Mark Verheiden has been straddling the worlds of comics and film for a long time. He helped to define Dark Horse with "The American" and "Timecop" and writing the early "Aliens" and "Predator" titles, which rank among the best tie-in material created in comics -- or any media, for that matter. He's written extensively for DC Comics, including "Superman" and "Superman/Batman." Verheiden also worked on the movies "The Mask" and "Timecop," and on a number of television shows including "Smallville" and most recently "Battlestar Galactica."
In addition to writing and producing the Peabody Award winning "Battlestar Galactica," the final episode of which begin airing January 16, Verheiden joined the writing staff of "Heroes," overseeing the "Fugitives" arc that starts in February. Verheiden also wrote the film "My Name is Bruce" starring and directed by the one and only Bruce Campbell. The film had a limited theatrical release in 2008 and will be coming to DVD in February.
CBR News spoke with Mark Verheiden about his many projects.
CBR: How did 'My Name is Bruce" come about?
Mark Verheiden: I've always been an enormous fan of the "Evil Dead" movies and of Bruce Campbell as an actor. I had actually worked with Bruce on a TV show I did in the nineties called "Timecop" which didn't last very long. Bruce was on that show and I had bumped into him from time to time and I knew that Dark Horse was talking to him about various things. I thought that Bruce was not being particularly well served by the alien apocalypse genre and I thought it would be fun to come up with something that would be great for him.
I love old comics. I have a huge collection of them. There was a comic back in the fifties called "The Adventures of Alan Ladd." In one of the stories, Alan Ladd, the actor, is kidnapped off a set by pirates and I just thought this would be perfect for Bruce, that kind of an idea. So I sat down and came up with the idea, talked to Mike Richardson at Dark Horse because, incidentally, Dark Horse was starting an independent film company, and then we sat down with Bruce. He liked it a lot and I wrote it and we were off.
It's interesting that your original idea was for the lead character to be Bruce Campbell and not simply some obnoxious actor.
Well, that was one of the fun things about working with Bruce, because he is a nice, very talented guy -- but in the movie but he's totally willing to savage himself. When people see the movie it is clearly not a flattering portrayal of the character. One of the funniest moments when I was on the set, I had just flown back from New York where "Battlestar" had won a Peabody Award for enlightening humanity or something. [laughs] I walk on the set and he's shooting the scene where he kicks the guy in a wheelchair into traffic. I thought, whoa, career diversity. [laughs]
But also it's pretty brave of Bruce to name all his own movies and trash them, more or less. I think he's actually too hard on himself in some ways but I think it made it more fun. As Bruce points out, that is not Bruce Campbell. That is a character Bruce Campbell, which gets meta on a whole bunch of weird levels.
Dark Horse published a comics adaptation of the film, bringing it full circle from the Alan Ladd comic.
Yeah. I had very little to do with that. If we could've done it as Alan Ladd that would have been perfect.
He is dead, so legally there wouldn't have been an issue.
He wouldn't mind. He was a great actor. He deserves to be ridiculed.
There's been talk of a sequel to "My Name Is Bruce." Is that a possibility?
We're still talking about it. A lot of it depends on the response to the movie and also to our various schedules. The movie was shot in the summer of '06 and since then we've both busied up. Bruce is on "Burn Notice" and I'm on "Heroes" and we'd have to find time to do it. But we've talked about it. I guess we're still just waiting.
Waiting to see how the movie does when the DVD gets released?
Yeah. And as vain as it sounds, it would also be about making sure we find an idea that takes it a step further and also finding time to do it. I've said it before, I'll work with Bruce any time on any thing. He's a great collaborator and a fun guy to work with and I love him as a comic-dramatic actor. A rare commodity.
Most people, let alone most actors, wouldn't poke quite so much fun at themselves as he does in the movie.
No, most people won't. And in fact when you think about it, there's not a lot of guys -- there's some but not a lot -- who take time out of their schedule to make little low budget movies. There's a whole D.I.Y. aspect to Bruce that I really admire and I like being around because you can get kind of caught up in this big machinery of development and production. It's fun just to do it. Bruce is always saying if you want to make movies go out and make movies. He doesn't just say it, he does it.
Are you contributing anything to the DVD in terms of commentary or extras?
Bruce and Mike Richardson of Dark Horse have commentary. I did shoot some stuff. They have a documentary called "Heart of Dorkness" which is on there. The couple of days I was on set, I did some on-camera stuff. I haven't seen "Heart of Dorkness" yet so I don't know what they used or didn't use but I'm sure that will have a lot of backstage stuff. He pretty much had a crew following him through the shoot. That should be fun. It's funny. When I was there, it wasn't just a barrel of laughs. Bruce is funny in terms of his performance but it's a tightly budgeted film on a tight schedule so he was pretty serious business. Which is what it needed to be to get done. It should be interesting for me to see some of the more behind the scenes stuff.
Just to switch gears, the final episodes of "Battlestar Galactica" are coming out this month. What can you tell us about those?
I can be pretty general. I will be happy when they finally start showing them because it's driving me crazy to not be able to discuss it.
How long ago did the show wrap up?
We finished the show in July . Maybe August. And then "The Plan," the movie, finished a couple months ago. It's been in the can for a while. They're probably just locking them now, I believe. I doubt if they're all completely finished yet but close. I've seen cuts of all of them. I have not seen "The Plan," though.
Is the ending worthy of the show and what's come before, and will it excite and/or infuriate everyone?
Look, I love the show, so I have bias, but if you ask the actors that were on the show, if you ask the crew, you ask any of the writers, those final episodes are some of the most moving and amazing stories I've ever seen for television. Or any medium, for that matter. As a wrap up to this series, it is really quite amazing and I know that sounds like hyperbole but they're great. It is hard to imagine how to wrap something up that's not only got so many pieces you're trying to wrap up and so many characters. It's certainly been an emotional ride for the audience. But if anyone did it, it's these episodes. They are really something and I think people will be very pleased and moved by them. And by the way I'll also say the final ten episodes are quite a ride. I will say we answer most of the dangling questions that are out there about the Cylons, the final five and where they end up and what happened to that blown up planet.
I've never been on a show where we knew it was ending and we could write to an ending and what that gives you is a sense of any reticence is off the table, let's write the ending. It also means no character is safe. And none of them are. It is not an easy trip for this rag tag crew as they file forward for the final run.
When did you find out this would be the last season of "Galactica?" Did you learn last season or before this one started?
We knew from the start of this season, season four. The decision was made fairly early. So it ended up being twenty-three episodes because the "Razor' movie is counted as part of season four even though it's a flashback episode. But we knew, so every aspect of the show from episode one on was building towards the end.
People have asked, "Are you happy it's ending?" And I don't know anyone that ever worked in TV who's happy about something ending. I think we're happy we're able to end it in a satisfying way. I think the worst thing that could have happened would be to plow through season 4 and anticipate doing another without wrapping things up and then finding we couldn't. This is he best way to do that and by the way, I can't thank the SciFi Network enough for being so supportive of the show. They supported eighty-some episodes of a very challenging sci-fi experience and it's been great. And obviously they picked up "Caprica."
Were you involved in developing the spinoff, "Caprica?" Are you returning to work on the show?
At this point I'm not quite sure how I can do that since I'm on "Heroes." I was involved in the early stages of "Caprica." Not the pilot, but we did planning for the series and I wrote the first episode for the series. As far as continuing with the series, I just don't know. I'm gloriously busy and as a freelance writer basically all my working life, I love that. It's great to be busy. I've known the alternative and busy is far better.
With "Caprica," it's a fascinating idea because on the one hand, if you watch "Battlestar," you know how the story ends in a sense, but it seems like a completely different story and a different kind of story.
Again, I don't know whether it's going to change from what we had planned earlier, but if it follows any of what we'd discussed, it's wildly different from "Battlestar." It's set on Caprica but it's wildly different in terms of tone -- very emotional, very character based. What it shares with 'Battlestar" is very adult, science fiction themes. It's just great to know that's going to be coming. One of the great things of being able to work on "Battlestar" was being able to work on a genuinely adult science fiction show. There are others and have been others. I'm not saying "Battlestar" was the only one, or even the best, but it's one that I think pushed the genre forward a bit.
You're on "Heroes" now. How did happen?
'Battlestar" had wrapped and I had some friends who were working there already. I met with ["Heroes" creator] Tim Kring and we mutually decided for me to come on and join as a consultant for the second half of season 3. It's been exciting. It's a huge show. Quite different in some respects from "Battlestar." Some good. I think just on one level, the budgets are amazing and it's fun to see the things you can do. We're slightly more liberated than I think we were on "Battlestar," although we were able to accomplish a lot on "Battlestar." And it's a great bunch of people.
When I started, someone said, "wow it's got to be hard to catch up on all this mythology" and I said, "buddy, what do you think I've working on?' I've been working on heavily mythologized shows. There is a lot of complex mythology in the past and I think as we're going forward we're losing a bit of that complexity and moving towards stories that are more user friendly and accessible and I think people will notice a shift in the beginning of the second half of season three, "The Fugitives" arc. It's exciting and I don't know how to describe it exactly. The tone is pretty intense. Not that "Heroes" hasn't been intense before but it's pretty intense. It has all our guys pretty much on the same path.
You were brought on to work on the second arc of the season. Was "Villains" already laid out and the new status quo set up?
Tim and the people there certainly had an idea of what they wanted to do with the "Fugitives" arc before I came on board. "Villains" was basically done when I joined. I did not contribute to that, that all happened before I came. For the "Fugitives" arc, they certainly knew what they wanted to do, so for me it was about coming on board and jumping in. I started "Galactica" in Season 2 so it's not like I'm unfamiliar with jumping in and catching up and rocking and rolling. In fact, like "Battlestar," on 'Heroes" I wrote and produced the second episode of the "Fugitives" arc so I got in there pretty quick. [laughs]
I was able to work in the room with the writers and the writers have been very accepting and helpful. And look I needed help, and probably still do, to get caught up and understand all the ins and outs of the show's mythology and how things work and how to get things to work. It's been good. I've been there at this point four or five months and so the new guy-itis has drifted off and now I'm able to contribute as much as I can. But it's Tim Kring's show and my job is to help realize his thoughts and offer my own too and see where we can go.
What we tried to do with the show as a group, people will notice that we're not doing as many stories per show and lingering a bit on the stories we're doing. And we'll see how that goes. It's a crazy world out there.
How many episodes is "Fugitives?'
Twelve. Twenty-five in all for Season Three.
It felt like a major aspect of the "Villains" arc, both to its benefit and detriment, was setting up a new status quo. Do you think that's fair?
I think there is an aspect to that. It was running some characters through some very intense paces and exploring them. I think the back-story we did on some of these people is very interesting but I think in going forward what we're probably doing is leaving some of the stuff of "Villains' behind. You'll see that Primatech and Pinehurst aren't viable anymore. So those entities will be dissolved and a couple of characters have decided to, one in particular, taken a dramatic new turn that will set off where we're going with "Fugitives' very clearly. The Nathan character played by Adrian Pasdar, a great actor, he has some really fun and emotional turns coming in the "Fugitives" arc. There's also a great arc with Sylar coming up. Very fun. He's a fun character to write for. Tim wrote the first episode and it's really great.
I do want to be clear on "Heroes" that I don't have an issue with "Villains." I wouldn't have come on the show if I'd had huge issues with it. It's not about that at all.
It was announced that the great John Glover is joining the show as Sylar's father, and you've worked with him before on "Smallville," where he played Lex Luthor's father.
Obviously, with my "Smallville" background, I love that they got him. He's fabulous and he'll be perfect for this part. It's a great part. That's all I'll say about that.
It's been a chaotic past month or two on "Heroes," between the staffing changes and the coverage in the media about the show going downhill and such. Does all that affect the work?
First of all, I don't know that I agree that it was that bad. So I don't know if I approve the premise of some of it. But going forward, we're not deaf. We listen to what the general drumbeat is and as we go forward, I think we've made some adjustments. But they were adjustments that were being made before all this stuff really came down. One thing I've learned after doing this for a while is that you can't really control that sort of thing. You can just do the best you can do. That's what I'm about, trying to do the best shows we can do. I was reading somewhere where someone suggested that, "well they must not care about the show." [laughs] Critique it all you want. You can have all the issues you want, but in terms of caring I'm telling you we care about the show. Not just the writers, not just the producers, the cast, the enormous crew, everyone. It's a little absurd.
You can't spend that much time and effort on something and be apathetic.
Exactly. You don't stay in the office until midnight and work seven days a week and all this stuff because you're just knocking it out. We're very passionate about the show. Look. If people have a problem with what has come before, that's the world. I don't know what to say about it except that as we go forward we're doing the best we can to make a fun, entertaining show and look, it's a challenging environment in terms of what's going on in the world for television in general. So that impacts how things happen, too. Is that a fun part of being there where there's all this? That's probably the least fun part. But everybody who's there is killing themselves to make the best show possible. You can't fault us for lack of trying.
The next couple months are pretty busy for you.
Yeah. "Battlestar" returns in January. The "Fugitives" arc starts in early February now. "My Name is Bruce" comes out on DVD in February. That's enough.