Gerard Way: Umbrella Academy on the Big Screen

Preview: The Umbrella Academy: Dallas #1

Gerard Way on The Umbrella Academy
Gerard Way on The Umbrella Academy
Yesterday, we spoke with Gerard Way about the comic book version of The Umbrella Academy.

But comics aren’t the only media exposure coming up. Since the property began its life at Dark Horse, The Umbrella Academy has caught the attention of Universal Studios and been fast-tracked as an up-and-coming comics to film adaptation. Scott Bernstein, who helped shepherd Hellboy from comics to screen is attached (which has Way thrilled), and as Way told Newsarama, the project is moving along very quickly. In fact, if you’re reading this today (December 23rd), Way’s having (or had, depending on your time zone) a meeting at Universal about the latest developments.

We’ll let him explain:

Newsarama: Since we spoke last, before the Dallas started, there’s been a lot of buzz going on about an Umbrella Academy movie at Universal. How much do you keep up with that, and how involved are you with a movie version?

Gerard Way: I think because maybe because I have been in “the business” for about eight years, even though it’s a different facet of the business, and even from working in animation before that, I think because of that and the ideas I have and where the story is going, the studio has kept me extremely involved, and they made that clear from the get go. So that’s been really nice – it hasn’t been the situation where they optioned it, and they say, “See you at the premiere!” It’s quite the opposite.

I’m lucky though in that one of the people involved with the project is Scott Bernstein, who is one of the guys that made Hellboy happen, and he’s one of the guys that got Mike Mignola with Guillermo del Toro, and as everybody in comics knows what kind of relationship that was, and how involved Mike was with the movies – he was on the set every day. So I have the benefit of having an individual at Universal who embraces that kind of thinking. That’s what he wants for all of his projects – he wants the creator there for every step of the way.

So I’ve been in there every week, and it has definitely been fast-tracked. There’s a momentum with it right now – I have meetings up until Christmas, more or less. The 23rd is the last one, I think, so they’re very involved and are trying to keep this momentum going even straight through the holidays.

NRAMA: So where are things now?

GW: Basically what I’m doing right now is meeting with a bunch of really amazing screenwriters, and there’ve been a lot of them that have never adapted something that really want to do this project. Everybody that I talk to that gets involved with this – it’s that whole thing that you mentioned earlier – where readers and fans end up filling in the timeline. This book is purposely written that way to allow the reader to fill in the blanks, and thus make the reading experience that much more special. So these screenwriters have gotten the same way and are asking questions like, “What is the Jennifer Incident?” I’ll tell them that I don’t know, and they don’t need to know, and that’s the point. Then their brain will go off, and think “Maybe this was it…” And this is simply just for them to know in terms of back story – it’s not something that we would even see in the movie, it’s just something that they want to know. So sometimes, they will come to me with questions, and all I can tell them is to go find their own answers.

But we’re at the stage now where writers are pitching their take on it, and how they see it as a film. As someone who is a fan of comics, I know that this movie will be different than the comics. To me, the comics will always be what they are – I wrote them, they are what they are. I told the studio that I understood that they will want to make changes, and I will embrace those kinds of things, because they do what they do, and I do what I do, because I’m not writing the screenplay for this.

Over Christmas break – because a lot of people will just write when the studios shut down for the holiday – a lot of scripts are going to be written, and when we reconvene in January, we’ll see what the writers have done. After that, it’s a matter of finding a director, but the studio wanted a screenplay first, which I think is a smart idea, because you want o make sure this works in film form before you move it to a director. A director with a lot of ideas might read Apocalypse Suite and just think, “there are a lot of ideas there,” and just not know what to do with it.

NRAMA: You’ve said you’ve accepted the idea that the movie will be the movie, but yet, this is still an ongoing concern for you, and as you’ve said, you’re not even halfway through the story that you want to tell. Have you started down that path – that is, the day that the studio says, “This is the strongest version of The Umbrella Academy and it should be the one on screen” and it’s something that, while it has your approval isn’t quite what was in the comic, or completely your vision? Is that going to be a day along the lines of you raise your kids as best you can, but sooner or later, you have to send them off to school?

GW: Yeah, it will be. And I’ve said that to them from the start – I’ve told them that there will come a point where I’m going to be more interested in what they’re wearing, and that is going to be where you can really use me well, and when you can fly Gabriel up from Brazil so he can work on designing the hardware and the setting, and he can explain the intricacies of Spaceboy’s gear. That’s the stuff that’s going to be ultimately way more interesting to me, and to me, that’s way more exciting.

But there is a point where I have to, as a writer, let the kids go to school, as you said. I will drive myself nuts if I try to be involved every step of the way. At the same time, when lock down a screenwriter, I want nothing more to be able to sit down with them and with Scott Allie and say, “Okay, you’ve got two guys with you who are total resources, so ask away and let’s really break this film down.” So I guess I’m involved in that part, but when the director comes in, it’s out of my hands. It’s somebody else’s vision. It’s like Guillermo doing Hellboy – you chose the people you chose because of their vision. If I was breathing down the neck of the director, it would just be a miserable experience for everybody. The studio knows that – there has to be a point where I detach myself. Not that I won’t point out things like you can’t have Rumor wearing white, but yeah, I’m okay with that.

If I wrote a screenplay to direct myself, that’s the only time where I would insiit until the end that my vision makes it to the screen. But as I’ve said, I wrote this story already, and I don’t want to write it again.


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