Hollywood's love affair with comic book properties is the stuff of summer blockbuster legends, and Friday's "Hollywood and Comics" panel at WonderCon 2012 brought together several experts working in both arenas to give insight, guidance and a list of best practices to aspiring writers and filmmakers.
Moderated by Benjamin Jackendoff, a producer at Zenescope Entertainment, panelists included writer Kevin Grevioux ("Underworld"); director Jon Schnepp ("Metalocolypse"); writer Martin Shapiro ("Chopper"), producer and Chairman of Platinum Studios, Scott Mitchell Rosenberg; Joe LeFavi of Quixotic Transmedia; and Executive Vice President at Radical Studios, Jesse Berger.
After some brief introductions, Jackendoff steered the conversation toward LeFavi, who has worked with the Jim Henson Company and Archaia to license those properties across different transmedia platforms. Jackendoff asked why the word 'licensing' was considered a dirty word and LeFavi spoke about a general feeling of mistrust. "Particularly, if you look at not just comics, but picture books and all other things involved with licensing, there is a certain manipulation and exploitation there," LeFavi said. "If people can get past the idea of comics being an ancillary right and actually being a major component of building these worlds and paying respect to these worlds, I think a lot can change for us."
Berger, whose Radical Studios just began production on "Oblivion," a science fiction movie from "Tron: Legacy" director Joseph Kosinski and starring Tom Cruise, spoke about the creative process at his company. "We always say there's no budget in art illustration. When you're making a film you're always going to have someone saying, 'This set piece is too big' or 'This is going to cost too much money,' but when you're doing it on the page it's pencils, it's inks, it's colors and so we do not hamper the idea," Berger said. "You sometimes get lucky where you have a really, really big concept and then you have a studio that sees it with the same scope, but we always say that sometimes it will be ten to fifteen percent of a high concept that will get into the film or the television show, or whatever."
Berger also spoke about using art as a visual tool designed to get projects made. He then related a story about how his company had created a single piece of art that inspired Kosinski. "That piece of art was sent to Joe and Joe got back to us instantaneously and was like, 'Oh my gosh, my whole -- everything that I thought this was and could be -- is encapsulated within this single image,'" Berger said. "It really is about the idea, and making sure that the core idea is unhampered with, in this medium which is a visual, illustrated medium. Then from there it's only about inspiring a third party financier."
Grevioux, who is also an actor, wrote the story for "Underworld" and he explained why he would never again pitch without having a comic book or art support. "Believe it or not, at one time, it was thought to be unprofessional to include art with a script. Studio executives and aids and producers were proud to say that, as if they were right," he explained. "I wisely drew some art for 'Underworld,' tucked it in the script and because it had those pages in it, that piqued Kate Beckinsale's curiosity when she had a bunch of scripts to read: 'Oh, what's this? Ooh art. Wow this is cool. I want to do this movie.'"
Grevioux went on to say that without a visual aid like a comic, which can be relatively cheap to produce, it can be difficult to stand out in and amongst the stacks and stacks of scripts that development executives have to read every week. "They might make a decision on your script just by virtue of the fact that they have to go home over the weekend and read ten of these bad boys," he said. "If you can give them a twenty-two to sixty-four page comic book or whatever and they can sit down and read it and they like the art -- even if they don't -- they like the concept, they get it."
"Yeah, that's what I did," Shapiro said, explaining that he commissioned comic artist Juan Ferreyra to create two issues that he could show to producers, which eventually got his "Chopper" project optioned. "I invested in good art and it paid off. I ended up selling it for a lot of money."
Grevioux also had another piece of important advice for anyone pitching an idea to a studio or a producer. "You can't go in and pitch with just one idea, you have to have a few because if they don't like what you come up with -- with what you come in with -- that's a short conversation and that's embarrassing and you don't want that."
Berger ended the panel discussion by explaining that everything really comes down to packaging in Hollywood. "I think that's a key factor to have in your mind while you're making and shepherding your project and believing in it -- that if you can figure out how to create a road map that gets you to that money, you'll end up getting there eventually."