At the moment, Bryan Fuller is one of the most talked-about writers in Hollywood. His Munsters remake, “Mockingbird Lane,” is an NBC Halloween special, he’s bringing a TV series about serial killer Hannibal Lecter to primetime, and in the meantime, he’s talking “Pinocchio” with director Tim Burton.Fuller, 43, spent his youth in the cocoon of the Lewiston-Clarkston Valley consuming a diet of Stephen King novels, “Star Trek” episodes and movies like “Alien.” It was after reading a paper Fuller wrote about “Alien” that a Lewis-Clark State College professor suggested film school. Fuller followed the idea to Los Angeles, where he’s spent the last 20 years spinning visions of “sweet darkness” with increasing success. He talked to Inland 360 about his latest work in a phone interview from Toronto.
“What attracted me is, who cannot identify with the perception of your family as a unit of monsters?” says Fuller, who wrote the remake “Mockingbird Lane.”
Like many American kids, after school Fuller and his brothers and sisters headed home for some television. The choices were ’50s and ’60s reruns like “Gilligan’s Island,” “The Munsters” and “Leave it to Beaver.”
“I remember there was a time my mom felt we were watching too much TV and she told us to pick one show. Somehow the vote fell to “Leave it to Beaver,” which I was mortified by and forced into tears because I wanted to watch “The Munsters.” I didn’t care about Beaver or Wally. I cared about Grandpa, Eddie and Marilyn. I think I did finally get my way.”
Fuller says the show influenced his worldview.
“They’re telling monster stories, it’s a dark story but there’s a sweetness to it. I think if you look at my works, they all have this sweet darkness to them.”
“Mockingbird Lane” has been long in the making and NBC has had regime changes in that time. The Frankenstein metaphor of “coming back to life” is definitely appropriate when it comes to the show, Fuller says.
“Mockingbird Lane” was originally planned as a series until NBC recently announced it would air the pilot as a holiday special. The show stars Jerry O’Connell, Portia de Rossi and Eddie Izzard. Fuller says the head of NBC, Jennifer Salke, told him she loves the show and believes in it but that it was so different she didn’t know who the audience was, so she wanted to put it on the air and let the audience come to it.
The pilot introduces two parents who are trying to craft a path in the world for their child who is different from everybody else, Fuller says. It’s a relatable story but one told with vampires, zombies, and did he say dragons?
“It’s a really exciting set of tools to tell a story with.”
He might be finished writing episodes No. 1 through 3, but while he’s writing No. 4 he’ll get a note from the network to fix something in No. 2, then something goes wrong with No. 3 or he needs to consult on filming in No. 1.
“It’s ridiculous at some level. It’s also a privilege and an honor to be able to do it,” he says.
“One of the great pleasures is the immediate response from the audience. The intimacy and the immediacy are incredible and it’s very special”
Despite the fact Fuller has lived in Hollywood for two decades, his hometown still figures heavily in his writing.
“If you’ve gone to school with me you’re going to hear names of classmates bandied about,” says the 1987 Clarkston High School graduate. “I think I was very influenced by growing up in a small community. There’s an oddness that’s influential on my work.”
“Hannibal” TV series to air on NBC in 2013
For the last three months Fuller has been in Toronto filming “Hannibal,” his upcoming NBC-TV series about psychiatrist and cannibal Hannibal Lecter. The show will explore the relationship between Lecter and one of his patients, young FBI criminal profiler Will Graham. The show is expected to air midseason on NBC in 2013.
Fuller was introduced to the project by a friend who asked him if he thought there was a show in the Lecter story. Fuller, a fan of Thomas Harris’ books and the subsequent films, said yes, and it lay in something Hannibal told Graham, “You caught me because you’re so much like me.” Fuller: “So let’s find out why.”
Fuller’s “first genre love” was horror and he was excited to take on the project. “It’s the opportunity to write scarier, darker material, but doing it in a way that there’s intelligence,” he says.
The series will delve into a part of Lecter’s life that is untold in books or film, says Fuller, when he’s in his heyday doing what he became infamous for. Many wonder how the show will present cannibalism on primetime TV.
“How I wanted to approach the material was I didn’t really want to see Hannibal kill too much,” Fuller says. “Instead of seeing Hannibal kill, we’ll be seeing him cook.”
By the ways he prepares his meals, viewers will understand the horrible violence his victims endured, Fuller says. That’s not to say there won’t be “a lot of gore and significant violence,” but “we’re trying to keep the power of Hannibal as a killer rarefied, so we don’t use that chip too often.”
“Pinocchio,” a film in progress with Tim Burton
A remake of the fairy tale “Pinocchio” will be Fuller’s first film. He spent last winter in London working on the script with Tim Burton.
“That was a dream come true,” Fuller says. “I can tell you exactly where I was sitting in the theater in Lewiston when I saw “Pee-wee’s Big Adventure” (Burton’s 1985 debut). The eighth row of the Liberty on the aisle … 30 years later I’m sitting in his home in London talking about the emotional relationship between Pinocchio and Geppetto.”
The chance to work with Burton “feels amazing,” Fuller says, “but I’m such a perfectionist. The amazement, surreality and honor of it all takes a back seat to — ‘Oh my God, I gotta do a good job on this.’ ”
Robert Downey Jr. is set to play Geppetto in the film, which has a tentative target release date of December 2014.
“Nothing happens until it actually happens in Hollywood. There’s all sorts of ways it could go off the rails,” Fuller says.
Working as a writer for film is much more relaxing than TV, he says. Everything is written in advance and the writer has nothing to do with what comes next. In order to have control over a film one must write and direct it, which Fuller says he’d love to do, someday, if he can find the time.
“I think that’s why I always work so long. I have so many stories in my head I have to tell before I check out. I have to get them on paper before the Grim Reaper shows up.”
if you watch
“Mockingbird Lane” is scheduled to air as a Halloween special at 8 p.m. Friday on NBC. Check local listings for changes.