THE SCREENPLAY THAT WOULDN'T DIE
There were some comments in the news recently from filmmaker Darren Aronofsky that I thought were pretty interesting (Don't worry, nobody gets told to go fuck themselves this week, I promise).
From Clothes On Film:
CoF: Speaking of which, you've worked in the comic-book medium before, with your adaptation of The Fountain (2006), and the tie-in book to Pi. Do you ever feel like realizing your vision of something like the Batman story that you were working on as a comic book?
Darren Aronofsky: Well, we're actually doing one. It hasn't really been announced, I don't know if I should give you the scoop! But we're getting there. We're doing a comic book of a script that's really hard to make and we're going to do a comic version first and see what happens...
It seems like if you come up with an original script, in Hollywood it's not as effective as a comic book. It doesn't even have to be successful as a comic; I mean how successful were Kick-Ass or Scott Pilgrim? Those were fringe comics, right, and they were basically turned in to big pictures.
Okay, first off, let me say I'm a huge Darren Aronofsky fan. I've seen all his movies. I think "Requiem For A Dream" is one of the most powerful films of the last several years, and "Black Swan" was one of the best films I saw last year. I even liked "Below," the spooky submarine movie he wrote. And I am super excited to see what he comes up with for the next "Wolverine" installment.
But whenever I hear about a failed screenplay being turned into a comic book, simply to try and get Hollywood's attention, because, you know, Hollywood loves comic book, I can't help but cry a little bit inside.
Now, before I look like I'm taking too much of a swipe at Aronofsky, let's look at a bit more of the interview:
CoF: You're saying here that you're taking unfilmable scripts and turning them into comics, but then you're saying that you're making films that no one else wants to make. Do you not worry you're narrowing your audience even more?
DA: You work really hard on something and want to get it out there. The reason that The Fountain comic exists is because for a long time we didn't think that the film was going to happen, so I went after an artist because I wanted to get that finished and out there. I'm a storyteller, so if I can't tell it in my medium of choice I try to do it another way.
I can totally understand where he's coming from. I've never worked in Hollywood, but I know people who do, so I've seen their struggles from afar, and it seems to me to be an endlessly-frustrating endeavor. Yes, the rewards, when or if they ever come, are huge, but the trek to get there can be very long and somewhat soul-crushing. So I can understand Aronofsky wanting to step outside the Hollywood system to try and realize his storytelling dreams. And he's a super talented guy, so I'd be interested in checking out whatever sort of comic project he cooks up.
But I worry about this trend. I know there are lots of struggling screenwriters out there with scripts lying around that they haven't been able to sell. And I know a lot of them have recently been getting the idea to turn those scripts into comic books, that they can then turn around and try to get optioned as films.
This is not the recipe for good comics.
We comic folk are used to being fans of a medium that's so often viewed as the poor bastard step-child of both film and TV. But I don't think we much like being used as merely a grubby little stepping stone. We don't need comics that are hanging out at our party only because they couldn't get an invite to the much cooler shindig down the street. We don't need comics that would rather be something else.
We need more comics that want to be comics. That revel in it.
Like Chaykin's "American Flagg" wanted to be a comic
Like Grant Morrison's "Animal Man" and "Doom Patrol" wanted to be comics.
Like every new issue of "Acme Novelty Library" wants to be a comic.
Like pretty much everything Steve Gerber ever wrote or everything Kirby ever drew.
Those are the comics I want to read and the ones I want to write.
But still, if you're a struggling screenwriter with loads of unproduced scripts lying around, I realize the urge can be strong to wanna repurpose one of them as a comic book. All I ask, before you proceed, is that you run through this little checklist to determine if your screenplay can make it as a comic.
- Does your screenplay contain anything, absolutely anything, that would be remotely interesting for someone to actually draw? If the answer is no, then just stop here and walk away.
- Does it prominently feature a car chase or a meticulously choreographed John Woo-style shootout? Sorry, but we don't do those very well. If you insist on proceeding, better first find yourself an amazing artist. But I'm afraid Steranko's not returning your calls. Thanks but no thanks.
- Do you already know who you'd like to cast in your eventual film version, so you were hoping the artist could go ahead and draw the characters to look like those same actors and actresses? We do that on occasion, I admit, but it's not really us at our finest moment. Please reconsider.
- Is it a story about superheroes? Thanks, but we already have more than enough of those.
- But wait, I thought you people loved superheroes of all shapes and sizes, you might say. Yeah, a lot of us do. But really, we mostly just love Batman and Spider-Man and Wolverine and Green Lantern. Those characters we've all been reading for years. Your superhero's probably just a thinly-veiled version of one of those. Thanks, but we'll pass. Also, comics have been doing good superheroes for decades now, while Hollywood has only just started to figure out the formula. So don't assume you're gonna show us something that we haven't all seen before.
- In a related question, have you ever been to an actual comic book store? No, going to San Diego Comic-Con does not count. You could spend days at Comic-Con without ever seeing an actual comic book. Have you ever read any comics other than "Watchmen" or a few old issues of "X-Men?" If no, then at least go find a comic store and brush up a bit. Might I recommend "Scalped" from Vertigo? I hear it's not bad.
- Has this thought ever run through your head: "Comic books can't be that hard to write. I mean, most of them are just guys in spandex punching each other, right?" Sure. And a big chunk of movies are poorly written pieces of shit that still manage to make millions of dollars for their screenwriters. So what does it say about your work that you haven't been able to earn even a nickel off it? Thanks but no thanks.
- Have you already said in interviews that you're bringing this story to comics because you couldn't get it off the ground as a movie? If so, then know that we are likely already biased against you. Nobody likes being told they were your second or third choice for a prom date. At least have the decency to lie to our faces.
- Are you Joel Schumacher? I'm sorry, but there's still quite a grudge against you here for what you did to Batman. It might be best if you just stayed away.
- You understand you may have to give up at least a big chunk of the media rights in order to get this thing published, right? Hello? Are you still there? Hello?
If you're still with me, then welcome to the wonderful world of comics. I hope you and your repurposed screenplay are very happy here. I wish you the best of luck.
At least until Hollywood finally gives you that call you've been dreaming of.
And then you're on your own.