Already one of the most celebrated comic book authors in the industry, Grant Morrison seems to be popping up everywhere we look these days — from music videos and mysterious television projects to the focus of a new documentary about his life and career. He's also currently hard at work on the script for a live-action independent movie, "Sinatoro," with director Adam Egypt Mortimer.
Announced at this year's San Diego Comic-Con, "Sinatoro" tells the story of an amnesiac man who wakes after an auto accident in the middle of the desert and gets caught up in a beautiful girl's quest to rid her town of evil forces. According to the official plot synopsis, the film's hero encounters "the world's most dangerous gangster, a deranged astronaut, a drunken cowboy, and an army of hobos" on his journey through a nightmarish pop-culture landscape that only Morrison could create.
I spoke with Morrison and Mortimer about the project and the origins of "Sinatoro" to get a better idea of what we can expect when the celebrated, surreal vision of one of comics' greatest minds is turned to the live-action movie world.
MTV NEWS: First off, tell me about the poster image you released for "Sinatoro" during Comic-Con — the one with the astronaut in the middle of the desert and the blackish cloud pouring out his faceplate. Given how little we know about the project, what are you hoping to convey about the film with that image?
GRANT MORRISON: Well, I wanted it to say that we're dealing with classic material, the American myth, the idea of the road movie and the notion that the road can take you anywhere and adventures can happen. That's always been at the very basic root of the American imagination. We wanted to show that, and of course it had to be Route 66, which is the daddy of all roads. The idea of the astronaut was to kind of suggest that our character was somewhere that looks familiar, but it's not really familiar — it's a place that will be familiar to all of us one day — but he's kind of an explorer in another land. There's an actual astronaut in the story, so it kind refers to him a little, but it's mostly the notion of being an alien on your own planet, and in your own environment.
ADAM EGYPT MORTIMER: Long before the movie comes out, we're going to put out lots more images and posters like that, and they're all going to be different. They're all going to have a different style and content, but they're all going to seamlessly fit into what the movie is. That's because what Grant is envisioning with this world is many, many angles of looking at the same complex object.
We were just talking about what our next teaser image is going to be, and I don't think we'll reveal anything about it except that it's a completely different thing, and you'll look at it and need to rethink everything you thought about this movie.
MTV: When it comes to stories like this with so many different elements that make up the narrative and so many things the main character and the audience must discover along the way, how do you go about pitching the project? Is it even possible to come up with the standard 30-second pitch for something like this?
MORRISON: We started with the notion of doing something along the lines of a Roger Corman movie, because we figured it would be low-budget and we could just work together and do anything crazy that we wanted to do. It started out with that type of '60s, seeker-on-the-road psychedelic adventure, very free-form like "Let's just go to the desert and shoot some movies" sort of feeling.
But as we developed it, I suddenly hit on what was a really big, science-fiction high concept that turns the movie into a potential Hollywood success. We suddenly thought we had something bigger on our hands here, something better. Although it's remained a low-budget movie, we think it's a billion-dollar budget idea. The reason I can't actually encapsulate the whole thing in one sentence is because if I gave you the one-sentence pitch, it would give away the whole movie. [Laughs] That's the trouble. It's almost like asking what the big story is in 'The Sixth Sense.' It sort of blows the movie.
So we're trying to play up one aspect of it — that it's a man with no memory who finds himself in a very Alfred Hitchcock-like situation with a beautiful girl and a locked case and a quest not only to find out his identity, but also what's in the case. We made this very strongly American road movie, but also very Alfred Hitchock — something everyone can understand. And halfway through, we put a twist into it.
MORTIMER: You know from Grant's work that he's super dense when he gets into these types of projects. I was with Grant the other day, and we were talking about James Joyce's "Ulysses," and how that's a book that has everything in it and you can rotate it around a million different ways and it never gets boring. I feel like what we're doing with "Sinatoro" is taking the iconic American cult movie feeling and taking every aspect of that and running it together into one hyper-dense world that will all make sense together. That's one of the things that was so exciting to me when I started to get what Grant was proposing with it.
MTV: How about the name: "Sinatoro"? There's been some talk that it's a play on Frank Sinatra's surname...
MORRISON: [Laughs] It's a crazy in-joke from around the time Frank Sinatra died, that no one will ever understand. I like the idea of this mystery man having some kind of connection to Frank Sinatra, because I've been reading Frank Sinatra's biography, and to a certain extent he represents a lot of what we're talking about in the movie — the American dream, the American myth, and the American nightmare. Sinatra was an early template. It echoed through it, and though the movie has moved far away from that, this name just kind of stuck.
MTV: How about you, Adam — do you feel intimidated by the prospect of bringing all these ideas to life visually?
MORTIMER: I feel like I've been training all my life for this moment. Between it being a Grant project when I've read all of his work and been a fan of his my whole life, to where I've worked in experimental forms and super pop forms, this is exactly the project I've been training for. It's like I've been leaping over flame walls and shooting distant targets, and now I'm ready to actually go on the mission and assassinate what this thing is. It really does feel like that. If it was a different movie that had a similar amount of ambition, I would maybe feel daunted, but knowing that I'm working off Grant's script — which is going to make it obvious how it will go — and knowing that all of the themes and visuals are the kinds of things I'm psyched about, I'm really not concerned. It's going to be a mind-wrecking adventure to do it, but I'm completely up for it.
MTV: In the process of developing the script, have you found yourself considering the budgetary limitations?
MORRISON: One of the things that's important about this movie is to not try to do "Avatar"-style special effects on a low budget, because that will look bad. The important thing is to understand how the form works and making sure that scenes will look good within the parameters of the budget. For me, it's all about making it work. It's a very different form than comics, where I can say, "Hey, let's blow up the Andromeda galaxy. No problem." [Laughs] It's important that the script works within what's possible in the budget. We've moved away from something that might have been a bit more psychedelic or disconnected, and I think the story now is a real commercial story — which makes it even better. We can now hang the weird elements on a story that's spine is so strong and everyone's going to get it. It means we can get away with almost anything on the slightly weirder side of it.
MTV: Do you have an ETA forthe film at this point? Is there a schedule you want to keep as far as releasing elements at conventions or festivals?
MORTIMER: We want to start shooting it at the beginning of 2011, by the first third of next year.
MORRISON: We hope we'll have quite a lot done by San Diego of next year, if we haven't finished the movie. We're just aiming toward next summer right now, and we'll see how that works out.