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Batman Begins at Entertainment Earth

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Tuesday, August 9, 2005


Following is an edited transcription of the panel, beginning with opening statements.

Katsumoto: We've been very, very active knowing that Marvel was probably the hottest non-studio company in entertaiment. It's also been a desire for Lions Gate, who is also being perceived as the new hot kid on the block, to be able to partner themselves with people who believe in a vision and the kind of entertainment that is out there but is not necessarily being covered by the majors. A lot of this started with our horror films and it went on to The Punisher, because this was not Spider-Man and it was not as well known but we thought there was good story-telling to be had.

When we had the opportunity to go one step further and be in business again with Marvel on these series of animated films, we thought it was just the opportunity of a lifetime, primarily becuase when Craig and Avi (Arad) and Eric Rollman came in to talk with us about this venture they specifically said they would be giving 'A' characters who had never been seen in this format before. That got us extremely excited. And to have the Ultimate Avengers come to screen in feature-quality animation for the first time, it was one of those once-in-a-liftime opportunities. So we're really happy to be in business with Marvel Entertainment, and it's been a fantastic joint venture, one of the smoothest ones I've seen.

Kyle: It's a great joy to come to this because this really is a fan-first endeavor. You guys are the reason we make the films and the TV shows, outside the world of the books. Doing these straight-to-DVD in animation allows us to keep them as true as possible to the comics and hopefully achieve the kinds of stories and look and motion you love with the books. It's always difficult, because the comics are so amazing. But I think we're coming very close in this first film and the others as we move forward. It's a really exciting opportunity -- and it's about you guys, first and foremost.

Question: Can you talk about MLG, the joint production studio you put together?

Kyle: Sure, MLG is a new entity we formed which is basically the studio that is doing all tbe design work and the pre- and post-production for the films. So we've got our directors, our producers, our artists all working out of this hub. And it allows us to get all the source material and work straight from there and put together what feel, again, is a very strong series of films.

Katsumoto: I just want to add to that, before we formed MLG, we took a look at various options and obviously every animation studio and their mother's animation studio wanted to be a part of this. We looked at all of them, but we decided at the end of the day we wanted to do it like you would do. If you had the opportunity to see this come to life, you would want the very best, the best of the best, working on this. You would want to hand pick in your own boutique and in your fashion, who you wanted to design and who you wanted to direct it. And that's what we felt was strongly needed for this production. Not giving it over to another studio to put their vision on it, but hand pick the vision that we thought was appropriate for these films.

Question: Ken, you've mentioned there are eight characters currently in development. Can you talk about who those characters might be?

Katsumoto: I'll Craig tease, because if there's a follow-up about the characteristics of these characters, he'll be able to answer best.

Kyle: Again starting with the Avengers, you've got some of Marvel's best, and what that allows us to do is introduce them all to audiences who may not know all those characters. And then I think you can look within those ranks to see how you break off into other films. We start with a group and break off into individual character films. If they take off, do one sequel and then another film. That's what we hope to do, really open this up and make as many as you like.

Katsumoto: We wanted to make the conflict so large that it took all of them to come together. It's funny, in our first creative meeting, Avi said that it's going to be a little bit like the NBA playoffs or All-Stars, individually they're all stars, but how they work together is going to be something else. So there's an interesting dynamic of personalities, not only just the foe that they're dealing with, but personalities coming together and figuring out how they work side-by-side in a way that defeats something very ominous.

Question: How did you decide to go with the Ultimates?

Kyle: You know, Variety did a write-up on the book and said, "This is the greatest movie that will never be made." It's true, that first six and the full run is a helluva story. It was beautiful written, it was beautifully staged and it flowed like a movie. We knew that right from the get-go. It was no accident.

It was an easy choice. We wanted something spectacular right out of the gate, and that was just sitting on our laps. So it was a very easy choice. Mark (Millar) and Bryan (Hitch) did a brilliant, brilliant, brilliant job on that series, so we're very fortunate to be able to take it to the next stage.

(At this point, test footage from an overseas studio was shown, depecting a fight between the Hulk and Captain America, Giant-Man, Iron Man and Thor)

Question: Should we expect the movie to go page-to-page from the movie?

Kyle: There will be moments in this film, where you could probably grab a panel from the comic and match it up as close as possible. We really, really wanted to maintain what's in that story, but you couldn't just cut that into a storyboard and be done with it. To fill the time of the movie, we had to expand on it, build from there. But as often as possible, we tried to grab those frames and specific shots that everyone just raved about when they first read the comic. We did our best, but it's not panel-for-panel.

Question: Are there celebrity voices?

Kyle: You know, my belief has always been you find the best voice for the job. So it wasn't about stunt-casting, you grab this person so people will come and see it. We're trying to capture Captain America, we're trying to capture Tony Stark, we're trying to capture all of these characters the correct way, not saying "I love Brad Pitt as the Hulk." We want you guys to say, "Yeah, that's what those guys sound like." So we found the best voices possible and I think later on, we will speak about the cast, and there are a couple people with on-screen work. But it was never about, "This is going to get people to buy the DVD." We're supposed to bring these character to life, not add names for names' sake.

Question: Can you talk about the rest of the talent, in terms of the production guys?

Kyle: If you guys are fans of our animated series, a lot of the guys working on our films came from Batman: The Animated Series, some of the direct-to-DVD projects, and look, those things are awesome.

Frank Paur has done some design work and board work on our first film and he's involved in another one of our films, Iron Man, which is also coming out. He's a producer on that, and it's a brilliant, brilliant film. Right now, we're trying to get it timed, but he's made a fantstic film out of that.

Curt Geda, whom are sure you guys know from his work on Batman. He did Return of the Joker, which is one of my favorite 10 minutes of animation in that flashback sequence with Batman. He's such a talent and he's one of the co-directors on this film with Steve Gordon, who has worked on X-Men: Evolution and many other show.

It actually was Steve that took Bryan's designs and opened them up so we could animate them. Because they're beautifully designed but with all that black and line detail, very hard to make it move. He was great He already loved the books -- he had them all already -- so he did a nice job of translating those original designs into animatable characters.

Question: What's the age range you're for with these?

Kyle: PG/PG-13. This is not Saturday morning fare. People get shot, they die, no groans. Broken glass, romance, comedy, action, head blows ... all the stuff they tell you you can't do on Saturday morning. One person I forgot to mention is our producer Bob Richardson, a real talent. He knows the Marvel Universe very well. He's working on Ultimates 1 and Ultimates 2; he's on producer on both films. And he's doing a spectacular job.

Question: Will there be characters like Hawkeye?

Kyle: I can tell you that Hawkeye, unfortunately, is not in this film. We wanted to focus as much as we could -- and we do a little bit of backstory on these characters. Obviously, it's really Cap's throughline story. It's his journey as a hero and how he brings the rest of these guys together.

But Black Widow, Nick Fury... Nick Fury's a huge character in this. He's got to pull all these hotshots together and make them a team. He's one of my favorites in the actually movie. He's great. And we have Wasp, Giant-Man...

Katsumoto: Thor.

Question: Did you get Samuel L. Jackson?

Kyle: No. (laughs) But I like that choice, too. The design is very close to what it was in the Ultimates, but unfortunately, it's not Sam Jackson.

Question: If this does well, is it possible you might turn it into a television series?

Kyle: I think anything's possible. I'm really excited about these being films because, like I said, as soon as you move to television, it's like, "This has to sell toys" and "My 6-year-old doesn't understand it. Why are these characters kissing?"

I love my job, and we've got a great FF series right now that's going to hilarious and fun and cool, but do you guys really want to catch this on Saturday morning? We're trying to get something you're going to get excited about. You see the books, you see these great relationships, you see this great action. We really want to give that to you.

Avi's mandate was not to make a great animated movie, he said, "Make a great movie. Move me. This has got be a good film. I want a good script." And I think we've done that. I tell you, I'm really proud of it. I'm nervous as hell because I don't want to let you guys down. We're all trying to deliver what you expect. There are huge expectations. We all have the Internet, so we know.

And if they do do well, there's no reason we can't continue to make these, expand and get more characters.

Question: Are all the films you're doing going to be centered in the Ultimate Universe?

Kyle: No. Not at all. The reason the title is Ultimate Avengers is because it's largely the Ultimates' story. It has been modified and expanded, but it was just such a great take and such a great story, we didn't want to lose the Ultimate out of that title.

The Iron Man film is classic Iron Man origin. That's what you guys would want to see.

To that point, every movie will have its own look and feel. In your books, you follow creative teams, you follow artists, you follow writers. When you watch the Ultimates, it will have one bone structure, one pallette, one look. Iron Man will have its own.

That way when you grab one, it will be a fresh and new experience. If they do well, we will continue that look and that feel. It's like having its own universe each time.

Question: How much time will there be after a movie?

Katsumoto: There will be, by the way, a television component. And just to trail and be consistent with what Craig said, the film would come out as we intended in its entirety to the fans first. And then it would have a long gap between that and broadcast platform. It won't be Saturday morning, I can assure you that. We're going to be announcing next week what our broadcast platform is. But when we made the deal with broadcaster, they were extremely cooperative and said, "We got the kind of film that we want. This is not going to be watered down for Saturday morning. This will be prime-time viewing." It will be risque, there will be rough-housing, as Craig describes it, but it will be in its purest form.

So we're going to start with a quarterly release of each of the first four films. If they do well, we're probably going to do another four films after that. We have the Ultimates 1-2 and Iron Man is the third one and the title of the fourth one will be released in the coming weeks as to what that's going to be.

Question: What comics will the films be based on?

Kyle: Right now, the first two Ultimates films are based on that first run. The Iron Man is the origin story; it has been modified and changed, but I don't think anyone is going to sit down and go "What is this story? I don't recognize." We really tried to make it a kick-ass origin. And the next film will also be an origin piece. I can't say that we're grabbing books and saying, "OK, this will be our next film," but we'll always try to go to those books and keep it as consistent and true to what you guys love as possible.

Question: What part did Bryan Hitch have in the production designs?

Kyle: When you step back, he had a heckuva lot. All of these designs are what these films are based on. And in our second film, we introduce someone that we needed him to designs on for us. So we actually went to him first and said, "What would your take on this character be?" We took those and then made animatable models out of them. Look, this is Bryan's visual world As much as we could take from him, we did. And he's been great.

Question: Will there be characters like Spider-Man and X-Men who are in other movies in these? And what will the run time be?

Kyle: It's a character-by-character situation. Spidey, most likely not in the near future because there's so much going on with him. X-Men, may be in that same situation, so it's tough to say for sure. But nothing's impossible.

Run time will be between 75 and 80 minutes on each film.

Question: Will you be using the World War II sequence?

Kyle: Right in the begining. Right to open it up. As close as we can get to Saving Private Ryan, we try. This is not for Saturday morning.

Question: As far as audio/video specifics, will it be widescreen format?

Kyle: It will be letterbox. I think 5:1. We're going to get a full orchestra and composer working on the film. We're treating this like a feature film. We're not trying to cut any corners here.

Question: What kind of special features will be on the DVD?

Kyle: We're just starting those discussions. We're getting footage in as we speak. There's a lot of things on the table, but at this point since I don't know what they're going to be, I would hate to put things out there that may not happen. But we want to make it a great experience.

I've got to tell you, at the end of the day, I want the movie to be good. God forbid you'll be like, "The movie was crap, but the DVD features..." We're going to do our best to make this a great experience.

Question: You said you were shooting for a PG or PG-13. If something came along like The Punisher, could you shoot for an R-rated feature?

Katsumoto: I can answer because we're ultimately the ones out on the hook when we release it. We all benefit, but we're on the hook. We have to believe it has to be organic with the story. We were looking at one of the stories potentially being R-rated because of the portrayal of the character and whatnot and we were going to be OK with that. We believe authenticity and you don't want watered down, you don't want sterilized, you want it actually as it was meant to be. So we're totally open to that.

Question: Do you have a number you're looking at for sales to be successful?

Katsumoto: We do have a target in mind, but it's nothing I can put out there.

Question: Can you reveal the voice cast?

Kyle: I just don't know if we're doing the voice cast yet, so forgive me if we're not. We will be releasing that information soon. We didn't talk about the actors today, so we apologize about that.

Question: Will it be available at major retailers and what will the price point be?

Katsumoto: Yes. We haven't determined the price point yet. It will competitive with what features go for. We're looking at this as a special-edition feature that's going directly to the consumer. And it will be at all the major retaliers, Wal-Mart, Target, Best Buy, all of them.

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