Usually, the phrase “David Fincher attached to produce” is all a Hollywood exec needs to hear before hitting a comically oversized greenlight button, but such has not been the case for the animated adaptation of Eric Powell’s The Goon. Despite Clancy Brown (The Shawshank Redemption) and Paul Giamatti attached to star, David Fincher as a producer, and Blur Studios (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo‘s killer opening sequence) involved, the film has been stuck in development hell, struggling to find studio backing since 2008. Now, the team has turned to Kickstarter to raise the $400,000 necessary for a story reel, a rough draft of the film, which will make shopping it around to potential studios much easier. With 3 days left in the campaign, they are $68,011 shy of meeting their mark.
You may be asking yourself, “Why should I care? Why should I donate?” Well, I caught up with Blur Studios’ owner Tim Miller (also tapped to direct Deadpool and Gravel) and veteran visual effects specialist Jeff Fowler to find out why this project is so important to them and the industry as a whole.
Nerdist: What was your first exposure to The Goon? How did you get involved in this project?
Tim Miller: I’m a huge comic book geek; I’ve got a $250-300/month habit, so I buy everything and bring it into the studio and trade it with the other guys who buy comics. I’d bought the first issue of The Goon, but sometimes when a new comic comes out, the art hasn’t really hit its stride or the story is still trying to find its legs and it can take a few issues to really get going. I thought the first few issues were okay, but I put it aside until one of the guys was like, “You should pick this up again. It’s really, really good.” And I was hooked. I really love the humor of it – it’s kind of out-there humor – and the artwork. It’s really kind of the complete package. I became a fan. Later on, I thought, “Hey, we should make a movie out of this!” [laughs]
Jeff Fowler: It’s really rare that you have such a singular voice that Eric has with The Goon. For the longest time, Eric was doing everything: the writing, the covers, the artwork – that’s so rare in comics right now. They all have writers and artists coming on and off, but it’s pretty much been Eric Powell for the duration of the comic like 95% of the time. Every panel, every word that’s coming out of the character’s mouth is straight from Eric, and that’s awesome.
N: Exactly – I remember that my first exposure to it was stumbling upon a random issue and immediately being blown away by how strong of a voice it had. I had to have more.
TM: Yeah, it’s just a great book, and once you get deeper into the story and get to know the characters it’s even better.
JF: Even the stuff he’s been doing over the past year, these sort of one-off stories, still maintain that sense of fully-fleshed out realization. His recent Chinatown stuff, which has been a real departure, has been amazing, spending time on further developing the characters, explaining things like how the Goon got his face messed up. It’s been lots of great character arcs, drama and plenty of comedy.
N: How did you guys, Eric Powell and David Fincher all come together?
TM: I had been talking to Dark Horse for years about various projects, so they kind of knew who I was. Unfortunately, sort of the way it works – and I’m not casting aspersions on them because this is how it is with everybody – it’s just if they don’t know you, there’s a lot of people knocking on the door saying, “Hey, I love this property and I’d love to be involved with it somehow.” They can’t just open the door for anybody. I had been knocking for a while and they knew who I was, but they weren’t just going to give away a property like The Goon to me, even though I had an animation studio. I was actually pitching Heavy Metal at Sony with Fincher, which we ultimately failed to do, but a buddy of his is Josh Donen, who’s partners with Sam Raimi, and I thought The Goon was a perfect fit for Sam because it has this Goodfellas-meets-Army of Darkness kind of vibe to it. I said, “Hey, Josh, can you show Sam this property?” For whatever reason, it didn’t work for Sam, and David was there listening to me talk to Josh about it and he was like, “Well, f#$% Sam, I want to do it.” So, I sent David some issue and he read it and loved it. You know, David, despite his brief flirtation with Spider-Man, isn’t really a “man in tights” kind of guy. It’s kind of funny that before this the seminal arc was Chinatown, because if I had a dollar for every time he referenced Chinatown or Raging Bull, I would be a rich man and I could pay for this whole Kickstarter myself. He really responded to the uniqueness of Eric’s voice and the quirkiness of his humor and how non-comic-book it is. And here we are. Now, when I say that David Fincher is interested in partnering with us on that, it’s a whole different story. It elevates it in everybody’s view.
JF: That’s what Eric responded to as well. We had begun to do some production artwork as well, to show him that we were interested, but what really convinced him was having him fly out to spend a few days at the office and discuss how we envisioned this process
TM: Another thing about David that I really like is that he’s artist-centric. If you saw Blur, it’s just a big warehouse full of guys and there’s a very flat hierarchy and that’s why David really liked it. He puts art above commerce all the time. He likes to protect the artist. When Eric came out – a big studio would option the property and the first thing they do is pass it off to a screenwriter, like f$!@ you, here’s your option money, take a hike. The first day, we knew that Eric had to write the script. There was no way some screenwriter was going to come in and make it like Eric had made it and capture his voice. And that was a big thing for Eric, knowing that he was going to be a big part of the development of this film and, at times, be leading the charge.
N: One would think with a name like David Fincher attached to the project, a Kickstarter would be unnecessary. What has been the biggest challenge in getting the film made thus far and what motivated you to turn to Kickstarter?
TM: I think it’s a common misconception – and I held it too – that just having these guys involved meant that doors will be opened and checks will be written, but that’s just not gonna happen. Especially when you’re trying to do something edgy, you know? If we were making some Ashton Kutcher romantic comedy, we’d probably have made five of them by now. But, because what we’re trying to do is edgy and hasn’t really been done before at this level, people are wary. And if they’re wary, it’s easier to say no than it is to say yes. For example, when we were doing Heavy Metal, we had a meeting in this room with James Cameron and Fincher. It was Heavy Metal with a $50 million price tag. And Zack Snyder was attached too, and we couldn’t do it. I mean, $50 million with these guys all directing, and it’s Heavy Metal. But because it’s R-rated and anthology-style, people run away scared. This one is PG-13, it’s a comedy, and it’s got scenes that will play well internationally as well as in the States. However, the fact that it’s PG-13 and animated makes people wary enough to say no. But, there are people out there who will take the chance; it just takes a little bit longer to find.
JF: The whole idea of doing a Kickstarter originated from the fans. We go to Comic-Con every year and the first question we get asked by the fans is “how can I help?” We didn’t have a good answer for a while, but then Eric started getting e-mails, tweets and messages asking him why not give Kickstarter a shot. So, that’s kind of what we did. We kind of dismissed it initially; we couldn’t quite wrap our heads around it since we were dealing with a budget of $35 million. We took a look at it and decided to see if there was something we could shave off, you know, short of doing the entire film. That’s how we came up with this notion of doing a story reel, which is a pretty cost-effective way of doing a first pass at a film. It’ll have all the story beats and you’ll hear all the character voices. Suddenly, it made a lot of sense, which is how we wound up with the $400,000 figure – that would be the cost for us to produce it on our own.
TM: Two years ago, we were at a place where we would have tried to make a little short rather than a story reel, which we did already. It would have cost a similar amount to the story reel, but we’d tried that already and it didn’t work. We had that and a script and a pitch book full of terrific artwork and that’s what we took out there to the studios and we just got “no, no, no.” Those guys see so many projects each week that it can be hard to get through to them. So, with a story reel, you can get people to sit down for an hour and twenty minutes and give people a sense of what the film will be like in a way that you couldn’t by spending four or five times that amount of time, which people won’t do anyway.
TM: Well, we’ve been to all the major studios and shown them the project, so they’re aware of it. They all liked it – they loved the artwork, they love David, but it seems a little risky. Now, you can’t have another meeting without something new to show. This allows us to have this new thing and we can set a whole new series of meetings with the pitch reel so we can show them the blueprint of what the film will look like. One thing that’s amazing about David Fincher is that he can get a meeting with anyone in town that he wants to meet with; he can get two hours of their time, even if they’re not interested in the project. So, shepherding this around with the other support materials would be the next step.
N: Plus, a successful Kickstarter would show that there’s already a built-in audience for the project.
TM: Totally. Hopefully it’s not a double-edged sword for us. We don’t want the studios to feel afraid. Even our Kickstarter video has David saying “does Hollywood know better than you?” [laughs]
JF: We’re kind of throwing rocks at the windows here, but hopefully at the end of the day people will respond to things that they think they can make money off of. If there’s a valid product here – and we certainly believe there is – people will respond to that. We don’t see this as a “product,” but more of a way to spice things up in the animation industry. I don’t think they’re going to have a chip on their shoulder because of the non-traditional way in which we reached out to the fans.
TM: And honestly, the trend that I’ve seen happening is that the studios used to control content for everything; they would hire the writers, directors, and assemble the projects themselves, but increasingly, we have seen people going outside of the studio system, attaching directors, stars and even having the whole script written before going to a studio backer. I think studios are open to this new model; it eliminates a lot of the risk. You don’t have to think about it, you just have to write the check.
JF: I think at the end of the day, it’s just about supporting something different that could have a positive effect on film and the industry as a whole. It has this grassroots approach; even though David Fincher is involved, it’s a property that’s been embraced by fans for over a decade and Eric has been working so hard to bring this world to life. I think it’d really be an incredible gesture and a way for fans to really participate. Fans can feel kind of powerless sometimes when Hollywood is making sequels and remakes and you see that reflected sometimes when huge tentpole movies and blockbusters fall on their face at the box office. There’s an opportunity here for fans to pick up the spear and take matters into their own hands, creating an opportunity that might not have been there otherwise
TM: I agree with everything Jeff said and let me just simplify it to this: isn’t it time we saw something f#!@in’ different? I mean, Jesus, there are like 20 films in the animated category this year for the Oscars, and they’re all beautiful and made by people who really care about the art, but there’s a similarity to them that I find distressing. I want to make animation that’s as rich and varied as live-action films. I want to see dramas, I want to see comedies, I want to see the same variety as other films. And also there’s Eric. He’s put his whole life into this comic book, but comic books just don’t have the same circulation anymore and I think this deserves to be brought to a wider audience. These characters need to have a wider reach. As much as I love comics personally, they’re limited in scope to a small number of people and these stories have a stature beyond that.
Want to see The Goon film become a reality? You have 3 days to donate to their Kickstarter! Are you excited for this? Quemment below and let us know!