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Top Cow’s Matt Hawkins on “Ailibi” Movie Deal

by  in Comic News Comment
Top Cow’s Matt Hawkins on “Ailibi” Movie Deal

Earlier this week, news broke that Top Cow Productions and Mandeville Films are partnering for a film version of “Alibi,” based on the short-lived “Pilot Season” title of the same name. CBR News caught up with Top Cow President Matt Hawkins – also the co-creator of the “Alibi” franchise – to discuss how the film deal came to fruition, what fans can expect from the movie and what Top Cow’s plans are for its other big screen projects.

Pilot Season: Alibi
The only issue of “Alibi” was released as part of Top Cow’s “Pilot Season” initiative

CBR: “Alibi” didn’t have a particularly lengthy comic book run by any means. For the uninitiated, can you dive into the story and characters a little bit?

MATT HAWKINS: The comic book that came out was part of the “Pilot Season” process and, ironically, it wasn’t one of the winners. The original conceit was that there were these two brothers. One of them was sort of in the public eye – people knew who he was, he was some sort of socialite. In the comic, he’s interrogated by the CIA. He’s playing a cat-and-mouse game with them. His brother is out on the field taking out high profile targets – he’s a contract killer. No one knows who he is; his identity doesn’t exist. They share a Social Security number, that’s probably a better way to put it. That’s why he’s able to provide the perfect alibi.

The problem is, the brother that’s in the field seemingly gets killed. The socialite brother is a little softer because he’s been hanging out in bars and not in the minefield, but he has to go out and take his place and fulfill some contract commitments. That’s the direction we were going with the comic book storyline. Sometimes, as these things go, the simpler the basic concept, the better it is. It’s a real simple concept: there are two brothers who were originally part of some CIA black-ops group. When that group was taken off the books, these guys were out on the field cut off on their own and they went into business for themselves.

Will the movie’s plotline stick pretty closely with what you had in mind for the comic?

Not necessarily. There have been a couple of takes. We’re talking to some writers. To me, there’s a couple of different ways to do it. I think the basic premise will remain intact, but it’s like when “Wanted” was done and super-villains were changed to super-assassins and it needed to be grounded more in reality. Fortunately for “Alibi,” it already is grounded in reality; there are no superpowers. These brothers are just smart.

Like you said, this was a “Pilot Season” book that didn’t win. Do you think “Alibi” might be better suited as a film than as a comic book?

It could be. When we did “Pilot Season,” there were several books – “Genius” is an example of a book that we had some film interest on. For me, looking at “Genius” from the get go, we weren’t doing it because we thought it’d make a good movie. In effect, you have an African-American girl killing cops in the ‘hood and she’s the good guy – theoretically, that’d be a hard film to make, but ironically, we’re getting quite a bit of interest in that property as well.

For “Alibi,” there are movies like “Spy Game” and “Three Days of the Condor.” There’s a lot of spy stuff out there. It’s a little easier to make for film. The truth is, now with the film in development, of course we’re going to be doing more comics. I’m hoping to bring [writer] Josh Fialkov back, if he’ll have us, to finish out the series so we can put out a nice graphic novel at some point. I don’t know when we’ll do that. We’d have to figure out the schedule and I know [artist] Jeremy Haun is very busy. If we want him to do it, we’d probably have to wait a year and a half, which is fine! Getting a film made takes years, anyway.

Honestly, it’s weird. When you look at comic books that have been successfully turned into films, there’s some stuff – look at the original Ninja Turtles, that’s not a book that sold very well. Look at “Surrogates,” for that matter. That book didn’t sell. It might’ve sold in the trades and it might be selling now for the film’s release, but it was not a top-seller by any means. I think at the end of the day, a lot of these production companies are looking for good stories that they can get behind and develop. Good stories stand out. At the end of the day, that’s all that matters.

Pages from “Pilot Season: Alibi”

Can you give us a little history on how “Alibi” made the leap from comic book to movie deal?

The original concept came to me via a company called Palisades Toys; one of the founders of that was a guy named Mike Renegar, who used to work at “MAD Magazine” and Diamond [Comic Distributors] back in the day. Mike and I had known each other for almost 15 years and three or four years ago he came to me and said, “You know, I have this idea.” Originally, [the idea] was about two girls: what if a Paris Hilton-type chick was a cover for another assassin that went out and killed people. We eventually flipped it to guys. But Mike came to me with it and said he even had a name for it – “Alibi.” I thought that was cool.

He and I worked on it together over the course of a few months and developed a basic storyline for it. We changed it to guys, we came up with some stuff, then I decided to put it into “Pilot Season.” [Former Top Cow editor] Rob Levin at the time had gotten Josh Fialkov to agree to write the comic book version. So, we sort of cut the story short – we could only do so much – and Josh added a lot. He did a great job on the book and we were very, very happy with what he’d done.

After that, I sat down and wrote a basic outline of what I thought would be a cool “Alibi” film. It’s sort of a short treatment. There’s a guy named David Manpearl over at Mandeville Films, and my agents forwarded the document over to him. He and I spent several months going back and forth talking about it, and I just really liked the guy. He seemed like a nice guy, not your typical Hollywood putz. He and I developed the treatment even further where he actually got creatively involved in terms of developing, so we ended up co-crediting each other with writing the treatment. I was really happy with the way it went.

Then [Mandeville] bought it. They got the deal and they wanted to make it. They’re real hot right now. They just did “The Proposal,” they have “The Surrogates” coming out in September, they’ve got another project they’re working on called “The Fighter.” I’m a big fan of these guys. They just make good movies. A lot of the time when you get involved in the Hollywood projects, there’s always that fear that you’re going to get involved in making that crappy “Vampirella” movie, you know? It kills your franchise.

Of course, you want to make sure you’ve got your property in the right hands.

Yeah – and you want to make sure they don’t suck! [laughs] That’s sort of the basic thing. I’ve been pretty liberal in my beliefs on some of this stuff, but I’d rather never have a film or TV show or game or anything like that if it’s gonna suck. We don’t need the money that bad. We’re in this for the long haul, we want to develop properties and make them cool, and we just want to be involved in stuff that we like. When I first started working with Marc Silvestri back in 1998, he sat me down and said, “There’s two things that matter to me. I want things to be good and I want to develop characters that people want to be – a wish fulfillment sort of angle.”

Pages from “Pilot Season: Alibi”

We’ve had some interesting history [at Top Cow]. I think “Wanted” did good for us, but it did more for Mark Millar than it did for Top Cow. Our name is still on that, we publish the book, and I made the original deal, so I’m gonna take as much credit for that as I can! [laughs] You know how it goes! [Millar’s] a very prolific marketing guy, he’s a genius writer and you’ve gotta give credit where credit is due.

But that’s pretty much the genesis of the project. We still have a lot of hurdles to leap: we’ve got to find the screenwriters, package a group together. The thing I like about Mandeville is they have their own development money and they’re aggressive, which a lot of other companies don’t have right now; they’re putting a package together on a hope and a prayer that all the pieces will stick together, but these guys [at Mandeville] are real film producers. They make movies and they’re not relying on someone else to come in and pay for development. At the end of the day, they make good movies.

Have Top Cow and Mandeville been looking at anyone in specific in terms of actors, directors or writers yet?

We’ve had some conversations, but no one has jumped out as who we want to go with. In terms of an actor, I think you’ll look at some kind of star actor who’s going to play both brothers. There are very few twin brothers out there that I know of that are acting in Hollywood at all. But I think having this shot the way it is provides sort of a unique challenge, because you have one brother who’s a little softer and one who’s a little harder. In effect, you’ll have to shoot it at different times and then merge it. It creates some interesting shooting problems to solve that, if done correctly, can be very cool. I think you need some sort of leading man type and there’s a ton of guys out there who’d be great at it, like Sam Worthington, Brad Pitt… any of these guys could spin a phenomenal version of it, depending on whether you wanted the characters a little older or a little younger.

In terms of directors and all that, I think it’s all too soon to say. At this point, we’ve had several conversations about writers. I think that’s the initial thing – we need a script! It’s the same problem we have on “Witchblade.” Until we have a script, there’s no movie. Doesn’t matter if we have someone famous to develop it. You need to find the right writer and get ’em writing. Once we have a script that’s close enough that we can start assembling the other pieces, that’s when you get talent attached. All these people jump on board once it’s a little more real, otherwise it’s just another of a hundred properties in development. I mean, we have like 10 properties in development right now!

You’ve got “Magdalena,” “Wanted 2,” hopefully “Witchblade” soon. At your Comic-Con panel, you also talked about movie versions of “The Darkness” and “Aphrodite IX.” Is it a good time to be at Top Cow?

Yeah, absolutely! Top Cow is in a very good position right now. There are only a handful of companies out there that are able to generate what I call original content that actually matters. I think IDW and Dynamite are great companies – and Dark Horse, for that matter – but they’re all very licensing-driven. If you look at us, BOOM! Studios, Radical – there’s probably others I’m missing – these companies are designing original comic launches, and that’s much harder to do. The one advantage we have is that we’ve been doing it for 18 years. Most of these other companies have only been around for two, three years, tops. There’s something to longevity and hundreds of issues being put out.

Pages from “Pilot Season: Alibi”

But I’ve kind of learned my lesson from being involved in projects in the past: nothing is really real until you’re on that first day of filming. Even if you have a movie in the can, sometimes they get canceled and never come out. To me, it’s one of those things where, again, we have a ton of stuff in development and it’s a good time and exciting, but none of it is real until it’s really real.

There were several announcements that I wanted to make at San Diego. I really pushed to make them but they didn’t come through for me. One was on “Aphrodite IX,” the other was on “The Darkness.” There’s definitely some activity on those. But as I’ve seen recently in the press, people have kind of gotten slapped around by making announcements before they had contracts signed. That stuff kind of pisses me off sometimes, because people say they’ll do it and then they back away in the end. For us, we want to make sure we have everything lined up so it doesn’t bite us in the ass. The last thing we need is some shit storm when we make an announcement that people turn around and say isn’t true!

Do you think “Alibi” is actually going to happen?

I would hope so. I think there’s a lot of energy and I think that Mandeville is the kind of company that doesn’t option 5,000 things just to have a bunch of stuff in development. When you look at their slate, they don’t have 400 things in development and they’re going to pick five of those and make them into movies. If I had to handicap it, this project has a better shot than maybe some of our others for several reasons. One, it’s grounded in a reality-based production and has sort of a timely quality to it. Things like supernatural [stories], sometimes different genres sort of come and go and pop. I’ve said this a million times: for us, it’s about going out and developing with as many quality producers, directors and writers as we can and putting as much in development as possible. Even guys like Jerry Bruckheimer don’t get everything they develop made.

You had a huge hand in making “Alibi” come to life in the first place. How excited are you personally about the possibility of it coming to the big screen?

I am pretty stoked! [laughs] It’s very fulfilling and validating for the long hours. For every success, there are five failures, and most people forget about four of them. For me, I’m looking at our track record overall: it’s certainly not one hundred percent. We’ve got a number of properties that we’ve developed and have gone nowhere. In terms of this specific one, honestly, the limited level of the number of books and the awareness of the project, I’m actually pretty excited. I think this potentially has a franchiseable level. It’s certainly got sequel opportunities in film, and gives us the opportunity to license and do various things. Overall, it’s very exciting.

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