“Write From A Specific Point Of View” Mette Norkjaer Talks BOOM! Studios, Comic Books, & Storytelling
Hollywood shows no signs of quenching its insatiable appetite for comic book and graphic novel adaptations. Outside of Marvel and DC, BOOM! Studios is the third largest comic book-centric studio. They currently have a first-look deal at 20th Century Fox and are actively developing their properties for theatrical and streaming release. Creative Screenwriting Magazine sat down with Mette Norkjaer, Creative Executive in their film division to discuss how screenwriters can work in this space.
At BOOM!, the focus of the comics is less on superhero stories and more on superhero characters with diverse backgrounds. “We have different imprints and target different demographics,” said Norkjaer.
Boasting an aggressive slate, the current projects for Boom! include Goldie Vance with Kerry Washington and Rashida Jones attached to star and direct, along with a Netflix feature called Last Sons of America with Peter Dinklage attached. The studio also has other licensed titles such as Mighty Morphin Power Rangers, Dark Crystal, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and Planet of the Apes to round out their impressive slate of comics and graphic novels. BOOM! actively pursues diversity in its ranks.
“The majority of editors at BOOM! are women. There’s been a very big push for female creators and LGBTQ content. What sets us apart from other companies is diversity and inclusion, which hasn’t been very well represented in the past,” stated Norkjaer. “I love that this company is making a big push for that type of representation.”
DC and Marvel largely focus on a specific target audience age range for the most part. While the larger, more established companies often focus on the 14-24-year-old market, BOOM! carries titles for an expanded age range to appeal to a broader audience.
At BOOM!, individual projects target different demographics. “We have a lot of adult readers. There are sci-fi thrillers with adult themes. Then, on the other end, we have KaBOOM!, which is for the younger reader and BOOM! Box for the young adult,” Mette elaborated.
Diversity isn’t restricted to gender and age at BOOM! They publish specialty titles for more eclectic tastes.
“At BOOM! Box, we have a lot more stories for women, by women,” said the executive. Our arthouse imprint is called Archaia. The popular titles under that banner are Eisner award winner Mouse Guard, Rust, and the Eisner-award-nominated Jane by Aline Brosh McKenna.
Since BOOM! doesn’t have the extensive libraries of other publishers, they don’t solely rely on their linear model of adapting popular comics into film and TV shows.
For Marvel and DC, the comic books came first and then the films. At BOOM!, several titles actually have been reverse-engineered from existing properties to move from the screen to the page. Licensed titles, such as Sons of Anarchy and Buffy gave BOOM! the rights to create licensed comic material, but not something brand new for the big screen.
“There’s such an opportunity to tell different types of stories. We have the ability to do so because we have world-class editors who are pushing to update the bar for equality.”
Typical Day For A Creative Executive
No two days are alike for creative executives. That’s the attraction to the job. Norkjaer spends a lot of time tracking materials, keeping up with interesting screenwriters, and doing lots and lots of reading. “We’re always trying to figure out who we could potentially be in business with down the road, or we might have an open assignment for a writer or director, so my job is to find that voice, elevate that material, package it, and bring it to life.”
Amongst the tracking (sounds like a new comic book title), she looks for agents, managers, and representatives off the Blacklist, along with other sources for material. “Really, it’s about getting creative to find out how new writers are putting their materials out there. We also talk to managers to see who they’re excited about in the genre space. I want to make sure I’ve got the right genre writers on my radar.”
Every week, the executives also meet to discuss projects they’re excited about, or even films and television they’ve seen over the previous week. They discuss what they like, what they don’t like, and take a stab at what types of future projects they would like to create for BOOM!
Among the big-picture ideas, the executives and producers are mainly focused on the tone that fits the BOOM! brand. “When meeting with new screenwriters or giving notes, we’re mainly focused on nailing the tone. Are we staying true to the foundation of their stories? Are we understanding and honoring the characters, their actions, and executing them in the best way to tell the story?”
“One thing I’ve noticed is that some screenwriters are hesitant to bring their own voice to an adaptation. At BOOM!, we encourage screenwriters to remember that we discovered your writing, or came across your voice, and we brought you on board to run with what’s in the building blocks of the comic. They can deviate if that means creating the best version or elevating the source material,” she asserted.
Mette Norkjaer recalled a situation where there were multiple takes on the source material for a comic book. She consulted with the original comic book writer so they could select the take which best represented their vision without imitating it. This is music to screenwriters’ keyboards.
Adapting The Source Material
“You don’t want to lose the DNA of the property. I think that’s the tricky thing with adaptation. You want to stay faithful, but you also want to make sure that the material is adapted in a way to reach the targeted audience, whether that’s family, adults or children. But that’s a conversation throughout the development process so everyone is on board. It’s not a black and white thing.”
“There’s a reason we’re all working on the material and that reason comes from the source material. We have to have an open conversation to make sure that original feeling or tone makes it to the final product. You obviously can’t do a panel-by-panel translation when adapting a comic to a film. The screenwriters who write the feature adaptations can come from comics or graphic novels, but that’s not a necessity. It’s more about voice and point of view that makes me want to hire a writer.”
Despite a basic understanding of story, comic book writers and screenplay writers are often different in their creative processes. “It’s a case by case basis rather than a universal set of rules to describe what makes a good comic writer versus a good screenplay writer. In a broad sense, comics have more limited space for dialogue, so their stories must be more visual to convey their meaning.”
Mette Norkjaer warns screenwriters against over-thinking the writing process. “If you’re a writer you have to get your material out there. Keep writing. Once you finish one script, that’s great. Get it to your network. Get feedback. Then keep writing the next screenplay. That goes for screenwriters and for anybody. Perfect your craft. It’s a muscle. The only way to get better is to do the writing,” said Norkjaer. “Do the research if you want to enter the comic book space. Practice. It’s like any skill set.” Sadly, there are no shortcuts, so enjoy the process.
Mette was asked about her story preferences. “I like coming of age and underdog stories, but I do think specificity is vital. Write from a specific point of view. Once you get specific and authentic, that’s when those universal themes will come forward on their own. You’re not trying to impress anybody. You’re just trying to tell a story from your perspective and I think that is what will make your story jump off the page.”
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