Just before the Flixist October launch, I had the chance to speak with Patrick Meaney at New York Comic-Con, where he was simultaneously shooting a documentary on comicbook writer Warren Ellis and premiering his completed film Grant Morrison: Talking with Gods. If that sounds familiar it might be because Chris Gore of G4’s Attack of the Show recently reviewed the film as a must-see.
I’m happy to hear it’s a well-made documentary but honestly, I was already sold on the idea by the subject material alone, and really started to anticipate Talking with Gods and the upcoming Warren Ellis: Captured Ghosts once I saw the collection of famous faces that were interviewed for each.
The Grant Morrison pic was released on Amazon today. Even if you’ve already ordered it, you’re probably still waiting on shipping, so why not kick back and read my interview after the jump?
Glenn Morris: First up, You’re making a documentary on comic book writer Warren Ellis, hot off a similar project about Grant Morrison. What is it that you feel worked so well for the Morrison project that you’ve stuck to this path?
Patrick Meaney: There’s a few things that made me want to keep going with comics documentaries and set up the Ellis project. We started working on the Ellis one about halfway through shooting on the Grant project, and at that point, I could tell that Grant was a really engaging subject, and was hoping that the doc would turn out well and be something that engaged even people who didn’t really know that much about Grant’s work.
So, the logical next step was to think about who else would have that kind of appeal, who would be the kind of personality that could support a feature length exploration, and Warren Ellis was one of the few guys in comics who jumped out. I think the key to the Grant film was the fact that there’s this legend built up around him, and the film plays with that legend, and Warren is someone who’s just as legendary, and that meant there would be just as much material to explore during the course of the film.
GM: Grant Morrison: Talking with Gods screened at the same New York Comic-Con where you shot material for the Ellis doc. One person ran straight home and typed up a ten out of ten on imdb.com. Was that you?
PM: You’re talking about the review on IMDB? Nope, that was not me, it’s presumably someone who watched the film! I will admit that I rated the movie 10/10, but didn’t write up any reviews of it myself.
GM: What do you think that person got that they didn’t bargain for? The comicbook documentaries I’ve seen were aimed at a less informed audience than myself, and I’m not exactly an authority.
PM: I think the thing that makes the Grant documentary stand out is that we never approached it as something specifically targeted to the comic book audience. The goal was always to make something that would simultaneously offer a lot of new insight and interesting material to people who’ve read all of Grant’s work, and be accessible and relatable to people who haven’t read anything. It was a tricky balance, and the way it ultimately worked was to focus on the story of Grant’s life, and let any discussion of comics or magic come off of that. So, if you’re new to Grant, the film is getting to know someone you’ve never met before, it you already knew Grant, it would be the opportunity to learn new things about the stuff you’re already familiar with, and re-conceive your previous notions of who he is and what his work is about.
GM: When you’re focusing on the man first and the work second, how much more difficult is it to communicate to your audience which books made the kind of impact that justifies the celebrity, and which books he particularly feels like talking about as you’re interviewing him? For the Warren Ellis project too, if you’re far enough along to speak on that.
PM: With Grant, we focused mostly on the works that were closest to him personally, like The Invisibles, Flex Mentallo, All Star Superman and a few others. I asked him about everything during the process of interviewing, so the best answers made it in. Generally speaking, the moments we used were where the work connected to his own life. So, something like New X-Men or Seven Soldiers is a fantastic piece of work, but didn’t have the material to support its inclusion, while Final Crisis did. That said, I made sure to touch on Arkham Asylum and JLA since they were so key to his increased profile.
For Ellis, it’s roughly the same, though it’s still early in editing, so I can’t say exactly what will be included and what will be left out.
GM: Transmetropolitan is the reason I’m doing this. I don’t mean this interview, I mean this job. After three sleepless New York Comic-Con days failing to find my first news story, I wandered into your camera shot and heard the words “Warren Ellis” from the man you were interviewing.
PM: Warren talked a bit about how he gets messages from people every year who decided to go to journalism school because of Transmet. So, you’re not alone! I think the series does present a really romantic view of what journalism can be, and the impact it can have on the world.
GM: “You don’t learn journalism in a school. You learn it by writing fucking journalism.” -Spider Jerusalem
I have to say, with a main character that spouts quotes like that, and it’s a tame one in comparison, I’d expect Warren to be an eccentric, someone who sandbags his house in the Hunter S. Thompson vein. Was the reality quite different?
PM: Warren definitely has some eccentricities about him, but I think he’s a bit nicer and more normal than most people would imagine. I think his imagination is constantly on the edge of sanity and reason, but in real life, he seemed to be fairly down to Earth and live a pretty stable existence. He’s not out there putting himself in danger for the writing like Spider or Hunter would, but I don’t think he needs to. That’s not really his process. His job is more to get word out there about things, and make other people see and think about things.
GM: If this hasn’t happened already, what would you do if a scene was particularly interesting, something that holds what you want to get across in the film, but embarrasses your subject? I suspect in documenting famous writers there would be decisions where you’d want to be truthful to the persona of the people, but wouldn’t be able to do so without exploiting them in some way.
PM: The way we’ve been doing it, I consider the subject’s consent to make the film a kind of contract that we’ll do our best to present them in a truthful and balanced, but non-exploitative way. So, if there’s something that’s excessively personal or could cause potential trouble for them if it goes widely public, then I’m not going to include it. If you’ve seen the Grant film, it’s clear that the vast majority of stuff is in there, but there’s a couple of specific things that were left out for personal reasons, and I’m sure it will be a similar kind of thing with the Ellis movie.
GM: I haven’t been able to see Grant Morrison: Talking with Gods, but Amazon has it listed for November 22nd. For me, it’s exciting to see this on the market, with so many other documentaries focusing on the industry as a whole or one company’s history rather than its visionaries. Hopefully it doesn’t spin out of control and we start seeing a Frank Miller bio-pic starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt.
PM: I don’t think that’s going to be a problem, it’s still a fairly niche market for most of these docs. Though, the thought did cross my mind of what it would be like to make a biopic for Grant, and how to approach it. I’d love to see an I’m Not There style approach, very experimental and out there. He’s certainly got an interesting enough story to make it work.
Finally, because I’ve always loved answering this question myself: You have an unlimited budget and the right to adapt any comicbook ever made. What do you make? Be as detailed as you like.
If I could adapt any comic, I’d love to do Flex Mentallo. It’s such an ambitious, simultaneously cosmic and deeply personal, and that’s something we don’t see enough of in any media. I think it’d be difficult to get funding for Flex, for obvious reasons, but done right it could be a really hypnotic and revelatory movie, shifting seamlessly between huge scale superheroics and everyday personal drama.
Other than Flex, I’ve always thought Moore’s Miracleman would make a really great film, much more so than Watchmen. It’s a lot less dependent on technique, and is just a really strong story. But, it might also be a bit nihilistic in some ways. I’d also really love to see a Zatanna TV series based on Grant’s series.
GM: Thanks for taking the time to do this. It seems like at the pace you’re going there isn’t a moment to waste. As I mentioned Grant Morrison: Talking with Gods is available on Amazon Nov. 22, and the Warren Ellis documentary is to be called Captured Ghosts, is that correct?
PM: That’s correct. We’re planning to put it out roughly a year from now, and probably do roughly the same schedule as the Grant film, that is do a preview panel at San Diego Comicon, then premiere it at New York Comicon. The film will be a bit different from the Grant movie, in that it’s going to be more experimental and a bit less of a straight chronological structure. The way I’ve been describing is an ambient mixtape downloaded from the mind of Warren Ellis.
GM: A mixtape mind of puppets and stop-motion from what I’ve heard. That sounds about right. Thanks again, Patrick. I can probably speak on behalf of our readers and say we’re looking forward to both.
I just want to take this space to thank Patrick Meaney again for giving us an inside look at these unique projects. Comic book writers are a subject of interest for me, and others it appears. I’ve noticed that Forbidden Comics in New York actually organizes their graphic novels by writer, and has become one of my favorite Big Apple stops when I visit. If this sounds like yer cup o’ tea, check out this clip.