Barry Sonnenfeld Q&A: ‘A Series of Unfortunate Events’ creator
“This is my best work,” proclaims director/executive producer Barry Sonnenfeld during our recent webcam chat (watch the exclusive video above). The visionary filmmaker, television director and executive producer developed the TV adaptation of “A Series of Unfortunate Events” for Netflix, based on the series of 13 novels by Lemony Snicket (the pen name of American author Daniel Handler). He admits, “I directed the ‘Men in Black’ movies and ‘Addams Family’ and ‘Addams Family Values’ and ‘Pushing Daisies’ and ‘Get Shorty,’ but for me, ‘A Series of Unfortunate Events’ comes closest to what I imagined it would be and then executing it to almost exactly what I expected and wanted it to be.”
It was his chance to have another go at this material after working on the film adaptation starring Jim Carrey in 2004. This new take on the original books sees Neil Patrick Harris reprise the role of Count Olaf, a nefarious old actor held bent on claiming the fortune of the Baudelaire children (Malina Weissman and Louis Hynes), who are placed in his care after a mysterious fire kills their parents.
It was a no-brainer for Sonnenfeld when the opportunity came up to develop the series. “I love the books,” he admits. “The books posit that all children are right and capable and all adults, whether they mean well, are evil or equally inept, and I grew up with two horrible parents who meant well but were inept. The books spoke to me and my childhood.” But bringing the show to the small screen has been quite a challenge. “Each book is two episodes. That means for the first season, we did four books. We shot everything on stage,” he explains. “We basically we had one tenth of the budget and one quarter of the amount of days to shoot four feature films because each two hour segment was like a feature.”
Currently in Vancouver shooting season two, Sonnenfeld explains that there is a definite plan in place for the series, which he hopes to end after one more season, to cover all 13 books of the series. “So that means,” he jokes, “if Emmy voters really like this show they don’t have a lot of years to think about it,” he says with a wry smile. “They’ll have to pony up right away!”
The director also raves about his collaboration with the trailblazing streaming giant. “I say to all of my filmmaker friends, get a show on Netflix, because they are really different, he enthuses. “ You get the creative freedom to do the work you want to do, and that’s spectacular. Netflix truly believes in the creative viability of directors and producers and showrunners.” We also discuss at length his Emmy-winning work on “Pushing Daisies,” and his past work on blockbusters like “Men in Black” with megastar Will Smith.