Screenwriters adapt to comic books, graphic novels


Comic-Con 2010
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Adapting a graphic novel or comic book for the big screen requires a massive respect for the source material, as these screenwriters know.

Project: "Scott Pilgrim vs. the World," based on the Oni Press graphic novel by Bryan Lee O'Malley
Screenwriters: Michael Bacall, Edgar Wright
Director: Edgar Wright
Release date: Aug. 13 (Universal)

Edgar Wright: "From the start, I wanted to make sure that the creator was involved. So Michael Bacall and I went to Toronto to meet Bryan Lee O'Malley; we went to all the locations in the book and picked his brain about what he intended for the rest of the series. I've never adapted anything before, and there's no film similar to 'Scott Pilgrim' -- it's a romantic comedy that explodes into an action film. Michael and I looked at films within the 'teen romance' and 'fight' genres, like 'The Breakfast Club' and 'Say Anything.' It was about finding the language that rhymed and recurred between the two genres. We wrote down dialogue that revolved around fights or relationships and phrases that would occur in both. If we didn't have access to Bryan and if he wasn't open to working with us, I probably wouldn't have done the film. But he encouraged us to do our own thing. He understood the challenges of an adaptation and how the film and the comic can be two different things."
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Project: "The Avengers," based on the Marvel comic
Screenwriters: Zak Penn, Joss Whedon
Director: Joss Whedon
Release date: May 4, 2012 (Paramount)

Zak Penn: "I had to come up with a point of view. It wasn't enough to say, 'This is a big fun summer movie!' Luckily, I had done a draft of 'The Dirty Dozen,' so I was in the mindset of telling a story with multiple characters sharing the limelight. I also watched 'Ghostbusters,' which was weirdly one of the few multiprotagonist spectacle movies that worked as a model. I'd say it took about eight months to get an outline we were happy with. Part of my job was to try keep track of all the other movies that were being made, like 'Iron Man,' 'Thor' and 'Captain America.' They were all tied in to 'Avengers.' I was constantly redrafting and updating what I was doing because Marvel would say, 'So-and-so is not in this movie anymore, so they can't be in "The Avengers" '; or 'This is how 'Thor' ends now, so you can't start the character here.' You're serving all these characters, franchises and actors. If you can make the story work, all the details of the characters will work themselves out."

Project: "Green Lantern," based on the DC comic
Screenwriters: Greg Berlanti, Michael Goldenberg, Michael Green, Marc Guggenheim
Director: Martin Campbell
Release date: June 17 (Warner Bros.)

Greg Berlanti: "Because I hadn't done a film like this before, I worked with an artist and we did about 20 or 30 images of what the movie could be. I used my TV background to think about this not as one film, but a two-hour block of as many as three or four different films. We pitched the studio on multiple films and showed possible moments and images of how this wasn't just some silly character in a green suit with a magic ring -- rather, an epic, emotional drama about the first comic book superhero who could travel into space for lengthy periods of time. I enlisted my friends Michael Green and Marc Guggenheim and, as lovers of the comic book, we listed everything that we would kill to see in a movie like this. We started by generating those moments and began to write. We each took sections and rewrote each other. You want to tell a story that's exciting, but also be respectful of the character and what you adored about it as a child. You don't want to worship it so much that you can't see the flaws in the story."

Project: "Captain America: The First Avenger," based on the Marvel comic

Screenwriters: Christopher Markus, Stephen McFeely, Joss Whedon
Director: Joe Johnston
Release date: July 22, 2011 (Paramount)

Christopher Markus: "We read about 70 years' worth of 'Captain America' and certain things became obvious. He only becomes Captain America once, so it's pretty clear when you're making the first movie that you're not going to include his adventures in the Harlem ghetto that he had in the 1970s. As we were writing, Marvel had writers on 'Thor' and was making 'Iron Man 2' and thinking about 'The Avengers.' Since they are all part of this collective universe, someone would say, 'If you had Secret Weapon X in your movie, our guys could find Secret Weapon X in our movie.' Suggestions like that throw in nice, unexpected story possibilities."

Stephen McFeely:
"We are obsessive outliners. At any time, our living rooms are covered with 3x5 cards. Sometimes we would write down images -- like if there was an interesting way to fight a guy. Then we look at all the cards and ask, 'What makes sense to keep? What do we get rid of?' The second part is the writing. We split it up on a weekly basis. If the outline says one through 100, on Monday Chris would take one through six and I'd take seven through 12. We'd come back together on Friday, put them together, read it, but not edit it. After a while, we have this big draft. Some stuff is good, some bad. The third part is attacking that. We rewrite over and over until we have a good draft. We know the action is going to be there, so the challenge is finding ways to let the smaller moments play."

Project: "Thor," based on the Marvel comic

Screenwriters: Mark Protosevich, Ashley Edward Miller, Zack Stentz, Don Payne
Director: Kenneth Branagh
Release date: May 6 (Paramount)

Mark Protosevich: "There are projects you are offered and projects you pursue. This was one I very zealously pursued. I spent a fair amount of time coming up with a detailed pitch of what I would have liked to do with the material. It was very important to me, because Thor was my guy. I was a huge fan when I was a kid. When I moved to L.A. in my 20s and had to sell most of my comic book collection because I was broke, I kept all my "Thors" and still have them to this day. It was very much a dream-come-true project for me. When I came on, there was no 'Iron Man.' As Marvel developed as a company, 'Thor' (also) developed in terms of what kind of story it was going to be. At a certain point, they brought other writers on. It definitely feels now like a movie that takes place in the Marvel universe. Ashley Miller and Zack Stentz followed me and Don Payne was involved in the script throughout the entire production, so it's changed. But it still feels like 'Thor.' "