After a pre-screening wait which saw lines literally stretching around the block, a packed WonderCon ballroom gave an overwhelmingly enthusiastic response to "Green Lantern: Emerald Knights," the latest animated feature from DC Entertainment and Warner Bros. Animation. The film, which consists of six stories of members of the Green Lantern Corps, will go on sale June 7.
At the conclusion of the screening, questions were directed to a panel consisting of Eddie Berganza, executive editor at DC; Geoff Johns, DC's creative director; Alan Burnett, who co-wrote one of the film's six segments; executive producer Bruce Timm (introduced as "the godfather of modern day superhero animation"); casting and dialogue director Andrea Romano, and actor Wade Williams, who voices the role of Deegan, the Corps' drill instructor.
Before the questions could begin, however, Nathan Fillion, who plays the role of Hal Jordan, called in from Los Angeles, where he's wrapping up the current season of "Castle." Fillion delighted the crowd with his recitation of the Green Lantern oath, starting with the original, "In brightest day, in blackest night," before finishing with a tongue in cheek, "I wish I may, I wish I might, have the wish I wish tonight."
Before hanging up, Fillion agreed to answer one audience question, which turned out to be shouted from the crowd: "Who's your favorite Lantern outside of Hal?" Fillion declined to answer, which may have been due to a pledge by the producers to have him back to play Jordan again. He concluded his brief call by thanking everyone "for being there and thanks for letting me be a part of it."
And with that, the floor was opened to general questions from the audience.
Is it easier or harder to have three directors?
Timm: It was actually great to have Chris Berkeley direct. He's been at it a long, long time, and it was great to give him a chance. He went crazy; his segment has almost as much production design as the whole rest of the movie.
How do you guys settle on the writers, and was it difficult to recruit such a group?
Burnett: We wanted to recruit the actual "Green Lantern" writers. In most cases, they were the writers who wrote the original comic stories, and Geoff has a little to do with the Lanterns. The idea was, let's tell some of the short stories and give the guys who write "Green Lantern" a chance to do these stories.
Burnett went on to explain that Johns and Peter J. Tomasi were among that company, and that Dave Gibbons had originally drawn the story "Mogo Doesn't Socialize," for which he supplied the screenplay. Alan Moore had written the original comic story, but for this and the segment based on his story "Tygers," he receives no screen credit.
How did you choose stories for this film?
Berganza: We wanted to pick stories that would give you a view of the Corps. We love "Star Wars" and we were trying to a Star Wars/kung-fu thing (for the segment featuring Green Lantern Laira), and I think it came off pretty well.
What are the differences in writing comics and for animation?
Johns: It's harder to write for animation because you have a budget and you can do only so much with the characters and scenes. With comics, you can have as many characters and scenes as you want. Alan called me and I was proud to be a part of it.
(Directed towards Wade Williams) Do you have a preference of which role is better, Deegan (Williams' character in "Emerald Knights" or Brad Bellick (his character on "Prison Break")?
Williams: Both are great; they're such full characters, and both written so beautifully. When you get a chance to play a great character, it's just a privilege to play him.
How do you get these roles?
Williams: I have a penchant for characters with a dark side. I like to play evil demons, But Deegan isn't a bad guy; he has a soft heart.
What told you Wade was the right guy for the role?
Romano: I knew he would commit to the role. He would finish a session just bathed in sweat. Even "Rowdy" Roddy Piper (who plays the warrior Bolphunga) was bathed in sweat. The recording studio took a beating. The role required a lot of vocal strength. (Deegan's) a drill sergeant, and he was never going to let his people die; he was just training them.
Where did you get the idea to cast "Rowdy" Roddy Piper?
Timm: His name comes up every now and them. We never had a role for him, and (co-director) Jay Oliva suggested him for the role of Bolphunga. I thought, "Yeah." He was available, and when he was in the booth, he was swinging his arms around and hitting the mic stand. Nathan (Fillion)'s name came about when we thought, "We've got to recast Hal Jordan. Who do we get this time?" Chris Meloni (who played the role in "Green Lantern: First Flight") wouldn't be available because of his "Law and Order" shooting schedule. We asked, "Have we used Nathan too often?" Andrea said, "You can never use him too often."
Are these the voices you heard in your head when you were writing the script?
Burnett: Pretty much so. The thing about this show is that it's so populated.
Romano: There are at least 35 speaking roles.
Burnett: So, yeah; I'm happy.
Johns: I had Mark Strong (who plays Sinestro in this summer's live-action "Green Lantern" feature) in my head when I was writing this.
At this point, Timm was asked what's on the horizon for DC's animated features. "Fairly soon, we do have 'Batman: Year One.' All I'm really allowed to say about it is that it's really great. It's as close to the comic as we can make it. We just got the footage from overseas, and it looks fantastic." It'll premiere at this summer's Comic-Con International in San Diego. Timm refused to name the voice cast, however, teasing that they'll "be announced soon" before revealing some details about the film after "Year One."
Timm: "For our first film of 2012, we do have another 'Justice League' movie. At this point, its title is 'Justice League: Doom,' and it's loosely inspired by the 'Tower of Babel' storyline (by Mark Waid and Howard Porter from "JLA" 43-46), it was written by (the late) Dwayne McDuffie, and is his last work.
Do you have any stories about the recording sessions?
Romano: Nathan has seventeen-hour work days, since he's in every scene of "Castle." We contacted his agent, but we didn't hear back, we didn't hear back, we didn't hear back. Finally, I said, "You just want to text him?" So we did, and got an immediate answer: "Hell, yes!" We recorded on Martin Luther King weekend, and it was a pleasure -- he has such charm. Really, his role is a kind of a narrator, and as a storyteller, the role requires someone who can draw you in. He did such a beautiful job. The sound system (in the ballroom) is bad, and unfortunately a lot of the sound effects and music overwhelmed the dialogue. I'm thinking that when you buy the DVD, you'll be able to hear the dialogue much better, and you'll hear how he keeps the narrative moving.
I've known Elisabeth Moss (who plays Green Lantern Arisia) since she was six, and I ran into her at an event at the Television Academy. I asked her if she'd like to come over and play with us, but because of her schedule, she had to do her session by long distance from New York.
I really loved Bruce Thomas, who played Atrocitus, I just loved his voice, and he was so good.
Most of the actors didn't work together in the same room; some were even recorded months apart, but still gave such wonderful performances.
A quick story about Nathan: after the initial filming we were doing ADR sessions (where dialogue is rerecorded), and in the middle of it, he was sitting with a television in front of him, watching his performance, and he suddenly paused us. He took out his iPhone and took a picture of the screen. His old, dear friend Ryan Reynolds from "Two Guys, a Girl and a Pizza Place," had sent him a text message, "We've stolen your makeup girl, and I'm going to keep her." Nathan sent his picture of the television screen and microphone, with the message, "We've stolen your Green Lantern, and I'm going to keep him."
Andrea, you've been a voice director on so many projects, can you guide us through the casting and directing process?
Romano: We always try to find new people. We try to find people we love, and we bring them in all the time. There's always room for excellence in this field, and when we find an excellent actor, whether it's someone we know, or someone new, it's a find for us to find a new actor. If we're not sure what they can do, we listen to their demo tape, or I'll even send them copy and have them do an audition over the phone.
Bruce, when are we gonna see the first full feature of "The Flaming C?" (Referring to the occasional animated shorts Timm has done for Conan O'Brien.)
Timm: Only time will tell.
Was there anything that was left out (of "Emerald Knights") or got cut?
Burnett: It was all in there. Geoff, were there six other stories you wanted to pack in there?
Johns: They'll be in the sequel.
Wade, what first attracted you to doing voice work?
Williams: Andrea Romano. I was doing "Prison Break" and got a call from Andrea to do two episodes of the series "Avatar," and she said she liked me and said she would find something else for me -- and she has! I'm very grateful to Warner Bros. and to her. I've just fallen in love with doing it.
To the writers: what do you feel like when you see your work transferred into animation?
Johns: Very lucky. You get to work with the best in animation and I feel very fortunate to work with Bruce and the rest of the staff.
Was this a teaser for the "Green Lantern" animated series? Are you pulling anything from this for that series? Any concepts or ideas?
Timm: No, no, no. (That series) is not connected to this or to "First Flight." None of them are connected with direct links. The series will have new concepts that are unique to it, though Hal's personality is pretty consistent, from this and "First Flight."
I know you sometimes give yourselves acting cameos. Did you give yourselves roles in this?
Romano: I'm the voice of the ring. "Power levels at 1.7 percent"
Timm plays Galius Zed, who mainly gets beaten up, so his role mainly consists of saying "oof!"
What character from the comics that hasn't been animated yet would you like to see?
Berganza: I'd like to see Firestorm.
Timm: Ma Hunkle
Romano: I haven't a clue
Geoff and Eddie, most of the stories in "Emerald Knights" were based on original comic stories. What was the biggest challenge in translating the stories from the written to animated form?
Johns: In some ways, they had to be expanded. If you just put the dialogue down, it's going to be two minutes long, so you need to get more into the characters and more action
Berganza: You have to make it more accessible to a general audience. And for my segment, I had to study up on Japanese weaponry.
Bruce, I grew up watching the animated series, you do animation so well, would you consider doing live action?
Timm: I'm pretty happy doing animation, but if someone offered me a live action project and I thought it was a character I could do something with, I'd consider it. In TV, you take so many notes from so many people, but with animation, I take some notes from DC and some from Cartoon Network, but for the most part, I'm left alone to do what I want.