1ST THOMAS JANE NOW ED BURNS
TRYS HIS HAND AT COMICS.LETS HOPE ITS BETTER THEN SIDEWALKS OF NEW YORK.
Virgin Comicsí Directorís Cut line allows film directors to come up with their own, unique comic book properties, teaming the filmmakers alongside comic book pros.
So far its offerings have included titles by John Woo, Guy Ritchie, Shekhar Kapur, and now writer/director/actor Ed Burns.
Working with comic superstar Jimmy Palmiotti, Burns brings us Dock Walloper, a five-issue mini-series about New York in the 1920ís. Burns and Palmiotti each sat down with IESB to talk about their involvement:
IESB: Can you give us an overview of the storyline?
Burns: Basically Ė well, synopses are always tough for the writer Ė It is a hyper-realistic gangster story set against New York during prohibition and revolves around a man with no history and no ethnicity, John Smith, who rises the ranks from, basically, dock-side brawler to eventually king of the New York underworld.
IESB: Is this a story that you had in mind before teaming with Virgin Comics?
Burns: I had an idea for an epic set against prohibition in New York City. I had been doing a bunch of research on another script about Irish-American gangs at the turn of the century. Mainly a guy named Ownie Madden who was the head of the Irish crime syndicate through prohibition and then was eventually killed much later. He was kind of run out of business by the Italians. I had an idea for just a reality-based film on him. When I went into to Virgin to talk about possibly doing a comic book loosely based on that screenplay idea, once we got to talking, we decided to create fictional characters. Thatís when I kind of came up with the John Smith idea and Ownie Madden became Mad Dog Madden. It doesnít really resemble Ownie Madden at all other than the fact that heís the number one crime boss in power at the time of the story.
IESB: Is there a lot of historical accuracy involved in telling the story?
Burns: No, in the very first outline there was but once it was suggested to me by Virgin to have some fun with what you can do with a comic book in terms of hyper-reality, the more we started to playÖ I started to make the characters a little more fantastical than if I was doing a more realistic film.
IESB: Where you a comic book fan prior to getting involved in this project?
Burns: I was a comic book reader as a kid. I wouldnít say that, as an adult, I wasnít a fan but I wasnít a non-fan.
IESB: Was there anything in particular you looked at for inspiration?
Burns: Not really, other than seeing 300 and Sin City. Those were the two films that got me excited with what you could do with green screen and CGI. When I first sat down to think about the screenplay probably ten years ago, recreating New York City in the 20ís seemed like an impossibility because recreating certain set pieces I was excited about recreating. The old Penn Station that had been torn down. The third avenue elevated train. Also, the west side docks back when New York was a massive shipping port. Those were three things that, regardless of budget, would have been impossible to recreate prior to CGI. Then when I saw the license you can have after seeing 300 and Sin City where they werenít at all even concerned with it feeling realistic. It was a live-action comic book but it wasnít an animated feature film. Thatís when I heard that Virgin was doing these comic books with filmmakers. I immediately called my agent. I wanted to have a meeting.
IESB: Would you ever want to turn Dock Walloper into a film?
Burns: That is our intention. The outline that I gave Virgin was my outline for a screenplay. Then Jimmy [Palmiotti] helped me break it down. A screenplay tends to be a three-act structure. They helped me break it down into the five-act that you have for each of the five issues. Also, within each book, there are certain plots you have to hit. Jimmy helped me restructure my design to fit this model. Our intention is, when the graphic novel is published in March, to take that along with my original screenplay outline into studios and try and get the film made.
IESB: Is this a one-time thing for you or do you think youíll be writing more comics in the future?
Burns: Iíve fallen absolutely in love with this. We have two other ideas that weíre going to pitch to Virgin in March when this one is done. Oneís kind of a prequel to Dock Walloper and oneís a stand-alone more contemporary piece.
IESB: When ideas enter your head now, are you always considering if they would work better as screenplays or better as comics?
Burns: Yeah. Just because comics free you up. I think for me, especially, Iíve written so many character-driven talk-fest indie movies. To sit down and write a screenplay, by habit I tend to slip into that type of screenplay writing. But once I started to work on a comic book Ė because Iím not writing the dialogue, Jimmy is Ė that freed me up to just think about story and bigger stories and bigger plot turns and twists and things like that. A character piece is always going to be about the littler things that are said and unsaid whereas in these kinds of stories itís about the bigger, heroic gestures. Thatís new for me and itís almost as if Iíve kind of rediscovered the joy of storytelling in a way.
IESB: Did you sit down with the artist to, together, work out the look for the comic?
Burns: I didnít sit down with him. I went through Ė Iím a little bit of a New York history buff Ė I went through all my New York City photographs and we scanned a bunch of images from the time period. Everything from the certain looks of characters to wardrobe to set pieces like I mentioned. The look of maybe what the nightclubs should look like. That kind of thing.
IESB: What do you have coming up, film-wise?
Burns: Weíre trying to get Ė and hopefully it will happen Ė Iím trying to get this film called Rainy Dog which is remake of a Japanese film about a hitman in New York who is reacquainted with a ten year-old son that he never knew he had.
IESB: Would you be acting in that as well?
Burns: A small role. I play the cop who is pursuing him. But weíre still in that delicate time where weíre trying to get a specific actor to do the role and all our money hinges on his answer.
IESB: When you look at this project, what do you feel itís really about?
Palmiotti: Itís a buddy story. Itís about two guys in New York in the 20ís during prohibition and how theyíre pretty much just regular schmoes. Regular New Yorkers trying to get by. Trying to get some dock work. Trying to get to the next day and basically itís the story of how they get wrapped up in a world bigger than them and shoved around between an Irish gang and they deal with the Italians. This is actual stuff that was going on in the 20ís. These two characters, at first, just get involved and then they actually become players in this world. So itís very much a rags-to-riches kind of buddy story with a really colorful backdrop.
IESB: How did you become involved?
Palmiotti: Virgin Comics was talking to Ed Burns about the project and they thought it would be a good thing because he hadnít really read comics since he was a kid and they thought it would be kind of a cool thing to pair up a comic book writer with Ed who is a writer/director. I happened to get picked for it and Ed liked my work. They gave him a couple of books I had worked on called The Monolith and some other stuff. Ed really liked it and we kind of got together and met and we clicked. We got along like old friends. Ed had pretty much everything laid out like he wanted to see it and at the time of our meeting we changed a lot of stuff and took it to a bigger scale. Again, it was a learning process for both of us to work together. I got lucky, basically. For me, itís a real gift to be able to work with Ed, the real ground-breaking filmmaker and writer, that he is. Itís a real cool gig for me. For him, itís probably like heís just stuck with this schmuck who writes comic books and he has to deal with it. But for me, it was pretty damn exciting.
IESB: As a writer, youíre all over the map with different comic book companies. What brought you to Virgin?
Palmiotti: I read a lot of their books and Iíve been keeping track of what they do. This whole thing with working with Virgin, though, was all about the opportunity of working with Ed. I kind of like writing genre stuff. Superhero genre is how I make my bread and butter but any opportunity I have to write something like Jonah Hex or Painkiller Jane Ė antiheroes Ė I kind of jump at because I like the variety of what we do. The actual challenge of writing stories set in history is very exciting for me. I do like the research and I do fall in love with every era that I get wrapped up in. Every story I do in a different time and place I tend to research to the point of exhaustion. But itís a happy kind of job for me to do.
IESB: So weíre not going to see you signing an exclusive deal with one company?
Palmiotti: Actually, I have exclusive with DC for the next eight months. But part of my exclusive is that there are certain projects Iíll be able to do. Like Painkiller Jane. Because I co-created it, I get to do Jane. With Virgin Comics, working with Ed, I presented it to them as an opportunity to work on something I wouldnít ordinarily get to and they were totally cool. They understood that it was something I really wanted to do and as long as I got my work in and fulfilled my commitments, they were very flexible and I gotta say, more power to them for being that cool about it.
IESB: Youíve got a number of monthly books youíre doing right now. Is there anything youíd like to move into?
Palmiotti: We have Jonah Hex monthly and thatís a western and we have Freedom Fighters which is basically the most political comic out there right now featuring Uncle Sam. Probably a super-hero book. A straight, hard-core superhero book. Recently we got the rights to Ė which is out in trade right now Ė a Friday the 13th book. Thereís so much out there. Science fiction. Iíd love to do a romance comic but make it really crazy. I only have one life. Iíve gotta try everything. Maybe Iíll get a little better. The opportunities are there so I try my best to grab them and go for it.
IESB: Ed talked about Dock Walloper one day becoming a film. Is that something youíd like to be involved with directly?
Palmiotti: Oh my God, yes. It comes down to Ed. Edís the voice on that. Anything heíd want me for if he was going to do that. Iíd even hold the microphone and be best boy if he was going to do that. Iíve sat on a bunch of peopleís productions. John Singletonís a good buddy. Iíve sat in on maybe two episodes of Painkiller Jane. Itís something Iím fascinated with. How can you work in comics and not be fascinated with film? I donít understand how you can not be. Itís another way of getting a story across. If and when Ed makes this into a movie I sure do hope Iím somehow involved. Heís a really great guy. The more I get to know him, the more I like him. Weíll see. Thereís no promises or anything set in the contract or anything like that. It comes down to how important it is if he needs me. Iíll carry his luggage. I donít care.
IESB: Do you ever look at some comics and think theyíd make great movies but then look at others and think that they should never be movies Ė that they belong as just comics?
Palmiotti: Oh, yeah. Some things donít translate well. Then there are the things that are made into movies where Iíve said, ďWhy did they mess that up?Ē Some things donít translate. With CGI and green screen, itís getting easier to get closer to the mark but also, at the same time, I feel that sometimes they make a movie and they get the comic property and do the complete opposite of what itís about. They screw up. In my own experience, Painkiller Jane was not the comic. It was 22 episodes of something that wasnít my comic. Although I love everyone on the set and theyíre all great people, I felt that they didnít stay true to property and it hurt them. It didnít get a second season. Itís not the actorís fault. It just comes down to the writing and what works and what doesnít. Itís just amazing to me how they buy things and once they get it, they change it. I always ask, ďWhy did you buy it?Ē Thatís like saying, ďIím gonna buy a blue couch and when I get home, Iím gonna paint it orange.Ē I donít understand it, but itís a learning process. I think that comic book movies are getting better. The Iron Man trailer looks amazing. Like, The Punisher. The good stuff are the parts from [Garth Ennisí] Welcome Back, Frank. The bad parts are everything they added. You look at Elektra Ė or you try not to look at it Ė because, dear God, one of my favorite comic book stories ever, I canít even watch. If they stayed true to the comic, it would have been knocked out of the park
Oh Gawd... I've never been a fan of Burns. His acting is weak, his writing and directing is weak... I just don't see what the big deal is about this guy. The Brothers McMullen was a piece of shit. Now he's going to take a stab at comics because nobody wants him doing more films...
Well, my hats off to you, Ed. Can't wait to see what medium you'll latch onto once nobody accepts you for a second time. Maybe he'll write sardonic children books about a polar bear who has to choose between two hot polar bears. Pretty exciting stuff.