Summit's Erik Feig - Moving 'Red' from Comic to Film

As we reported last month, the Warren Ellis/Cully Hamner 2003 Wildstorm miniseries Red has been tapped for the movie treatment by Summit Entertainment, along with producers Lorenzo di Bonaventura and Mark Vahradian.

The original miniseries told the story of a very black-ops ex CIA agent who is forced to go back into action when he finds himself hunted by a high-tech assassin. The screenplay for the film version is being written by brothers Erich Hoeber and Jon Hoeber, who most recently wrote the screen version of Whiteout.

Newsarama had the opportunity to speak with Summit’s President of Production, Erik Feig about the project.

Newsarama: To begin with Eric, how did Red get on your radar? It did okay for a Wildstorm miniseries, but how did it come to your attention?

Erik Feig: This is one of the projects that came to me fully formed as a potential movie. To be honest, I knew Warren Ellis, and I knew his other material, but I wasn’t super-familiar with Red until it was presented to us by DC and Lorenzo di Bonaventura, one of the producers, as a potential movie. Then I was able to see it as a movie, and look at the comic as really inspiring source material.

So this isn’t one where I knew the comic intimately, though I was a fan of Warren’s work.

NRAMA: What is it about his writing that hits you?

EF: In general, it’s raw and has a great, unfiltered sensibility. And there’s no one running around in tights. His vision of the world is edgier than most you’ll find without being dark for dark’s sake. I’ve also thought that there’s always a great sense of wit to his work as well.

NRAMA: That said, what was it about Red that clicked with you?

EF: I saw in Red something that I loved in Lethal Weapon and The Bourne Identity - here you have a character who’s been trained for something, but was so damaged as a human being in that process. The world continues to move, so the question becomes what happens after to him after he’s served his time? What does he do with these skills and knowledge that is under his belt? It’s such an interesting character. Warren did a great job in creating the character and developing the situation where he’s just too dangerous of an asset to be left untouched. We thought that it was a great setup for a smart action movie, and Lorenzo and Mark Vahradian who are great producers in the genre, DC, and DC’s Gregory Novek and the Hopers all deserve credit for helping to get this rolling. We just think that this would be a commercial franchise for us.

NRAMA: Pulling back the curtain a little bit – as you said, you felt that what was pitched to you with Red was pretty much a movie waiting to happen. Does that mean that there wasn’t or isn’t much “development” needed to be done with it to turn it from a story in one medium to another?

EF: Well, there will be, actually. We didn’t have to do the hard work of finding the perfect writers and beat the story out of the source material, though. That hard work was done by Lorenzo and Mark and Greg – and I’m really grateful for it. The Hoebers are perfect writers for it.

So they’ve come in with a really smart, articulate, sharp pitch. Once we decided that we wanted to pursue the movie, and once we got educated with the source material, we were able to massage or tweak the take a little bit, and talk about other things that were important to us that we wanted to emphasize going forward. They made some changes to the pitch, and right now – I hope – they’re about 50% done with a first draft.

NRAMA: And if not, they now know what their timetable is…

EF: [laughs] Exactly.

NRAMA: You mentioned the Bourne franchise earlier. In making a movie that fits into the action/espionage genre, how has the Bourne trilogy affected the landscape?

EF: To me, the Bourne franchise reinvented the genre of a spy action movie with one particular scene in the first movie: when Jason Bourne is escaping from the embassy, he runs to the window, opens it, looks down to an alley with a dusting of snow, and he’s four floors up. In every other movie, that character would look out the window, and there would be a hard cut of a stuntman doing a drop roll four floors down, and our character would then get up, dust off the snow, and keep running.

Instead, and I think this dramatically changed the genre for all of us, the movie took the time to put it out there: “How would you get out of a window four floors up?” It turns out that its really difficult, and the movie then showed the audience how it could be done. That scene, to actually take the time and treat it realistically, I felt, made it revolutionary. It gave the audience an enormous amount of respect for the film and the filmmakers, and it made them realize how much they’d been given short shrift in other movies of that genre. It was just fantastic, and changed it for all of us. Filmmakers are realizing that the audience is learning and growing, and that scene for me, really reinvented that genre.

Look at the ripple effects it’s had - Casino Royale owes a few scenes to what was done in Bourne. Iron Man - it’s a fantastic, brilliant movie, and you look at that and see a character who’s witty, complicated and untraditional and says what he’s thinking, and he’s doing it in what would otherwise be called a summertime popcorn movie based on a comic book. But in Iron Man you had a really unique, richly textured character at its heart, and lo and behold, that turns out to be deeply satisfying for audiences. The filmmaker had faith in the audience, and he was rewarded for it.

To me, when I look at Red, I see similarities. It’s got very robust source material – that character in the world that Warren created is so richly textured with so many nuances. The story has a character in a world that we’ve kind of seen before – it’s a part that Humphrey Bogart would have played long ago – and I think there’s the opportunity in this to take that archetype and make it completely contemporary. Warren laid the groundwork for us.

NRAMA: So you’ve got a tall order for yourselves. How do you proceed?

EF: First – do no harm to his vision. And then, within the power of the underlying material, find the big movie there.

NRAMA: So what’s your timeline from here? What comes next? Fans often see the announcements that a property has been optioned, and then everything seems to go underground for a while and a year or so later, there are production reports. So what’s on your docket from here?

EF: Man, I’m really hoping that the Hoebers are reading this article now, because they owe me the script [laughs]. Seriously though, as soon as we get the script in, I think it’s exactly the kind of material and character that will attract a top level director and a top level actor. We start putting the movie together immediately. This is a movie that is hopefully a very soon on the horizon/’09 production. From that, it becomes a 2010 release.

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