HOLLYWOOD, CA- In modern Hollywood, it seems like nearly every new movie is an adaptation of a comic book, if not a remake or continuation of a popular franchise. Professional and aspiring writers are faced with the reality that their work could be made into a film now more than ever. Thanks to The International Television Festival and ComicAttack.net, the titans of industry have been assembled to share their advice and words of wisdom. With their help, the writers, artists, and filmmakers of today might just have the preparation they need to survive in this new age of comic book movies.
Host Andy Liegl (our site’s Editor-in-Chief) began the panel by introducing the panelists, who included: Matt Hawkins (Top Cow’s Business Developer for film and television), J.T. Krul (Writer: TEEN TITANS, GREEN ARROW, CAPTAIN ATOM [DC], MINDFIELD, SOULFIRE, FATHOM [Aspen]), Kyle Higgins (Writer: BATMAN: GATES OF GOTHAM, NIGHTWING Film Writer: THE LEAGUE), Eric Wallace (Writer: TITANS, MR. TERIFFIC [DC]), Paul Salamoff (Writer: DISCORD and screenwriter/producer), Chad Shonk (Writer: HEX: THE LOST TRIBE [Image] and indie film writer (DAKOTA SKYE), Rick Loverd (Writer: BERSERKER [Top Cow] and a member of the Science and Entertainment Exchange), and Joshua Fialkov (Writer: TUMOR [Archaia], ECHOES [Top Cow], SUPERMAN/BATMAN, I, VAMPIRE [DC], IRON MAN 2.0 [Marvel], ELKS RUN). Each panel member followed up on their introduction with a little bit about their occupation in general, as well as an in depth description of what to expect from the world of entertainment.
Being at Top Cow for 14 years, Matt Hawkins had a wealth of knowledge to share. He addressed the many different steps in the comic-to-film production process, as well as the ins and outs of submitting work as a writer/artist. He claimed there is no “cookie-cutter” way of doing things, but certain things can certainly be in the creator’s favor. Staying on top of what current filmmakers are developing is a must. “It’s a constant battle to keep people interested,” Matt said, referring to the ever evolving film industry. The process is apparently so intense, that it’s a miracle any movies become finished products.
The reason so many comic book movies fall short is the lack of creatively-fueled people in charge, and J.T. Krul had some interesting things to say about putting together the ideal group for a project. “It’s a matter of putting together a team that will move the project forward,” J.T. said. When someone drops out, and their replacement lacks the passion necessary make it work, it’s very difficult to keep the forward momentum. He mentioned the comics that get picked up by a studio, receive the green light, but lose steam partway through. This may be due to the creative minds behind it. Above all else, those who work together need to trust each other and be compatible to succeed.
Joshua Fialkov shared some thoughts on the cognitive process he goes through when writing a comic. At the back of his mind, he tries to picture and plan for what his work could evolve into if/when it becomes a movie. At this time, Andy asked: “Do you think it’s true that comics are the new storyboard?” In response, Josh brought up the dilemma of translation between two mediums. Not everything can flawlessly cross over from page to screen, so comics will always stay a separate entity. The best mindset a filmmaker can have is not “How can I put this book on screen,” but rather, “What’s the best adaptation that can be made with the source material?”
Kyle Higgins’ input came from a different place than the rest of the group, being “still very new in the whole process.” He explained, “As far as writing goes, I write to direct.” The only way something will be made is if the creator is attached to the project and directly involved in the creative process. Kyle made it clear that he doesn’t necessarily write something to be adapted from the get-go, but he definitely approaches it in a similar way to writing a movie script.
As important as the internal components of a writer are, the way they present themselves is just as essential. Eric Wallace commented on Josh’s work and how others view him as being well-versed in horror, whether he intended it to be that way or not. Fans and critics notice what a writer’s strengths are, and it’s because of this that Eric says writers need to look at their career beyond the immediate future, in 20 to 40 year chunks. In his words, “How can I be the Stephen King of comic books?”
Like Kyle, Chad Shonk talked about the challenge of switching from writing screenplays to comics and novels. Although comics are good transitions to novels, Chad jovially voiced his frustration with collaborating with an artist. Everyone laughed at his remark, “Do they ever listen to you?” A note that seemed to ring true with the panelists as a whole. Chad brought up an excellent point about novels as a source material compared to screenplays and comic scripts. Novels are a finished work on their own, while scripts and screenplays are only components of a final product until executed and performed.
Rick Loverd summed up his job (widely regarded as awesome) with “I get to see the future every day, which is really cool.” He works for the Science and Entertainment Exchange, which exists to provide creative minds with an “accurate vision of the future” to immerse their audience/readers in. He is constantly consulting writers on scientific accuracy in their stories, which is becoming more and more important with the rate of scientific advancements today. Chad butted in jokingly, stating that Dr. Who is proof that complete and utter pseudo-science can still get the job done. Everyone had a good laugh, and Rick went on to explain that not every science fiction story needs accuracy to be great, but writers who do want to include a lot of actual science need to make sure they’re up to date and are familiar with what they’re talking about.
Paul Salamoff also had some interesting things to say about working on creator-owned projects. The theater darkened for the DISCORD (his graphic novel) trailer, which generated some chuckles from Eric and nudges from Paul as Eric Wallace’s quote about the book came onscreen. Paul went through many obstacles to get the book out, including paying out-of-pocket for almost two years before it was finally printed.
He shared some great insight on what it’s like to lack the ability to draw as a writer, and the challenge of relying on an artist once the script is finished. Apparently Giuseppe D’Elia (the artist for DISCORD), had blisters on his fingers due to some intense last minute changes that needed to be made. A new Marvel toy had a symbol almost identical to one Giuseppe drew two years prior, and the book was scheduled to print in a few days. It’s situations like what Paul and Guiseppe went through that should urge creators to be prepared for anything, even the unlikely or the absurd.
Bringing the panel to a close, Andy opened up the floor to questions, of which there were a few very good ones. Matt covered the businessman’s standpoint very well, but a few independent authors/artists were interested on how to get their work on a developer’s desk, and how to impress them. Matt said what could have been one of the best pieces of advice a creator can hold on to. “Start small, and if they like it, move up from there. One sentence first, then a page, then the book itself.” He even told the grim truth of how he selects what small piece of work to look at. “I’ve never used a pitch from a random person,” he said. “You can’t get lucky if you’re not playing the game,” which he explained as the method of starting where you can, working your way up, and branching over into the more specific field you have an interest in. After all, in any job, an employer is much more likely to hire someone they know, who does quality work they’re familiar with.
The rest took Matt’s lead like a group of wise sages, Josh explaining how lucky everyone in attendance is to be living in Southern California, and how difficult it is to make it in other parts of the country. J.T. emphasized the advantages of self-publishing, especially at the beginning of one’s career when name-building is so important. Paul took the microphone and continued on J.T.’s point. Comic book creators and film produces often take their promotional abilities for granted. With effort, anyone can make a trailer (or find someone who can), give out free comics, etc. It’s incredible what will catch on with a little creativity.
The panelist’s energy and enthusiasm set the tone for the event’s relaxed atmosphere, especially as they joked amongst themselves. Still, in their areas of expertise, they succeeded in capturing the audience’s attention with cautionary tales and encouraging personal experiences. Thanks to Andy Liegl’s questions and their thought provoking responses, independent writers and artists should possess a new-found edge in bringing their creations to the big screen.
All photographs courtesy of Caitlin Holland, Killer Cupcake Event Photography.