COG 1's David Uslan on Filming Comics

Thanks to new player COG 1 Entertainment, four more independent comics are heading for the screen. The production company is part of the COG 1 digital design firm, which has produced websites, advertisements, and casual online games for companies including SanDisk, IFC, and Fuse. COG 1 Entertainment is set to announce its first several comics-inspired film and television projects at New York Comic Con this weekend, but CBR News caught up with producer David Uslan to get an in-depth preview right now.

Uslan's father is the producer Michael Uslan, who was been behind each Batman film from Tim Burton's 1989 movie to Christopher Nolan's "The Dark Knight," as well as the recent Frank Miller-directed "The Spirit" and the "Swamp Thing" television series of the early 1990s. As such, the younger Uslan grew up immersed in comics and film. "My dad obviously is a big comic guy. I was born into that world, that unique bridge between the comic book world and the entertainment industry," Uslan told CBR.

The initial slate of projects from COG 1 Entertainment, which Uslan oversees as a partner in the COG 1 digital production company co-founded by cousin Jeff Hyman, will be two films and two television series based on comic book properties. The first movie, "Freemind," came about through Uslan's relationship with comics veteran Bob Layton, who created the series in his days at Future Comics. "I've known Bob my whole life," Uslan said. "Bob was real close with my dad, when he was over at Marvel in the 1970s--plus he's from Indiana, and my whole family went to Indiana University so there's that whole Hoosier connection.

"My favorite comic books of my entire life were the Valiant comic books of the '90s. Bob was the president of Valiant Comics and co-created just about every comic in the Valiant universe. So I have not only known Bob but been a huge fan of his my entire life. When I became a partner at COG 1 and formed COG 1 Entertainment, Bob was one of the first people I sought out." Uslan will produce "Freemind" with Marc Rosen of Rosen/Obsts Production and Robert Keyghobad.

The resulting arrangement between Layton and COG 1 includes the rights to all of Layton's Future Comics properties, so further films may be on the horizon.

Uslan described "Freemind" as "a non-comic book comic book movie." "It's a real character-driven piece," he said. "It's the story of a Stephen Hawking-type character who is handicapped, but he's a genius. All he wants to do in life is experience what an everyday normal person would experience, to feed himself, to go out on a date, be able to laugh, be able to go on a jog in the morning. So he created an android where he can put his brain, and when he transfers his mental capacity to this robot, not only did he transfer the typical 5% that every human being uses of his brain, he actually transfers 100%. So in this android body, he has full 100% control of his brain, and so he gets powers like mental telepathy and telekinetic powers and stuff he doesn't want. All he wants is to be a human being. He doesn't want to have to be responsible for saving people's lives and being a superhero."

Directing "Freemind" is David Nutter, whose credits involve a slew of television projects including "X-Files," "The Mentalist," "Smallville," and "ER." The "Freemind" project will be his first big-budget feature film, and his first movie since 1998's "Disturbing Behavior." "David Nutter is pretty much the greatest TV producer of all time. Just about every single series that he's done the pilot for has been picked up," Uslan said.

"We have amazing, A-list-caliber writers seeking us out to work on this project," the producer continued. "In the next couple weeks, probably around the time of the NY Comic Con, we're going to choose our writer, but we have had some absolutely amazing talent offering to write for us, because they want to work with David Nutter and be part of his first breakout movie, but they also understand that this material is just so wonderful that it would be great for any serious writer who does character-driven stories."

COG 1's other film project is "Brielle and the Horror," based on the independent comic book by Jordan and Jared Barel. "It's a story about a girl who was born possessed, and throughout her entire life this entity, this horror, has created chaos around her," Uslan explained. "There's disappearances, deaths of close family members, things that just cannot be explained happening all around her. And now the comic book takes place when she's an adolescent, and she's coming into a new school, in a new setting, in a new town, and this horror starts to come out of her again. And what makes this so unique, is that it's the story of not your typical exorcism, or not your typical possession story, it's a story about how she learns to deal with the horror inside of her, how she learns to control the horror."

"Brielle and the Horror" overlays photography with illustration, creating a distinctive visual style. Uslan said the film version will capture the mood and feel of the book, but will not be employing any sort of animation or hyperstylized imagery. "We're not going to do that '300'/'Spirit'/'Sin City' look, we're going to do it based in reality. But it's the grittiness of the comic book that we still want to be able to capture," the producer said.

Though no director has yet been attached to the "Brielle and the Horror" project, the series' creators will be writing the screenplay. "Normally, when I get a hold of property, I normally do not let the creators write the screenplay.You normally want to go with somebody who has a good history in the business, somebody salable, someone I trust with the material," Uslan explained. "But with this exception, these guys are writing the screenplay. They've just turned in their second draft, and it is absolutely phenomenal. These guys do a phenomenal job of writing a screenplay. Not only are they going to write the movie, but these guys will have a long history in the industry, as well. Jared is also a music video director, for some high-profile music videos before, and he's actually directed a three-minute trailer that we shot in hi-def for 'Brielle and the Horror' that we did to capture the tone of the movie. The trailer looks phenomenal, as well."

In development by COG 1 for television are two series based on comics by Steven Prouse. The first, "Graffiti," was originally published as an eight-page story by 803 Studios, and "Coin Operated Boy," which was a one-shot from Arcana Studios. "Steven Prouse is a phenomenal writer," Uslan said. "I met him at the San Diego Comic Con last year. Stephen has these wonderful ideas, he's a wonderful guy, and he showed me this story 'Graffiti' at his table as I was going down the aisle. The look of the artwork is absolutely amazing. The whole thing is shot in black and white, and it's almost like a detective noir story coming to life, even though it's only eight pages long.

"'Graffiti' is the story of this dark mysterious graffiti artist. The story opens up in underground New York, that's where the graffiti movement is going on these days, where all the major graffiti artists are actually working in these underground lairs, where nobody can bother them and where the walls are large and magnificent," the producer continued. "A group of these graffiti artists stumble across this mysterious guy in the underground subway system, creating this absolutely amazing mural, which has this forest, this amazing environment he's created. As they stumble upon him, they scare him. When they scare him, the guy literally walks into his mural and vanishes. And these kids can't believe what's going on, they go up and approach the mural, and they see movement within the mural. And the closer they get, they actually fall into the mural as well and get pulled in. We never find out what happens to them, it's a very short story. The final image is of subway workers whose job it is to keep everything clean in the subway, so they take out a brush and bucket of white paint and paint over the mural, thereby trapping these guys.

"Steven and I have expanded that premise into a wonderful sci-fi story that we're actually looking for writers now. I'm producing this with Tommy Lynch, who has a very long history in the television world. It's going to be about a group of kids who go this militarized, industrial, '1984,' 'Fahrenheit 451' world and try to help save it from the state that it's in."

"Coin Operated Boy" has its roots in Isaac Asimov's "I, Robot." "The story is about a girl in her late 20s/early 30s, living in a big city, and she is alone," Uslan said. "She's never found true love, she is alone in a big city, which is the worst place any young woman could be at, by herself. She has a couple friends but she has nobody to talk to at night, nobody to go to the movies with, nobody to get in bed with at night and read stories to, and laugh and play around with. She's a brilliant girl, and what she does is she creates a robot, and not only to fulfill her sexual desires but also just to be a companion, somebody that she can communicate with, somebody that she can snuggle up next to at night, and fill this void that's created in her life living in the big city.

"She creates this robot, and this robot is wonderful. It's smart and it looks human and has human-like features. And it's to fulfill all of these needs that she has in life, and it's programmed to protect her. It's built to look out for her and be there whenever she needs it to be there. The story eventually evolves to where she finds her true love, but when she finds this guy, the robot immediately perceives him as a threat, because she's been hurt by these guys before. And he has to protect her. So through physical violence and threats, this robot tries to defend this girl from the possible love interest in her life. And what happens in the end in this beautiful, beautiful conclusion to the story, is the robot finally understands that it is the true threat, not this guy."

Uslan envisions "Coin Operated Boy" as a backdoor pilot -- a pilot episode that can stand alone as a movie or TV miniseries -- catering to a female audience, one that would be suitable for ABC Family, TNT, or Lifetime.

Uslan emphasized that on these and any future projects COG 1 may develop, his company aims to stay true to the comics that inspire the films and television series. "There are two principles that I live by that I make people aware of in the first meeting, in the first conversation I have with anybody," he said. "One: when I work on a property, we will stay true to the premise. I am more apt to say no and turn down a deal rather than move forward with it if the vision gets too screwed up. And two: the creator will be involved with me through the entire development process. He's not going to be excluded, things won't fall out of his hands. He'll be part of the whole journey, and because of that we have compiled over fifty properties of independent comic books, graphic novels, original concepts by peak creators out there, and they trust me with their properties because of these principles that I live by. That's why I get top properties, and work on a daily basis with people like Peter David, people like Bob Layton, and the best in the business."

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