Guest blog: My new film “Bounty Killer” — based on a comic book based on a short film based on a poster
I'll start at the beginning. Jason Dodson, the writer of my new feature “Bounty Killer,” which opened this weekend — and I were sitting in his apartment after a few too many beers – half listening to each other as you do when the brain cells start dying off.
He was preaching about the Enron scandal and the dangers of big business while I was looking through a book of vintage sci-fi film posters, where I found an awesome tagline: “In a time unborn-1997!”
“We should make a movie about the future. The future of 1997!”
“But it's 2006.” Jason noted.
“I know.” I replied.
Jason paused. “Its brilliant. It'll be about Enron ending the world. ”
We set out to make a movie in the style and tone of the'70s about the future of 1997. Jason's script was wild — medieval knights riding out of hell to lay waste to corporate criminals and finish the Apocalypse. White collars running around in a Frank Frazetta painting come to life.
But we couldn't get anybody to read it, much less back a movie with the wacky premise. We were a couple of nobodies. I was a guy slinging graphics for various TV shows, and Jason was slinging coffee for “Sponge Bob Square Pants.”
The script went on the shelf for a couple of years, but I liked the idea so I started drawing. A character here, a concept sketch there, and people started noticing. People like artwork. We ripped our favorite lines out of the script, got some friends together and made a '70-style cartoon essentially in my bedroom.
After the cartoon was completed we brought in our slick pal Colin Ebeling to help polish it. Hell, with his good looks and sharp attire, the guy could probably sell the thing too.
Sure enough, he did. An animation company, Kickstart, was now interested and started pitching “Bounty Killer:1997” as an animated series. Their big note, “Keep the style. Lose the 1997, it's confusing.”
Jason, Colin and I came up with a highly energized pitch that involved lots of concept art. For our little dog-and-pony show, we even donned yellow ties that our criminals wore in the cartoon. Our highlight was sitting across from Samuel Jackson who was looking to do more animation after “Afro Samurai.” His reaction: “So let me get this straight, I just go around killing white people?”
“Whatever you want to do, Mr. Jackson, we're just surprised to be sitting here.”
Everybody passed. “Animated action is too expensive.” “Its too violent,” etc. “Bounty Killer” went back on the shelf. But I still loved the idea, so I started drawing. I storyboarded a sequence that centered around an Airstream being pulled by motorcycles, an image that always grabbed attention in pitches.
I wanted to make it live action. “Colin, I just went off the deep end and actually bought an old Airstream.”
Colin paused, “Well, I guess we've got to make this movie, don't we?”
We went back to Kickstart with a pitch book filled with drawings, including the storyboards. “And I already own the Airstream,” I said nervously presenting the book. “We're in” they said, “but we want you to make a comic book of it, too. People like artwork.”
Great! I now get to live two of my life long dreams, drawing a comic book and making a movie! We rushed off to make the short film, based on our favorite scenes from the cartoon. This would be our proving ground as a team for Colin, Jason and I.
After we wrapped, I cut together a trailer which already started garnering attention for a feature. I dove into post production and Jason started writing the comic book. The challenge for Jason was that Kickstart needed it to be PG. Walmart was connected though their investors, and to sell the comic book on their shelves it needed to be clean. Walmart was, if I were to embellish, helping fund our project about the evils of giant corporations.
Jason wrote the comic, the short was finished, and within days we were green-lit to make a movie. Jason now needed to translate the comic into a hard “R” script, and I needed to illustrate the comic and start pre-production. But to make the movie within the investor's fiscal quarter, a script was needed fast; so I stopped sketching the comic, and Colin and I helped Jason finish the script.
It was a blur of activity, and all of a sudden, we were in a conference room filled with investors, marketing members and accountants, one of them saying, “…and we're not worried that the comic didn't sell that well. We believe in this project and are excited to be working with you.”
Colin gave me a glance as Jason nervously whispered to me, “They must not know — you need to start drawing.” He was right. So I started drawing, sketching the rough draft of the graphic novel. It was helping us storyboard, tweak the script, guide wardrobe and helped the production designer start building the world.
But things started moving faster, and before I knew it, I was on set wiping chocolate ice cream off Gary Busey‘s suit for a movie based on a comic book I hadn't finished yet.
They say directing a movie is like painting in a hurricane. True. And doing it in 18 days is like being strapped to a runaway train flying off the rails through that hurricane. You just hold on and try to throw paint on the canvas. That being said, it was an incredible experience, and thank the maker for the comic book. Even unfinished, it was still a roughly sketched map for guiding everyone through the movie.
We dove into post production and to jump-start sales, the marketing team cut a trailer — and just as important, they made a movie poster. We started pre-selling well based off this poster – a poster from a movie that was based off a poster. People love artwork. So much so that the marketing team was now looking for that comic book, “You know, the one that didn't sell that well.” They could really use it on their upcoming international sales trip. In five days.
So, midway through editing, I started drawing. Over four sleepless days, my wife Torrie cheering in the background with Colin and Jason throwing coffee down my throat, I drew, inked and lettered a 90-page graphic novel. At the end, I was shaking so bad that our heroine Mary Death's hair went from a sleek, jet-black quaff to a frazzled, mangled perm.
But it worked. We had finally fulfilled our promise to Kickstart. The comic book was done, and now the movie, already based off a comic book, was now based off a comic book — with pictures.
My advice when things are going slow getting your script made: start drawing.
The artwork doesn't have to be great, it doesn't even have to be artwork, just collage photos together of your vision, whether it's a big grand epic or an intimate story between two people. The best way for investors to understand your vision and your passion is to give them some graphic representation of your tone, your emotional core — your story.
You can shoot a short, but better yet, just make a trailer. A trailer can sell the whole movie, not just a scene. Its all artwork and it will get people to read your script.
People love artwork.
If I did it all over again, my heart would say don't change a thing. It was a wild time, I met some amazing people, developed some incredible friendships and along the way, found my wife. (We are now proud homeowners of a blood-filled, bullet-riddled Airstream.)
But it would have been a lot easier had I just started with a comic book …