The Surrogates: From Page to Screen

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Created by writer Robert Venditti and artist Brett Weldele for Top Shelf in 2005, The Surrogates five issue mini-series didn’t take long to pique Hollywood’s interest. With its heady themes such as living vicariously through technology, it was a bold debut from the former mailroom worker and debut scribe.

Set in the year 2054 the line between reality and fantasy continues to blur as society becomes increasingly reliant on robotic avatars. A new movement builds that demands humanity return to its former ways, while facing violent opposition from those clinging to their so-called existence. With realistic advertisements at the end of each issue and Weldele’s almost pulpy art work, it is an intriguing mix of William Gibsonesque sci-fi and hard boiled detective tales. Together, these elements effectively created a world dangerously reminiscent of our own. With two more stories in the works from Venditti and Top Shelf the world of The Surrogates is only just beginning.

Currently in development with Bruce Willis, Ving Rhames and director Jonathan Mostow (Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines) the film is set for a September 25, 2009 release.

BROKEN FRONTIER: There are some big ideas within THE SURROGATES. Was the plan always to make it a trilogy?

ROBERT VENDITTI: In the early stages, fleshing out the world and all that, I realized that this was an idea that lent itself to multiple storylines.  How did this future world begin?  What’s it like now?  What will it be like further down the road?  I knew it was more than could be packed into a single miniseries, but I also knew that, as a first-time writer, it was going to be difficult to find a publisher willing to invest in an epic.  So I decided to start in the middle, and if the book got any traction I could always return to it down the road.  Happily, that’s turned out to be the case. 

BF: The level of research involved is impressive, especially in the areas of technology and scripture. Have they always been interests of yours?

RV: Not so much on the technology front, but that’s definitely true with scripture.  I’ve always found the Bible fascinating from a literary and historical perspective.  And through 8th grade I attended Lutheran schools where Bible study was a daily activity, so I already had my bearings as far as where to look for certain passages that would reinforce some of the story’s subtext. 

BF: What were your main influences when creating THE SURROGATES? Are there any books or films that you see as the epitome of thoughtful sci-fi tales?

RV: I’ve not read a lot of sci-fi.  I’ve read maybe 10 sci-fi novels, most of them for a lit class I took in grad school.  Orwell’s 1984 is a high watermark for me, though, as is the Blade Runner film.

BF: You worked in Top Shelf’s mailroom only a few months before you pitched the story. You must have been pretty confident. Did you have a good relationship with the Top Shelf editors before the pitch?

RV: I actually had no thought that Top Shelf would publish it, or that it would reach anywhere near the level of success that it has.  I did have a good relationship with Chris Staros and Brett Warnock at Top Shelf, but I also understood that a five-issue, full-color cyberpunk story wasn’t really the type of material that they typically publish.  The most I allowed myself to hope for was that Chris would help me find a publisher, and that the book would see print so I could use it as a résumé piece to get more writing work.  As it turned out, though, Top Shelf had been looking to do a more mainstream story, so they decided to keep THE SURROGATES in the family.

BF: When you heard the good news about the film, you were obviously excited. Was there some trepidation on your part too?

RV: “Excited” puts it pretty mildly.  For a guy who started out in the mailroom to have his debut graphic novel make it through the Hollywood gauntlet, to know that it’ll be in theatres next year starring Bruce Willis and Ving Rhames—It’s all a bit surreal.  And very welcome.  

BF: Did the filmmakers get you on board straight away? How much involvement have you had so far?

RV: I’m a consultant on the film, but I’ve mostly tried to get out of the way and the let everyone do what they do best.  Everyone from the execs at Disney on down to the creative team has expressed their appreciation of the graphic novel, so from the beginning I’ve felt that the book was in good hands.  Visiting the set and seeing the enormity of the production, the amount of effort and care that’s going into it—it’s going to be something to see.   

BF: The ads at the end of each issue, with the great tagline, “Life…only better,” really helped sell the world. Will they be incorporated in the film somehow?

RV: The ads will be appearing in the film, but they won’t be exact replicas.  Same concept, though.

BF: I guess THE SURROGATES universe is taking over your life for the foreseeable future. Do you have any plans once the film is released and your comic trilogy is complete?

RV: I’ll be writing other non-SURROGATES stories, some of them before the SURROGATES trilogy is complete.  I actually wrote a new graphic novel—a modern-day political/medical thriller—between the first and second SURROGATES books, but because of the timing of the film Top Shelf is going to release THE SURROGATES: FLESH AND BONE next year, and then the new graphic novel, THE HOMELAND DIRECTIVE, in 2010.  And after the SURROGATES trilogy is finished, there are a several other ideas I’d like to explore within the universe.

The Surrogates movie will debut in theatres on September 25, 2009. The comic book story of The Surrogates continues in The Surrogates: Flesh and Bone, a graphic novel set 15 years prior to the release of the first  volume. It is planned for a 2009 release.

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