Having come out of animation with the CG animated version of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, he moved on to live action with Dylan Dog: Dead of Night. Based on the comic books by Tiziano Sclavi, it’s a loose adaptation of the world of private detective (Brandon Routh) who handles supernatural cases. Munroe was forthcoming about the low-budget production.
The Comic Book
How involved was (Comic Book creator) Tiziano Sclavi with the film?
Kevin Munroe: Not with me. I put out a couple of notes to him but never heard back. I heard he was really reclusive, and when we were in Italy I invited out but we heard nothing. I don’t know what he thinks about the movie. He’s probably unhappy with it (laughs).
How did you come to the Dylan Dog?
KM I was developing El Zombo at Dark Horse, and I was also developing Martin Mystery as a TV series there as well, which was by the same company who put out Dylan Dog, so I picked up an English copy, read it, and really liked it. Cut to seven years later, and I was sent the script for Dead of Night, and ten pages in I’m like “this is a Dylan Dog movie!” And so I talked to the producers and they said “yeah, it’s Dylan Dog but we just changed the name.” But I read the script and ten minutes later called them and said I really, really, really wanted to do it.
What is unique to this comic book adaptation?
KM: The setting and tone. We went with a lighter and more fun tone. You’ve got Hellboy and Constantine, but with Captain America and Thor you know what you’re going to get, and I like when you add horror and action and comedy.
How much freedom did you feel you had with the material?
KM: We had a ton of freedom, so I wanted to use that freedom to adhere to what had been created already or – at least – pay homage. The horrible thing about doing a small independent film where you have eighteen million producers is that it also buys you a lot of freedom in a really odd way because there’s a lot of chefs, but no one’s minding the store. It was up to Brandon (Routh) Sam (Huntington) and I and everyone else to create the stuff on the day. The opening sequence was created in editorial, we were sitting in editing, and Paul Hirsch – who edited Star Wars, and was Brian De Palma’s guy for the longest time – we created the opening, I drew storyboards, and said “if we have to have something here, let’s put in these things that are trademarked to the world.
Though the movie is a horror film, it also functions as a film noir – a monster noir if you will. Were you informed by The Big Sleep?
KM: That’s one of my favorite movies, and The Third Man – that’s so beautiful! But you read the script, and you have to make it – and it’s vampires, werewolves and zombies, and all of those have been done a million times – the studio temptation is to make big budget, and it becomes Constantine times three. So how do you go beyond that? I always thought it was the humanity behind it. And that noir twist on it you don’t see a lot of, so it’s a hipped up noir, but the voice over does have that Sam Spade flippancy but gravitas.
With Dylan Dog, would consider turning it into TV?
KM: It seems perfect for TV, it’s a no brainer. It’s a great franchise. It’s like Highway to Heaven meets zombies.
With all the CG out there now, why did you go with more practical effects?
KM: I absolutely love them, and even if I had more money, I would put more people in suits. It’s because of the believability factor – I think there’s something more real to it. A guy walks in who’s seven feet tall and wearing latex, you can’t ignore that he’s there, especially when he’s a head taller than Superman (laughs). Also, in a roundabout way, I like introducing this style to a generation who didn’t grow up with it, I think it’s foreign to anyone under 25.
How was the casting process?
KM: Everyone who’s in there were there for the specific roles. Brandon was already attached, but Sam went through a bunch of auditioning, and so there’s all these tapes with his audition tapes, and blew everyone away. Plus he’s best friends with Brandon, so that helps. And you can tell on screen. What was great was we invited him to lunch – because Brandon and I were going to lunch once a week at that point – and Brandon’s attitude adjusted, and you could see it there. And because we had to shoot the movie fast, it’s great to have two partners who’ve known each other for years.
With the modern influx of teen-centric vampires and werewolves, how did that inform what you were doing? There’s a mention of “true bloods”…
KM: That’s a complete coincidence, when we started to shoot was when the show was about to premiere, and there was a big thing, but it was in the script since 1999 or 2001, so we stuck with it.
What was the biggest challenge of the movie?
KM: The most freeing aspect – the low budget – is also the hardest part, which is you have this much rope to go, and it has to feel big and stylish, so I tried to create something that worked for the budget, and at the end of the day we were under budget, not massively so, and it was going every day knowing what we needed to get. And coming from animation I knew where we would cut, because there you have to plan all your shots in advance – you don’t shoot 30 minutes to get 12. You shoot 12. So showing up on set, it was about doing the storyboards, and staying on task, and still trying to create a visual identity. I saw a TV spot for Priest – which looks badass – but it would have been so easy to do this in that style, and it works for that, but ours works for us.
Are there deleted scenes then?
KM: Yeah. We were really smart on set, when we hit a roadblock, we’d rework the script, so often when you hit your last day you say “we didn’t get this, this and this.” but we had the connective tissue. There are some more scenes between Brandon and Sam, and some clues stuff. A lot of what got cut is his phobias, he was superstitious, but a writer from Italy told us “Dylan’s not superstitious!” But what I like about it is that Dylan really knows about superstitions, so there really is an old curse from a witch that if you do step on a crack it would hurt your mom’s back, but they shut that down.
Why New Orleans?
KM: The comic is set in London, the script was set in New York, but it went against the tone of the comic book. We started thinking about New Orleans, and possibly where we could create New York. New Orleans popped up because it has a New York-ish street. But one night I crossed out Brownstone, and put in Plantation mansion in the script, and crossed out Morgue and put in above ground cemetery, and it made it so much better. And Because Dylan is so much more comfortable with monsters than he is humans, New Orleans made sense. And it was cool, it felt a little European. I tried to stay true to the character and tone, but I don’t think he’d be comfortable in New York.
What was your favorite moment in shooting?
KM: Whenever someone would come out in a monster suit. It’s just so surreal and cool, and my favorite moments in the behind the scenes pictures is me with those guys. And things like when Dylan gets punched in the air and falls on to the new Beetle, stuff like that is funny to me.
You’ve mentioned before that fans were nitpicking about the color of Dylan’s car.
KM: There are two types of fans, those that love stuff, and want to share it, and the one’s who want to protect it. And you have to make the movies for the people who want this stuff shared. I had a bad experience with Gatchaman, which fell apart, and that was my Dylan Dog, that was the show in the 70’s that I watched all the time, and I went down the same path, feel protective of the back story and all of that, and I found myself – as I was writing the script – saying “I’ve got to make it for the audience.” And that’s when it came together, and went for a wide audiences. It seems hard core fans are always caught up in details. In my experience – with Ninja turtles and this – I’m never going to do a comic book again (laughs). We couldn’t put in a white Beetle because we were told Disney would sue. We couldn’t put in Groucho Marx because he’s Groucho Marx. I’m surprised people don’t pick up on the overall tone and spirit of the source material. It’s more “the batsuit’s changed!” or “what color are the windshield wipers!”
I wish people learned the lessons of X-Men, when fans were freaking out about the costume changes, but then loved the movie.
KM: You think about how much they change with something like Batman Begins, they changed the franchise so much but everyone was happy.
Transition to Live Action/Future Projects
How did it feel segueing from animation to live action?
KM: Animation has no happy accidents. Everything is so on purpose. You have to create everything in CG, which is great if you’re a control freak – which most directors are – but you can drive yourself crazy with all the little details. What I really liked about live action is the happy accidents, and the collaborations. In animation you have these actors, and you have those lines, and they use the actor as a reference, but it’s so great to sit in a room and have an actor own a character. I enjoy both, but live action is very freeing.
Less lifting. Do you enjoy that, or do you have moments where you ask “Can I get a little more raised eyebrow”
KM: It’s funny because there are people like Taye Diggs, and Peter Stormarre, and they get it. Sometimes you can offend an actor by saying “that was great, but could you cock your head a little bit because of the light?” and there are people who aren’t worth their salt who overreact to that, but then pros just get it. I love the level of collaboration to it. Animation is a slow death, while live action is like jumping out of a plane.
And results are more immediate.
KM: It was cool, the concept of dallies.
Can you give us much on the Lucasfilm project?
KM: I can tell you what I can tell you. It’s possibly 3-D. When Alice in Wonderland came out everyone was high on the format, and with Mars Needs Moms, people were saying “3-D is dead.” It’s a genre to me. I will say that with the project I’m doing at Lucas it infinitely helps the storytelling. The Lucas lawyers gave me a page and a half contract on what I can and cannot say about the project, and I can say it’s not a Star Wars movie, I can say that it’s all CGI.
Dylan Dog: Dead of Night opens April 29. Check it out.