In The Loop With Kevin Grevioux: The Mind Behind "I, Frankenstein"
The writer, actor and artist explains why so few African Americans create sci-fi and fantasy.
When you read Mary Shelley's Frankenstein in high school, you may have envisioned a world where the Monster roams Geneva in search of his identity and companionship. In writer, artist and actor Kevin Grevioux’s mind, the world Shelley conceived was just the beginning.
A modern reimagining of the classic Gothic novel, I, Frankenstein, for which Grevioux unhesitatingly created the graphic novel and has a role in, follows Frankenstein’s Monster named Adam (played by Aaron Eckhart) 200 years after he was invented. The film, directed by Stuart Beattie, spins the beloved story to include a war between gargoyles and demons, as both sides try to capture Adam for their own malicious intentions.
Science fiction, fantasy and comics come second nature to Grevioux. Best known as the creator of the Underworld franchise, the Chicago-born, Howard University alum traded his macrobiotics and genetics degree in for a career in Hollywood in 1991 to pursue his love for writing and filmmaking. A fan of The Incredible Hulk, The Fantastic Four and Thor comic books as a child, Kevin even created a comic for Marvel based on a character he dreamed up as a child called the Blue Marvel, which is now an Avenger.
Kevin’s early days in Hollywood were not unlike many others who make the trek to the city to break into entertainment. Kevin worked as a security guard and even as a film extra, before appearing in Michael Jackson’s “Remember The Time Video,” a commercial for Sprite, and small roles in The Mask and on The Ben Stiller Show.
Loop21 met up with the multitalented creator to discuss his early move to Los Angeles and why so black filmmakers venture into sci-fi and fantasy.
Loop21: Before you made a name for yourself with the Underworld series, you were just like any other struggling writer/actor in Hollywood. How did you transition from a movie extra to a legitimate filmmaker?
Kevin Grevioux: For me extra work was cool. It afforded me a living. I got to meet a lot of god people along the way. A lot of people castigate you for doing extra work; they say it will never lead you anywhere. But if you’re smart, extra work can be the best free film school you can ever attend. It can teach you the ins and the outs of the industry. You can observe. You can watch great actors or directors actually work in their environment. It helps out tremendously.
Loop21: What do you wish you knew about entertainment before you got into the industry?
KG: If I had to do it all over again, I would have stuck with my art. I use to draw, so I would have stuck with that from an early age and I would have never stopped.
I would have started my career earlier. I didn’t get to California until I was 28. I had already finished college and it took me a while to build up the funds to move to L.A. I thought I needed training in script writing, but all I needed to do was move out to California after college. I would have probably majored in in something different, but I had no idea I would be in the film industry. I was on a completely different path.
Loop21: Did you have any mentors when you were getting started?
KG: Never had a mentor, but there were people that inspired me that I looked at from afar. Stan Lee and Jack Kirby for comic books, but the person that I look at that inspired and me to get into movies was Spike Lee. You can say what you want about Spike, but he inspired a lot of black filmmakers back in the day.
Loop21: As an insider, what do you think about the diversity in the sci-fi and fantasy scene?
KG: If you look at TV shows you find black people in different roles, so I think it is diverse with casting. In terms of creating, that’s a different issue. There are some. I know of black writers, Latino writers, Asian writers, but there aren’t a lot doing movies in this country. You don’t see a lot of black creators doing sci-fi on the big screen. I lot of people don’t even know the guy who created Final Destination (Jeffrey Reddick) is black. Writers and screenwriters for the most part are anonymous. They’re behind the scenes. We’re out there, but there aren’t enough. There needs to be more.
Loop21: Should writers of color make themselves more visible?
KG: Writers aren’t necessarily ones who seek recognition on camera. The studio isn’t able to make money off of them by having them go through press. It’s about the stars and the director.
Loop21: You always write a role for yourself in your films so that you don’t have to wait to be cast in a project. How can we get more creators to do the same?
KG: That’s up to the individual: You have to be self-motivated. You have to be motivated to want to see yourself doing something better. It’s not about visualizing where you want to be; it’s about putting in the hard work. As a creator, as someone wearing all of these different hats, I think you need to generate your own work. Being filmmaker is difficult. It's hard to break in. If you don't create your own work, you're waiting for someone else to put you in their movie, and that is the kiss of death for anyone in any field.
Loop21: Do you have any interests outside of Sci-Fi and fantasy?
KG: Not really. I’m not a comedy guy but I have a few comedies. I like animation and children’s action-adventure.
Loop21: What words of wisdom can you offer to young black filmmakers that may want to get into entertainment?
KG: If you want to be a writer, create your own IP (intellectual property) rights. Once you create your own IPs, you become more than just a writer; you become a creator that has an active hand in the vision. You have to be a bit of a businessman. I didn’t get a chance to do this with Underworld, so what I wanted to do was correct all of my mistakes. With Underworld, there wasn’t an accompanying IP, so with I, Frankenstein, after I completed the screenplay I created an accompanying IP in the form of a graphic novel.
Loop21: How long did it take you to understand the nature of the business?
KG: It didn’t happen over night. Looking at some of the things Stan Lee did and what some of the writers did with his material, I thought why not combine the two. I like how Quentin Tarantino was a geek, but he wrote based on the films him liked watching, started directing, and then put himself in his films. That kind of guy I like. A guy like Spike: He writes, loves to direct and was a big fan of Martin Scorsese, and puts himself in his movies. I think I identify with Quentin Tarantino more because of the genre, but Spike Lee because of who he is as a black man and how he was able to get his films made with so little money.
I learned a long time ago as a screenwriter that if someone wants to take your work and they want to change it, let them. This is a hard industry to crack, especially when it comes to original ideas.
Shontel Horne is the Senior Lifestyle and Entertainment Producer for Loop21.com. Follow her on Twitter @writerrambling.
Photo Credit: Lionsgate