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Living Vicariously: Robert Venditti Talks Surrogates - Part 4

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In Part 4 of Broken Frontier’s conversation with The Surrogates’ author Robert Venditti, he talks about artist Brett Weldele’s role in making the Surrogates a success, the recently released The Surrogates prequel “Flesh & Bone”, the journey for Surrogates getting picked up by Disney, how you can get your comic made into a film,  and his feelings about the experience.

Part One
Part Two
Part Three

BROKEN FRONTIER: Going back to when Chris Staros first picked up the book, how did Brett Weldele become involved in it?

ROBERT VENDITTI: He was somebody that Chris knew from his editor’s days at Savannah College of Art & Design, when Brett was a student there, and he remembered his portfolio, and so when Chris read the script for The Surrogates, and he decided he wanted to publish it, and it had this very cyberpunk feel, he thought that Brett’s style would be a perfect match for that. And he was obviously very right about that, as Brett’s style is a perfect match for it. So Brett came on to the book through Chris.

BF: What did you think of his work when you first saw it?

RV:
Oh, I loved it. Yeah, loved it. I thought it looked great.

BF: Was it kind of the way you had visualized it in your head?


RV:
I remember seeing some clips of a book that he had done, and thinking that he had drawn various people from various races very well, which I thought was really cool, race being a key issue in the book. And so I immediately liked his style, and I thought he was going to be great; I didn’t know at that point if he was actually going to do it, but I was very excited about the prospect of it.

BF: Has he been involved with the movie at all, like concept designs or anything like that?

RV:
No, not really, and I wasn’t very much involved either; we both sort of took a step back, and like I say, let them do what they wanted to do.

BF: You didn’t consult on the script or anything like that?

RV:
I was a consultant on the screenplay, but I don’t want to overstate my involvement; if they had a question that they needed to ask me, they would call me and they would ask me, but beyond that, I tried to stay out of the situation.

BF: So when they would announce “Ok, Bruce Willis is involved with this”, that would come as to you as, “Wow, that’s cool”… it wasn’t like they sat down and said “Well, who do you think would be…”

RV:
[Laughs] No, no, no… I mean, I had told the producers, because I had read an article with Bruce Willis where he was saying something to the effect that he was a little leery of technology in some ways, and so I brought that up to one of the producers, and told him “You know, I always thought that he’d be perfect for Greer,” but I didn’t rationally think that meant anything, it was just conversation.

I mean, I’m sure that every time they ever sign a movie, there’s like 1 of 5 people, that whoever the person says they want, there’s Bruce Willis, there’s George Clooney, there’s Will Smith… you know what I mean?

BF: Well, who knows, maybe that put it in their head, right?

RV:
Yeah, you never know.

BF: You’ve got a prequel out now to The Surrogates, called The Surrogates: Flesh and Bone. What gave you the idea to do a prequel rather than a sequel?

RV:
Well, like I say, from the beginning I always envisioned it as three graphic novels, a trilogy, and I always wanted to do a first book, and then a prequel, and then a sequel that would be set after the first book. So I’m doing them in the order that I wanted to do them. It just seemed to make more sense to go back in time before you went forward again.

BF: Maybe it was too late to work anything in, but are there going to be any elements of the prequel in the movie?

RV:
I wrote the book completely independently of what they were doing. There is actually a scene from the movie that’s also in the prequel that’s very, very similar; I don’t want to tell you what it is, ‘cause that would be a spoiler. Very, very similar scenes, but written completely independently of each other.

BF: So what was the journey for The Surrogates, in terms of being picked up by Disney, and being eventually made into the film?

RV:
It actually went very quickly, and I’m told (not having any experience with these kinds of things) that it was a very smooth ride compared to what a lot of properties undergo in Hollywood.

BF: No “Development Hell.”

RV:
No, no “Development Hell.” I mean, the collected edition of the book came out in July 2006, Disney said they wanted to pick it up in November of that year.

BF: The same year that it was published?

RV:
The same year that the collected edition was published; the single issues came out in 2005. So Disney said they wanted to option it in November of 2006, we signed the contracts in August of 2007, the screenplay was done in October 2007, Bruce Willis came on in November 2007, and they started filming in April 2008.

BF: That is really fast.

RV:
Yeah, it went really, really fast.

BF: Do you know how they came into it? Was it some Disney executive that walked into a comic book store, picked it up, and said “Wow, this is really cool”?

RV:
No, no, no. There was a producer named Max Handelman who had heard about the book from reading an article online, and he contacted me about it, and asked me if he could shop it around.

After talking to him on the phone, and having tried some other avenues in 2005 with some other producers, you know, he just seemed like a really good guy, and somebody that both I and Chris would want to work with, and so we told him that he could shop it around. He went and did that, and brought in Mandeville Films, which is a production company that had done a lot of films had a production deal with Disney.

So, Mandeville and Max went and got Mostow, and got the screenwriters, and got a really nice pitch together, and then when they went in and pitched it to Disney, they were able to sort of envision what the project would be, and that’s how Disney ended up coming on board.

BF: What other films has he been involved with?

RV:
This is his first.

BF: So he was just kind of looking for the right property?

RV:
He had just sort of started up his production company with his wife, Elizabeth Banks. I don’t know if it’s the first thing that he set-up, but I believe it’s the first movie he’s done that’s actually been filmed.

BF: And like you said, it probably came at just the right time, because that was when comic book movies were exploding with Spider-Man and the X-Men, right?

RV:
So many factors of it are just “right place at the right time”; there’s really no other way to describe it than that. Just an example, Bruce Willis was supposed to go do another movie called “Pinkville” that was an Oliver Stone movie. And he was about ready to leave to go to the shoot in Asia (it was a movie about the My Lai massacre), and the picture ended up getting killed because the writers strike happened, and Oliver Stone’s a member of the screenwriters guild, and so he wouldn’t be able to do rewrites on set like he likes to do. And so the Pinkville project got killed, and Bruce Willis was freed up to do something else, and came on to Surrogates. So it’s little things like that you can’t sort of…

BF: Serendipity.

RV:
Yeah, I mean, how do you plan that? “How do I get my comic made into a film? Well, first you want to make sure there’s a writers strike…”

[Laughter]

You know, it’s either gonna happen or it’s not.

BF: And you probably get that question all the time.

RV:
I get it all the time, yeah. And I tell people, if I knew how to do it, I would do it again. But there’s so many hurdles you have to clear, and there’s so many things that have to fall into place, so many dominoes that have to get knocked down in a specific order, any one of which, if it doesn’t go the way it needs to go, is going to completely derail, and you’re going to end up in development hell. I think that every movie that’s ever been made has been made a different way, and they’ve all been made the only way that they could be made (if that makes any sense).

BF: Was there any point along the way where you just felt overwhelmed, like you’re going from writing this independent comic book series to having it turned into a major Hollywood film?

RV:
Not really. I mean, it was all very crazy, and… I don’t know. It was a very great experience, but it wasn’t ever overwhelming because it’s such a slow process and it takes so long, and there’s so many “It’s gonna happen, oh wait it might not happen, now it’s gonna happen, no, maybe it won’t happen”, you know, that it sort of tempers you against that. If it had just come on in a rush, and there had been a scenario where it was really frenetic or something like that, maybe it would have felt that way, but that’s not really the way it happened.

To be continued…

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