where the writers are
Question: You said you wrote this story originally as a script before HBO’s Six Feet Under and pitched the idea around Hollywood.  Explain what happened and why you shelved the story? Michael P. Naughton: Call it Jungian synchronicity, collective unconsciousness or just plain old coincidence— or maybe not. I was working on the general story and wrote up a treatment for Deathryde and also read Jessica Mitford’s classic The American Way of Death Revisited.  I was working with Jorge Garcia of Lost at the time at Borders in Westwood before he hit the big time.  That was where the idea germinated. I went on to write a full script based on my treatment and shopped it around to a few production companies and entered it into a prestigious screen writer festival.  What was interesting to me, as a writer, were the similarities between my script and the pilot episode of Six Feet Under. My original script that I copyrighted back in ’98 started off with the main character, an undertaker who inherited his father’s funeral business.  He gets broadsided by some Goth kids driving a hearse down in Hollywood— there was even a gay cop that shows up at the scene of the accident— the primary difference was that my script was more of Goodfellas meets The Loved One. Needless to say, no one was biting when I sent out query letters and subsequently the script.  I kept the rejection letters. I can’t help but wonder if someone had gotten a hold of my script or if this was just some uncanny synchronicity.  Not to mention— at the same time I copyrighted the original script, my wife (then girlfriend) and I lived on Gladwin, which was the street next to Homedale St. where Alan Ball was shooting scenes from American Beauty.  Undertakers were not a hot commodity until Six Feet Under.  That was when I first began thinking of novelizing the script, but then author Tim Cockey came out with the Hearse You Came In On and I felt people were going to think I was riding on his coat tails or jumping on that bandwagon… or hearse. So I shelved the project and went on to write various other scripts, but Deathryde kept resurfacing and I felt I needed to get the story out there. In 2004 I re-wrote the entire original script so as to not be too close to Six Feet Under and did not shop it around town but decided to proceed and novelize it instead.  So here it is! Question: When you finally novelized the script, what was your approach? Michael P. Naughton: I was always a big fan of Ross MacDonald’s The Zebra-Striped Hearse.  He is one of my favorite writers and The Zebra-Striped Hearse, one of my favorite mysteries.  I was influenced by Gregory Mcdonald who wrote the Fletch series,  Carl Hiaasen and, of course, Elmore Leonard who is also originally from Detroit.  Deathryde: Rebel Without a Corpse is written in that style. It’s fun and oddly entertaining. It was always satirical.  In other words, if your expecting Robert Crais… forgeddaboutit! I always stayed true to the undertaker gangster theme and retained that from the original script. I can only equate this story to films like Diamonds Are Forever and Some Like It Hot that influenced me as a kid. Question: You’ve published actor Michael Madsen of Reservoir Dogs and Donnie Brasco.  Is he your first choice for James DeRossa if the film goes into production? Michael P. Naughton: Michael’s a good friend, a talented actor and poet and would, of course, be a strong contender for the part of DeRossa.  The character has to be cool.  I’ve always seen Deathryde as a movie in my mind’s eye. Question: Last question: Are you a rebel? Michael P. Naughton:  “I rebel, therefore I exist,” like Camus once said.