F.J. DeSanto is a good FOBOF -- “Friend of Batman on Film” -- and I’m proud to call him a good friend of mine personally. After communicating with F.J. for a few years as well as having him as a somewhat regular guest on BOF’s Podcasts
, I had the honor of meeting him in person at New York Comic Con 2009.
Truth be told, this interview will come off as two old fanboys from basically the same generation talking geek stuff. But to me, it was an example of how far comic books and the entire genre has come. Me, running little ‘ol BOF and Mr. DeSanto having the chance to write comics and produce comic book films -- of course, he's a MUCH bigger fish than moi.
Here’s F.J.’s bio:
F.J. DeSanto co-produced THE SPIRIT -- written and directed by Frank Miller and based on the legendary graphic novel series -- for Odd Lot Entertainment and Lionsgate. Some of the motion pictures currently in development include: THE SHADOW (Columbia Pictures) which he is co-producing with Michael Uslan, Sam Raimi and Josh Donen, SHAZAM (Warner Bros) with Peter Segal directing, DOC SAVAGE (Branded Entertainment), SABOTAGE (iNDELIBLE Entertainment), and LOONY (iNDELIBLE Entertainment). Also, he co-produced the animated direct-to-home DVD TUROK: SON OF STONE (Classic Media) which was distributed by the Weinstein Company. In 2005, he served as an assistant to the producers of CONSTANTINE (Warner Bros).
He has been responsible for acquiring, developing and maintaining a large slate of projects based on comic books, graphic novels, manga and anime while also overseeing deals with writers, agents, comic book companies, creators and movie studios. Before joining iNDELIBLE Entertainment in 2008, he was the Senior Vice President of Production and Development and Producer for Comic Book Movies Inc., and spent nine years as Vice President of Development for Michael Uslan and Benjamin Melniker (Executive Producers of the BATMAN movie franchise).
Mr. DeSanto is also a comic book and manga writer. He has written an original manga based on STAR TREK: THE NEXT GENERATION for Tokyopop, America’s largest manga publisher, for release in 2009 and is a co-writer on the comic book series THE SPIRIT for DC Comics. He is currently developing several graphic novel projects for 2009 and has created an original property, INSURGENT, along with writer Todd Farmer (MY BLOODY VALENTINE 3D).
In 2007, he became the first person to ever speak on the topic of Japanese manga and anime at The Smithsonian Institution when he moderated the “Manga to Anime: Astro Boy to Spirited Away” seminar at Freer Galley of Art in Washington, DC.
F.J. DeSanto graduated New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts Department of Undergraduate Film and TV with an honors scholar award. Recently, Mr. DeSanto returned to NYU as an adjunct professor, teaching a class entitled “PROFESSIONAL COLLOQUIM.” The course, which Mr. DeSanto created, is designed to educate senior and graduate writing students on the fundamentals of the motion picture business.
He spent two years as a panelist at SCRIPT MAGAZINE’s annual “PITCH X-CHANGE,” helping the writers of tomorrow hone their story pitching skills for the entertainment industry.
Mr. DeSanto is also an accomplished musician and has performed all over the world with his bands Hypefactor and The Aggression. He has released five CD’s for various independent labels and is a noted electronic rock producer, songwriter and remixer.
Wow! I, well, run a Batman fansite. Ahem. Anyway...
So without further adieu, here's my sit down visit with F.J. DeSanto in New York City during NYCC 2009.
BATMAN ON FILM: You just did THE SPIRIT, so tell me what’s up next movie-wise…you’ve got THE SHADOW coming, right?
F.J. DESANTO: Yeah, we’ve got THE SHADOW -- it’s still in script stage. We’ve got a great writer -- Siavash Farahani - hell of a writer, a really good writer who really has a grasp on The Shadow.
BOF: I’m guessing nothing like the 90s movie with Alec Baldwin (laughs).
Oh, no, no, no, no. We’re talking about going back to the pulps, what made this character awesome. What you don’t want is yet another “rich guy becomes a superhero movie,” you know? Michael [Uslan] has said in interviews that The Shadow can be anyone. He can be me, he could be you, you know? The idea we’re going with is that we’re not doing an origin story, so where The Shadow comes from and exactly who is The Shadow is a mystery. He could be Lamont Cranston or Kent Allard. So it’ll be like “Is this person The Shadow?” or “That guy might be The Shadow.” There’ll be little clues, you know, throughout the film.
BOF: How’s the comic book writing going? I know your doing -- or did -- THE SPIRIT for DC with Michael [Uslan].
F.J.D.: It’s been awesome! We’ve did a three story arc for DC. The artwork is just beautiful! The art was done by Justiniano and Walden Wong -- they did just an amazing job.
BOF: What’s the tone of the comic?
F.J.D.: It’s noir-ish. It’s action-adventure with a bit of the tongue in cheek humor The Spirit is known for. I wouldn’t say it’s dark and brooding, and I wouldn’t say it’s light and campy. I’d say it’s the perfect mix -- and great middle ground. The emphasis is on “adventure” -- we wanted it to be fun. It’d be a great jumping on point for anyone who hasn’t read THE SPIRIT before.
BOF: I know DC is publishing THE SPIRIT comic. Are they including him in the greater DCU -- part of the Multiverse (laughs).
F.J.D.: (laughs) It’s separate. But maybe he’s on Earth 2097 or something!
BOF: I know that the box office and the response to THE SPIRIT had to be somewhat dissappointing -- though I know you are really proud of the film. It's coming out on DVD soon, what would you say to those who passed on it in the theaters?
F.J.D.: I think now that the dust has settled, people should really look at it for what it is -- which is a fun, beautifully stylized tongue in cheek live action graphic novel. I think it's a movie that got a bad rap that might be looked at as a cult classic in the years to come.
BOF: Did you keep up with FINAL CRISIS?
F.J.D.: I did. You know (sighs). I got to go back and read it. I just felt like I was missing something when reading it, you know? Maybe I’m just not smart enough to get it (laughs)!
BOF: You read Grant’s [Morrison] run in BATMAN right?
BOF: Here’s the complaint that a lot of Batman fans have -- including me. They just want to read about Batman and don’t want to have to buy and read these greater DCU “Events” -- you know what I’m saying? A lot of fans thought “BATMAN, R.I.P.” was anticlimactic and then they then had to get involved with FINAL CRISIS for a resolution.
F.J.D.: Well, knowing how Grant writes, I think there will be a payoff to it at some point. At least Grant is trying to get people to think. Whether or not it’s linear or there is ultimately a payoff, we don’t know yet. But I think he wants to get people to invest in something. So I think maybe there will be a payoff -- Dr. Hurt, etc. -- for the real Batman whenever Grant [Morrison] comes back in June or whenever.
BOF: I just wasn’t down with him being “Omega Sanctioned” and being zapped into the past or whatever.
F.J.D. I don’t know. I didn’t mind it. I like some of the crazy stuff -- I liked Batwoman for example. You’ve got to stay “fresh” I guess. Whenever I’m pitching ideas, I’m always looking for new things to explore. Look, the whole thing about FINAL CRISIS is that it’s Grant’s tribute to the Kirby Universe -- which is fine. Like I said, I need to re-read it and take a closer look into what it’s all about.
BOF: I thought the best Batman comic last year was DETECTIVE written by Paul Dini.
F.J.D.: Yeah, that was good stuff there. Loved “Heart of Hush.”
BOF: I don’t know. Now they’re “canceling” ROBIN and NIGHTWING and the main two BATMAN titles are going on hiatus.
F.J.D. Yeah, but they’ll be coming back I’m sure. We’ll, see. We’ll see.
BOF: I know you’re a HUGE Dick Grayson fan. You want to write NIGHTWING? Or how about ROBIN -- with the Tim Drake Robin.
F.J.D.: Oh man! NIGHTWING. I pitched them [DC Comics] NIGHTWING. I’ve got a lot of ideas! Then I found out that they were doing away with the title for a while and I was like “Ahhhh!” My timing is always bad (laughs)!
BOF: Did you read --and are you continuing to read -- ALL-STAR BATMAN AND ROBIN?
F.J.D.: Yeah -- loved it. I don’t get -- and here’s what I don’t get about some fans. I loved it from the very first issue. It’s NOT in continuity -- no one’s screwing around with continuity, you know? Because it’s Frank [Miller] and Jim [Lee], everyone takes it so serious. Hey, it’s just been fun [laughs]! Hey, it’s “THE DARK KNIGHT RETURNS Batman.” It’s just a different take. Now if they’d slapped an “Elesewords” label on it, everyone would be cool with it. It’s just stupid sometimes. There’s been some good stuff in that book. That scene in the graveyard was great. The issue with Green Lantern was damn good.
BOF: OK, this is “Batman On Film,” so I’ve got to ask you about THE DARK KNIGHT.
F.J.D.: Man…what’s there to say other than it’s a great film. I did my best to avoid knowing anything about it. With BATMAN BEGINS, I knew just about everything -- because of working with Michael [Uslan] you know? So we went to the premiere here [New York City] and it was in IMAX. And literally, you couldn’t have prepared me for what I was going to see. Now, I knew the movie was going to be great. But I didn’t know the movie was going to knock me on my ass! I was just like [waves hands/makes a shocked look on his face] when it was over. Couldn’t talk. The only other film I remember making me feel like that was when I saw THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK when I was a kid.
BOF: I know. I was at the premiere as well, but I had seen it in LA a few weeks earlier. And at the end, Rachel [Jett’s wife] said, “Well, what did you think?” And bro, I was like “uh, uh, uh.” I was just speechless.
F.J.D.: TDK is a director at the top of his game…exceeding expectations that were already high. Not just Chris [Nolan], but the script and the performances were just great. It was so ambitious…and big…and meaningful, you know? I need to do this too, but I think fans need to sit down and watch BATMAN BEGINS and TDK back to back and enjoy that experience. TDK is just on a level that’s hard to comprehend. We can sit and watch this film and say “I’m watching a modern classic.” Look, I love 300 and can watch it over and over again. But it’s no classic. This movie -- TDK -- is a damn classic.
BOF: We’re you surprised that TDK didn’t get a Best Picture nomination?
F.J.D.: No -- only because I know how The Academy works. Now, I am disappointed that he [Chris Nolan] didn’t get a Best Director nomination. I guarantee you that nobody directed a better film last year. Nobody.
BOF: So, the sequel...?
F.J.D.: The thing is, how do you top it [TDK]? But you know what? He’ll [Chris Nolan] do…THEY will do it.
BOF: You’re a Dick Grayson fan -- you want to see a TITANS movie?
F.J.D.: I don’t know. For that film, you’d need some sort of reference point and how can you tie this Nightwing into the current BATMAN films? Same thing for Kid Flash. I don’t know.
BOF: What comic book character would you dig seeing “On Film?”
F.J.D.: That’s easy -- you’re asking me the easiest question. I’ve begged and pleaded and I’m going to continue to do so until I get the opportunity to do it. Booster Gold. I think Booster Gold has the potential to be a comedic gold mine. Not expensive to do, etc. I’ve got it all in my mind -- the story, who would play him. You’d think I’d say, “Let’s do Robin,” “Let’s do Nightwing.” The time is not right for those. But yeah, Booster Gold.
BOF: What’s your overall thoughts about adapting comics to films. You know, staying loyal to the comics but still allowing filmmakers to do their own thing?
F.J.D.: I’m not one of those guys that’s a stickler for staying totally “true” to the comics. It didn’t bother me that The Joker wore makeup in TDK, or that Ra’s trained Bruce in BEGINS -- Ra’s training Bruce was a great idea. I’m one of those people who didn’t mind it that The Joker killed Bruce’s parents in BATMAN ‘89. I think that filmmakers should be allowed to make changes when adapting comics to film because, you know, it’s a different medium. BUT, they should stay true to the character. That hasn’t been done is some of these movies and they’ve sucked. On the other hand, what Chris [Nolan] did in TDK is a perfect example of the right mix.
BOF: What else are you up to?
F.J.D.: Well, at some point I’ll be working on DOC SAVAGE with Michael -- and he and I are going to write some more comics. I love writing comics.
BOF: What comics are you reading right now?
F.J.D.: The best comic out today in my opinion, bar none, is CAPTAIN AMERICA -- Ed Brubaker’s CAPTAIN AMERICA. I read that regularly. BATMAN, DETECTIVE, NIGHTWING. Anything Geoff Johns, BOOSTER GOLD -- of course (laughs). I probably don’t read as much as you think I do! Um, JSA, I read. The best DC comic right now is GREEN LANTERN. ALL-STAR BATMAN -- I loved ALL-STAR SUPERMAN. I think that’s about it.
BOF: “DC Guy” or “Marvel Guy?”
F.J.D.: DC -- I’ve always been a “DC Guy.” Even now -- no joke -- I’m a DC fan. Now that didn’t...doesn’t mean I ignore Marvel 'cause I read their main staples -- SPIDER-MAN, X-MEN, Frank Miller's DAREDEVIL. But yeah, always DC. I can remember as a kid -- 2, 3 years old -- reading the Denny O’Neil BATMAN with my Dad. I read all of that back then -- the first Ra’s story. I still have that issue, but there’s no cover on it (laughs). I wasn’t anal about putting them in plastic or anything!
BOF: I drew all over mine back then!
F.J.D.: Hell yeah -- I think all of us did back then! That Ra’s story and Robin -- that’s how I got into Robin because he was more my age and I thought he was cool as hell! The Neal Adams Robin from 70s, you know? I can’t tell you how many times I was Robin for Halloween!
BOF: What upcoming comic book film are you most excited for?
F.J.D.: GREEN LANTERN! Which if done right, can be bigger than IRON MAN.
BOF: What's your favorite comic book story...graphic novels included?
F.J.D.: Favorite comic story is a weird one, BRAVE AND THE BOLD # 182, which teamed Batman up with Earth 2 Robin. I think I own like 5 copies of this story. Been trying to track down the art from it forever. My favorite graphic novel is without a doubt THE DARK KNIGHT RETURNS. Genius.
BOF: Best comic book movie to date?
F.J.D.: Gotta go with THE DARK KNIGHT right now -- though SPIDER-MAN 2 and X-MEN 2 are faves of mine.
BOF: Thanks bro!
F.J.D.: You bet!