In part one of our "publisher profile," Dark Horse Comics president Mike Richardson discussed the company's origins and its commitment to creator rights. In this segment, the publisher examines the company's movie production arm, taking a candid look at some of its hits (THE MASK), misses (BARB WIRE ) and exciting new prospects (HELLBOY).
CINESCAPE: What was the first movie you can remember Dark Horse working on?
MIKE RICHARDSON: We did a small movie directed by Manny Coto called DR. GIGGLES shot up here in Oregon in a warehouse about a half mile from the Dark Horse buildings. It starred Larry Drake, was shot on a very modest budget and it did fine. It was the first thing we had ever done and the first time I had ever sat on a set.
CINESCAPE: Was that based on a comic book?
RICHARDSON: Manny had a script that was being worked on and we worked with him directly on a comic book version of the character. It helped Manny sort of figure out what the movie was going to be and who the characters were, but I also think it was probably the first time that a director had actually written the comic for the movie he was about to direct while the screenplay was being written. I'm not aware of that happening before then.
CINESCAPE: You followed that project up with the more mainstream success, THE MASK.
RICHARDSON: Right. We took that to New Line and Jim [Carrey] was unknown at the time. There were a number of people talked about by the studio to play The Mask people like Rick Moranis and Martin Short but I remember one day Mike DeLuca sent me a tape of "the white guy" from IN LIVING COLOR. I laughed so hard, I called him immediately and said, "That's The Mask." Once we had Jim, the project really took off. And, of course, one of the people trying out for a part was Cameron Diaz who was unknown at the time. I don't believe she had ever been in a film before she was a model. Everyone was blown away by her and as soon as we started seeing the dailies we knew that this movie was going to be special. I think at the time New Line had hoped that it would do $30 million and it did considerably more.
CINESCAPE: Are you involved in the upcoming sequel, SON OF THE MASK?
RICHARDSON: On the fringe. Not as much as I'd like to be, but that's fine. [Director] Larry Gutterman has a great vision for the movie. It's a lot of fun.
CINESCAPE: Dark Horse's next movie outing was the sci-fi classic TIMECOP.
RICHARDSON: New Line wanted us to bring in another science fiction idea and TIMECOP was a story I had originally intended to do as a comic book. My agent at the time loved the idea so a friend of mine that worked on THE MASK with me Mark Verheiden worked up a spec script based on my treatment. We developed it with Larry Gordon and Lloyd Levin, and got [actor] Jean-Claude Van Damme involved. The interesting thing about THE MASK and TIMECOP was THE MASK opened at number one, ran its course and went out of distribution. Later in the summer it was a very weak lineup it was re-released, went back to number one and it was knocked out of number one by TIMECOP. So we had the top two movies in the country at one point.
CINESCAPE: Unfortunately, you didn't have that same level of success with the Pamela Anderson actioner Barb Wire.
RICHARDSON: After TIMECOP and THE MASK, Dark Horse Entertainment was hot and everyone was looking for our next project. We got into a relationship with Polygram and, at the same time, Pamela Anderson became available we heard she was looking for a project where she could play "Pambo." She was interested in BARB WIRE, we sold the idea to Polygram and everyone was happy. That whole project had a lot of problems, though, none of them having to do with Pam. She was terrific. The studio at the time had trouble deciding what they wanted. There were mixed messages while we were shooting it and it was unfortunate because the original idea would have made a great movie. Despite what's been put out there, Pam was terrific and she did a great job given the situation.
CINESCAPE: What was the original idea?
RICHARDSON: It was more ROAD WARRIOR. The movie was never intended for so much of it to take place in the bar. When we originally pitched it, it was supposed to be an hour of ROAD WARRIOR and 20 minutes inside the bar she owned. It turned out to be an hour and 10 minutes inside the bar and 10 minutes of ROAD WARRIOR.
CINESCAPE: Dark Horse suffered another blow at the box office with the sci-fi thriller VIRUS.
RICHARDSON: It's unfortunate that Universal Studios was in a downtrend at the time and they sort of lost faith in the project. I still believe it could have been a terrific project for the studio. Unfortunately, [director] John Bruno's idea and it sounded good at the time was to shoot actual robots and stay away from CG. The first dailies the studio saw were the robots, which didn't work at all on film. So the studio lost faith in the project at that point. It's unfortunate because it was a terrific project and could've done well. Some of the scenes in the movie, you can watch for them, never got the money needed to finish them. If you ever watch it you'll see a device flying that surprises them. It's flying, but there are no wings on it. They were supposed to be added later. And there was a key scene dropped out explaining why they were being welded inside the ship and why they had to launch out the tube. That was never shot.
CINESCAPE: The company bounced back, however, with the superhero comedy MYSTERY MEN.
RICHARDSON: I'm really happy with MYSTERY MEN. It's a very different kind of film. I think the studio never really knew how to market it. I still get calls to this day and people say, "Wow! I just saw MYSTERY MEN and I didn't know it was so good." And I say, "Yeah, it is." Reviews were generally all very good and it did OK, but it could've done better. Unfortunately, we released the same week as THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT, SIXTH SENSE, RUNAWAY BRIDE, DEEP BLUE SEA and THE THOMAS CROWN AFFAIR. So that probably wasn't the best choice of weekends to launch. But I've always been proud of the movie and I know that my kids and their friends like to watch it, so that's the best proof of anything.
CINESCAPE: That brings us to the present day and your upcoming adaptation of Mike Mignola's HELLBOY.
RICHARDSON: We're really excited about it knock on wood. It's a terrific project. Guillermo del Toro has taken Mike Mignola's comic and delivered it to the screen. Guillermo has captured everything that makes HELLBOY great and also created compelling characters. You really like Hellboy in this movie; he's not just a one-dimensional comic book character. There's a lot of heart in the movie; there's great action. It's unlike any movie you've ever seen. We hope the movie does well, but regardless of the box office this is the best HELLBOY movie that could've ever been done.
CINESCAPE: I also understand you've partnered with comic book writer Steve Niles in the adaptation of his horror title 30 DAYS OF NIGHT.
RICHARDSON: 30 DAYS OF NIGHT was a comic that Steve Niles brought me and I immediately took it to Sam Raimi and Rob Tapert. I first showed it to Rob and said, "We've got to get this to Sam and let him see it." And Rob said, "Ah, I don't know if Sam wants to do another horror picture." And I said, "Well, please just show it to him." I got a call the next day and Sam loved it. The concept is just so appealing. On the three-line pitch I was there, and I just thought Sam would feel the same way once he had heard it. So he, Rob and I took it into Senator [International] and since then they've partnered with Sony on the project.
CINESCAPE: Don't you have another project with Niles as well?
RICHARDSON: I sat down with Steve and we started talking about another project we would take out as a film and we came up with CRIMINAL MACABRE, which is based on his character Cal McDonald. Steve had written a novel based on the character, will continue to write novels based on this character and we're hoping that it's a horror franchise. Basically, it's about a guy who knows that strange creatures live among us and he hunts them down. It's scary and it has a lot of humor at the same time.
CINESCAPE: Are there any other projects that we've missed?
RICHARDSON: We have a project SIERRA LEON that we brought over to Section Eight; they've purchased it and it's being written. One of our creations, ALIENS VS. PREDATOR, is going. And by the way, John Bruno [director of VIRUS] is serving as the effects supervisor on that project. We're negotiating a deal right now for GRENDEL, which will be announced soon we hope. We have a great project with Eli Roth, who just did CABIN FEVER, and it's a sensational project. I'm really excited about it. It's a horror project and its one of the creepiest things I've heard in a long, long time. We haven't taken it out yet; we're just getting ready and he's finishing up some obligations he has, but we'll be taking it out very soon.