Tag Archives: Seth Rogen

Practising what you preach: Sam Catlin talks AMC comic book adaptation

Comic book adaptations take a dark turn with AMC’s forthcoming Preacher. DQ speaks to showrunner Sam Catlin.

While the current trend for comic book adaptations has largely focused on Marvel and DC’s stable of superheroes, things are about to take a decidedly darker turn.

This Sunday, US cable network AMC launches Preacher, a 10-part series based on Garth Ennis and artist Steve Dillon’s books about a conflicted reverend in a small Texas town.

Sam Catlin
Sam Catlin admits he wasn’t a graphic novel reader before taking on Preacher

It tells the story of Jesse Custer, played by Dominic Cooper, who is inhabited by a mysterious entity that allows him to develop a highly unconventional power. He sets off with his ex-girlfriend Tulip (Ruth Negga) and an Irish vampire called Cassidy (Joseph Gilgun) on a journey to find God. Literally.

From the start, the series lays down its intentions with a blood-splattered sequence that alludes to what is to come, while those familiar with the original comics will know to expect plenty of action, violence, sex and some colourful language.

So when series showrunner Sam Catlin first picked up a copy of Preacher, his initial reaction is not unsurprising.

“When I first read the comic I thought, ‘We can’t do any of this,’” he admits to DQ while writing the final episode of the first season. “It was too profane and the scale of it was too huge and violent. I couldn’t get my head around it.

“But once we figured out how it could start, now there’s nothing in there I don’t think we can do with a little creativity. There’s sex detectives, angels, demons, cowboys and crazy violence and our plan is to do all of it, whether it means explicitly what’s in the comic or not, but in terms of Garth and his world, we have no plans to pull any of our punches, that’s for sure.”

The series, which is produced by Sony Pictures Television and AMC Studios, was developed and championed by Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg – both longtime fans of the comics. Before he joined the project, Catlin didn’t know either personally and had never heard of Preacher.

“It was a crude commercial marriage at the beginning,” he says, frankly. “We had the same agent and they were looking to do the comic book that they love, which turned out to be great because we came at it from very different perspectives.

Preacher
Preacher is set in a West Texas town “corrupt and soaked in sin”

“They were huge fanboys and I wasn’t a big graphic novel reader at the time so it was a great marriage of fanboy and someone coming to it with fresh eyes. It’s been a great collaboration. I’ve loved working with them and they’re super-involved in the show. For huge celebrities, they’re super-down-to-earth and approachable, responsible guys.

“It always helps when you have Seth and Evan passionate about a project; it definitely helps any process. It’s a very ambitious show in terms of the resources AMC and Sony are putting into it and the creative lam we are walking out on here. Everyone’s really excited about it and we can’t wait to see what people think of it.”

In the beginning, that collaborative effort focused on how the show would start and what would remain from the source material, and which scenes, stories and characters would be held back.

“I wrote the script based on all those conversations we had and then I was on set while they were directing, so it was very much a hive-mind experience,” Catlin explains. “You hear so many stories about these types of things where people and personalities clash or the big, arrogant movie stars take over and throw their weight around. It’s just not been like that at all. I’ve become friends with these guys, they’re super-smart and it’s our show. I feel like it’s been a blissfully smooth collaboration every step of the way.”

To this end, the big change fans of the comics will notice is that it doesn’t open with Jesse, Tulip and Cassidy drinking coffee in a diner, learning how the preacher got his power. Instead, Catlin describes the early stages of the series as a prequel in terms of Jesse’s backstory. “But in no way are we not going to get to the other great Preacher stuff,” he adds. “Some stuff we actually bring earlier into the show than the comic does, and then some stuff we hold off until later.

Preacher Ruth Negga
Ruth Negga plays Jesse Custer’s ex-girlfriend Tulip

“I’ve said before if people don’t see what they’re hoping to see from the start it doesn’t mean they’re not going to see it. It just means they’re not going to see it yet. That was the big challenge – how do we start Jesse. What’s he doing? Is he on the run, is he still a preacher? What’s his relationship with God? Once we figured that out, it was a lot easier.

“In a way, this first season is a lot more of an ensemble. A lot of the action takes place in this one little West Texas town – corrupt and soaked in sin. So we’ll meet other people in the town, some of Jesse’s parishioners. So it’s Jesse and all these people and then you have Tulip and Cassidy on either shoulder. But eventually Garth’s comic is very much a three-hander. And we’ll get to that. It’s just a question of when.”

Unlike a traditional novel, Preacher offers Catlin, Rogen and Goldberg a visual template from which to draw, and the showrunner admits Steve Dillon’s artwork has influenced them during production.

“We want it to feel like a TV show but we also want it to feel like a comic book,” he says. “So striking that balance is one of the big challenges of the show. It’s not like Dick Tracy, where it’s so stylised it feels like the panel [in the comic book]. To me, it’s more of a tonal thing. You want it to feel heightened. It’s not Breaking Bad – it’s not hyper-naturalistic in every single moment. It does have that playful, absurd comic book atmosphere to it. To us, it’s that Gonzo tone we’re really trying to honour.”

Preacher frontman Dominic Cooper’s previous TV credits include Marvel’s Agent Carter and miniseries Fleming. But it was his dual turn in 2011 movie The Devil’s Double, in which he played two characters, that meant the actor was on Catlin’s radar as they searched for their titular preacher.

On casting the star, he says: “He was presented to us during pilot season in LA and he’s very much a known quantity, which means – as the agents will tell you – he’s not going to audition. You have to offer him the part. It’s always very scary. But it’s all very professional now where they have actor reels, this slickly produced thing where you get to see highlights of Dominic’s stuff.

Preacher-stainglass
Catlin praises lead actor Dominic Cooper’s “natural screen presence”

“There was so much good stuff on it but it was his work in Devil’s Double, where he plays Uday Hussein and his lookalike who is hired to be an impersonator for security reasons, that stood out. But we just didn’t know how good he was until we started shooting the pilot and we realised how lucky we’d gotten with his natural screen presence. We couldn’t be more thrilled about Dominic and the cast in general.”

Working with AMC, a network not known to shy away from graphic material (think The Walking Dead), has also ensured Catlin and his creative team haven’t had to tone down any element of the series, which will also air on Amazon Video in the UK, Austria, Germany and Japan.

“We keep waiting for them to act like network executives and say, ‘Can we make the character more likeable?’ and all those horrific notes you get. But AMC wants to do Preacher. They don’t want to do any sort of watered down version of the show. They’ve been great partners and they have a track record of success in pushing the limits of what you can broadcast on TV. They’ve been nothing but encouraging.”

Preacher marks the first time Catlin – best known for his work as a writer on another AMC hit series, Breaking Bad – has been a showrunner, a position he describes as the “ultimate job in Hollywood.”

“It’s definitely as much pressure as I had been told, as much terror,” he says. “It’s all that is advertised but it’s also a lot of fun. It’s very exciting building something from the ground up. As a writer, it’s the ultimate job in Hollywood, which is to be a showrunner on a great network like AMC. The amount of creativity, responsibility and authorship you have – there’s nothing like it. As hard as the job is, you don’t want to do any other job after this, that’s for sure.”

And with his experience on Breaking Bad, it’s only natural that Catlin looks to creator Vince Gilligan for inspiration now he’s in the top job.

“I’ve always had tremendous admiration and respect for Vince but ever since I became a showrunner I have that much more,” he admits. “Vince taught me everything about how to run a show and how to empower your writers and be diligent. Preacher’s very different from Breaking Bad and there are certain things that we do on this show that if Vince were dead, he’d be screaming in his grave. The rules are very different from Breaking Bad but his attention to detail, artistic integrity and the gentleman-like way he ran that whole operation is something I try to emulate as hard as I can.”

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Cleopatra succeeds Tut

Elizabeth Taylor in the 1963 film Cleopatra, the most famous screen version of the Egyptian queen's story
Elizabeth Taylor in the 1963 film Cleopatra, the most famous screen version of the Egyptian queen’s story

After Tut, now comes Cleopatra. With the Egyptian boy king only recently departed from TV screens following the three-night event series on Spike TV, the girl queen is the subject of a new series being developed by feted director Shekhar Kapur (Elizabeth) and David Ellender, the former FremantleMedia exec who now operates under the Slingshot Global Media banner.

While it is inevitable that comparisons will be drawn between the projects, the creative sensibilities and commercial starting points underlying them should bring about different results. While Tut was written by US scribes for a US channel, Kapur and Ellender come from Indian and European backgrounds respectively. This will presumably affect their approach and funding model.

Kapur, who will write the series, said: “Cleopatra is probably the most famous and the least known/understood figure of all time. Her life will reflect a modern-day parable of our lives today.” Ellender added: “As he did with Elizabeth, Kapur will reveal the human being behind the myth. We couldn’t think of a better filmmaker than Kapur to tackle this subject.”

If there’s one name you’d love to see at the bottom of your production sheet, it’s Jerry Bruckheimer. With film and TV credits that include Pirates of the Caribbean, Beverly Hills Cop, Bad Boys, Con Air, Top Gun, CSI and Without a Trace, he is a bona fide hit machine. So US cable channel TNT must be dancing in the aisles having picked up a Bruckheimer pilot called Home this week.

TNT has picked up the pilot of Jerry Bruckheimer series Home
TNT has picked up the pilot of Jerry Bruckheimer series Home

Originally set up at Fox, Home explores the secrets festering behind the facade of an idyllic suburban family. It centres on a pregnant woman who has a successful business and a wonderful home life with her husband Joe, a respected prison psychologist, and his two sons, to whom she’s stepmother. But the peace and tranquillity are shattered when she discovers long-buried secrets.

Home’s package is further enhanced by the fact the pilot has been written by Aron Eli Coleite, whose credits include Crossing Jordan, Hostages and Heroes (for which he was writer and producer for most of its run). The show is designated as a Jerry Bruckheimer Television and Warner Horizon TV production.

A notable trend in the last few years has been to fictionalise the lives of famous historical figures. Da Vinci’s Demons is a classic case in point, as is ITV’s upcoming series Houdini & Doyle (and so, for that matter, are Tut and Cleopatra). The idea behind this approach is to get pre-transmission brand awareness that will help a show cut through the clutter of competition. Imagine if, for example, Da Vinci showrunner David Goyer had said he was going to make a series about the fantastical youth of a medieval Italian genius. He probably wouldn’t have got more than halfway through his pitch.

Seth Rogen in controversial movie The Interview
Seth Rogen in controversial movie The Interview

There is a parallel process that involves taking fictional characters and giving them new settings. Traditionally, this involves looking back at the youth of the character in question (The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles, Endeavour et al) or putting them in a different period (Sherlock). A novel take on this was announced this week by CBS, which is to pilot Sawyer & Huck. In this case, Mark Twain’s classic Mississippi characters Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn are to be aged up and placed in modern-day America as adults.

Scripted by The Blacklist writers Brandon Margolis and Brandon Sonnier, the story will see Sawyer as a lawyer, who hires his boyhood friend Huck Finn as an investigator on a murder case. If the series progresses beyond pilot, the plan is for the characters to take on cases for people who don’t have anywhere else to turn.

In other news out of the US, NBC has acquired a drama project entitled The Bourbon Kings from Endemol Shine Studios. Based on a novel by JR Ward, the story centres on an aristocratic Kentucky family who make their fortune in the bourbon industry.

Interestingly (and what are the chances of this?), there are reports that Fox is also developing a TV series about a Kentucky bourbon empire. All that remains to be seen is whether either project will be filmed in Kentucky. A year ago, the answer to that would probably have been no. But in May the state increased its refundable tax credit from 20% to 30%, an aggressive move that will make it a viable alternative to Louisiana and Georgia, two US states that have made excellent use of film incentive schemes.

NHK Japan has picked up Partners in Crime
NHK Japan has picked up Partners in Crime

In the last couple of years, the scripted market has become accustomed to a steady stream of commissioning announcements from subscription VoD platforms like Netflix and Amazon. This week it’s Hulu’s turn to step up to the plate by announcing plans for a comedy pilot starring Seth Rogen.

The project, entitled Future Man, is about a gaming nerd who has to save the human race from being destroyed by aliens. Future Man is being produced by Sony Pictures Television and is the company’s first order from Hulu. Sounds like much safer territory than Rogen’s North Korea satire The Interview.

On the acquisition front, Asian broadcasters have been busy this week. RTL CBS Entertainment has announced it will premiere upcoming US drama Limitless in Asia within 12 hours of its broadcast in the States. Meanwhile, All3Media International has shipped new TV adaptation Agatha Christie’s Partners in Crime to a number of international broadcasters including NHK Japan.

The Japanese market is notoriously difficult to crack but “Japan is Christie heartland in terms of a fanbase for the author and this show will introduce a further generation to her work,” says Stephen Driscoll, senior VP for sales at All3Media International.

Equally upbeat is Junko Fukano, senior producer of NHK Japan, who says: “We are delighted that we can broadcast this wonderful show in Japan. Agatha Christie’s dramas have attracted a strong Japanese following, so we believe it will be hugely popular among Christie fans, and hope that it will bring even more audiences to NHK.”

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