20 years ago, The Crow burst into movie theaters, and 20 years later, it continues to fascinate us. The question has always been whether it would have been as successful had star Brandon Lee not died towards the end of production, due to a faulty gun prop. Lee played Eric Draven, a dead rocker bent on revenge after his girlfriend was raped and murdered while he watched and then he too was killed in Detroit on Devil’s Night, October 30th. The critically acclaimed movie, based on the James O’Barr comic book of the same name, achieved cult status…and some terrible sequels.
On Thursday night, O’Barr made his first appearance at New York Comic-Con at the panel “Twenty Years of “The Crow” with James O’Barr,” where he talks about the original film as well as the upcoming reboot.
O’Barr said he was hesitant before meeting chosen director Javier Gutierrez because of the previous Crow sequels. But when he met him, Gutierrez said, “I don’t wanna make the Brandon Lee film. I want to make the book.”
Only about 40 percent of what was in the original film was in the book because it was budgeted for $10 million and a lot of compromises had to be made. For the reboot, they went with a new studio — Relativity films — and said, “We’re a team. We’re gonna do this.”
Hollywood asked to make it PG-13.
O’Barr laughed and said he was like, “Well, we’re leaving now.” They were thinking more for the Twilight crowd. O’Barr said to them, “You need to think of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo crowd.” To the panel audience he said, “which made a lot of money.”
Hollywood wanted Luke Evans to play Eric. The director and he looked at a bunch of actors in Crow makeup to play Eric. “I said, “this is the guy. This is perfect. And it was Luke Evans. He flew over from England [paid for own ticket] to get my blessing.”
O’Barr went on to say the two films — the original and its upcoming reboot — would be like the difference between Bela Lugosi’s and Francis Ford Coppola’s Dracula – from same source material but so different.
Also, it will be as far away from Brandon Lee film as possible — more art house. Some parts will be in black and white, some in technicolor, and some in 1970’s-style grainy.
As far as the music — the music of the first film were all friends of O’Barr’s doing him a favor, except for The Cure; for this new one, he wasn’t going to let them use his name unless he had input in casting and soundtrack and other stuff. “They are letting us do what we wanna do. They let us do that with the other film too because me, Brandon, and Alex were pains in the ass.” And it also didn’t have a big budget. This time there is a lot bigger budget and more people involved and there’s “flashbacks, metaphors, horses, trains, and barbed wire. I want the violence to be as ugly as possible.”
He goes back to Luke Evans: “You know if a film doesn’t do well, they always blame the actor. So much is in the hands of the director. I hope Dracula Untold [which stars Evans in the lead role and opens today] does well. Luke is one of those British actors that become the role. He’s growing his hair out and working out. He’s on the cover of Men’s Fitness. I’m pretty excited.”
Here’s some of the audience Q&A from the panel:
Q-You originally wanted one of the fight scenes reflected in a pool of blood?
A-That’s definitely in there. I wanted to do a big shootout reflected in blood. That’s something that can definitely work in film. It’s gonna be really visually striking. Every time I think about it I’m thinking camera angles and filters. I do have some trepidation but Hollywood has been through 10 scripts and are retaining actors and have spent a couple mil already.
Q-Have any bands signed on for the soundtrack yet?
A-It’s a period film in the 80s. I wanted some vintage-vintage…it’s not that old. I’m looking at some new bands that have that post-industrial sound — some depressing music.
Q-There’s a rumor that Norman Reedus was going to play a role.
A-At one point we were looking at him for the Funboy character but…The Walking Dead. We looked into Kristin Bell to play Shelley, but scheduling conflicts.
Q-You grew up poor and in Detroit. Will it be filmed in Detroit?
A-The exteriors are in Detroit. It’s a ready-made apocalypse. It’s essentially an abandoned city, built on one industry and that industry left. The city is bankrupt. They are filming Batman vs Superman over there. There’s a lot of vacant buildings. The policy is….you can blow up any building as long as you clean up afterwards. Not a lot of set dressing to make Detroit look like Detroit.
Q-Will you use CGI or will it be real?
A-What can be real will be real. I don’t use computers for any of my artwork. Little bit of chaos theory. You can’t fake it. With CGI, everything is too perfect. Anything we can film live, we will.
Q-I know the original has been released and rereleased. Skull cowboy – any chance that will come out?
A-There is a director’s cut of the Brandon Lee film, but only the director has it. The director got really disgusted with Hollywood. He went to Australia and never came back. I, Robot was dark, but then Will Smith came and it was a comedy. And Shia Labeouf…
Q-If this film takes off will you do other arcs of The Crow?
A-HBO showed interest in a limited thing. I’d like to do a True Detective thing with a definite end, but one thing at a time.
Q-Do you have a Director of Photography?
A-Javier has some DPs he’s worked with. No one is specifically picked yet. We’re in pre-production…what stages need to be built and what locations.
Q-Any advice on how to maintain control of your characters like you maintained The Crow?
A-Don’t take the big check. [Laughs]. I said no to Hollywood. I still own the character. They have to pay me for the shitty sequels. They offered me money to sign him over. That’s my child. It would have turned into Lethal Weapon with Zombies. I demanded to be involved. I thought I only had one shot to do it right. I was involved from beginning to end and will be with this one [O’Barr was named creative consultant in 2013]. We’re artists and poor with a work-til-you-die retirement plan and healthcare — what’s that? It was too personal for me to hand over.
Q-Have you spoken to Brandon’s family?
A-I spoke to Shannon about it. After explaining that it has nothing to do with Brandon’s film….I loved Brandon. He was like a little brother to me. I would never do anything that would be disrespectful. She has a “wait and see” attitude.
Q-Will you make any Crows you didn’t write?
A-I liked Hellbound a lot. But I have too many stories of my own. I have a really specific vision.
Q-Is there any chance of your own band’s music making it on there.
A-That’s a lot of noise. Two guys and a drum machine. It’s abrasive. We’ll see. Prob not.