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Renowned comics writer Garth Ennis was on hand Thursday night at Comic-Con International in San Diego for the world premiere of Stitched, answering questions about his directorial debut and discussing plans for a horror-movie franchise.
The 15-minute short film is about three American soldiers who become stranded in Afghanistan and are forced to come to grips with the horror of their situation. Badly injured and without supplies, things go from bad to worse when they’re attacked in the desert by a gang of zombie-like creatures. Stitched marks the first foray into film for both Ennis and comics publisher Avatar Press.
The capacity crowd cheered and screamed during the film, which even won over many of those who were only in the ballroom to stake out seats for the Torchwood: Miracle Day screening that followed.
Stitched is well-written and well-acted, despite some indications that the film is a first-time effort. It’s high on mystery, which Avatar plans to flesh out in a comic series debuting in November and in a potential feature-length film.
After the screening, Ennis and a host of the cast and crew sat down for a quick Q&A about the film’s production. Comics writer Brian Pulido, who served as a producer and editor on Stitched, moderated the panel.
William Christiansen, founder of Avatar Press, talked briefly about the genesis of the project. “Like many of the projects I do with Garth, it involved a great deal of booze,” he said. He told Ennis he could do anything he wanted for Avatar and it was Ennis who suggested directing. “We got serious about it, sobered up, thought long and hard about it the next day and decided we do want to do this.”
Pulido was brought on as a producer and editor in April 2010, and the film was shot in Arizona over three days in March 2011.
“The easiest thing you can do [in a script] is have six guys walk in to a warehouse, and I thought I need to go as far from there as I possibly can,” Ennis said.
“Mission accomplished!” Pulido interjected.
“I thought I was going to be nervous, but to tell you the truth we were working so hard and so fast that I didn’t even have time to be nervous,” Ennis said when asked what it was like to direct. “I was the least experienced person on the set.”
“If I was going to put it in comic-book terms, the writing’s the same” he said. “They’re really not all that dissimilar.”
He talked about how, in a comic, the illustrator chooses shots and angles, while in a film the director of photography selects them.
Pulido then went down the line, asking the panelists to introduce themselves and give a short anecdote from the movie.
His wife Francisca Pulido, a producer and production designer, said the toughest part was finding a stand-in for Afghanistan in Arizona. “And I did it!”
Producer Ed Polgardy said they initially had wanted to shoot in Los Angeles, but it was so cost-prohibitive that they decided on Arizona.
Kate Kugler, who plays U.S. soldier Twiggy, said, “I’d never been so happy to be so dirty.” She revealed that she was taken aback after meeting Ennis, whom she described as a nice, calm man, then reading his comics and realizing there’s more to him than meets the eye.
Tank Jones, who plays U.S. soldier Pruitt, recalled how he had to re-do a shot of him falling on rocks many, many times, and how he was originally cast as one of the British soldiers.
Carlo LaTempa, who portrays British soldier Baz, said his favorite moment was having to take a “dirt bath” before his scenes so he could look sufficiently weathered.
Kevin Tye, who plays British solider Dave, said he thought it was funny how, of all the actors, he was told he looked most like a chiseled soldier, yet he was the only one who didn’t know how to hold a gun correctly.
Eric “Z” Zaragoza, who donned a latex mask as one of the “stitched” monsters, said, “I couldn’t see, hear or breathe. I’ve never done a stunt where I wasn’t allowed to breathe.”
When the audience Q&A began, Ennis was asked about his inspirations for the film’s horror elements. He replied that he wanted to avoid as many clichés as he could. “I was going for the idea of war zombies, like an undead war machine,” he said. “Infantry, shock troops, something you can’t stop with a bullet between the eyes.”
Questioned about the challenges of filming the Arizona desert, director of photography Adam Goldfine said they just had to work fast, as the sun would quickly change the lighting in shots. “More often than not, though, you just have to shoot and deal with whatever you get,” he said.
Responding to a question about the status of film adaptations of Preacher and The Boys, Ennis said there’s been steady interest from Hollywood in all of his comics, but cautioned that fans shouldn’t get their hopes up too much. Of all of his properties, he said The Boys probably has the best shot at going into production; however, “as usual, believe it when you see it.”
Asked whether he’d be interested in directing the Preacher film himself, Ennis responded, “To be honest with you, whoever ends up adapting that thing, God help them!”
He said that, unlike some of his other properties like The Boys, it’s impossible to take anything out of Preacher without ruining the story. “Each element in that story relies on the other.” He also said that it would be hard to produce because it’s blasphemous. “No one’s ever done a mainstream TV show where they say ‘Yes, God exists, but he’s a prick.’”