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TokyoPop Insider Pt. 2: Stu Levy Makes Manga Into Movies

By December 11, 2009

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PriestIn Part 2 of this three-part series of transcripts from the December TokyoPop Insider webcast, TokyoPop founder and CEO Stu Levy discusses a topic that's near and dear to his heart nowadays - developing TokyoPop manga and manhwa properties into feature films.

Currently on the front burner is the Sony Pictures Entertainment's adaptation of Priest , a 16-volume horror/historical action-adventure series by Min-woo Hyung. The feature film version of Priest is directed by Scott Stewart, and stars Paul Bettany in the lead role. According to IMDB, Priest is scheduled for release in October 2010.

Levy's interest in developing the film and TV development side of the TokyoPop business is so strong, he's adding "filmmaker" to his official title. Here's more of Levy's conversation with TokyoPop Senior Editor Lillian Diaz-Pryzbyl, and more of his answers to fan questions from the webcast.

Lillian Diaz-Pryzbyl: So what have you been up to lately, Stu?

Stu Levy and Lillian Diaz-PryzbylStu Levy: Well, A lot of my focus nowadays is based on turning TokyoPop manga into movies. On the Tokyopop manga side of things, we've got a great team -- not just Lil, but the whole publishing team is wonderful. So I can leave it to them to put out great manga, and I can spend my time trying to establish TokyoPop in the film and television side of the business, which is a real challenge.

But hopefully one day we will be known for creating really great movies and turn these manga into what we call "durable franchises." Kind of like Marvel, but if we can pull off an Iron Man or Spiderman kind of thing based on TokyoPop manga, that would be really cool. It'll take a bit of time, it's not going to be easy, but that's what I'm focusing on.

I'm changing my title to "Founder & Filmmaker." Did you know at one time my title was "Janitor and Guard," after all the cleaning up I had to do? That hasn't changed. I do all kinds of things. But the janitorial aspect of my job, that's still the same. (laughs)

Q: What's happening with Van Von Hunter?

Van Von Hunter Vol. 1Stu Levy: I'm not sure if everyone out there is familiar with it, but Van Von Hunter is a manga that we published a few years back. It's a very cute series about an evil vanquisher who's kind of a goofball, and somehow saves the day in spite of himself.

Me and this guy, Steven Calcote, who's now a TokyoPop guy, we went down the long and winding road of deciding to turn it into a film. So over the past two and a half years, we went down this road where we wrote and directed this film.

We made this film that's very meta; the TokyoPop staff is in it, we're like the bad guys in it, and Van is played by a wonderful actor, Yuri Lowenthal. That's finally completed, so we're getting ready to put out on the web, and on DVDs and show it at fan conventions, and so on. So in the next six months, you'll be seeing a lot more about Van Von Hunter.

Van Von HunterIt's a crazy film. It celebrates fan culture, so if you guys don't like it, nobody will like it. (laughs) But we made it, and had a great time. Now, whether you guys will get it and appreciate it or not, I don't know, but I can't wait to see what people think.

Lillian Diaz-Pryzbyl: We had a "friends and family" screening a few weeks ago in Los Angeles, and it was at the Goethe-Institut Cinema, which is just down the street from our offices. Everyone there had a great time -- they were laughing in all the right spots, so... I'm sure it was nerve-wracking for Stu and Steven who were sitting there watching everyone...

Stu Levy: Yep, I'm a first-time director, so that was my first movie. I screwed up plenty of stuff, but I'm pretty much known for screwing up stuff, so I'm at least consistent! (laughs)


Lament of the Lamb Vol. 1Q: So any updates on the Lament of the Lamb film project? (Lament of the Lamb,originally titled Hitsuji no Uta, is a 7-volume horror manga series by Kei Toume published by TokyoPop. The story focuses on Kazuna, a teenage boy who discovers that he has a disease that makes him lose control at the sight of blood, much like a vampire. He turns to his long-lost sister for help, because she also has the same affliction).

Stu Levy: Yes, actually. I just had a meeting on that one. The Lament of the Lamb film project is taking a long time. The current name for the film version is Love Like Blood, but we've gone back and forth with scripts and revisions... The plan is now to have it directed by myself and a great Japanese director, Takahiko Akiyama, who directed a film called Hinokio. (View a video trailer for Hinokio).

Taka and I have talked about this project, but in the meantime, one of the challenging elements (to this story) is the incest component, which makes it kind of hard. It's not quite a pure vampire story, but at the same time, it's not really a horror story.

HinokioI was a big fan of the manga, so I think I know a lot more about film now than I did then at the time, but I thought, 'I gotta make it into a movie because it's such an incredible story.' But along the way, I learned how challenging the adaptation process can be.

We just had this long, two-day session of just revising the story. We're trying to find the right script that takes what's great about the original manga, but adapts it so that it fits into a 90-minute film AND reach a wider audience.

So it's still in development, and it's going to take a bunch of time. But love it, still working on it. It's a personal passion project.


Q: So are there any TokyoPop manga that you're really looking forward to publishing in 2010?

Priest Vol. 1Stu Levy: Well, for me, Priest is such a big thing., I've been really involved in Priest, the film. I've spent a lot of time on the set, really got to know the screenwriter, the director, the producers and the other people on the crew, etc. I spent alot of time w/ our editor Troy (Lewter), and now with the writer, as well as Min-woo Hyung really banging out the story. I got Scott (Stewart), the director really involved with it too.

It's important to me that the movie side of things, meaning the screenwriter and the director, and then on the manga/manhwa side of things, meaning Min-Woo, that everyone was comfortable with what we were doing.

To give you some background, the original manhwa is a very long, extensive series that takes place in various historical points in time. Some stuff happens in the Crusades, most of it happens in the Old West in the 1800's and a little bit in the modern day.

The story is different than the story of the film. While Min-woo's work appealed to him, the screenwriter (Cory Goodman) created more of a fantasy world. So he took some of the icons and strong images of the manhwa, but the storyline is totally made up.

TokyoPop logoSo what we are doing in this new (comics) series, is we want to show how what happens in the manhwa actually leads up to what happens in the film. We want to do in a way so it's actually entertaining, that it's not just a historical piece.

We're taking the characters of the film, and taking them when they're younger, and incorporating one of the key parts of the original series into this story. So people can see how these two are connected. It's really a fun process. It's challenging, but it's really fun.

We're going to launch Priest: Purgatory as a monthly comic, because want to make sure its available to all Western comics fans too. We're also going to launch it as an iPhone app, and as a tankobon (graphic novel) edition by around Comic-Con time.

The monthly comic should street around April, but I'm not 100% sure.

Q: Is it less difficult to deal with the Korean than Japanese comics creators, regarding getting the rights to developing their stories into feature films?

Priest Purgatory Stu Levy: No, not really. Once you're dealing w/ the creator directly, it's different. It's all about the relationship. In the case of Min-woo, he was able to visit Los Angeles to visit the production offices, and see all the incredible production art work.

Priest is a big budget film. There's not a lot of A-List actors in there, so all of the money is going into the production. Everyone involved in the production, from the art director to the director of photography, they're all at the top of their game.

The concept art is brilliant. As soon as Min-woo saw it, he was like "Ooooh, shit! Just do whatever you want." (laughs) It's just beautiful, beautiful work. It was just a mutual love fest.

It's the same thing with Kei Toume, the artist of Love Like Blood. She was very cooperative and very cool. It depends on the person. Clearly, there are managers and publishing companies in between (you and the artist) who are more protective. But when you're able to talk directly with the creator, it helps a lot.

So you've got the adaptation from graphic novel to film, then you throw in another culture like Korea or Japan... Priest is a little different because it's not really Korean. I mean, there's nothing about the story that makes it uniquely Korean. So Priest doesn't have the same issues as if we were adapting Love Like Blood.

Love Like Blood is a very good example of where the characters are so submissive... well, passive is maybe a better term. That's one challenge. But in general, with graphic novels, the big challenge is that with graphic novels, you usually have one, maybe two people working on something that's very personal to them (versus the director, screenwriter, the movie studio, production designer, producers, etc. involved in filmmaking).

Stu Levy and Lillian Diaz-PryzbylAnd then there's the advantage where there's monologue, that allows you to get into the character's head, like in shojo manga. Whereas in a film, you can have voice over, but it's not something that filmmakers like to do -- it's kind of a crutch. If it's done creatively then it's fine, but using too much V.O. can destroy the experience from an audience's point of view. So changing a graphic novel to that kind of format, where you don't have monologues is challenging.

The other thing is that you've only got 90 minutes. You've got people in their chairs and you've got to entertain them for this 90-minute period. There has to be this arc, where something happens in that time period. In a graphic novel, you can have more time, and you can control time easier on the page than on the screen.

Lillian Diaz-Pryzbyl: Well, even more so with manga series that can run anywhere from one to 100 volumes... what part of that story do you adapt? What do you work from? So I think that's an interesting challenge.

It's easy to look at manga and comics as being a kind of storyboard for a movie. That does work in some ways, like in anime where they use the manga to create frame by frame of a story. Or like what Frank Miller did with Sin City -- but I think that's the exception more than the rule.

Stu Levy: I think it depend on the graphic novel. But at the end of the day, the biggest challenge with filmmaking is that there's a lot more money on the line.

TokyoPop InsiderSo your investors, whether it's a major Hollywood studio, or an independent financier, they know your film has to reach way more people than you can get away with a graphic novel. How do you reach a wider audience? That's part of the challenge. It's harder to tell niche-y story, but at the same time, you can't just copy a successful film -- you have to have something that's unique.

Lillian Diaz-Pryzbyl: You have to convey your own voice, your own vision.

Stu Levy: Yes, it's finding that balance.

NEXT: Part 3 finds Levy talking about TokyoPop's prior ventures into creating original manga, mistakes that were made, plans for Princess Ai, and why you won't see a TokyoPop manga magazine in print. Also, Diaz-Pryzbyl and Levy drop some hints about TokyoPop's plans for some special events in 2010.

If you missed it, check out Part 1 of this three-part series, as Levy and Diaz-Pryzbyl talk about TokyoPop series on hiatus, print-on-demand and scanlations. You can also watch the webcast in its entirety on TokyoPop's YouTube channel.

© Sony Pictures International, © Pseudome Studio, © TOKYOPOP, © Shochiku, © Min-woo Hyung


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