Warren Ellis is the Internet Jesus. A nickname that originated somewhere around late 90s, it recognizes his loyal Internet fan following and his mastery of all forms of Internet communication. He also happens to be an incredibly talented and influential writer. Whether it’s comics, graphic novels, books, journalism, there is no end to Ellis’ reach. His popular comic Red, a tale of a retired CIA agent forced back into action, was adapted for screen with great success.
Famous for his work on Planetary, The Authority, Transmetropolitan, and much more, Ellis has a savagely realistic view of the world. Much of his writing explores what wonder and pain the future will bring to both his characters and us. FreakAngels, his popular weekly webcomic with Paul Duffield, is being collected and printed by Avatar Press. Ellis is also known for his strong online presence, with constant updates to his personal website and Twitter.
It’s no surprise that Patrick Meaney and Jordan Rennert of Respect! Films would focus on Ellis for their second documentary, Captured Ghosts. During the weekend of NYCC 2010 an eager audience saw the debut of their film Grant Morrison: Talking With Gods. I interviewed them about their experiences with Morrison and much more last year.
The two lifelong friends were kind enough to give us an exclusive preview of Captured Ghosts and answer a few questions about their process. Their Kickstarter campaign for the documentary ends on May 4th and can still use your support!
MTV Geek: Your first documentary, Talking with Gods, was very successful and painted a realistic picture of Morrison's life. How does Captured Ghosts differ from your first film? Did you approach it from the same angle?
Patrick Meaney: It took a while to figure out what the exact goal was with Talking With Gods, were we doing an overview of Grant's career, or was it just a conversation with the guy, or something else? Over the course of editing, it became clear that we were telling the story of Grant's life and how it related to his work. So, I approached Captured Ghosts with the same basic intention, and to a large extent that's the guiding principle of the film.
But, it became clear that Warren was a bit different. His life is a bit simpler story than Grant's, but he's got this whole added component of an online presence and persona that Grant didn't have. Warren is very interested in technology and the future, and he's constantly integrating new technology into both his life and his stories. So, a lot of the film is focused on Warren's concepts of the future and technology, and how he's been able to use them both to build himself into "Internet Jesus," and how they inform his writing.
On the filmmaking side, Talking With Gods drew heavily on psychedelia, influenced by Grant's own work. We shot a lot of different elements, but they're all stacked on top of each other and blurred and effected. With Captured Ghosts, I came up with the idea of integrating roughly ten prose sections into the film where Warren reads excerpts from his work. We illustrate those in a variety of different ways, including some heavier stuff, but also some goofy elements riffing off of Warren's persona.
The goal with both films ultimately became to represent the mind and essence of each writer, and that makes Captured Ghosts a bit harder edged, and less abstract than Talking With Gods. You'll see it in the visual style, the music, everything about the construction.
Geek: Why did you decide to focus on Warren Ellis and what is it about his work that intrigues you? How did he feel about the documentary and what was his level of involvement?
Meaney: Warren's interesting because, more than any other creator in comics, he's known as much for his persona and attitude as for his work. That's not to take away from his writing at all, but it's a testament to the way he's been able to use forums, Twitter and other social media to build himself into an icon. So, that was a great base for the documentary, to explore the intersection of his persona, his real self and his work. I remember being on the Warren Ellis Forum in my younger days, and how exciting it was to get to interact with one of my favorite writers in a way I'd never seen before in any medium.
As you can see on Twitter, he's a really funny guy, and knows how to tell a story better than anyone we've interviewed. I also think he's got fascinating ideas about the future, technology and human development. So, it's been exciting to get to talk to him about that.
Warren's spent a lot of time interviewing with us. He does very few interviews, but has been really generous with his time for the project, and has been great about getting word out about it on his website and Twitter. Most of his posts have a tone that implies we've kidnapped him and forced him to talk to us for the movie, but that is not the case, I swear.
Geek: You interviewed a lot of big names for the film. Which interview stood out to you both? What was your favorite part of making the film so far?
Jordan Rennert: The interview that I found most interesting and probably the biggest surprise of the documentary's production to date occurred the second time we interviewed Warren himself. The first time we sat down with Ellis in March of 2010 a version of him not unlike his loud, outspoken online persona showed up. In fact, there were many moments were we had to ask Warren to repeat things because the crew's laughter would frequently rise above Ellis' words and ruin the take. There's a reason he's got over 400,000 twitter followers and we tried hard to keep in the giggles, but it was definitely tough.
I'd say that my favorite part of making Captured Ghosts has been shooting the gritty, visual sequences we use to portray Warren's darker themes. For example, the film has a segment that describes the craziness of the Warren Ellis Forum and the seemingly never ending contest between forum users regarding who could scrape the bowels of the Internet and find the most vile image of an act of human indecency possible. Going for the audience's gag reflex was definitely my aim when shooting this sequence which you can imagine was a lot of fun to put together.
Meaney: I was really excited to interview Garth Ennis. He's one of the big names of comics writing, and thanks to his total lack of Internet presence, very elusive. But, we tracked him down, and were able to shoot with him in the basement of a bar, which seemed like the perfect setting. He was the one I was most excited for going in, but it's been really cool to get to meet people from a wide variety of worlds, all of whom are connected to Warren. We've spoke to comedians, musicians, adult film actresses, and more in our journey through Warren's circle of friends!
My favorite part so far has probably been just getting to spend a bunch of time with Warren, ask him a lot of questions and get that insight into his world.
Geek: Did anything happen during filming that you weren't expecting or were really surprised to learn?
Rennert: After spending a year with this footage and thinking we had a pretty solid handle on what our narrative was, we went back to London in March of 2011 to ask follow up questions just as we had done with the Morrison doc. However, this time, a different Warren Ellis showed up entirely. I don't know why, but I just assumed that he was going to walk into the shoot with the exact same outfit on as the previous year and would answer our questions with the exact same demeanor and tone. Well, that didn't happen! Instead we got a more relaxed Warren that seemed less like his online avatar.
At first I was worried that this less aggressive Ellis wouldn't cut properly with the footage we had from a year ago. Yet as the interview continued it became clear that Warren was showing us a different side of him that was even more candid and more human than the previous year's Ellis. Warren actually mentions in the film that 'as writers we by habit wear different personalities' and this experience illustrated this quite clearly. I am quite happy that we got access to these two different sides of him as I think it paints a fuller more interesting picture.
Meaney: I think the biggest surprise was seeing the impact that Warren had on so many peoples' careers, and the enthusiasm that others had for him compared to the humbleness and self-deprecation he had towards his own work. You've got six or seven huge creators saying that Warren is responsible for their careers, but Warren claiming he's made no significant impact on comics.
In general, it seems like Warren feels like he still hasn't quite made it, like he's never written a masterpiece, and isn't quite on the level of the absolute top comics creators. So, the movie exists at this point of tension between his perception of himself and the way that other people see him.
Geek: When and how will Captured Ghosts be released?
Meaney: We're planning a worldwide "Day of Ellis" screening on September 9th. We'll be setting up screenings all over the world which will be listed on the movie's official website. You'll be able to take a look, see where the movie is playing, and meet up with other big Warren Ellis fans. After that, the film will be released on DVD late in the year, most likely in December.
As part of our Kickstarter campaign for the film, we're offering access to an exclusive San Diego Comicon VIP preview screening. That's a screening with no ticket sales, for people in the film and media, but if you want to go and check out the film before anyone else, you can donate to the Kickstarter and get access to that screening.
Our Kickstarter campaign has been a big success, and I want to give a massive thanks to everyone who contributed. It's been fantastic to see. And, if you haven't donated yet, we could still really use your support. We're working with a really low budget on this film, and most of that goes into travel. Any donations help to make better visuals, better music, better everything in the movie, and to do some of the more ambitious reenactments and sequences we've got in mind. We’d really appreciate your support to help keep making the movie even better!