with students and alumni at Emerson College Los Angeles on March 10 about what it’s like to be a creator in a changing industry.
“I get energized talking to you,” Grahame-Smith told the audience at the beginning of the evening. “It reminds me of why I got into film in the first place.”
Grahame-Smith, whose film credits include writing the screenplays for the Tim Burton–directed film Dark Shadows and the upcoming animated film The Lego Batman Movie, started the evening by sharing tips and wisdom with the audience. His first piece of advice: Reputation is everything.
“If you work in movies, everyone knows who you are,” he said. “Try to be user friendly and a good citizen of the business.”
Seth Grahame-Smith '98 talks with students and alumni at Emerson College Los Angeles on March 10.
That was advice that alumna Rafiah Sessoms ’12, a media fulfillment coordinator at Participant Media, found refreshing.
“You have to keep that in mind with every interaction,” said Sessoms, who attended the event because she wanted to learn about the path that Grahame-Smith took to get to where he is today.
Like many other Emersonians, Grahame-Smith moved to Los Angeles right after graduation. He spent years grinding away, working as a development executive for Gary Grossman ’70 and writing books with titles such as The Spider-Man Handbook: The Ultimate Training Manual and How to Survive a Horror Movie: All the Skills to Dodge the Kills.
His first taste of major success came in the form of a novel that combines Jane Austen’s classic Pride and Prejudice with elements of modern zombie fiction. Pride and Prejudice and Zombies has sold more than a million copies and has been translated into more than 20 languages. It helped inspire other novels fusing classic works and horror themes. Grahame-Smith’s next mash-up, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, was also a New York Times bestseller. Both novels have been adapted into feature films. Up next, Grahame-Smith is set to direct and co-write The Flash, in addition to writing the screenplay for Beetlejuice 2.
Seth Grahame-Smith '98 takes questions from the audience.
When asked by a soon-to-be-graduating senior for advice about moving to LA and following in his footsteps, Grahame-Smith told the student to enjoy it.
“I look back at 22 as being amazing,” said Grahame-Smith. “You’ll never has less responsibilities in your life.”
Persistence is key, he said, for anyone hoping to make it in the industry. Evan Slead ’16 took the advice to heart.
Slead said he attended the event because he thought Grahame-Smith has created interesting work and wanted to learn more about his journey after graduating.
“I met him at a book signing when I was 16 years old,” said Slead. “To hear him speak now and share advice is really amazing.”
Evan Slead '16 talk with Seth Grahame-Smith '98.
At the end of the night, Grahame-Smith wrapped up the event by sharing a story of what inspired him to create and write movies. He recounted watching the last screening of the film Edward Scissorhands in a multiplex in Danbury, Connecticut, and feeling captivated for two hours. Walking out of the theater, he saw snow, a key element in the film, in the empty parking lot.
Twenty-one years later, he was sitting in a small dining room in London drinking wine and sharing stories with the film’s director and star, Tim Burton and Johnny Depp.
“I was in awe of that moment,” said Grahame-Smith, who has now worked with Burton on a handful of films.
One day he hopes to inspire someone the way Burton inspired him.
“I want a 12-year-old kid sitting in a multiplex to feel that way about myself,” he said. “I just want to give back that inspiration.”