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Mark Millar on Making Movies

by  in Movie News, TV News Comment
Mark Millar on Making Movies

Mark Millar said so just before debuting footage of Matthew Vaughn’s “Kick-Ass,” but the truth bears repeating: the film adaption of he and John Romita, Jr.’s Icon comic book series owes its distribution deal to the fans. Independently financed and filmed, the hard-swearing, ridiculously violent story of would-be superheroes in the real world just inked a deal to be distributed by Lionsgate Films in 2010, and building buzz amongst the fanboy faithful proved the biggest bargaining chip in the creators’ arsenal.

Of course, no one knows how to work superhero fans into a lather like “Wanted” creator Millar with his often hyper-excited style of self-promotion and proclivity for making declarations on comics films (and whatever comes to his mind, really). At last week’s Chicago Comic-Con, Millar took a moment to talk to CBR News about what it means to make “Kick-Ass” a success with fans of his Marvel work, and how a second big Hollywood hit could affect what he does next.

CBR: Mark, everyone in comics knows that you’re good at hyping your projects and yourself. How is that translating to Hollywood? Have you been able to transfer your, let’s say, excitable way of interacting into meetings with movie producers?

MARK MILLAR: Oh my God, yeah. Think about it. There’s been no promotional campaign for [“Kick-Ass”] yet. There’s been no money spent on promotion. And then suddenly everyone’s talking about it because we planned this very carefully. We’d do [Comic-Con International in] San Diego and let a very select audience see 16 minutes of the movie and then the same thing at Chicago – the two best cons of the year, really. And the buzz is out there without spending a penny. It’s brilliant.

But really, if you want to see me whore myself out, watch over the next few months once we have a release date, because we don’t want to blow our load too soon. You really should wait until a couple of months before the movie comes out before you really go crazy. But my God, I’m so invested in this movie. Matthew [Vaughn] and I took deferred payments, which is no money up front. We just went in there and believed in it with our heart and soul, so we wanted to make sure it was a big movie at the end of it. The quality is there, so luckily we’re not out there pimping some shit we don’t like and it’ll be real easy.

Tell us about your San Diego experience.

You’ve got 6,800 people going absolutely ape shit for the movie. And that was really thrilling because even though we really, really love it and are so happy with it – and I think I’m a pretty good judge of what people generally like. I’m unlikely to do a movie like “Chocolat.” I mean, I quite enjoyed “Transformers 2.” But even so, your pal has just invested $50 million dollars of his friends’ money in this movie, and you think, “Shit. I hope people like this.” So we actually got a standing ovation and people going nuts and screaming. It was like a Frank Capra or a John Hughes movie moment at the end with Matthew and I looking at each other and like tears and our eyes. They loved it, and something that you love reaching somebody else is the best you can hope for in this game.

You used the “Superman: The Movie” music in the clips and the “Banana Splits” song. Will all of that stay in the movie?

It’s quite interesting watching everything get made because I see the order it all gets done in. And the very, very last thing has to be the music because if a composer is putting together a soundtrack and then you start messing around with the edits – maybe taking out 30 seconds here or there – obviously that interrupts the beats of the music. So the final music isn’t done yet. The composer is putting stuff together still. We don’t have a final cut yet. We’re probably going to shave 90 seconds just to tighten it up here and there. Then in about a month’s time the composer will start working properly on it. The movie is essentially finished, but there’s some special effects work that needs to be finished and a tiny bit of editing.

So that Superman music, I’d imagine we’d lost. I don’t imagine Warner Bros. letting us use it. [laughs] But the “Banana Splits” song should be in there. We’re hoping to get a other children’s soundtrack stuff. You know when Darth Vadar appears in “Star Wars” you always hear the “Doom Doom Doo Doom…Doom Doom Doom”? That’s his theme music, and we liked the idea of Hit Girl - whenever she’s killing people, you get punked up versions of children’s television shows. So it may be “The Hair Bear Bunch” or “Scooby Doo” or something when she’s cutting people’s throats. We wanted to get The Killers or somebody to maybe record a punked up version of that so then you’ve got a great Tarantino-style soundtrack.

When “Wanted” came out from Top Cow, a lot of people said, “By the end of this, Wesley becomes a superhero.” They were convinced. And with “Kick-Ass,” at the end of the first issue, Dave is beaten to a pulp, and most people thought, “Okay, this is the story of why a superhero can’t work in the real world.” But then a bunch of other would-be superheroes show up. How much do you want to pull the rug out from under your audience when you’re putting these story together?

I don’t consciously think, “Oh, I’m going to shock everyone.” What I want is to surprise everyone. To have Kick-Ass apparently dead at the end of the first issue and then in the hospital for six months, it’s quite unexpected, hopefully, for a superhero comic. I like to play with convention, and I knew it’d be dull if it was just this guy who was never interacting with other costumed people. You can get away with that for two issues, I think, but by the time the third issue came out, I knew I wanted to work in some more characters. And I’ve had these characters Hit Girl and Bid Daddy in my head for a couple of years, so they seemed perfect to segue into.

And we’re going to expand that world. Inside a couple of volumes, you’re maybe going to end up with 15 superheroes out there with superhero teams starting to form. I wanted it to feel organic and maybe like the early Marvel Universe that just starts off with a couple of guys and then gets bigger and bigger. So by the time you get to volume 3, you’ve got a couple of villain scenes, a couple of hero scenes. That kind of stuff.

Are you the kind of guy who’s keeping notebooks of character ideas for years in some kind of lockbox, waiting for this chance?

Do you know the funny thing? I actually do keep all these notebooks, but they’re indecipherable. I’ll sit there, and when I do it I get so excited and draw pictures of bullets going into heads and writer little notes like “this is very important for page 19, issue 8” or something… and then I lose the notebook. If I do find it, I can’t understand what I wrote. It’s like those dream diaries people keep under their beds. But I also genuinely keep losing the notebooks. I must fill a notebook a month while I’m working on stuff. By that reckoning, I should be doing 12 a year and have about 100 notebooks. But I’ve got six in the house, and they’re all useless. I think I could get twice as many books out if I was more organized. But I’m always thinking up the next thing, and I love sitting and doodling ideas, even if I forget some of them.

You’ve been doing movie stuff non-stop for the past few months. Do you think you’ll be shifting back to getting new creator-owned comic books out once it’s time to promote “Kick-Ass?”

Yeah. It’s really important. It’s surprisingly easy to do nothing. It’s really odd. I’ve always had a pretty good work ethic, I think. I always start at 8:00 am or 8:30 during the week and don’t finish until 6:00 at night. It’s a long day. I don’t take a break. I take a ten-minute lunch at one point and maybe phone some friends, but not much. It’s really weird how quickly your time can disappear when doing movie stuff. If you’re on set, you’re there from six in the morning ’til eight at night, and you’re not really working. You’re not creating anything. You’re just kind of standing around chatting and giving an opinion of something.

Even if you’re doing interviews and things like that - like with the “Wanted” movie, I just did interviews for the whole month of June. You’re doing UK interviews for that launch, then European ones, American ones, Canadian ones. And you’re either meeting people for an afternoon and doing a television interview or something, or you’re doing online stuff and late night telephone stuff. And then you think, “Hey, how come I’m not getting any writing done?” And it was my daughter, who’s only a kid, who says to me, “Dad, I thought you were a writer. Shouldn’t you be sitting at the computer and writing more often?” And suddenly, it hit me. It was such a brilliant point and so simple the way a kid could notice it. You’re job isn’t really all the promotion. It’s writing. So I try to remember that.

And when we finish “Kick-Ass” – I shouldn’t have much more to do with it now - I’m jumping right into the next property. There’s three new creator-owned projects I want to get out over the next twelve months. The first one will be out about the new year. I expect the next one around summer all with really huge artists. Leinil Francis Yu and I are talking about something. Steve McNiven and I are talking about something. McNiven and I have got a Marvel project as well. And Dave Gibbons and I are talking about something, which is really exciting. But I also want to do “Kick-Ass 2” because, my God, the movie’s coming out and I’d be stupid not to capitalize on it. Also, it was always planned at three books, so I’m dying to get into the next one.

If anyone can draw a full slate of work on top of another creator-owned book, it’s John Romita, Jr.

It’s Johnny! He’s spectacular. I always say this - and it’s not false modesty – he’s 80% of why that book works. I would not have done it if Johnny was not available. I would have waited six months to twelve months until he was. But I couldn’t imagine anyone else getting that gritty in the way that Johnny can do. It wouldn’t feel as dirty as it was. You could not have had a beautiful, painterly-looking comic called “Kick-Ass.” It had to look like Martin Scorsese on paper.

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