Kool Kats of the Week: WOLVERTON Co-Writers Michael Stark and Terrell T. Garrett Get Adventurous in Turn of the Century London Where the Science of H.G. Wells Goes Head to Head with the Mysterious

Posted on: Jun 13th, 2017 By:

by Melanie Crew
Managing Editor

Michael Stark, former screenwriter for Disney and Universal Pictures and current purveyor of rare horror and sci-fi books (Burnt Biscuit Books) “in the shadows of Pinewood Studios,” and Terrell T. Garrett, screenwriter, reside south of the Atlanta Airport, a.k.a. “Hillbilly Hollywood.” Having written several screenplays together, they decided to take an artistic leap and are currently in the process of producing their first comic, “WOLVERTON: THIEF OF IMPOSSIBLE OBJECTS, along with artist Derek Rodenbeck. Initially slated for the big screen but not quite making it past Hollywood’s current aversion to original works, WOLVERTON was revived as a self-published comic book and labor of love for Stark and Garrett. This action-packed story entangles Jack Wolverton, gentleman thief, within a wicked supernatural web, and “Only he can save the world’s most powerful artifacts from getting into the wrong hands.” While their tale takes place in turn of the century London and Wolverton holds H.G. Wells’ science in high esteem, as opposed to the superstition-riddled occultish general population, “Wolverton isn’t exactly steampunk,” tweeted Stark. “He’s more Schvitz Punk!” The premier issue is finished, however, Stark and Garrett made a decision to add four previously cut pages back in before it goes to the printers, so all you retro-fabulous turn of the century comic-loving kiddies will have more action-packed goodness when it hits the shelves!

Stark and Garrett’s home-grown labor of love is being crowd-funded by a Kickstarter campaign, in part to cover printing costs (28 full-color pages with a 5000 copy run!), but also to put feelers out to gauge interest in their project. They are offering many enticing perks for backers, including digital and hard copies, exclusive signed prints and the chance for a few lucky folks to get drawn and/or written into the action. So come on out and be a part of WOLVERTON history and snatch up an adventurous perk or two via the Kickstarter campaign available through July 6! Check out the full range of rewards here!

ATLRetro caught up with Michael Stark and Terrell T. Garrett to gab a bit about their upcoming comic,  writing for the Hollywood machine; and why going with crowd-funding made sense for this project. While you’re takin’ a gander at our little Q&A, why not take a peek at the teaser trailer and a wee history of WOLVERTON here.

ATLRetro: How did you and your co-writer, Terrell T. Garrett, come up with the idea of “Wolverton?” What inspired the tale and why set the story in turn of the century London?

Michael: I had an old script about a gentleman thief that I pitched to Sean Connery’s company before he did ENTRAPMENT. I wanted to dust it off, but Terrell yawned, finding the trope a bit old-fashioned. So, out of the blue I blurted out: “What if we set it in Edwardian England and he only stole magical objects like the Monkey’s paw?” Suddenly, my writing partner leaned in, very interested, and we knew we had a great idea.

(l-r) Co-Writers Terrell T. Garrett and Michael Stark

Can you tell our readers a little about the creative team behind WOLVERTON?

Michael: I was making a good living writing in Hollywood in the ’90s without actually having anything produced. Those days have changed. The new normal is free options and free rewrites which is why I started looking at trying a different format. Our artist, Derek Rodenbeck, was an army vet whose testimony of overcoming great tragedy with his art really moved us. We think we found a very talented, young man.

Terrell:  I’m currently adapting Alistair MacLean‘s novel, FEAR IS THE KEY, for the big screen. In fact, most of the stuff I’ve written has been in the screenplay format except for a few short stories here and there and a novel that I’m working on at a glacial pace. I’m also a new father.

What is it about the “gentleman thief” trope that inspires you to create a character like Jack Wolverton?

Michael: We were getting known in Hollywood for writing wild set pieces.  I wanted to do something that mixed action with the wit and sophistication of a Preston Sturges or an Ernst Lubitch film. The Gentleman Thief trope fit both worlds perfectly.

We see that you and Garrett worked together on several screenplays, and that you’ve optioned a few to Universal and Disney. Comics and film are similar in that they both rely on dialogue, action and visuals to deliver an awe-inspiring story. As a screenwriter and now a comic book writer, what would you say are the biggest differences between the two, and the challenges of each?

Artist Derek Rodenbeck

Michael: I thought it would be pretty easy to transpose the script into comic book format. I was dead wrong! Especially because modern comic books like modern screenplays have far less text in ‘em than when I was a kid. So, even after we basically locked the book, I’m still calling the letterer and asking if we can fit in a new bit.

Can you tell our readers what drew you to screenwriting, and who would you say are your most inspirational screenwriters/films?

Michael: Thank God for PBS in the 70s.  I saw a Francois Truffaut and Luis Bunuel film festival when I was 10 years old and knew then I wanted to be a screenwriter. Not a director ’cause I looked lousy in jodhpurs. At NYU, I mentored under three Academy winning screenwriters: Ring Lardner JR (MASH, WOMAN OF THE YEAR), Waldo Salt (MIDNIGHT COWBOY, SERPICO) and Ian Hunter, who could tear apart and fix just about anything.

Terrell: I knew I wanted to be a filmmaker when I saw JURASSIC PARK when I was 14 years old. Something about the collective awe in the theater and seeing all the names in the credits made me realize I wanted to be a part of the movie magic. My favorite screenwriters and filmmakers who inspire me are Walter Hill (ALIEN franchise), James Cameron, Jane Goldman (KICK-ASS), Frank Darabont (THE MIST), Dan Gilroy (NIGHTCRAWLER), Joe Carnahan (THE GREY), Bryan Fuller (HANNIBAL TV series), Jon Spaihts (DOCTOR STRANGE, PROMETHEUS) and Diablo Cody (JUNO).

Of course we have to know, as a native Long Islander, what made you fly south, and what is it about Atlanta that’s kept you around for so long?

Michael: That is a very long and surreal story, but basically I was given a month to live a decade ago and went on a spiritual journey that ended up with this nice, Jewish kid from Long Island becoming a minister in a small, rural GA church. That of course would make a good screenplay, but I strictly believe in never writing about your own life. Oh, yeah, I didn’t die BTW.

Most kids (and now adults, as the guilty pleasure no longer carries the negative geek stigma) can’t wait to get their grubby little hands on the coolest of the cool comics. What comics were your favorite growing up and what are your favorites now?

Terrell:  I grew up reading Chris Claremont X-MEN comics and the ’90s issues of THE NEW MUTANTS. PREACHER and Neil Gaiman‘s SANDMAN blew my teenage mind. These days, I’m enjoying Alan Moore‘s PROVIDENCE, Brian K. Vaughan‘s SAGA and Matt Fraction‘s ODY-C.

MichaelTeam Marvel and mind warping EC reprints. Now anything by Alan Moore.

WOLVERTON began as an original screenplay and was then regenerated into a comic book. Can you tell us a little about that process and whether seeing it drawn on the page in color helps visualize how it will look on the big screen?

Michael: The screenplay was a director’s wet dream with action scenes that were beyond hyper kinetic. Derek did a great job capturing that energy on the page. Even Wolverton’s hair is constantly in motion.

Any plans to take the tale back to Hollywood after its success as a comic book?

Michael: Well, there was just a huge bidding war over a friend’s graphic novel, so, yes! Hollywood is more interested in acquiring existing material than original screenplays. Maybe they’ll come to us this time if the comic book is successful.

Why a Kickstarter campaign for WOLVERTON? What are the advantages of taking the crowd-sourcing route?

Terrell: We chose Kickstarter because it just felt logical. A lot of creatives have used the crowd-sourcing platform and have found success, especially in the realm of comics. We figured it was worth a shot. Not only to hopefully cover the cost of printing, but to see if people would be interested in our little story.

You’ve put together some great bonuses for investors, ranging from digital and hard copies to exclusive signed prints and the chance to get drawn into the action (Exciting!). What can folks looking to invest via Kickstarter expect to get when they back your comic?

Terrell: Backers can, firstly, expect a fun adventure story full of cool visuals, sparking dialogue and great characters.  Secondly, for the backers who dish out a little extra, they can expect to see their likeness or the name of their business in comic book form or own exciting and original artwork. Thirdly, they can know that they invested in a story with little risk, and have contributed to the dream of a brand new father.

Can you give us five things you’re into at the moment that we should be watching, reading or listening to right now— past or present, well-known or obscure?

Terrell:  Nonfiction Book: MIND HUNTER: INSIDE THE FBI’S ELITE SERIAL CRIME UNIT by John E. Douglas. Podcast: LIMETOWN. Podcast: THE BLACK TAPES. Science Fiction Book: RED RISING by Pierce Brown. Novella: “Agents of Dreamland” by Caitlin R. Kiernan.

Michael: I’m cycling through John Ford westerns and Jeeves and Wooster books at the moment. I’m not sure what I’ll spit out after that combo meal. Although, Terrell and I already wrote a script about Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show in Victorian London.  That may be our next comic book.

Any advice for writers and/or artists out there on putting together and publishing their own comic books?

Terrell:  Treat the artist as your collaborator. Be patient with the process. Never give up.

Michael: Who knew sticking it to the man – the man being Hollywood – would be so damn expensive. Many people I went to film school with are now editors at Marvel and DC. Some even started their own publishing companies. I knew if I asked for their advice, they’d probably talk me out of it and I didn’t want to be talked out of it.

Getting back to why we’re here chatting you up, WOLVERTON, and the comic book’s Kickstarter campaign! Without giving too much away, what can you tell our readers a little about the comic?

Michael:  Here’s how we pitched it to Hollywood. In turn of the century London, Jack Wolverton, gentleman thief, specializes in stealing the arcane, the accursed and the occult. With war about to break out, only he can stop the world’s most powerful artifacts (The Monkey’s Paw, The Hope Diamond and the Portrait of Dorian Gray) from falling into the wrong hands! Think Indiana Jones meets Pirates of the Caribbean.

And last but not least, how many issues are planned and how can our readers snag up their very own copies?

Michael: We are printing up 5,000 copies and you can get a copy before anyone on the planet does by backing us now. If the ship carrying them through the high China Seas isn’t attacked by pirates, expect a summer release.

All photos courtesy of Michael Stark and Terrell T. Garrett and used with permission.

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Dark and Dangerous: Revisiting the Dalton Duet as The Plaza Theatre’s 50 Years of Bond Celebration Continues!

Posted on: Jul 14th, 2013 By:

THE LIVING DAYLIGHTS (1987); Dir. John Glen; Starring Timothy Dalton, Maryam D’Abo, John Rhys-Davies and Joe Don Baker; Monday, July 15 @ 7:30 p.m.; Plaza Theatre; Tickets here; Trailer here.

LICENSE TO KILL (1989); Dir. John Glen; Starring Timothy Dalton, Carey Lowell, Robert Davi and Joe Don Baker; Tuesday, July 16 @ 7:30 p.m.; Plaza Theatre; Tickets here; Trailer here.

By Aleck Bennett
Contributing Writer

The celebration of James Bond’s 50th anniversary at the Plaza Theatre continues throughout the month of July, and as we hit the middle of the month, we find ourselves at another crossroads in the Bond series. So once again I’d like to draw your attention to a couple of movies you may have overlooked in favor of the higher-profile Sean Connery, Roger Moore, Pierce Brosnan and Daniel Craig entries.

Unexpected developments in casting the Bond series always lead to interesting results. Prior to 1969’s ON HER MAJESTY’S SECRET SERVICE (OHMSS; see our Retro Review here), Albert “Cubby” Broccoli and Harry Saltzman’s Eon Productions had unsuccessfully wooed Roger Moore to take over the role of James Bond. Instead, they cast George Lazenby as a more grounded and serious protagonist compared to the increasingly gadget-reliant Sean Connery Bond.

The eventual Roger Moore entries, likewise, became increasingly criticized as the 1970s progressed and the series entered the 1980s. The Bond films had seemingly embraced the decade’s love of camp, and also appeared over-reliant on current cinematic trends. By the time of 1985’s A VIEW TO A KILL, the nearly 60-year-old Moore had already been upstaged by the unofficial return of Connery in the non-Eon NEVER SAY NEVER AGAIN (1983)—a film that at least addressed Bond’s increasing age (and Connery was three years Moore’s junior!). Eon then turned its bullet-sights on Pierce Brosnan, who was then starring in the about-to-be-cancelled TV series REMINGTON STEELE. With the Bond interest raising Brosnan’s cache, however, NBC renewed the program and put a kibosh on Eon’s efforts.

In a move as unexpected as Eon’s offer of the role to George Lazenby, the part was extended to relatively little-known film and TV actor Timothy Dalton. Dalton—most recognized for his roles in 1978’s mini-series CENTENNIAL and 1980’s FLASH GORDON—may have been more of a known quantity than Lazenby in his day, but was untested in comparison to the more-established Roger Moore or Pierce Brosnan prior to their castings.

In a parallel with Eon’s desires to take the character back to basics after Connery’s departure, Dalton’s Bond was an attempt to return to the early Connery days and to bring back realism to the series. And with 1987’s THE LIVING DAYLIGHTS, the series delivered the darkest Bond to date: a tense tale of espionage between MI6 and the KGB in the waning days of the Cold War and the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan.

Timothy Dalton and Maryam D'Abo in THE LIVING DAYLIGHTS.

Looking at the film today, Dalton brings a grim seriousness to his Bond, obviously still haunted by the death of his wife Tracy and channeling his violent energy into the work. His self-performed stunt work is also excellent. The direction by veteran Bond helmsman John Glen is tight, yet still preserves the gloss and slickness long associated with the franchise. It’s a solid effort all around, with a screenplay that rises to the demand of re-establishing Bond in the contemporary world nearly as successfully as OHMSS. While some critics went after the film’s lack of humor, I feel that it’s one of the most underrated Bonds: a hard-hitting take on the character with a keen intensity not generally seen in the series. The only downside to the film is its dated score (the last by John Barry, incorporating glaringly ‘80s sequenced rhythm tracks) and a truly unfortunate title song by A-Ha.

Sadly, a confluence of events derailed what looked to be a developing good thing and cast a shadow on the fortunes of 1989’s LICENSE TO KILL. The fall of the Soviet empire ended the Cold War and suddenly made traditional Bondian international espionage seem dated: the very fate that Ian Fleming worried would impact the series in the mid-’60s. In response, the film focused on an international cocaine-smuggling ring, a storyline which made the film seem to be jumping on the bandwagon of nearly every other successful action-adventure franchise of the time. In addition, a writers’ strike led to difficulties in scripting the film as long-time Bond screenwriter Richard Maibaum was largely removed from its creation. If that weren’t enough, budget problems resulted in this being the first Bond not to feature locations filmed in the U.K. Instead, the movie was shot largely in Florida and Mexico. The success of LIVING DAYLIGHTS’ darker take on Bond led to this film offering an even darker and more violent look at the character, but instead of extending what worked about Dalton’s performance, it further removed Bond from his previous depictions and rendered him almost unrecognizable.

Critically speaking, LICENSE TO KILL self-consciously takes things too far, resulting in a James Bond movie that doesn’t really feel anything like a James Bond movie. Dalton succeeds much as he did in the previous film, but his good efforts are in service to a compromised vision and merely echo the previous, better film. In an ill-advised attempt to recall an OHMSS plot point (and perhaps to justify the lack of London locations and keep official MI6 spy work out of the picture), Bond unsuccessfully attempts to resign from MI6. (In OHMSS, Bond is instead given leave, and in LICENSE Bond is temporarily suspended and his license to kill revoked.) It may have been an attempt to link this depiction of the character to his source, but it simply shows how much better this plot turn was handled in the 1969 entry. Even as a general action film, LICENSE falls flat in comparison to other contemporary efforts such as 1987’s LETHAL WEAPON or 1988’s DIE HARD. Is it a horrible film? Not hardly. Even the worst films of the Bond series are still entertaining. But it’s definitely a disheartening effort when compared to the entry that immediately preceded it.

Unfortunately, Dalton was never able to star in another Bond film. Legal problems put a hiatus on the series, and it would be six years before another Bond film would be made. During the break and with the future of the franchise in doubt, Dalton decided to hang up his hat and move on to other projects. Because of his limited run, Dalton’s films have been largely overlooked (another echo of Lazenby’s turn), but they deserve a closer inspection. His approach to Bond lays the seeds for Daniel Craig’s eventual more gritty portrayal, and beyond the pleasures that both films offer (though admittedly harder to come by in the second), it’s interesting to view them now in light of the recent Bond films.

Aleck Bennett is a writer, blogger, pug warden, pop culture enthusiast, raconteur and bon vivant from the greater Atlanta area. Visit his blog at doctorsardonicus.wordpress.com

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Retro Review: All the Time in the World: James Bond Hits a Crossroads High as The Plaza Theatre presents ON HER MAJESTY’S SECRET SERVICE

Posted on: Jul 4th, 2013 By:

ON HER MAJESTY’S SECRET SERVICE (1969); Dir. Peter Hunt; Starring George Lazenby, Diana Rigg and Telly Savalas; Plaza Theatre; Saturday, July 6 @ 7:30 p.m.; Tickets here; Trailer here.

By Aleck Bennett
Contributing Writer

Throughout the month of July, the historic Plaza Theatre is paying tribute to 50 years of James Bond. And while much will be made of the many great entries starring Sean Connery, Roger Moore, Pierce Brosnan and Daniel Craig, I’d like to focus some attention on one film you may have written off: 1969’s ON HER MAJESTY’S SECRET SERVICE (OHMSS).

The tumult of the 1960s came to a head in that decade’s final year. The optimism of the Kennedy era and multi-national political intrigue had given birth to the cinematic Bond. But as the decade progressed and global politics came to be viewed in increasingly complex shades of grey, the Bond series changed as well. The films began departing freely from Ian Fleming’s novels and relying more and more on spectacular gadgetry and hyper-stylized set design, which reflected the culture’s growing fascination with pop art. The pairing of pop art and the burgeoning psychedelic art movement came to a head with 1967’s colorful and nearly cartoonish YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE (1967, YOLT for short) [Ed. note: plays Friday July 5 at The Plaza]. And if the onset of the late ‘60s were when change really began to ramp up, this too was reflected in Bond: series stalwart Sean Connery announced during YOLT’s filming that he was retiring from the role.

Aesthetically speaking, 1968-69 was a time of pulling back. Music from The Beatles, Bob Dylan, Creedence Clearwater Revival and The Band reflected a retreat from the rococo excesses of psychedelia. Meanwhile, movies like BONNIE AND CLYDE (1967) and THE WILD BUNCH (1969) inspired a newfound emphasis on realism in film. Politically speaking, the rise of the feminist movement and its influence offered a vocal critique of the seemingly disposable nature of the neverending series of “Bond girls” presented in the series thus far. Bond—with his fantastic toys and rampant womanizing—was rapidly becoming dangerously old-fashioned.

It was time to do something different.

“This never happened to the other fellow.” — James Bond, ON HER MAJESTY’S SECRET SERVICE

Tracy (Diana Rigg) is every bit the equal of James Bond (George Lazenby) in ON HER MAJESTY'S SECRET SERVICE (1969).

After attempting to woo eventual Bond lead Roger Moore for an adaptation of THE MAN WITH THE GOLDEN GUN, development on that title stalled and Moore returned to the TV series THE SAINT. Series producers Harry Saltzman and Albert “Cubby” Broccoli, along with director Peter Hunt, then decided to revive earlier plans to adapt OHMSS. And for their new Bond, turned to a relative unknown: Australian commercial actor George Lazenby.

The pairing of Lazenby and Bond started off on a bad note. Lazenby had been offered a seven-picture deal by Broccoli, but his agent advised against signing. The times were changing, the agent reasoned, and predicted that Bond couldn’t continue into the ‘70s. To add to the problem, by all accounts Lazenby and co-star Diana Rigg didn’t get along, and the actor complained of a lack of communication and coaching (this being his first feature film) from director Hunt.

Despite the unsure footing of the new star, every effort was made to try to make this the definitive Bond picture. The creative team decided to make this film hew as closely as possible to Fleming’s original novel, to the point of having Telly Savalas’ Blofeld (who had already been introduced in YOLT) not recognize Bond upon meeting him—a result of the novel having predated the previously-adapted YOLT. The movie also stripped back Bond’s reliance on gadgetry and returned to a more realistic depiction (for Bond, anyway) of spy work. Most significantly, though, OHMSS reflected the changing sexual politics of the time and presented Bond with a “Bond girl” that was his equal; in return, Bond eschewed his promiscuity and devoted himself to her.

In an epic tale that reached from the beaches of Portugal to the Swiss Alps, Bond must join forces with Marc-Ange Draco (Gabriele Ferzetti), the head of a European crime syndicate, in order to track down Ernst Stavro Blofeld, head of the international terrorist organization SPECTRE. In doing so, he went undercover to reveal a sinister plot at Blofeld’s clinical allergy-research institute, put his position as a 007 agent with MI6 at risk, and found that he was falling deeply in love with Draco’s daughter, the Contessa Teresa “Tracy” di Vicenzo.

Telly Sevalas’ malevolence as villain Ernst "Stavro" Blofeld shines through even his most subdued scenes.

In my eyes, the filmmakers succeeded at their task. This truly is the definitive Bond film. It presents a James Bond who is both confident and vulnerable. Unlike any Bond outing before, the character is allowed to show fear and express true love while simultaneously providing a no-nonsense and strong presence. If anything, his depicted vulnerabilities strengthen his resolution and character. Though these elements are present in Fleming’s novel, to allow them in the film was a brave turn by the Bond team.

Despite Lazenby’s lack of experience and occasional lack of finesse, his performance was solid. A formidable presence, he retained some of  Connery’s suavity while still offering a more serious and sinewy take on the character. Savalas’ Blofeld was allowed to be a truly physical threat, unlike Donald Pleasence’s “evil genius” take on the role, and Savalas’ malevolence shone through even his most subdued scenes. Finally THE AVENGERS star Diana Rigg was perfect as Tracy. Displaying a complexity that matched this complex movie, she delivered a Tracy in turns melancholy, witty, intelligent and joyous. She captured the emotional arc of the character pitch-perfectly.

And for all the film’s distance from by-that-point traditional Bondian high-tech wizardry, OHMSS didn’t skimp on action in the slightest. For its length (it’s the second-longest Bond title), it plays lean and muscular. While the film wasn’t received well upon its release and still divides critics more so than probably any other Bond film, it delivers everything a Bond movie should.

That Lazenby did little to help his relationship with Saltzman and Broccoli (his appearing at the film’s premiere with shoulder-length hair and a beard was probably the last straw) probably served to hurt the film’s reputation more than anything else. Bad blood on both sides led to this film always being served up as something of the black sheep of the Bond family. It’s long been viewed as only slightly more legitimate than the 1967 parody CASINO ROYALE or the unofficial 1983 THUNDERBALL re-hash NEVER SAY NEVER AGAIN. But latter-day viewers and critics have finally started to come around and give the film its due. And it’s about time.

Are these Bond girls asking what's under George Lazenby's kilt?! Yes, while Sean Connery was a Scot, Lazenby, the stiffest Bond, was the only 007 to put that new meaning to not shaken but stirred.

Some will argue for 1965’s GOLDFINGER. Some may argue for 2006’s CASINO ROYALE. Some even will argue for Timothy Dalton’s short run as 007. But I root for the underdog. Both Lazenby and ON HER MAJESTY’S SECRET SERVICE are that underdog. GOLDFINGER is a close second, tied with last year’s SKYFALL (2012; laugh if you must, but SKYFALL is going to hold up far better than any of the Moore outings, mark my words). However, there’s nothing like MAJESTY.

Aleck Bennett is a writer, blogger, pug warden, pop culture enthusiast, raconteur and bon vivant from the greater Atlanta area. Visit his blog atdoctorsardonicus.wordpress.com

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