Silent Devil publisher Christian Beranek moderated a panel of filmmakers Michael D. Olmos and John Leekley and comics creators from Zenescope Ralph Tedesco and Joe Brusha and “Witchblade” creator David Wohl, today at Wizard World Los Angeles.
Olmos, the director of the film “Splinter,” and founder of graphic novel production house Chamber Six was up first and talked about the seemingly reverse trajectory his film has taken from celluloid to paper.
“The film I did for Dark Horse didn’t start as a graphic novel,” said Olmos. “Dark Horse Comics founder Mike Richardson started a company called Dark Horse Indie with Image Entertainment. We had a script called ‘Splinter’ we were developing with another company. We pitched it to Mike and he loved it. It was a film outside of the box. It would never have gotten set up at a studio as it was written, but as graphic novel first, they were will willing to look at it. It was kind of an unconventional route of film first, graphic novel second.”
Olmos cotninued, “Graphic novels have become the source material for studio executives. You can hold it up and say ‘Here. Look. It exists.’ It has many of the same elements [as film.]”
“We started Chamber Six in 2001,” he continued. “We were doing graphic novels for the screen and they told us we were stupid. Then a slate of films came out, based on graphic novels, and those same people are calling us up.”
John Leekley, Emmy-winning producer of the “Spawn” animated series spoke next.
“I came late to the party of graphic novels. I had never read a comic book in my life until I was asked to take over ‘Spawn.’ I was very attracted to the animated format, I had never worked in that either and there had never been a hard R animated show in Hollywood history.”
He went on to explain how he was brought into the show. “There was this idea that because it’s animated it should be written by comic book writers or animation writers. When I took over the show I brought in people who write great drama. I treated it as if it were just great drama. I wanted to win an Emmy, which we did.”
“Graphic novels are a new access that writers have to a different kind of storytelling,” Leekley said. “If you can’t get a 100 million dollar movie made, you can do this. You can hold it in your hand. Graphic novels have become the research and development for the feature film business. It’s what mitigates against the expense of a movie, for the people who can say yes. They want to have a safe yes, a safe decision so they can keep their job.”
Leekley continued, “When I realized this was happening I formed Kompany X. We’re creating new myths. ‘Star Wars’ was so successful because the myth works so well. Joseph Campbell says that myths are the things that hold a society together. The best graphic novels are the ones that have the best mythologies….and they make the best films. ‘300,’ for example is a seminal moment in western culture.”
“I think all TV shows and all films will be so influenced by graphic novels that they will be required to be made. ‘Go make one,'” Leekley said.
David Wohl gave some background on his experience in transition to Hollywood, with a note of caution. “Top Cow started in ’92 and I joined them in ’93. Once we started rolling in Top Cow, we were based in Santa Monica, and suddenly Hollywood was at the door.”
“Our stuff had been optioned over and over again and nothing really happened,” Wohl said. “‘Witchblade’ came on in 2000, five years after we created it and many people had been through it in that time.
“It’s important when the time comes to fight for yourself,” Wohl continued. “They’ll say ‘You have no idea what your character is about and you don’t know what is going to sell.’ You have to think it’s not really going to happen and when it does happen you have to dig in your heels and not be all excited about it happening.”
Leekley interjected, “There’s a wall that is formed between graphic novel creators and filmmakers. It’s starting to break down.”
Olmos said that most of that wall is made up of studio executives. “There are great, creative executives out there, but some of them just want to say something. The have nothing to say, they’re just validating their jobs.”
Zenescope Ralph Tedesco talked about their hybrid approach to film and comics.
“We took a reverse approach initially,” Tedesco said. “As a new publisher in the industry we wanted to break out with some titles that might catch some eyes right away. We approached New Line Cinema about doing a prequel to the movie ‘Seven.’ We came out with the prequel comic book series that put us on the map. We put out another property that we though would speak well to the public, ‘Grimm Fairy Tales.'”
Joe Brusha, also from Zenescope added, “We want to do stuff that can be mainstream entertainment.”
“DC was mad that we got [‘Seven’] because they didn’t think of it,” Brusha said.
“Because DC and New Line are sister companies,” Tedesco explained.
“When a movie like ‘300’ can do 70 million in its opening weekend, it’s clearly a mainstream property.”
Lastly, Beranek outlined his path to publishing and film.
“I started out as a self publisher because no one would tale a look at my work,” Beranek said. “My brother and I formed a company, we had no idea what we were doing. [We] sold everything we owned and started Silent Devil. I learned the hard way, we made a lot of mistakes, We went on the road to every single convention, and I think that where I made my mark, networking with people around the country.”
Now, after publishing his creation ‘Dracula Vs. King Arthur,’ and seeing some success from that venture, Beranek says “the filmmaking world is coming to me to find out how we [make graphic novels] and I’m writing my own characters.
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