ALL PULP INTERVIEWS AGENT 13 SCRIBES DILLE AND MARCONI!
All Pulp’s Flint Dille and David Marconi interview
Note: the following interview with authors Flint Dille and David Marconi were conducted separately and compiled into a single interview by All Pulp.
AP: Welcome, gentlemen. Please tell us a little about yourselves and your pulp interests.
FD: Pulp was one of those things that I always knew was out there, but never really saw it until I was an adult. My father had a book called ‘The PULPS(Fifty years of American Pop Culture” or something by Tony Goodstone who had some connection with his ‘The Collected Works of Buck Rogers in the 25th Century project, so I knew the word and liked the lurid covers. I’d read bits and pieces of it when I was younger, but always in things like Conan reprints. I didn’t know it was a genre or that it came from disreputable magazines, it was always just sort of there.
As an adult, I started looking for it after Raiders of the Lost Ark came out. I wanted more like that. I knew that Pulp and old Radio Shows and Cliffhanger serials were all related. Pulps dated better because of the technical and budgetary limitations of the serials and the radio shows. (Though I listen to Classic Radio on XM and am constantly amazed by how good some of it is). In any case, when I talk about pulps, I’m referring to this Transmedia blur in my head of magazines, serials, radio shows, comic strips and paperback novels.
Anyway, one year at ComiCon I found some pulp mags sitting in an old bin while I was busy re-buying my childhood. You could buy non-pristine off-brand for $5 at the time. I loaded up on secret societies, lost cities, dangerous women, chthonic monsters, masked crime fighters and never looked back. It was about then that I realized that I was much more familiar with the pulps than I knew I was: Phillip Marlowe, the Shadow, The Phantom, Tarzan and all sorts of familiar characters came from the pulps. I liked the off brand ones the most for some reason, Operator #5, Secret Agent X, the Spider.
So I came home from ComiCon, probably 1985, with a pile of pulp stuff. Dave was crashed at my couch around that time, and we sat around reading the falling apart magazines and decided we’d take a film story we’d been pitching around do our own pulp. Our story was kind of Indiana Jones meets James Bond. I conned Gary Gygax into publishing the books at TSR. The movie pitch got us both writing jobs at Amblin’, but nobody put it into development.
DM: For me, the 20s, 30’s and 40s have always been a period of great interest. Good and evil were seen more in terms of black and white and the pulps became an extension of that world. The people who populated that world were also larger than life in many ways – much more interesting than the grayness of today’s world. The Pulps also reminded me of the Saturday morning action pictures my parents would take me to see at an early age. Many of the scripts I write today are a further extension of that world as well.
AP: What does pulp mean to you?
FD: I love pulp. Its pure entertainment. In its heyday it was non-literary stuff written by often extremely literate people who were being paid by the word. It was churned out fast, and you can feel it – in a good way. Nothing is labored, its pure inspiration, fully charged and loaded. I guess the best analogy in my mind is that its like a live concert as opposed to a studio album. No months of navel pondering, no rethink, just right there, right out and at its best you can almost feel the energy of some guy writing in a white heat trying to make a deadline.
It never occurred to me until this moment. Right now as I’m typing this, that at the time I was working in that tradition. I was working in the disreputable medium of animation. We were cranking out Transformers and G.I. Joe and Inhumanoids and Visionaries at an amazing rate, it was the kind of sprinting marathon that I get the feeling Robert E. Howard worked in. You can’t have written as much as he did and died at such a young age if you spent a lot of time meditating on each word. The thing that’s wonderful about Pulp is that you have beautiful, poetic lines side-by-side pure cliché. It’s not about crafting the words, its about always cutting to the visceral moment. I was also working on the Sagard books with Gary Gygax at the time, and even though they were ‘fight a path’ game books, they were heavily influenced by the pulps.
And we haven’t even mentioned the cover artwork. I have Pulp of the Day (http://www.pulpoftheday.com/) on my Google page. They reprint the covers from the old and mostly forgotten pulps. You look at those covers and you want to read the story. Doesn’t matter if it’s a western, and in captivity, I don’t even read westerns or a spicy mystery or a G-8 and his Air Aces, you’re sucked in.
Pulps also filled a hole in my understanding of the origins of two important American genres (and pulps are truly and deeply American): The Hard Boiled Detective and the Superhero. Something with the ‘reality’ of our world, but with a hint of the magic of comics – kind of like the way ‘Uranus’ was found by deduction (‘there must be something there’). Of course, it was staring me in the face. When I was in 6th Grade, poised on that magical precipice between childhood and adolescence, The Green Hornet was my favorite show. It wasn’t the show itself, as much as what I felt the show could be: the Black Beauty cruising the rain-slicked streets at night, a fence with a breath mint ad splitting apart, a secret world right inside ours.
What I didn’t know at the time, but somehow intuitively understood was that I was seeing a transitional hero – a guy who wore regular clothes and a mask who fought crime by night and ran a newspaper by day. The villains were mobs and gangs and the occasional themed enemy, but they didn’t have any powers. Nobody did. Nobody wore costumes that they couldn’t ditch in two minutes. Nobody had rays shooting out of their eyes. In short, I could grow up to be this guy. Those heroes wouldn’t stay around for long. They would, inside a generation go through a mutational mitosis process into, on one side guys in spandex (though spandex didn’t exist then) and on the other side private eyes in suits with no mask.
The Green Hornet, some iterations of the Shadow, the Spider, Operator #6 and Secret Agent X all existed somewhere on the edge of reality in that minute when we believed that you could throw on a mask and nobody would know your identity.
I love the artifice of pulp. The suspension. Sometimes you see pulp in real life. The North Hollywood Bank Robbers were simultaneously a modern phenomenon and something out of pulp. Masked men spreading terror, robbing banks and going down bad. The cops were larger-than-life heroes. Its like, for an hour, the rules of the real world were suspended.
DM: Ground up paper.
AP: As a writing team, you worked on three Agent 13 novels and Flint worked on two graphic novels with the character. Tell us a bit about Agent 13, his pulp connection, and what drew you to this character.
FD: Yeah. And we did a radio show that you can post if you have the bandwidth. It was a lot of fun. One day, we decided, ‘lets’ make an Agent 13 radio show.’ Next thing I knew, we had a recording studio of sorts, a mixer and sound effects guy, some actors (Dave played Walter Winchell), Peter Nelson, who was my executive at Sony Pictures on a film this year (not supposed to say what it is), played Itsu. Bill Winter played the Narrator. I think I played somebody, but can’t remember. We also did a year of TSR Comics Modules called 13 Assassin written, I believe mostly by Roger Slifer one of the other Producers on Transformers, and TSR did a game module for Top Secret on Agent 13. He had a great life.
DM: The book was born out of a “pitch” that Flint and I had put together and taken around to the studios to try and set up as a screenplay gig. A pitch is where you walk into a room filled with a bunch of bored studio executives and try to entertain them enough with your verbal story that they will open their wallets and actually pay you to than write the script.
After making the rounds to the various buyers, we had some nibbles but no bites. But what we did have was a fully flushed out story with characters. So Flint and I looked at each other and said why don’t we just write the books as Flint’s sister had just acquired TSR and we had access to their Random House deal. And once we started, we couldn’t stop.
AP: There are different approaches when two writers work together on a novel. What was the process like in writing these novels as a team?
FD: Damn. It was a long time ago. Maybe Dave remembers better than I do. I remember that he was in Lake Geneva for a long time doing a lot of heavy lifting (both our families live on the North Shore of Chicago and TSR was up in Lake Geneva about 45 minutes away. I remember writing a lot of it up in Carmel in a place called the Cypress Wordshop, and in a converted stable up at the Dungeons & Dragons mansion in Beverly Hills.
DM: We discussed and laid out the story together for the pitch. Once we decided to proceed with the books, Flint did his pass on the material. I then took what he had done, and went off to expand it a bit and do my version of it. So the stories became a mashup up of our two minds. Flint is great at coming up with the “outrageous,” truly unique idea. My strengths are taking his ideas, grounding them in a reality, and making them somehow believable. Thus we each compliment and bring something unique to “the table” so to speak.
AP: I’ve heard rumblings about the possibility of an Agent 13 movie. Any news you can share on this? Who would you like to see play Agent 13 and why?
FD: Yeah. Not sure what we can say about the movie right now. Let’s say that we’re in ‘deal mode’ right now. It’d be great to see that happen. But the movie interest, which came out of nowhere, did wake us up.
DM: Yes, there is renewed interest after all these years. Seems the project has come full circle in some strange way. Christian Bale, Russell Crowe, Daniel Day Lewis. I’ve always enjoyed them as actors and believe they truly have the abilities to become many different personalities in many different guises, which is what the character of 13 calls for.
AP: The original Agent 13 novels were released in the 1980’s. Any chance we may see these stories re-released? Are there plans for new Agent 13 books?
FD: Yes. The books are on Amazon Kindle right now and there is talk of re-releasing the Graphic Novels drawn by Dan Spiegle and a special book with all three novels, which are, more or less a continuity. Steve Forde at GoHero has done a great prototype figure. I’m also looking around for the rough draft of Overlords of the Underworld, which was the un-completed fourth novel that Mike Hill was working on. Yeah. It might be fun to do another Agent 13 novel at some point.
DM: I’ve heard some rumors. They are also currently available for Kindle download via Amazon.
AP: You have both had experience writing prose and screenplays. Can you explain to our readers some of the differences and similarities between writing for film and animation as opposed to novels and comic books? Does each simply work a different creative writing muscle?
FD: Novel writing is a marathon. There’s no set length, and it is truly a writer’s medium. Animation and screenwriting are very similar. Comics are a whole thing unto themselves as far as I’m concerned. Movies are about doing a story in time. Comics are about doing them in space – on a page. Very complex medium for somebody with no art skills.
AP: What do Flint Dille and David Marconi do when they’re not writing?
FD: Dave lives the perfect writer/director life. You never know what continent he’s on. He’s frequently seen with extraordinarily beautiful women and driving flashy cars. In fact, come to think about it, he might be Agent 13. I, on the other hand, live in Los Angeles, have two kids and live a much more mundane life.
DM: For me, it’s traveling to as many off-beat places that I can where I try live as full a life as possible. This feeds directly into my creative process and keeps me challenged on many levels and from getting stale or bored so to speak.
AP: Where can readers find learn more about Flint Dille and David Marconi and your work?
FD: Good question. Right now, I’m spread out all over the internet. I just discovered an interactive movie I directed in the 90’s there. One of these days I’m going to consolidate all of this glop somewhere for one big narcissistic Flint page.
DM: Not sure.
AP: Any upcoming projects you would like to mention?
FD: Unfortunately, everything I ever work on is NDA’d and you don’t know what you can say. I will say that, for good or for bad, that a lot of things I’m doing right now hearken back, one-way or the other, to the ‘80’s. I can talk Agent In Place which is over at Lionsgate. It was a game design doc that they bought as a movie. Also, I’m working on Sorcery at Sony. Oh yeah, and a book about Transmedia as a follow up to the Ultimate Guide to Videogame Writing and design.
DM: I just adapted a screenplay from 4 French graphic novels that Luc Besson is planning to do this summer. Right now the project is called THE BOUND but that title will most probably change. I have another movie I wrote that will be shot called DARK SIDE OF THE MOON, it was adapted from the Swiss novel by Martin Suter. That film will be directed by Oliver Hirschbiegel (DOWNFALL). Then I have my own pet-project, an original film I hope to get up and running this coming spring called; INTERSECTION which I plan to shoot in Morocco. I’m also writing two more movies for two European based companies. I do this to keep busy and fill in the time while I wait for things to happen.
In this business, there is a lot of “waiting for things to happen.” Things are happening when they’re actually up and running and the checks clear the bank. So my advice here is to keep producing and never wait around for things to happen or the phone to ring.
AP: Are there any upcoming convention appearances or signings coming up where fans can meet you?
FD: I’m speaking at a Transmedia Conference in Melbourne, Australia in January, but that’s a long swim for most people. There’s talk of my speaking at BotCon. Somebody ought to start up a PulpCon and have it in some old building in L.A.
DM: For me, no.
AP: David, you wrote the story that was the basis for Live Free Or Die Hard. How did the story, originally titled WW3.com, become the fourth film in the Die Hard series? In your initial story, was this a Die Hard movie? If not, is taking an existing story and molding it to fit pre-established characters a normal Hollywood situation?
DM: I had just completed ENEMY OF THE STATE and was hired by FOX to turn a WIRED MAGAZINE article; “A FAREWELL TO ARMS” by John Carlin, into a script FOX had optioned. After several drafts, the script I wrote; WW3.COM, was green-lit for a summer-action movie and they were looking for a big-name director. Then 9/11 occurred and the film was shelved, as no one wanted to make films about terrorism. Then several years later DIE HARD came along. They had struggled through several expensive ideas/scripts that they had commissioned and none of them hit the mark or delivered. Then someone at FOX remembered my script,WW3.com, which they owned and was sitting on a FOX shelf somewhere. So they pulled it off the shelf, hired a writer to re-tool/mold it, and turned my script into the next DIE HARD installment. The political aspects of my story were gutted out, but the action-story remained, as well as the characters. John McClane (Bruce Willis), Matt Farrell (Justin Long) and Thomas Gabriel, (Timothy Olyphant) all became mash-ups of the original characters I created for WW3.com. Such is the life of the writer. At the end of the day, you’re happy if the script gets made as so many in the studio-grind are tossed in the bin, never to be seen, or heard of, again. Is it the “norm” how my script was adapted into a franchise picture? No, but FOX owned my script outright as they commissioned it and were thus free to do with it as they saw fit.
AP: David, we often hear the story of writers or actors who go on to direct. You came about this in a different order, is that correct? How did you start your filmmaking career?
DM: I made my first “film” when I was 11. My father, who was the original inventor of “shaky cam” which later became a very successful technique for commercials to sell everything from soap to dog-food. I grabbed the camera and started shooting. That led to USC film school, working for Coppola on OUTSIDERS, RUMBLE FISH, and then onto a career of writing and directing. I must admit, it’s been a bit of a back and forth between the directing chair and the keyboard, but I’ve always stuck with it. Both offer different rewards. I love the freedom that writing provides, but I also love the ability to follow-through on the original vision of the story – and watch the characters come to life through the process.
AP: And finally, gentlemen, what advice would you give to anyone wanting to be a writer?
FD: Probably the same thing they hear everywhere. Do it every day. Put in your 10,000 hours (see Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers). Finish projects. Get them out there through any available means. Tenacity is the greatest virtue you can have. Luck is good, too. But to some extent you make your luck.
DM: The SECRET to writing is to write. It’s a pain in the arse, no doubt, but if you do it enough, eventually someone will respect you enough to pay you to do it.
AP: Thanks, gentlemen.