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FRIDAY, JUNE 11, 2010

BATMAN: UNDER THE RED HOOD -- JUDD WINICK

The Continuum continues its series of stories on Batman: Under the Red Hood with a studo-provided question-and-answer with writer Judd Winick.

The movie -- due on July 27 from Warner Home Video -- is based on Winick's comic-book story.

Following is an edited transcription of the interview:

Question: What was the greatest challenge in taking your graphic novel to script format?

Winick: I had to take two years of story and boil it down to 75 minutes of film, and that's a challenge and liberating at the same time. It forces one to cut out all the fat and get to the heart of it. It's about making a movie. And for those who know anything about movies, it's about putting one foot in front of the other, building from one scene to the next to the next and so on. There are no cul-de-sacs or crossovers -- it's all about getting the story to its essence.

Question: Were you disappointed with what you needed to cut out?

Winick: Actually, I was thrilled about what went in. I'm really, really happy that the emotional core of the story is still there. We don't really get to tell stories like this in animation. The opera of it all is usually reserved for live action. This story is about characters actually emoting and dealing with horrible situations. Animation usually gets just the action and the visualization, and not the characters actually feeling anything. So it was nice we got to do that.

Question: Can you describe the gratification of watching your words come to animated life?

Winick: It's great. And I don't mean to take anything away from writing for comics, as this is just a different form of story telling. One of the fun parts of writing for film is that it allows you the freedom for your characters to just shut up and fight. We can't do that in comics -- there always has to be some banter or internal monologue. More importantly, it's gratifying to see the words and action come to life in all the ways film affords -- through incredibly talented actors giving the words all that emotional impact; and to see the characters actually fight and run and yell and shout and cry. They become living, breathing beings. That's a very exhilarating experience for a writer.

Question: Do the voices of Bruce Greenwood, Jensen Ackles, Neil Patrick Harris and John DiMaggio match what you had in your head while writing the dialogue?

Winick: I've been writing these characters for years, and it's remarkable the job those actors did. Greenwood is about as Batman as you can get -- which is exactly what you want. You don't want to be surprised -- as soon as he speaks, you want to say to yourself, "That's Batman." Nightwing is exactly as I've had him in my head -- Neil Patrick Harris couldn't possibly do it better. I'd like to do an entire feature with Bruce Greenwood as Batman and Neil Patrick Harris as Nightwing.

Red Hood is funny for me because I thought I'd written this character in this incarnation more than anyone else, but I had no clue what he'd really sound like. And yet, when Jensen speaks, that's the right tone and timbre. As far as Joker, that is one of the truly great characters that I think needs to be left up to interpretation. There's only been a handful of people who have created Joker -- Mark Hamill set the standard for animation, then you've got Jack (Nicholson) and Heath Ledger. But John (DiMaggio) has such versatility, he could go anywhere with it, and he made it totally his own. He really gives a very big and gruff and masculine performance, so deep and throaty and bass. He's wonderfully scary and really gets the job done.

Wade Williams as Black Mask absolutely cracks me up. He's like a lion. Honestly, what came out in the animation came directly out of his performance. Wade made him into a caged animal who might go off at any second. He's constantly roaring, which is an entirely different take than I anticipated and that's awesome. That's an actor making decisions and making it his own and really hitting the mark.

Question: Executive producer Bruce Timm says your pitch was unorthodox in that it was over the phone and yet was absolutely perfect and completely sold him. How'd you pull that off?

Winick: I'd given a rougher pitch to Gregory Noveck (DC Comics' senior vice president of creative affairs) and he loved it, but we had to pitch it to the gang. The schedule worked out that I had to be in San Francisco, and they had to be in Burbank. That's not the ideal way to pitch, especially for me -- I like to jump around a lot, shout a lot, wave my hands and be theatrical. That's especially true for this pitch because it's a very emotional script. I kind of sold the idea in the first five minutes of the pitch, which was essentially describing the first five minutes of the movie.

I thought this would be a cool animated feature, but to really tell this story, we had to find a way to show Robin dying. We had to get the history in quickly to start the movie with that emotional smack. So I'm on my head set, going through this scene, talking about Batman barreling down the street of Sarajevo, the Joker beating Robin to death,. I'm banging my hands on the desk, yelling as loud as I can, and by the time I said "Fade to black, cue to opening credits," it was just dead quiet on the other end of the line. I said, "Is everybody still there?" And they said, "Yeah, that was awesome." Done. Sold.

Question: How did you first enter the Batcave as a fan?

Winick: Like many people of my age, I'm sure I was reading the comics but I remember watching the TV series more -- and not really liking it. It didn't quite feel right. I know I enjoyed it more like watching Super Friends, but I really gravitated toward the comics more than anything. The series wasn't dark enough. It didn't have the edge I wanted in my Batman. Ultimately, the TV show gave me a sense of what I didn't want Batman to be, even back then.

Question: Do you feel Batman: Under the Red Hood fits into Batman's current live-action film tone?

Winick: I'd say Christopher Nolan's The Dark Knight was sort of the catalyst. After seeing that film, it got my juices going thinking that we could do something like that with a Red Hood arc. At the time, I didn't even know what Warner Premiere was working on. It all started with a quick email to Gregory (Noveck) asking if they were looking for any more Batman features. Comics and film present very specific camps for the characters and the stories. Animation should be its own genre that straddles between the two that can give comic fans the product their hoping to see, and provide a new vision for the fans who only know these characters in the most mainstream way.

Question: Do you like presenting your stories in animated form?

Winick: I really do. I'm a cartoonist. I don't draw for money, and mostly what I do is the writing. But that's how I view myself more than anything else -- as a cartoonist. I grew up on animation, and I always loved knowing that the cartoons on the page could actually come to life. I worshipped at the alter of Chuck Jones, and realized at a very young age that one guy did all the things I love best. I love it as a medium and I love how it's evolved. Animation features have exploded -- there is more high-end animation being produced now than ever before, and I think that's great.



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