Cullen Bunn and Brian Hurtt's western-fantasy series The Sixth Gun has been a critical hit since debuting at Oni Press in 2010, but the comic book came close to being seen by a whole new audience with a live-action television pilot that was in contention for the 2013-2014 NBC lineup.
The show had good buzz throughout pilot season, with Lost's Carlton Cuse on board as an executive producer. In a move that suprised some industry observers, NBC didn't end up picking it up as a series — but Bunn (also the writer of Marvel's Venom and Fearless Defenders) tells us that hope for a live-action adaptation isn't lost.
With a Sixth Gun hardcover collecting the first 11 issues of the Eisner-nominated series announced to be coming in October, we talked in detail about the "surreal" pilot experience with Bunn.
Newsarama: Cullen, curious to hear more about your experience with the Sixth Gun pilot that was in contention for NBC this fall, but ultimately didn't get picked up. Of course that has to be disappointing, but it also seems like it would be, in its own way, quite satisfying just to get that point. What can you share about that experience? And is there any hope for live-action Sixth Gun elsewhere in the near future?
Cullen Bunn: There's still hope for a live-action Sixth Gun. NBC decided not to go forward. There has been a lot of interest from other networks in the series. There are still very active discussions about the book right now. What does that mean in the future? I don't know at this point. But I do know that discussions are ongoing, and there's been a lot of effort put into it.
I still think there's hope for it at this point. But the whole experience — I definitely learned a lot from it. When we first started out with it, I'm one of these guys who try to not get my hopes up for it, because I know these things can fall apart at any stage of the game. There's been media interest in The Sixth Gun since before the first issue came out, and it's fallen apart. I knew going in that things could change, and nothing's a guarantee. But I have to admit that as much as I tried, I did get my hopes up, only because everyone involved in the process loved the book so much.
I've heard horror stories from other creators; "My book got picked up, and they changed everything but the title when they made the series." While they were definitely changes — the pilot is different than the book — you could tell Carlton Cuse [and] Ryan Condal loved the book, and they wanted to do something that [while] it had to change for the medium, it still rang true for the series.
My hopes started getting up. There was a lot of good buzz on it. When I went to the set to watch filming, at that point it felt too real to me. It really cemented in my brain. It's a very surreal experience to see these actors portraying characters that I wrote about. When the actor who played Drake Sinclair [Michiel Huisman] comes up and asks me about motivations of the character, at that point I'm like, "Oh, this is a real thing. This is really going to happen."
I was understandably disappointed when NBC decided to pass. Their reasons are their own, and there are number of reasons that they decided not to go with it. The moment that it was announced that NBC had passed, I saw speculation as to why, from people who know even less about how Hollywood works than I do — and I know very little.
And that's fine. In the end, for me, it's pretty great that my book got that far. Even one episode is a pretty rare thing. And here I am, talking to James LeGros, who played Bill John O'Henry — my favorite character from the comic — about Phantasm II, which was a pretty surreal experience. It's pretty crazy. It was exciting and crazy and interesting, and in the end, a little humbling, sure, but it's not dead yet. This is not the end. Who knows what till happen in the future. And no matter what happens, I still have a book that I'm really proud of. It was never a situation where we had to quote-unquote "sell our soul." Our vision of the book was always going to be our vision of the book. Brian and I still have a book that we're very proud of that we're still doing.
Nrama: You were on set a bit, and I imagine you also got to view the finished pilot?
Bunn: I did.
Nrama: Did it match your expectations — was it along the lines of what you were hoping for?
Bunn: It's hard for me to be really objective with it. Any pilot episode, I can pick apart little things that I may or may not have liked. It was a very action-packed hour of television. I don't know that it was like anything else that has ever been on network TV. I think it would have been a complete surprise for most people.
It was different than the book. We knew it was going to deviate from the book. That's just the nature of adaptation. But Ryan Condal, who wrote the script, he's a big fan of the book, and he tried to keep things as close as he could, and honor the spirit of the book. There were some things we suggested to him that he took to heart, and incorporated even into that first, very packed, episode.
I'm speaking for Brian here as well, but there are elements of the show that Ryan introduced, that Ryan built upon and expanded way beyond what we've done in the comic, that became some of our favorite elements of the show; because they weren't things that we see every day and work with every day. The Pinkerton characters, who have been in The Sixth Gun since issue #1, I think took on such an amazing life in the pilot, in what Ryan and Carlton had intended for the series. They became some of my favorite aspects of the show.
For me, I love Bill John O'Henry. He's always been my favorite character, and seeing him on screen, seeing the Gallows Tree, which appeared in the first issue of The Sixth Gun — those things were very exciting for me to see brought to life on screen.
Bunn: The set was really interesting. Brian and I got there, and the set they were filming that day was actually in a town that's built out in the middle of the desert. We walked across the sandy streets, and somebody said, "Let's go in here," and we walked into the saloon in the show that Missy Hume owns. There are all these extras sitting in this smoky saloon, all sitting at tables, and they all turn slowly to look at us as we walked in, and it felt very much like we were walking into the Old West. They weren't filming anything. It was just a bunch of extras, cowboys and saloon girls, sitting around, talking. It will definitely go down as one of the most surreal moments for me. I was taken aback; it felt so much like we were walking into the Old West. [Laughs.]
Nrama: So are you remaining hopeful for the prospect of Sixth Gun in live-action?
Bunn: I'm going to keep my fingers crossed. But in the meantime, I'm going to just focus on writing the books.