|Cover to “The Surrogates” collection|
It was only two years ago that CBR brought you news of Top Shelf’s sci-fi series “The Surrogates,” introducing readers to a future where people experience life through robotic surrogates. And it was only one week ago that we learned Disney secured the rights to Robert Venditti’s sci-fi epic mini-series, with the writers of “Terminator 3” attached. CBR News caught up with Venditti to learn more about the film version of his tale and how he went from comics to film.
“The first issue of the series debuted in July 2005, only a couple of weeks before Comic-Con International in San Diego,” Venditti explained to CBR News. “The story generated a healthy amount of press in the comics community, which in turn generated some interest in Hollywood. A fair amount of producers came by the Top Shelf booth at the convention as a result, and the discussions ranged from the calm — ‘This sounds really cool. Can I read more of the story?’ — to the more frenzied — ‘I want this right now, and I’m going to make you a star!’ It was all a bit shocking. I work for Top Shelf full-time, so not three hours earlier I was grimy from unloading boxes of books for the booth, and now here I was talking to people who make movies for a living.”
Venditti continued, “Everything started with Max Handelman. He and his wife, actress Elizabeth Banks (‘Seabiscuit,’ ‘The 40 Year-Old Virgin’ and the ‘Spider-Man’ films), own Brownstone Productions. Max emailed me out of the blue one day, saying he’d heard about ‘The Surrogates’ online and read the first few issues, and, if the film rights were still available, he’d like to talk about the story’s film potential. He talked with Chris Staros (Top Shelf’s publisher), Jason Grode (Top Shelf’s agent) and myself about his ideas, and we decided to give Max a chance.
“As it turned out, Max is good friends with Todd Lieberman, who, along with David Hoberman, is one of the producers at Mandeville Films. Todd mentioned to Max in passing that he’d like to do a comic book movie, maybe some kind of gritty cop story. The timing was perfect because Max had just started working on ‘The Surrogates.’ He told Todd about it, and they decided to work together on the project. Mandeville and Brownstone then attached the screenwriters and director and pitched the entire package to Disney, who liked what they heard.”
The sheer number of interested parties would give any creator a lot to think about and Venditti was no exception. The writer revealed that when it came down to it, he trusted both his instincts and the passion of everyone involved. “There are a lot of reasons, but what it all boils down to is that Chris, Jason and I liked them. You could tell they had a genuine appreciation for the story, as opposed to looking at is as just another way for them to make money.”
Optioning a film, essentially purchasing the rights, happens with quite a lot of comics, but it’s rare the film makes it to the big screen. Fans of “The Surrogates” can take solace in the fact that Venditti has faith in Disney bringing the film to life, even without a planned release date. “I think the fact that the director and screenwriters have already been attached is a sign that Disney is serious about the project,” said Venditti.
If you were a first time comic book writer and struck the proverbial gold your first time out of the gate, you might understandably feel overwhelmed. Vendetti’s all that and more, explaining, “I wrote the script for ‘The Surrogates’ because I wanted to take a shot at writing comics, and now my name is on the front page of ‘Variety.’ To say it’s overwhelming doesn’t quite do it justice.
“I’m excited about the possibilities. The screenwriters, Michael Ferris and John Brancato (‘The Game,’ ‘Terminator 3’), as well as the director, Jonathan Mostow (‘Terminator 3,’ ‘Breakdown’), excel at what they do. They’re all accomplished storytellers in one form or another, and I’m looking forward to seeing what they’ll do with the story.”
As we reported when Venditti first spoke with CBR News, his involvement with Top Shelf arose when he came in to help the company in the wake of a distributor meltdown. While he’s certainly in a higher profile job then when he entered the company at the mailroom, he hasn’t forgotten his roots. “I’m still in the mailroom one day a week, so climbing the ladder hasn’t gotten me very far!” he laughed. “I think the important thing is that I was fortunate to become involved with good people. Max and Elizabeth, Todd and David, Jason Grode, Chris and Brett at Top Shelf, and especially Brett Weldele — I’m very thankful for the opportunity to work with them, and each of them had an integral part in making this happen.”
The writer will also continue to keep busy as the film production progresses, revealing, “I’ve finished scripting a new sci-fi graphic novel, and am just about finished scripting a political thriller, so with any luck my name will start showing up on the bookshelves more often.”
CBR’s Arune Singh contributed to this story.