For “Metal Hurlant Chronicles” director Guillaume Lubrano, his forthcoming television series began as a fascination with the famed French magazine initiated by Jean “Moebius” Giraud and Philippe Druillet in 1974. “Each story was quite different,” he told CBR News during last week’s Comic-Con International in San Diego. “It could be stories focused on epic fantasy, you can move on to a World War II story, then sci-fi with spaceships and then move back to medieval stories; and sometimes even stories about our own time. It’s pretty great material to work with.”
Some of that material will be presented in the first season of “Chronicles.” Each episode features a different story that originally appeared in the pages of “Metal Hurlant” and takes viewers on the same wild trip its paper-and-ink forbearer took readers. “What we are trying to do with the series is to adapt and put on the screen what we discovered and liked in the comic book when we read it,” said Lubrano. To that end, he and his team worked with some of the original creators to ensure a consistency of vision.
“If I want to add a sequence, I asked them, ‘Does it make sense with the way it was thought originally for the comic book?'” he explained. While adapting “The Master of Destiny,” he discovered scenes in the original comic script that did not appear in the final published comic, but it gave him extra insight and material for the episode.
One story, “Cold, Hard Facts” inspired him so much that he adapted it as the “Chronicles” pilot. The story centers on a future society that removes any person deemed not useful. “[Some] scientists discover, in a cave, a cryo-tube with an old guy inside. They cure his disease and discover he doesn’t remember who he is, but he spends all his days doing drawings. Drawings are not useful for that society, so they decide to send him for recycling of his organs and that’s pretty sad — especially when you discover that the guy in question is Walt Disney,” he recalled. The twist stuck with him and he always thought it would make a good short film and, by extension, other tales published in “Metal Hurlant.”
To bring those stories to the screen, however, Lubrano found a French TV market ambivalent to his ideas. “The main problem we have in Europe, and especially in France, is that TV and movies are only doing the same thing again and again. We have big comedies and police dramas which work well in France, so nobody wants to take a risk to do something different,” he explained. Meeting with the various TV channels in France, he encountered a prevailing attitude that genre material could not be done with resources found in the country.
Despite the French love of comics, a market the director says is one of the biggest in Europe, producers are reticent to adapt any of it for film and television. It is a belief Lubrano hopes to change. “A lot of the writers working in France are people who’d love to work for TV or movies, but no one wants to adapt their stories because they think it’s not possible. Then they deliver some great comics,” he said. “They have a different style and I think they’d be a great addition to the overall movie market.”
To prove his point, Lubrano secured international funding for the series, but it also meant creating each episode as a 26-minute short. “The several channels we approached in the beginning asked us to work in a format that would not be too risky for them,” he explained. When those deals fell through, Lubrano continued to develop the series with the 26-minute runtime in mind. “It was something we could handle. If it had been 52 minutes, it would have been harder to find funds to do the series,” he said. The format is uncommon in France, but it allowed him to recreate the feel of the five-to-twelve page stories he chose to adapt. “I don’t want to feel when I watch an episode that what I just saw was for five minutes what I read in the comic books and for forty minutes, something else. I want people who don’t know the comics to go back to them and see what they saw [on TV],” he said.
Should the series continue beyond the currently planned twenty-four episodes, Lubrano would consider shaking up the length of episodes. “For some of the stories, we could do 52 minutes without any problems,” he said. “It’s just a matter of what story you choose.”
The bigger challenge, of course, is money. “We basically had the budget for one TV movie in France, which is usually ninety minutes and usually not with spaceships, robots, digital effects and things like that,” Lubrano said. He characterized the typical French TV movie of the same cost as focusing on “people talking about divorce and how they’re going to find a new job and how they can find love.” While he admits that those types of stories work for a large part of the audience, Lubrano wants something else from TV.
“We want to show that it’s possible to work on titles with great visuals and a very international approach,” he said. “That’s a different style of writing then you have in French TV at the moment.”
The series currently has no US outlet, but Lubrano hopes the exposure from Comic-Con will help secure its place on American television. He is also developing a “medieval sword and fighting series” as part of his ongoing effort to widen the scope of genre TV.