Wizard Universe interviews five comic book creators who may be making the move to Hollywood!
FROM COMICS TO HOLLYWOOD
A quintet of comics’ biggest creators talk about making the move to Hollywood
By Ben Morse
Posted December 18, 2007 5:00 PM
The writer of Marvel’s surprise hit Marvel Zombies as well as enduring cult favorite The Walking Dead from Image, Robert Kirkman signed the film rights to his self-created teen superhero comic Invincible to Paramount in 2005 and came on board to write the movie’s screenplay a year later. “Transformers” producer Lorenzo di Bonaventura has also signed on.
“I have turned in the second draft [of the ‘Invincible’ screenplay] and it’s being looked at right now. I haven’t really had to fight the studio or anything. So far any changes they’ve asked for have been minor things that make sense and that I agree with. It’s been a pretty good experience so far, but the movie hasn’t been made yet, so I’m sure it’s coming. So far, they haven’t wanted any talking dogs—and I already have one in the comic anyway. Either they come back and say, ‘Hey, this is awesome, we’re shooting it,’ or ‘Hey, this is awesome, but we’re getting somebody to rewrite it anyway,’ or even ‘Hey, this is awesome—so awesome we want you to write it again.’
“I think I’m pretty good at writing comics, but writing screenplays is new to me, so there’s definitely a learning curve. I didn’t read any screenplays growing up so it’s a completely alien art form. When I get to page 22, I’m usually done. There’s definitely something difficult psychologically about not being able to believe you just wrote 60 pages and then realizing you’re only halfway through.”
Best known for his collaborations with writer Mark Millar on Ultimates and their upcoming Fantastic Four run, artist Bryan Hitch has worked quietly behind the scenes in both Hollywood and for his native England’s BBC: He’s a designer for the pending “Star Trek” movie directed by J.J. Abrams and the “Dr. Who” television series, respectively.
“My first real design job was on ‘Dr. Who.’ I was musing with a journalist who had interviewed [series writer/producer] Russell Davies that I’d kill to design the TARDIS set, so I had him e-mail Russell assuming he’d have no idea who I was and then he sent back, ‘The Bryan Hitch? Oh, I love him!’ I had a hand in the redesign of the Daleks, though it was more just scribbling over other people’s designs. The last [‘Dr. Who’] work I did was a two-parter from series two because I owed the [executive producer] a favor after she got me tickets to a BBC concert series.
“[Producer] Damon Lindelof and I started talking about ‘Star Trek’ way back. I was involved in the early discussions and was going to get to do the fun stuff like the Enterprise, then Paramount pulled the plug temporarily. When it came back, there had been a script leak so nobody ‘off the lot’ was allowed to work on sensitive material.
“Mark Millar and I are working with Joe Ahearne, a highly respected writer/director, about developing a new BBC series. Joe would be the lead writer and director with Mark as a writer and me as lead designer. There’s been discussion of me directing as well. Stylistically, working on BBC shows is similar to American TV because stuff like ‘Dr. Who’ is an attempt to replicate what [America] is doing with genre family entertainment. The difference between comics and television or film is that while with comics Mark and I are lucky to be almost completely autonomous, the film stuff is about servicing somebody else’s vision. I can’t see why I can’t do both, do a six-issue comic and then direct some television or make a film. It’s all telling stories, and that’s what I want to do.”
Before writing comics like Green Lantern, Geoff Johns earned his college degree in Media Arts with a minor in Film Theory from Michigan State University and spent four years working under legendary director and producer Richard Donner. Johns served as a writer on the “Blade” TV series and currently works alongside “Robot Chicken” creators Seth Green and Matt Seinreich as a producer, writer and director on their upcoming stop animation feature film “Naughty or Nice.” He also has a film based on DC’s Metal Men in development.
“It was a hard decision to leave Donner, but there was so much going on for me in comics. I could have spent another year at the company working in development, but I like being on set. Matt and I sold two pilots to Fox after I left and when the crew from ‘Robot Chicken’ wanted to do a movie, he and I pitched this idea for a Christmas movie we’ve had since 2002 and Dimension bought it. We’re in preproduction, we’ve got test puppets made and in a perfect world we’d like to see this movie out Christmas 2009. It’s a lot easier to get what you want out of a comic book since with a TV show or movie you’re limited by budget and by all the other people working on it. I remember my first episode of ‘Blade,’ I wrote this huge fight scene with vampires literally throwing cars around and being told, ‘You can’t do that.’ I had to cut it way back and even then they went ahead and choreographed their own fight. Donner, even with his status, had to go through that stuff. With movies or TV, there are a lot more people involved, a lot more money involved, and a lot more time involved than with a comic book. But it’s also fun! Hollywood isn’t some huge, crazy maze; it’s just a bunch of people trying to make movies.”
J. MICHAEL STRACZYNSKI
A six-year veteran of Amazing Spider-Man and the current writer of Thor, Straczynski made a name for himself in television, most notably creating Emmy-award winning sci-fi series “Babylon 5,” before comic fans had any idea what the initials “JMS” stood for. At present, Straczynski has several film projects ongoing, including: a Silver Surfer feature spinning out of “Fantastic Four 2: Rise of the Silver Surfer,” which he will write the screenplay for; “The Changeling,” a thriller directed by Clint Eastwood and starring Angelina Jolie; and “World War Z,” based on Max Brooks’ bestselling novel. He’s also developing a script for Paul Greengrass based on a story the director wrote called “They Marched Into Sunlight.”
“[Film] is a field I’d actually gone out of my way to avoid for 20 years since it’s so much of a crapshoot in terms of what gets made. But thanks to ‘Changeling,’ I’m working with directors and studios at a much higher level than a development deal, and the road to production is much shorter. I have to say there have been very few hurdles or problems. When you’re working with directors like Greengrass or Eastwood, or with Brad Pitt’s company, which is doing ‘World War Z,’ it makes all the difference in the world. The hardest thing for me to get past as far as writing comics was getting used to the fact that the pictures don’t move. Otherwise, consider everything else the same.”
One of the most well-respected comic book writers of the last 20 years, Grant Morrison’s credits range from seminal tales like Arkham Asylum to current works like All Star Superman. In 2006, New Line optioned We3, Morrison’s quirky miniseries about robotically enhanced killer animals with the creator attached as screenwriter. Paramount recently hired Morrison to adapt the “Area 51” video game into a film.
“I met [‘Transformers’ producer] Don Murphy back in the ’90s because his wife was a good friend of mine from Glasgow. He got me started with my first official work in Hollywood, which was a screenplay for a film called ‘Sleepless Nights,’ which is stuck in development somewhere. When New Line wanted to make ‘We3,’ they asked Don to produce since he knew me and asked me to do the script. I think what I turned in is better than the comic. I’m always the guy who is saying, ‘Don’t change my work, I’ll cut your head off.’ I like listening to people’s suggestions, but if I don’t agree with them, I’m quite boorish about it. They’re currently looking for a director and they’ve got one great name who I think would do a great job. I’m used to comic books that come out three months after you write them so I just want to see this movie now!
“Hollywood is worse than comics—they don’t want you to talk about anything. Comics are all about explanation and exposition. Movies are a lot more direct. They have to play to the audience in middle America as much as in China. I enjoy doing something I can focus on for 120 pages and craft into something great. There are all these rules and everything is very specific. Comics are much more seat-of-the-pants improvisation, which is fun as well. Movies are hardcore.”