CBR TV: BOOM! Studios CEO on "Imagine Agents" with Michael Keaton & "Strange Fruit" Controversy

A little more than a year after relocating his office to the 20th Century Fox lot to help shepherd the expansion of BOOM! Studios' live-action plans in film and television, founder and CEO Ross Richie visited Jonah Weiland on CBR's enchanted floating tiki lounge from Comic-Con International in San Diego to discuss the year that was, what's next and more. Richie discusses the various roles he's played at his company, whether he enjoys building things more than maintaining their growth, and checks in on the controversy surrounding "Strange Fruit," the new BOOM! series by acclaimed creators Mark Waid & J.G. Jones. The discussion then shifts to the recent "Imagine Agents" option and Michael Keaton's role in the project, what's moving and shaking on the film side and where he sees the company striking next.

Ross Richie Forecasts BOOM! Studios' Busy Hollywood Slate

In the first part of the conversation, Richie explains how he was able to step away from the day-to-day operations of BOOM!'s publishing side to work on film and TV development, and how he's always gone wherever he's needed in order to best serve the needs of the company and its future growth. He discusses "Strange Fruit," and how both the book and creators Mark Waid & J.G. Jones have received criticism for their depiction of racism, and how oddly timed the ending of issue #1 ended up being in light of the renewed uproar regarding the Confederate flag.

On restructuring roles at the company and whether he's been comfortable stepping away from the day-to-day side of publishing:

It's been a great process, and it's something that once I build something at the company as far as like instituting a culture or an approach, it becomes less interesting to me. So when originally building out editorial, we have Mark Waid as Editor-in-Chief and then Matt [Gagnon] succeeded him in the role. Matt and I worked very closely hand in hand, so it really dovetailed nicely for me to then, when Chip Mosher left the marketing role, to take over the marketing role, really work on the marketing department, and then Filip [Sablik] came in and took over and I worked with him pretty extensively for a long time. And also on the publishing end as far as like the distribution relationships and sort of like the operational struggle of when the book comes from a printer to make sure that it gets to retail in a smooth process, the schedules, all of that stuff. And then we sort of peaked around the time of that Archaia acquisition, to then have Stephen Christy come in and assume a lot of the media roles. So I've been working very closely with Stephen, a year ago and some change we got the Fox deal, that was something that I wanted to supervise personally to make sure that went smoothly, the relationships were set up properly. We've had a killer year, it's been a great process on the feature side as well as the television component to it. To me it's a lot of fun. It's like there's always something to do, there's always a department to jump into to kind of fine tune, work with. It's a lot of fun.

Waid Responds to "Strange Fruit" Controversy: "What I Say About This is Not What's Important"

On how he views the criticism of Mark Waid & J.G. Jones' "Strange Fruit":

I think that any reader's experience with the book is something that's valid. As far as if something is valid to judge based on one issue, that's the readers prerogative. What I was really drawn to was when J.G. came to us with this as a concept -- J.G. grew up Louisiana, Mark grew up in Alabama, they have a great emotional connection to the way that race has been handled in their past as they were growing up in states that had a very sort of fracturous relationship with race. And that was something they wanted to address. Mark is a singular talent, J.G. is as well, and I think that it was something emotionally extremely important to them. As for the use of the n-word within the book, it's used by characters that are villains and is used in a historical context which was the n-word was used very widely in those parts of the country at that time. So I don't feel that -- happy to have a discussion with people who feel it was used improperly. I think that it's incredibly emotionally powerful and I think that it's used as such by the villains in a way that makes you dislike them, if not hate them. The story takes on race in a way that I think is very emotionally real for the creators who created the material.

For the second half of his conversation with CBR TV, Richie changes gears to discuss BOOM!'s growth on the film side. First up he talks about how excited he was to have Michael Keaton come on board the adaptation of Brian Joines & Bachan's "Imagine Agents," and how this is most definitely a passion project for the "Birdman" star. He also comments on other recent development deals and where he expects BOOM!'s next announcement will come from in terms of film and TV.

Michael Keaton Joins "Imagine Agents" Film Adaptation as Producer, Star

On the "Imagine Agents" film deal and Michael Keaton's involvement:

Michael's interest in the project was something that was long simmering. What had happened was his manager had found out about it and Michael actually has always been interested in imaginary friends. I believe, and I could be wrong about this, but I believe had an imaginary friend as a kid and so was instantly taken with the material as a vehicle to be able to express an area that he was interested in. We were thrilled to get that incoming phone call on the BOOM! side, and then worked closely with his managers to put everything together. And you know Brian [Joines] is a guy that -- that particular project had a long gestation period where I workshopped that with Brian for years, and he was incredibly patient. There was a dark version of it that was almost more of a "Nightmare on Elm Street," it was radically different, and he worked with us for a long time. Then what was interesting was that announcement came out through The Hollywood Reporter right at the time that we were doing our [SDCC] announcements so we kind of shifted some things around at the last minute and were able to make that our first announcement for San Diego.

On where BOOM! is headed next on the film and TV side of the business:

[20th Century] Fox has been an excellent partner. They bought "The Foundation," which Kody Chamberlain created; they bought a project from James Wan, a very exciting director, that we did with him a number of years ago. The things that they like from us are the big comic book ideas, things that are big sort of concepts -- fantasy, science fiction or... expect more. I think that television, the season is just starting, and so 20th has been extremely responsive and interested in a wide range of material from us. But you know in TV you need to go get showrunners and people like that. If I was a betting man, I'd say that we're probably gonna have a feature announcement in two-three weeks.

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