CCI Xtra: The Spirit Movie Panel…With An Important Update!

Comic-Con International in San Diego centers a lot on the new: new comic books from publishers, new video games, new toys, new-new-new-new-new…

However, Comic-Con is also a time to appreciate the past, and, in particular, past creators. Before his death in 2005, Will Eisner was always a big part of the con. As a matter of fact, he would attend every year to hand out Eisner Awards (named after him, of course) at the ceremony which takes place over the weekend.

One of Eisner's greatest creations was "The Spirit," a masked crime-fighting vigilante. Development of a film based on the property was announced at a previous con, and most recently, it was announced that Frank Miller ("Sin City," "Dark Knight Returns") would be writing and directing this film. At Saturday panel, though, they had one additional announcement that showed true appreciation for Eisner's creation and will make fans very happy - the film is no longer called "The Spirit." Instead, it is going to be titled "Will Eisner's 'The Spirit.'"

This was announced by Producer Michael Uslan as he kicked off "The Spirit Movie Panel." Joining him onstage were co-producer Deborah Del Prete, screenwriter and director Frank Miller, and Eisner's family friend and consultant for the film, Denis Kitchen.

Miller started the panel by discussing how he came to the decision to be involved with the film. He said that when the producers first approached him, his initial reaction was "I can't do that" - the writer in him was worried about "messing up" Eisner's creation. Then, the more he thought about it, the more his response changed into "I can't let anyone else touch that thing."

Miller's love for "The Spirit" was very evident at the panel. He added that he wants to keep the character "scary and mysterious" - the way Eisner created him. The director also indicated that he doesn't want to change a thing about the Spirit in the film - "Not even the silly mask."

Producer Uslan indicated that it was currently a "golden age for comic book movies," and that there were three reasons to feel this way: 1) filming technology has finally caught up with the stories comic books tell, 2) Hollywood finally has begun to appreciate comic books as source material, and 3) people now realize that comic books mean more than just superheroes. This is what has allowed films like "Road to Perdition" and "Sin City" to get made.

During the Q&A that followed, an audience member asked if Ebony would be in the movie. [Ed. Note: Ebony was the black sidekick of the Spirit who, unfortunately, was written as a stereotype of the time in which he was created.] Miller responded, saying "No Ebony. Every writer has a bad day. Ebony was just one long bad day."

Regarding the many women in the Spirit's life, the director said, "Eisner had an amazing way of creating the sexiest women who never take their clothes off. I'd like to duplicate that in the film."

As for the setting of the movie, Miller expressed that the film "should feel timeless," but contemporary as well. Therefore, the story doesn't necessarily belong to any specific time period. He wants to include many of the 1940 touches, but the characters may (or may not) have cell phones.

Although he's still working on the story, the director does have a few specific ideas in mind. For one, Police Commissioner Dolan would be in the film. To this, Miller also added that if the Spirit is in his 20s, Dolan should be in his 40s.

Miller also said the villain Octopus should be in the film, and that he plans on squeezing in as many femme fatales as he can. He also indicated that he's looking forward to casting the roles of the fatales as well.

For the film's production design, the director said he "wants colors to mean something in the film." Naturally, the Spirit will have his blue suit and red tie, but he may stick with something close to the way color was used in the "Sin City" film. Kitchen also added that Eisner wasn't crazy about his work being published in color, and preferred seeing it in black-and-white.

Shooting on the film is still up in the air, although Miller hopes to begin in May, after physical production on "Sin City 2" wraps.

When asked why the Spirit was a good character for a film, the director said he liked him because "he had honor, good manners, and a propensity for violence." Still, Miller wanted to let people know that he's trying to crawl into Eisner's head and present the creator's vision of the character, not Miller's. He assured the audience that the film wasn't going to be "'Sin City' with a mask."

That said, Miller does plan on shooting the movie "Sin City"-style - which is to say that much of it will be filmed in front of green-screens. The backgrounds are important to the director, and he wants the movie to feel as if "Eisner's hand is drawing the movie."

The next questions veered away from "the Spirit." Regarding the number of "Sin City" film sequels Miller has planned, he indicated that he'd like to do as many as he has stories for - "Hell, I'd love to go to ["Sin City"] 5."

A DC project of Miller's that some may have heard of goes by the name of "Holy Terror, Batman." The story has Batman fighting real world terrorists. When asked the status, Miller said he is 130 pages into it, and he needs 60-70 pages more. However, with all of the film work he has in front of him, he's not sure when it will be done.

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