Hi, everyone. "Moriarty" here with some Rumblings From The Lab...
It’s a strange time here at Ain’t It Cool News. I know I feel blessed each and every day right now, and in the oddest ways possible. David Lynch shot a film at my house last month. I’m getting ready to walk out the door to fly overseas for the first time ever thanks to Knowles. We’re actually upgrading our server right now as we speak to make room for all the traffic from Harry’s new Peter Jackson fansite. And there’s stuff I’ve got planned for the second half of this year that just seems impossible.
How, pray tell, is Harry flying me overseas? And not just me, but a whole fistful of AICNers? Well, seems Knowles has fallen into some filthy lucre. You know that he’s producing a film called GHOST TOWN, and he’s been hard at work on that one with a pretty amazing writer for a while now (and, no, I don’t mean me… Harry won’t let me within a thousand miles of GHOST TOWN). But there’s something that’s been a dream of his for far longer, and today, it’s my privilege to announce that his dream has come true. Mr. Beaks hopped on AOL IM the other night to interview Knowles about this newest, craziest twist in his GUMP-like life, and here’s what they had to say:
Harry Knowles: pioneering webmaster, film-as-cunnilingus-substitute advocate, and, now, producer. Last year, he shook Hollywood to its rotten core with the announcement that he was selling out to Joe Roth’s Revolution Studios in order to develop GHOST TOWN, a project still shrouded in the kind of secrecy reserved for stuff that’s often done in secret. Now, he’s joining Jim Jacks and Sean Daniels as a full-fledged producer on Paramount’s 2006 tentpole, JOHN CARTER: A PRINCESS OF MARS, which has been adapted from the beloved Edgar Rice Burroughs novel by Mark Protosevich, whose I AM LEGEND remains one of the great unproduced scripts in Hollywood, and will be directed by Robert Rodriguez.
I had a chance to chat with Mr. Knowles over AOL IM last night, and, to my surprise, found him full of bonhomie and good humour as we discussed his most recent venture. He had just returned from seeing CONNIE AND CARLA (“Better than sex with Rav!”, he proclaimed effusively), and offered up a few tantalizing details regarding the direction of this massive undertaking.
Mr. Beaks: I'm ready and rarin'!
Harry: Helloooooo, Mr Beaks.
Mr. Beaks: How *do* you do, sir?
Harry: Well, I'm certainly not knighted yet.
Mr. Beaks: Knowing your luck, that's forthcoming.
Mr. Beaks: So, should I just start firing questions?
Harry: You are a reporter for that great metropolitan/international rag, AICN, aren't ya?
Mr. Beaks: Allegedly.
Harry: Then I'm smoking my last cigarette.
Mr. Beaks: So let me start with the question that's on everyone's mind: how in the hell did you pull this off?
Harry: Well - it actually started with AIN'T IT COOL: HOLLYWOOD'S REDHEADED STEPCHILD SPEAKS OUT. Available at AMAZON!
Mr. Beaks: That book was useful for somethin’? Besides serving as my doorstop?
Harry: Well, Warner Publishing insisted that I publish a list of the Top Ten Dream Projects of Mine. The films that if I were running Hollywood, I would make. In there was PRINCESS OF MARS/John Carter of Mars Series. Well - Alphaville producer Jim Jacks read the book, got to that list - saw that series listed, remembered reading them as a kid - and thought that was a good idea. He had Paramount secure the rights for Alphaville and began talking to me about the project on a pretty frequent basis.
Mr. Beaks: In other words, you've been essentially doing pre-production on this for several years. Clandestinely.
Harry: Feels like I've been talking with Jim about this for 2 years, but actually - it goes back further. When I was in New Zealand that last day of my THERE AND BACK AGAIN reports - I tried to get Peter Jackson interested in PRINCESS OF MARS as his follow-up to LORD OF THE RINGS - about 4 years ago. And I've been talking to Robert Rodriguez about PRINCESS OF MARS for about 7. Essentially - I've been talking to anybody who would listen about Burroughs' books since I was about 10 years old
Mr. Beaks: And finally somebody started to take you seriously.
Harry: Well - they seem to. Jim Jacks has a great deal of passion for the material and wanted to do an incredibly faithful adaptation and well - let's just say we both fed off each others' excitement quite a bit.
Mr. Beaks: What about Robert's excitement? It sounds like you've played an integral part in getting him psyched about going to Mars.
Harry: Well - after I read Mark Protosevich's 1st Draft, I was rabid about seeing the film done by someone that had a passion for the material, and began talking with a number of folks about the film. Back around Butt-Numb-A-Thon, I started a conversation with Rodriguez that got him very interested in Mark's script - and that began a series of conversations that continue every day. Robert and I both wanted to see it done here in Austin - so we could walk around town thinking, “BARSOOM in our backyards!”
Mr. Beaks: Being done in Austin is the big surprise. Is it all going to be shot down there?
Harry: All the details are being worked out right now in those regards... The stuff that takes place on Earth may require us to shoot around the States a bit, but Mars/Barsoom is a little too much out of our location budget, so I imagine it exists in a big empty box of a soundstage that can be a billion years ago on a Mars far away.
Mr. Beaks: Let's talk a bit about the story for PRINCESS OF MARS. Actually, let's start with the title. Isn't that a sissy title? Shouldn't it be, like, MASTER COCKSMAN OF MARS?
Harry: Well - Burroughs called it PRINCESS OF MARS and that's good enough for me. I'm sure at some point a question will come up about that title - but Dejah Thoris is the love of John's life, the entire story pivots upon their relationship and John finding his home there on Barsoom with her. It truly is the best title.
Mr. Beaks: Is John still going to be an ex-Confederate soldier?
Harry: Damn straight! Personally, that's integral to his character and the story... wouldn't dream of changing that.
Mr. Beaks: And getting him to Mars. How's that handled?
Harry: Through the miracle of special effects that have yet to storyboarded
Mr. Beaks: Oh, those things. Actually, that's a good lead-in to my next question. How are you guys going to do Mars? CG with a mix of locations like in LORD OF THE RINGS, or will it be a completely CG environment like, say, the new STAR WARS films, or SKY CAPTAIN?
Harry: That's an on-going discussion. With Robert working on SIN CITY - we're just now at the stage of assembling a team of great artists, visual effects folks, the early, early pre-vis... out of that will come the strategy for how to continue.
Mr. Beaks: And how much of this pre-production hiring and developing is going to fall under your supervision?
Harry: I have suggestions - a voice in the process. Personally - I find myself being the guy that says, “Woola has 10 legs not 6.” That brings some of the relationships and knowledge that I have about artists and FX technicians that a zillion years of CINEFEX, CQ, STARLOG and AICN reading have afforded me.
Mr. Beaks: Are you going to be hiring out of the established Hollywood pool for your design team, or are you going to look for some new talent?
Harry: “New” is a relative term. The names I tend to bring up are the Gods that I've dreamt of working with since I was a child. One of the artists that I'm working with right now is a person (who I'm not naming right now because I'm a prick) that did a watercolor portrait of my mother in 1974 while he was flirting with her at a Detroit Comic Con - and who has a history of Burroughs art and has dreamt of that universe since he was a child - and is someone every living geek that's reading this knows and loves. But he has only sparingly been used by Hollywood.
Mr. Beaks: Sparingly used is good, since too many of these Hollywood sci-fi epics keep going back to the same design well.
Harry: A lot of this is similar to what PJ did with LORD OF THE RINGS - it's about bringing the right guys together. John Howe and Alan Lee were not new, they were the right guys.
Mr. Beaks: Gotcha. So, you're going to be busy down in that magical bedroom of yours, huh?
Harry: The process so far has been remarkably similar to what I do on AICN - only I get an input into the process. I still get email with insight into the production, only it's a production I'm involved in. And the artwork and letters about things are for my private feedback, not for public feedback. For now, I still get more email about AICN.
Mr. Beaks: For now. Think that might change in the near future?
Harry: I haven't a clue what the future holds in those regards.
Mr. Beaks: Let's talk Tharks. Real actors or CG?
Harry: What 15 ft tall, 4 armed tusked actors did you have in mind?
Mr. Beaks: Forced perspective? I dunno.
Harry: 4 armed actors?
Mr. Beaks: SAG has a wide variety of differently abled actors out there. Really... how can you brush off the notion until you've looked?
Harry: Mhmm... I don't want to alienate the green 4 armed tusked actors - I suggest they email me, this is their Wizard of Oz.
Mr. Beaks: Well, I guess Burroughs fans will be happy to hear that you're sticking to the correct height and whatnot for the Tharks. What about Woola? He'll be CG, too, and not practical like Sammael?
Harry: Those discussions will begin later today through the weekend and till shooting next year. Sammael was a combination of real and cg - we'll explore that option, but want what looks best and offers the best character and dynamics.
Mr. Beaks: Let's move on to what is, at least to you and your cohorts, a known quantity: Protosevich's script. How faithful is it to Burrough's novel?
Harry: Extremely faithful
Mr. Beaks: Minor alterations?
Harry: Yeah, that's a fair way to put it. I mean, the book is told via first person journal from John to you the reader. This is told cinematically with John as the central character, but not through his voice-overs... so that's probably the biggest alteration.
Mr. Beaks: Besides our ongoing fascination with the red planet, what is the primary hook for the John Carter saga? How are you going to excite moviegoers who've never heard of this series?
Harry: Well - my love for the story is birthed out of the character of John Carter - a man that is transported from everything he knows to this planet and time so alien to anything that a man hunting for gold would or could ever imagine…. he doesn't despair, he accepts his situation and thrives. To me - his relationships with Tars Tarkas and Dejah Thoris are everything. If you don't believe his friendship with a 15 ft 4 armed warrior with tusks and eyes in the wrong place -- and his relationship with Woola (which is just a great dog story sub-plot... but with 10 legs and well much bigger than your average mutt) and then his love for Dejah... That's what I love. I'm sure for some - the second they start seeing Tharks kicking ass they'll get excited, but for me... when I watch all this footage coming back from Mars, and the rover tells us that this is a barren sea that was there on the surface of Mars, how many centuries ago, how many millenias ago? There's a magic to what might've been, what was once there... and there's the dream that perhaps 500 million years ago on Mars - there were sights unlike anything we've ever seen or imagined. That's Barsoom as (Frank) Frazetta painted, and that's the film I want to see.
Mr. Beaks: That's such a huge canvas. The scope is enormous. How much is this going to cost?
Harry: It'll cost exactly as much as it needs to be done perfectly.
Mr. Beaks: Is any of this reliant on the success of SIN CITY?
Harry: No. That's Robert's current project that is in active production with Miramax. This is with Paramount and Pre-Production is beginning and everyone there is excited about it. However, Paramount hired Robert for who he is before SIN CITY was even really put together.
Mr. Beaks: It's a long way off, but I assume Robert wants to shoot as much of this as he can on digital.
Harry: I believe Robert is on record as saying, FILM IS DEAD and that he'll never go back. So, that's a fair assumption on your part.
Mr. Beaks: Heh. So, were you serious when you told me it was LeBron James as John Carter, or bust?
Harry: Heh. You know me, I never... ahem, kid
Mr. Beaks: I'm pretending you told me that, at least. Seriously, though, you've had so much time to dream about this project. You've undoubtedly put some faces to John Carter. Care to share any of them? Alive or dead?
Harry: Errol Flynn.
Mr. Beaks: Dejah Thoris?
Harry: I've only ever seen Dejah through Frazetta's brushstrokes.
Mr. Beaks: So, you've yet to see a Dejah in the flesh?
Harry: Robert will do an extensive search to find Dejah. It will be gruelling tough work, but we'll get through it somehow.
Mr. Beaks: You poor guys. If you need help... you know. I'm here. That's all I'm sayin'. Luckily, Moriarty isn't into that kind of thing.
Harry: It'd a be a conflict of interest, you're a reporter for AICN! How would it look if you got involved in PRINCESS OF MARS? Think of the scandal, my dear man!
Mr. Beaks: I'm an awful man. I've no scruples. Forgive me.
Mr. Beaks: Will your experience thus far on GHOST TOWN be of help as you move forward on JOHN CARTER?
Harry: Actually - it's the reverse. I was actually consulting with Jim Jacks on PRINCESS long before I'd even thought of GHOST TOWN - besides - GHOST TOWN is still at the writing stage, PRINCESS is in Pre-Production - what I learn on Barsoom will greatly help me with GHOST TOWN I feel.
Mr. Beaks: How far off is GHOST TOWN from production?
Harry: Better question is how far off is the script?
Mr. Beaks: That far? So, you're going to be getting heavily involved with this *massive* production for Paramount. Will you still be able to do Ain't It Cool News?
Harry: I believe so. I've been working on both films for the past 3 months and still manage to get stories and my regular DVD column up, unlike some editors on AICN.
Mr. Beaks: What's with that guy anyway?
Harry: I think it's rampant drug abuse
Mr. Beaks: Depressing. He could've been one of the greats. I didn't know estrogen could be so addictive.
Harry: You ever watch that Channel 4 show SPACED by Edgar Wright?
Mr. Beaks: I have. At said miscreant's lab, actually.
Harry: I find Moriarty reminds me often of Jessica Stevenson's character on the show, staring at blank screens for hours on end, constantly looking to put things off. And then there's his menstrual issues.
Mr. Beaks: I never thought of that, but... man, that's pretty damn accurate. Here's one: what happens when, say, "BurroughsFan88" gets his paws on PRINCESS OF MARS and sends you a script review? What do you do, Knowles? What *do* you do?
Harry: Well, if he sends it to "Harry@AintItCool.Com" it goes to me and Moriarty. Moriarty has control editorially regarding any of the projects I'm working on creatively... just as I have the ability to post any stories whatsoever about Mortal Kombat 3 and that UNIVERSAL SOLDIER thing of his.
Mr. Beaks: Who're your producing idols?
Harry: George Pal, Charles Schneer and Walt Disney.
Mr. Beaks: No Val Lewton?
Harry: I was naming my top 3. I have an everlasting love for Val Lewton's work.
Mr. Beaks: Are you comfortable w/ producing, or do you also harbor dreams of directing?
Harry: At this point in my life, I don't feel directing is a pursuit I should embark on till I feel that there is nobody on the planet that understands the material I'm working on better than myself. I have yet to hit that ego plateau as of yet.
Mr. Beaks: So, you think Robert understands JOHN CARTER better than you?
Harry: I believe Robert is better equipped in innumerable fashions to tell this story than me. I can only help in the process and hope to learn as much as humanly possible. But I feel Robert has more talent for telling this story than anybody out there right now.
Mr. Beaks: But you're going to be *heavily* involved in helping him, correct?
Harry: I will be as involved as much as he needs me to be, hopefully I can help the project - and try to be a positive influence on the project.
Mr. Beaks: In other words, it's a real producing gig? This isn't some charity credit?
Harry: I brought the project and the script to Robert's attention and we've had innumerable late night back-and-forths about Barsoom, John, Dejah, the artists and the effects people. It has been a wonderful conversation and as we move forward into production of the film. I look forward to working with Elizabeth Avellan, Jim Jacks and Sean Daniels to finally bring Burroughs' tale to life. However, I never lose sight of just how fucking lucky I was to get that call from Jim Jacks 2 years ago; how lucky I was to be forced into bringing up PRINCESS OF MARS in my book. And as I look at the artwork coming in to me right now, I count my blessings. A week after I saw EMPIRE STRIKES BACK, my father handed me PRINCESS OF MARS and said, "Read this and imagine the movie this would make!" That's nearly been 23 years ago. I remember watching the skiffs in Jedi and dreaming of red-hued denizens of Helium upon them. Then, watching ATTACK OF THE CLONES and seeing that arena scene and knowing that 4 armed Warhoons belonged in the seats. I can only imagine that what I'm feeling right now as I see Princess of Mars coming to life is what Phillipa Boyens felt. I mean, this is really truly happening. And I love being a part of it and suggesting the names and then getting to bring some of them aboard the project. It's truly a dream come true for this geek.
Mr. Beaks: Well, with all of the money you're bound to make off this thing, I hope that means I'm this much closer to getting my labor of love, LITTLER WOMEN, made.
Harry: Well, given your penchant for Elementary School Bus Stops, I'm afraid to ask about that one.
Mr. Beaks: Research. It's all research. Why won't the police leave me alone to my research?
Harry: Because you're sick
Mr. Beaks: I cannot help what I do.
Harry: I know, but this is what you get for hanging out with Smilin' Jack.
Mr. Beaks: You're probably right. I learned it all from him. So, do you have anything else you need to add? Any other tidbits that I failed to draw out through my abrasive interrogation?
Harry: Can I go potty now? Please?
Mr. Beaks: Okay.
Harry: It's been good, I think. Make sure that hack of an editor doesn't fuck it all up.
Mr. Beaks: That’s out of my hands. In any event, you've been more than forthcoming, Mr. Knowles. A grateful nation thanks you for your testimony.
When I asked Robert Rodriguez to comment on Harry’s participation in the film, he had this to say:
”Harry's enthusiasm was what got me on board Princess of Mars. He passed me the Protosevich script back in November, and it felt like the kind of production we should be making in Austin. I wanted to utilize all the resources Austin has to offer for a movie like this, and that includes Harry. I was glad to know that Jim Jacks had already brought him onboard as a producer before I signed on. Harry knows the material backwards and forwards, knows a lot of the artists we'll be bringing on board to bring BARSOOM to life, and is a great springboard for ideas of all things cool. We've talked about working together on a movie before, neither one of us thinking it'd end up being something this big. But ain't it cool?”
Can’t wait for the trades to try to figure out which leg we’re pulling thanks to today’s date, but it’ll be even better when they figure out we’re not kidding. This is one of the biggest films Paramount is making, and somehow, the Ginger Goon hisself ended up involved, and he has a great goddamn script he's working with. We’re taking the town over. Ain’t it cool, indeed.