Screenwriter J.S. Cardone talks "The Covenant," 22-Page Preview of #2

Thu, September 8th, 2005 at 12:00am PDT

Comic Books
Jonah Weiland, Executive Producer/Publisher

Launch the reader for a 22-page preview of "The Covenant" #2. Flash plugin required.
This month saw the release of "The Covenant" #1, the first of a four-issue series from Spacedog and Top Cow. Back in July CBR News spoke with series writer Aron Coleite and artist Ton Rodriguez about the book, which is about a group of four 13 year old boys who discover they are next to receive the power of the Covenant, a vast eldritch power that are passed down from father to son for generations.

The graphic novel actually serves as a prequel to the upcoming Sony Screen Gems film "The Covenant," written by J.S. Cardone, directed by Renny Harlin and is set to begin filming this October. There's been some confusion online as to which came first, the graphic novel or the screenplay, but in fact the screenplay came first and the prequel graphic novel came second.

With production on the film starting soon, and a second issue set to ship to stores next month, Spacedog & Top Cow have provided CBR News with a massive preview of issue #2. At the same time, we caught up with screenwriter J.S. Cardone to find out more about the film, how it all came together, and how involved he is with the development of the comic.

First, thanks for talking with us today. Let's start at, well, the beginning. How'd "The Covenant" feature film get off the ground?

My company, Sandstorm Films, has a relationship with Sony Screen Gems. I did a film for them about four years ago called "Forsaken." Right after that they pitched me a very basic idea for "The Covenant." At the time I turned it down because I just really wasn't interested in another horror film of that type. A couple of years went by and we did some other films, then it was brought to my attention again by Clint Culpepper, the president of Screen Gems. He asked if I wanted to take a shot at it again and I thought about it, found a hook for it and said yes. So, a year ago we started developing the script and got a green light on it in July.

It developed really from an idea when the Pilgrims first settled in America, especially those who were prosecuted [during the Massachusetts Witch Trials]. I had this great hook on these young boys who were descendents of those settlers and have this power. They can use this power at a young age, but they really get the full extent of the covenant when they turn 18. The problem, of course, with any sort of moralistic structure, is that when you use it-- what they call using, which is sort of a metaphor for drugs-- when you use it, it ages you every time. So, there's a very high price to pay for using it. We wanted to do it on more of an adult level and darker than normal.

Allright, but how did you get involved with Spacedog and Top Cow, bringing "The Covenant" to comics? And what's the relationship Sandstorm has with Spacedog and Top Cow?

[Spacedog's] Roger Mincheff first came to us. To make a long story short, we had mutual attorney's in a deal and they had been in the situation where they've done Laura Croft, Witchblade and stuff like that. But those were primarily studio pick ups-- ideas from them that the studios ran with and they don't have a lot of control over-- but they wanted to get in a situation with a production company that was an active production company, which we are, and be in a joint, sort of symbiotic relationship where they could develop ideas and we would then in turn develop ideas through them. and we would sort of feed a pipeline whether it was through our deal with Sony or our relationship with Fox, in which they would have a lot more control over the output of their product from the early stages. Since then we've been developing other projects like "Monstrosity" and a few others with them through our relationship with the studios. Again, it's sort of a symbiotic relationship.

I think ultimately it will be a very effective marriage. I think one of the problems they've had in the past, and I'm not criticizing Laura Croft of anything, but one of the problems Top Cow and other comic book companies that have ventured into the studios have had is that the studio buys the product, buys the idea from them, then sort of jettisons the whole graphic novel/comic talent pool and turns it over to a pure screen writer, when in fact there's a real education to come under to do that. I think that's what attracted Top Cow to us and us to Top Cow-- that we were both willing to venture into this with a really open mind and how we really would become a symbiotic relationship and feed off each other.

So, Sandstorm will be developing projects based on Top Cow properties as well?

Yup. We're looking at two or three of their properties right now. Sadly, before we got involved with them, they were already in the process of turning out some stuff, one-off films for studios that we would have loved to get our hands on in the early stages. We're now developing projects for them also with the intent of marrying the graphic novel and or episodic comic concept with, ultimately, film.

How does your deal with Top Cow fit into the deal Platinum Studios has with them? Are the properties you're looking at outside of the Platinum deal?

Yes and no. It's also tied to Platinum. The relationship is based on the fact that our direct relationship is with Top Cow itself. They have what is known as a first-look deal with Platinum. We have a very loose relationship within that context. This is stuff that either doesn't fit Platinum's particular template, and/or what we're developing uniquely with them. What we're also developing, Platinum has access to.

What's the latest on the production of the film? I understand that Renny Harlin was recently announced as the director of the film, your four male leads have been cast and you start production in October. What else is there we should know?

We're shooting in Montreal and it's a co-production deal with Lions Gate Films. I think Renny's going to do a very cool job of it. Again, because of censorship and stuff, films are being limited to what they can do these days, but I think the ultimate product we've placed in script form is going to be unique within its context. Renny's not approaching it from a "Sin City" style, which was a pure comic book look, but based on what we've seen so far, Renny's going to find a look that's going to facilitate this particular story, while still keeping it within the mindset of graphic novels.

In a world that's seen three Harry Potter films and three "Lord of the Rings" films, the fantasy genre has been very well represented as of late. How does "The Covenant" rise above the noise to get noticed?

I think "The Covenant," by its very nature-- sure it's youth oriented like those films, but it's a much more adult approach to storytelling.

Let's switch to the graphic novel now. As we told our readers back in July, "The Covenant" graphic novel is a prequel to the film. What do you think of what writer Aron Coleite and Tone Rodriguez hav done so far?

They did a great job on it. It's really only based on all the characters that I created. The screenplay itself starts as these kids are just about to turn 18 and how their lives change from that point. We had originally talked about just doing a graphic novel of that story, but we all came to the conclusion why do that? The great thing about graphic novels is that in this day and age of censorship, a graphic novel can go much farther than a film can in many ways, especially when considering the broad based audience that cinema usually goes to. With that, you're looking at somewhere between PG and an R at the most and most of the studios shy away from the R, so graphic novels can do a lot more. So, we all came up with the idea that we should show the kids before their 18th birthdays.

There is something mentioned in the original story that these four get their sort of baby teeth powers at age 13, so we decided that the first installment of the graphic novel was an initiation for the audience into what "The Covenant" was about and who these four young boys are. It starts with them at a very young age, then takes them up to that age of 17 years old.

Did you pretty much just let Aron run with it and leave him to his own devices? How involved have you been?

Just in the initial stages with Roger and them saying this would work or this is contrary to what the studio would want. Only that. Aron really did a great job, completely on his own.

What's your own history with comics like?

By nature I'm not a comic book fan. I just wasn't one as I grew up. But this whole graphic novel concept allows you to do so much more that I became a very quick fan of it. And it's sort of fit in with some of my past because I had done a lot of work with Paramount Video with Stuart Gordon and Renny Harlin back in the '80s when we were doing films like "Shadowzone," "Crash and Burn," "Reanimator," "Robojocks" and that sort of stuff. So, it seemed like a really good fit and since then we've struck a deal with Top Cow to develop projects for them.

So how long have you been exploring the comics medium then? And when did it really start for you?

Since I've been in the genre end of film making for a long time, I was approached by [Marvel Studios Chief] Avi Arad a couple of years ago about a Marvel title, a limited released called "Zombie," to do the script or redo the script on that. At the time I wasn't available because I was doing another film. But it really intrigued me and with this one is you had a character that was more like the Phantom of the Opera or the Hunchback of Notre Dame where it's not a superhero in a cape. That intrigued me because it had much more humanity and it had a darker edge. From there I let my partners here know that we should consider graphic novels a bit more. It was only around two years ago that I really started to become involved in this. Since then, they have a script and I've been approached to direct the "Zombie" movie, which I am absolutely considering at this point.

Is writing comics an area you'd like to explore further?

Yeah. In the material we're developing for Top Cow, we're already talking to some of the younger guys and women who are really into this. Comics script writing really is an artform unto itself and I wouldn't begin to be as presumptuous to say, "I'm a successful screenwriter and because of that I should become a successful graphic novelist!" It's two different mediums in many senses. Since then I've really gone back and looked at the episodic comic concept and compared to the graphic novel, that unto itself is two different writing forms. So, yeah, we'll look at it from the standpoint that we're a film production company and we ultimately need the material to translate to screen eventually. We're definitely out there beating the bushes looking at all the talented graphic novelists.

Seeing how many hats you've worn in Hollywood, whether it be producing, writing or directing, it seems like comics script writing would be right up your alley seeing as how in many ways it's much more like directing than it is like writing a screenplay.

That's right. Really it's more of an editing process than a writing process because you can progress stories so quickly in a graphic novel, much the way you can when you're editing a film. If you want to move scenes out or trim then, you have that advantage in graphic novels where you don't really have that in a screenplay form. It's more of a linear concept, as opposed to a more lyrical form of writing that you get in graphic novels.

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