Sunday, April 27, 2008

They No Longer Spend Pitch Meetings Looking for the Button That Opens the Secret Trapdoor

You have no idea how much I wish I had a copy of the recording they did of the panel on Superhero Comics at the Festival.

Its not that I want to listen to it over and over again (it was funny, but not that funny) its that there were tons of hilarious quotes that I can't really quote 'cuz I'm not going to get them quite right. So as you read all the stuff below? Remember that it's being filtered through my crappy auditory memory. Take even the stuff in quotes with several teaspoonfuls of salt. Also, I make no claims to accuracy when it comes to the order in which things were discussed.

With that said, here goes:

The panel was kicked off with each creator being asked to describe how they got from Comics to Hollywood. Mignola and Niles had fairly similar stories. Someone fairly influential liked their comic and wanted it made into a movie. For Niles, it was Sam Raimi. For Mignola, it was Benecio Del Toro - not that Del Toro got things going, more that he kept them going and made sure that things went well. Both at this point and throughout the talk, both Niles and Mignola were very emphatic about having a powerful ally working on the project who was also a fan of the comic itself being essential to it being a decent movie that still resembled their work. Or something like that, anyway.

Loeb said that it went the opposite way for him. He had always loved comics, but started out in Hollywood instead (didn't think he could make a living at comics) and then one day DC called him up and asked him if he would like to write a comic for them.

Before I continue, (1) Loeb is an awesome oral storyteller; I very much fear that my recap will fail to do any justice to his talent. (2) I'm sure there was more to this story than he let on. See #1

Loeb said "of course!" and "Can I write Superman?" "Um, we already have someone for that." "Batman" ditto and on down the line. Turns out they wanted him to do The Challengers. (and yeah, that story is even funnier in retrospect now that I'm more familiar with his resume)

The second question had to do with graphical nature of graphic novels and whether that made them easier to translate into film. All said yes. Having pictures helps studio people visualize what you are talking about, especially when those pictures closely resemble storyboards. Loeb (or Mignola?), mimicking execs internal diologue: "Oh, so you meant this really cool spaceship, not the pencil shaped thing that was in my head." Niles also mentions that, when originally pitching 30 Days, the studio people probably pictured scores of vampires running across the snow in Bela Lugosi capes.

The next question (I think) had to do with whether or not it's easier to pitch Superhero movies now than it used to be. Everyone's reply can be boiled down to "duh - you have seen the figures for the Spiderman movies, yes?" (I kept thinking, don't forget LoTR! It's success certainly helped as well. Geeks Unite!) Someone - Mignola or Loeb, I think - pointed out that time has helped as well, that it it's not just a single hit, but several successful movies, and people getting used to the idea of Superhero movies, untill finally Superhero movies are treated as just another genre rather than an unknown. (File this thought away, it will come up again later.)

They said that it was still hard to pitch comics as movies, especially if you aren't pitching one of the big names (Spiderman, Superman, Batman) but that "It used to be that they seemed to be looking for that secret button that open the trapdoor under you." Not anymore.

One of the other things that helped, obviously, has been the advances in cg. There was talk about how they used to say that movies would never replace comic creators, because there was stuff they could do that would just look dumb in movies. You could never get Spiderman to swing from a web and make it look real! Loeb: But then (?) and I went to the screening of Teminator 2 at Comicon. Beforehand, we weren't really sure what it was going to be like because Schwarzenegger actually had to talk in this one. We left the screening and I turned to him and said "we're screwed."

They still fuck everything up, though, apparently :) (shocker, I know) Niles talked about some guy who was working on 30 Days in the script stage. Nobody seemed to get why the Vampires were in Alaska. (wha?) So this one guy suggested that maybe Vampires were searching for a diamond that was buried underground in Alsaka. (wtf?) A diamond that would make them daywalkers! "He doesn't work there anymore. Not because of that, but I think he tried pitching the diamond idea for every movie." There was also mention of certain people wanting to call the Hellyboy sequel HB2 Instead. (why, exactly would one want to do that?)

This is where my memory gets a bit fuzzier, but the conversation at some point turned to DVD sales, what is still hard about pitching Superhero movies, and how much money movies actually need to make. The gist of that part of the conversation was: studio people don't pay enough attention to DVD sales because DVDs and movie production are different divisions, but it's getting better. They always want to change lots of things, some of which needs to change because comics are so much longer than movies, some of which is completely in opposition to the heart of the story, and some of which is necessary in order to appeal to a larger audience. "The truth is that even the best selling comics only have a fraction of the audience that movies need to make money." Or something like that.

I don't remember when or why, but the topic of what terms people prefer came up (ie, comics, graphic novel, etc.) and they all agreed "comics." Niles joked about Raimi referring to comics by some complicated term "graphical something or other." Someone (Loeb or Niles) made the amusing remark to a studio person that it was ok to call them comics, "graphic novels was the term we made up for you guys!"

It was also established that we were all "geeks." "You all know the difference between geeks and nerds, right? All of you in this room right now, you're all geeks, not nerds." (I beg to differ, but then I'm the idiot that didn't even know he worked on Heroes before he mentioned it, so I think he'd make an exception for me.)

At some point Loeb told several amusing stories about working in Hollywood:

The first movie he worked on was this low budget film called Teen Wolf (cheers from the crowd) While working on it, he'd tell people about it and mention who was in it and people would say. "Oh, that kid from Silver Spoons, right?" But then two things happened, Family Ties was moved to directly after The Cosby Show and Michael J. Fox was picked to be the star of a little movie called Back to the Future. heh.

That lead to the story about the movie thought he was going to be able to retire on: Firestorm. It was starring Howie Long. No reaction from the audience to that name, prompting Loeb to say that we obviously weren't football fans. That prompted some laughter. :) He explained who Howie Long was and that the great thing about Howie Long was that you knew he could talk. Anyway, things were going well and it was getting closer and closer to the release date, and then an Important Studio person broke the bad news. The studio had just finished making the most expensive movie ever made. And it was going to completely flop. Loeb knew he was telling the truth because people were literally packing up their offices in cardboard boxes and leaving. It was going to be that bad. So they needed to release a bunch of other movies at the same time to cover their losses. Firestorm was moved from fall to January. That's ok, Loeb thought, it should still be ok.

So, the flop? Was Titanic.

His last story was about the call that got him working on Heroes. A Hollywood buddy of his called him and said he needed some advice. Loeb figured that he was buying a vineyard and retiring or something, 'cuz he couldn't think of what this person would need his advice for. So they met and it turns out that this buddy had the brilliant idea of doing a Superhero type show and needed to talk to someone who knew Superheros. They spent hours talking, with the guy pitching ideas and Loeb responding by saying, that sounds fantastic, but you can't do that, it's (insert name of character) Marvel/DC will sue you. Repeat for several hours.

That's it. that's all I remember. Recordings will be available in a few weeks, I might try and clean this up when they are released for sale.

Oh, were wondering why I was left yelling (well, muttering, really) Wonder Woman.

Yeah, so, at some point near the end - it might have been during the questions - Loeb or Mignola made some comment about Superhero movies needing to appeal to non-comic readers in order to make money. Loeb added "like how do you get women to go see your Superhero movie?" (Or something like that anyway.) To which I muttered Wonder Woman! and started ranting in my headspace about how the arguments made earlier about Superhero movies and needing to let people get used to seeing them as just another kind of movie and not a fluke can just as easily be applied to movies with female action heroes.

Ditto for non-white (and non-kung-fu-asian) action heroes, as well, of course.

Personally, I still think Runaways would make a kickass movie. The ending is a disappointing in terms of racial diversity, but it's still a step in the right direction. (Especially if it does well enough to warrant sequels.) Plus, I think it would not only appeal to a larger audience, it would appeal to that teenage audience studios are so hung up on. Provided it's done right, of course. That's always the catch. But seriously, while the point about comic sales being only a fraction of what the movie needs is valid, better-selling is better than not-better-selling. And better-selling to a wider audience (ie, bookstore patrons, not just comic store patrons) has got to be huge plus as well. So here's to hoping Twilight is the insane success I think it will be, and to studios everywhere mining the YA lit for ideas.

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