WW Philly: The Brotherhood Behind "Blackbeard"

A trio of 20-something filmmakers mysteriously taken away into the woods of Burkittsville, Maryland and a notorious English pirate decapitated in American waters may not seem to have anything in common, but come December the two very different cultural keystones will clash when the indie horror mavens behind "The Blair Witch Project" bring Blackbeard the pirate to the comic book world.

Announced today at Wizard World Philadelphia's "Dynamite Entertainment" panel, the publisher will release a 12-issue series entitled "Blackbeard" as conceived and created by "Blair Witch" alumni Eduardo Sanchez and Gregg Hale (respectively co-director/writer and producer on the '90s indie horror hit). Like so many comic projects these days, the literary telling of the life of the legendary pirate was originally conceived as a movie screenplay, but the creators promise that the scripts for the issues written by Jaime Nash (the indie horror comedy film "Two Front Teeth") and Robert Napton (Dynamite's "Battlestar Galactica: Origins" comics) will break out beyond the bounds of what can be presented in the average movie.

"I think [Blackbeard] is one of the most interesting characters from the golden age of piracy," said Hale. "We hired a researcher to start looking into Blackbeard as a historical character, and as we learned more about him and found out these different things about him, he became more and more compelling as a character because he seemingly was a lot more than just this notorious pirate everyone knows him to be."

The original reams of research compiled by Hale, Sanchez and company landed in the hands of Nash, whose task was to develop the spine of the story into screenplay form - a task which ended up being more unruly than expected. "I think it spanned Blackbeard's entire life, so it ended up getting upwards of 200 pages," said Nash. "Really the idea of a comic book is much better suited to what we wanted to do, all these different threads we wanted to bring out. That part really excited me. I was just talking to Robert about these little gems that would be perfect if we could expand on them, but we had to cut them from our screenplay because it wouldn't fit in a two and a half to three hour movie."

When "Blackbeard" hits comic stands next year, the result will be part true life, part fiction as the team dives into the life of the pirate to unlock his seemingly murderous motivation. "There's no historical information about the man he was before he became Blackbeard. We're speculating as to what the hell happened to this kid to become this infamous pirate. There's a lot of ground to cover," said Sanchez.

That ground will include the stories of Blackbeard's most famous sea battles, an exploration of his motivations and, as Napton describes it, "lots of action and cannonballs." For readers who are curious to find out what visual tone and look the book will take (an artist has yet to be named), the writers of the new series say to look no further than Dynamite's other classic character output.

"Why I think this makes so much sense at Dynamite is because of what they've done with 'The Lone Ranger,'" said Napton. "I wasn't a Lone Ranger fan, but when I read that comic, I became a fan. It's so well done. And it's the same with 'Zorro' and 'The Man With No Name.' They're taking these great iconic characters and presenting them for the 21st Century, and I think that's what we're trying to do for 'Blackbeard' is tell a version of the story that hasn't been told before."

"I think we're all in agreement that we want it to have kind of a rough edge," added Hale, noting that the art would be "a little gritty and realistic in terms of it almost matching our aesthetic on the filmmaking side, where we like things to be not as polished as you'd normally see."

As for the original pitch to take their version of "Blackbeard" to the silver screen, that process will continue on, using the comic as the complete exploration of the creative team's decidably adult ambitions. Nash explained that their movie catchphrase will be "This is the R-rated take. This is the anti-Captain Jack Sparrow" so readers need not worry that the book or its possible film will veer into Disney territory. (Not to mention the fact that Disney already made a Blackbeard movie which saw the ghost of the pirate and Dean Jones teaming up to save an island of little old ladies from a casino's invasion. Seriously.)

In the end, Sanchez and Hale said that their connection to the character of Blackbeard, the indie film world and the comic publishing game all had one similarity: the need for freedom. "We have all these huge ideas of these $100 million movies that for us as indie filmmakers are so beyond our ability to make," said Sanchez. "The comic book was a way to present the entire thing with our vision and not have to sell out to a studio. Once we're done with the comic, we'll probably adapt a screenplay from it and see where it goes from there. But for us to be involved in the movie, there are so few people that can make a movie like that. You have to be this huge, A-list director and have studio support. For us, the movie is 'If it happens, great, but we have no idea how we're going to be involved in that.'"

And for Hale, that mindset lines up strongly with what's made Blackbeard the man for their first comic series, as the captain lived in a world where life in the sea often meant a life of servitude to an oppressive crown. "Pirates actually had equal vote. The captain led the ship and he could make a few unilateral decisions, but pirates voted on everything. You signed a piece of paper joining the pirate band. Most pirates had articles that they would sign and lay out rules. It was a very democratic way of living in a time of kings and monarchs and slavery. Pirates were some of the most free men of the sea. If you look at it from the perspective of a dude who worked on a ship, and your choice was be in the navy and get treated like shit or be a pirate and have some degree of personal freedom, I might have taken the pirate life myself."

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