"The obstacles," writer and producer Peter Lenkov chuckles when I ask him about the challenges of getting his comic "R.I.P.D." to the big screen. "Being in development hell for ten years."
Lenkov, who has a list of credits going back 20 years has worked steadily in film and TV (he's the mind behind "Demolition Man," and don't think I didn't ask him about that), but "R.I.P.D." was for the longest time that elusive project, tied up in the not uncommon snarl of delays, budgetary concerns, and false starts since Universal first set eyes on the concept.
"We had a huge collection of comic books before my mother decided, after I moved out of the house, to get rid of them." Lenkov jokes that he might have gotten rich that way if his collection hadn't met their end in a trashcan. Instead, he's spent the last 20 years or so serving as writer and producer for some films you've probably seen (the Pauley Shore vehicle "Son-in-Law") and some TV some pretty big TV series like "24" and the recent "Hawaii 5-0" reboot. His genre cred is strong: he served as producer on the short-lived "Crow" series as well as writing the second "Universal Soldiers" film back in '98.
But he says even from childhood, he wanted to get into the comic book business, drawing his and writing his own books as a kid. He's always loved the idea of creating without the constraints of a budget: "In comics, if you want to draw a train crashing, you draw a train crashing. You try to do that in TV and film, and someone will tell you that can't be done."
It wasn't until he was an established TV writer that he met Dark Horse publisher Mike Richardson, who offered Lenkov the chance to write his own comic. He confesses that he went into the process kind of naive, and that in subsequent years, he's tried to hone his comic writing by teaming up with writer Jeremy Barlow on the latest chapter in the "R.I.P.D." universe, the prequel miniseries "City of the Damned." At this point, getting back into comics is a matter of finding the time, but Lenkov adds "It's definitely a passion of mine. I wish I could do it full-time."
Even before "R.I.P.D." was published at the beginning of the 00's, Richardson pitched the idea for the comic--about a recently-slain young cop who joins a spectral police force dedicated to finding their own killers--to Universal Pictures as a feature. Lenkov says Universal, based solely on the galleys, optioned the project. Lenkov credits Richardson with helping push the project into production, even when the writer was ready to throw in the towel. "Every time I thought this thing was going to die, he'd keep telling me, 'No, it's not.' Mike was really the one who kept the lights burning on this thing and who forced it through the many regime changes at the studio."
Getting the movie optioned was the easy part. Lenkov tells me the subsequent years after being optioned were a revolving door of directors, screenwriters, and lead actors, at a studio that, in recent years has gotten cold feet about big budget genre films thanks to the high-profile failures of "The Wolf Man" and "Scott Pilgrim" and the so-so performances of del Toro's pair of "Hellboy" movies. "It's a big movie, an expensive movie," Lenkov tells me. "These things don't get greenlit unless they're 100% there on the page."
Finally, the projected landed stars Ryan Reynolds and Jeff Bridges as its leads with director Robert Schwentke at the helm. All three names attached with the project are kind of old hands at the comic book movie thing--Bridges from his role in "Iron Man," Schwentke as director of the adaptation of Warren Ellis' "Red," and Reynolds--it's easier to name the comic book properties Reynolds hasn't been attached to before and since landing "Green Lantern." The revised storyline, from writers Phil Hay and Matt Manfredi (the pair has worked together on remake of "Clash of the Titans" and the live-action " Æon Flux"), sees Reynolds' Officer Nick Walker joining the Rest In Peace Police Department to help the dead rest in peace.
Working with Jeremy Barlow, Lenkov offered to break the story for the miniseries, which looks back at the history of Nick's partner, the veteran cop Roy Powell (Bridges), since "It really made sense to tell Roy's story..." showing that "this has been going on since the beginning of time." As for delving back into this universe, Lenkov says he'd like to go back and focus on other cops and members of law enforcement over the years who've made their way through "R.I.P.D.," and seeing the force through different eras.
I couldn't end the call without asking about the true gem of his filmography (note: there's no irony or winking intended here--the movie's fun and winking while still being a solid action vehicle for its stars): "Demolition Man," which turns 20 this year. Lenkov laughs when I bring it up, thanking me for not saying "Son-in-Law" was my favorite.
"That was great, because I was literally a kid," he laughs, saying he'd written the script "in desperation." After writing several screenplays that just were attracting buyers, he decided to throw a bunch of genres--sci-fi, action movie, satire--into a blender to see what would come out. "I remember reading an article about Walt Disney being frozen around the same time I was thinking about doing something [involving] cops--I was really inspired by 'Lethal Weapon'--but I thought a straight-ahead cop movie would be something I wasn't good at." He says he pitched the movie to producer Joel Silver over Christmas, only to be rejected by an executive who didn't get the concept of a frozen cop. But after completing the script, people wanted to put money into a movie where a buff super cop has to battle the world's deadliest criminal after most crime in the U.S. has been eradicated (and Taco Bell is haute cuisine).
"R.I.P.D." will be in theaters this July. The first volume of "R.I.P.D." is being reissued this March with a second printing of the trade paperback. The prequel comic, "City of the Damned" will be available in trade this May. You can check out a preview of "City of the Damned" below.