Interview With Dr. Julian Darius CEO Of Martian Lit. And Sequart Organzation
Note: I have worked with Sequart Organization in the form of various projects in both writing and editing positions. I have never done work on any of their movies. Also I only know Julian Darius from my work for Sequart Organization and through social media. I was not paid, nor was I hired, to do this interview.
Note 2: Sequart's Movies can be found through Here or on Amazon.
Rip: Sequart Organzation has helped produce and sell several movies. Now, Sequart’s first movie was Grant Morrison: Talking With Gods directed by Patrick Meaney. So who approached who first regarding this project?
Julian Darius: Grant Morrison: Talking with Gods grew organically out of the book Patrick had written for us on The Invisibles. As we were putting it together, we were talking with Patrick at New York Comic-Con about seeing if Grant Morrison would agree to do an interview for it, the way he had for our earlier book Grant Morrison: The Early Years. Patrick mentioned that he was a filmmaker, and he suggested that we film the interview, if Grant would agree to it. The idea was basically to release it online, on Sequart's website or YouTube channel or something like that. Mike Phillips and I liked the idea, and I remember Patrick and Mike kind of running with it. I suspect that, once Patrick had us on board with filming the interview, he was probably the one to first tentatively bring up the then-crazy idea of turning this into a documentary. But from my perspective, it was one of those spitballing conversations, where ideas are thrown out and kind of escalate, while others like me are excited but worrying about the logistics. I'm often the "cool idea, but how is X, Y, and Z going to work?" kind of guy.
Anyway, the more we all talked together, the more we started dreaming of a bigger project. But while Grant had been marvelously kind to us, we didn't want to presume, or to take too much of his time. Ultimately, we pitched to him three different levels of involvement: just shoot the interview for the book, shoot more interviews spanning his career and either release them online or as a short documentary, or do a full-on documentary in which we followed him around a bit and also interviewed collaborators and others. To our joy, Grant chose this last option, and Talking with Gods was born.
So from my perspective, it was all very organic. I'm proud Sequart helped shepherd it into being, from the ground floor to the end, and I think we're really good at helping to sculpt projects like this, in collaboration with a writer or a filmmaker. There's a lot of work behind the scenes, including just practical stuff like coordination, budgets, travel, schedules, funding, release plans, and whatnot -- all of which is a collaboration to one extent or another, and probably never more so than on that first film, when we were all figuring out how to do an awful lot of this for the first time.
But I really need to make sure I give due credit to Patrick, who was astounding throughout. Sequart had the relationship with Grant, but once we said yes, it was Patrick's movie, and he put in the hard work of filming and editing. Put simply, no matter how organically that first movie evolved, Sequart would not have gotten into documentary films, were it not for Patrick. He proposed filming that interview, and he had the energy and drive to jump on the idea of a full documentary and really run with it. The guy's a genius, and he delivers. We collaborate, but ultimately Patrick has to execute and deliver the actual movie. And he delivers pretty amazing movies. I love the guy, and it's because of him that Sequart does films. Period.
Rip: Is it standard for that to happen, or has each movie come about differently?
Julian Darius: Each movie has been different. We have conversations with Patrick throughout the year, wherein we go through lists of potential movies. We're always brainstorming, and it's very collaborative. Someone, usually Patrick, throws out an idea, and we tweak it or shift it, and we think of ways to ground it in a story or to make it special. Patrick's great about finding the "hook" for a movie. Even though it's a documentary, it's got to have a narrative focus.
With others, it's a little different. We've known Robert Emmons, Jr., who directed Diagram for Delinquents, the documentary on Fredric Wertham, for many years. He used to film interviews at conventions for our site, years ago. He's a brilliant guy, an award-winning documentarian, and a joy to work with. He pitched a few ideas for movies, and we helped focus the idea that became Diagram for Delinquents. Bobby had a great initial idea there, and the movie kept evolving until its final form. There was definitely more of a traditional pitch process there, since Diagram for Delinquents didn't evolve from a Sequart book, but Bobby and Patrick are like family.
With everyone else, they have to pitch, same as with a book. Of course, it's a little more complicated, since the budgets are bigger, and we have to talk equipment and crews and transportation to shoot interviews. But it's the same sort of pitch process. We work with potential filmmakers to tweak an idea, to make a film different than what else is out there, and to make it work within a limited budget.
Rip: Have these movies garnered more attention and/or respect from the communities Sequart is known in?
Julian Darius: I think so. Movies have a tremendous power that we all know, but that I kind of had to experience as the head of Sequart to fully appreciate. I've spent years writing books, and at the end of the day, sales are what they are, and you hear that people were moved by it or influenced by it. But books are this kind of slow burn. There's a kind of scholarly reserve to them, if that makes sense. And they require a lot of time and thinking on the part of their readers. Movies can be super smart, but they're a much more powerful medium. It's easy to get someone to watch a movie, and the visuals and the sound make the experience so much more vivid. They can really take off in a way that books -- or at least books about comics -- can't. On the flipside, they don't have 300 pages to go into depth and cover all these little eddies and counter-arguments, the way a book can.
So one of the things I dealt with, as someone who grew up studying film and writing for it but who's really more of a solitary scholar, was this incredible response that the movies got. I could see a room full of people laughing and enjoying Talking with Gods, and I could see people sharing it and reviewing it all over the internet. Wired covered it, for God's sake. Wired is probably not going to cover a book about comics, no matter how cool or smart it is, unless it's got a celebrity author or something. That kind of outlet certainly didn't cover when we did The Early Years, which was the first book ever on Grant Morrison, and which sold so well that it would have made the best-seller lists for graphic novels, in the month it hit comics stores. Or when my book on Batman Begins came out before the DVD! This can be a little frustrating, as a scholar, but the truth is that a 90-minute movie is just not going to be able to compare to the depth of a book. On the other hand, a book can't begin to compare with the immediacy and the audiovisual coolness of a movie, and a movie can reach 100 times as many people. So I think they both have their place, and they're both important.
I also think they have different audiences, although it depends on the book or the movie in question. A lot of people who are willing to watch a movie about Grant Morrison might not want to read a 300-page book about his work. The movie audience is bigger, although the book's audience overlaps quite well. I do think that comics scholars, whether academics or fans, appreciate the movies, because they're sort of the tip of the spear. Our goal is to get people to take comics seriously, to understand them better and think deeper about them. And frankly, nothing is going to accomplish that more than a movie. So I think our book readers appreciate these movies, but I also think these movies can take our message (whether that message is overt or not) to a much broader audience.
Rip: As an executive producer and the head of Sequart do you give any significant input in a direct way on the movies, or is it more of a subtle way with the occasional direct way?
Julian Darius: My personal involvement depends on the movie. At the very least, I definitely have to okay any movie that we greenlight. I tend to have some sort of role in the planning stages. Sometimes, I give interview questions, though what's actually used in interviews is up to the filmmakers doing the actual interview. When there's an important pitch document, like that one to Grant Morrison, I usually draft it based on our group conversations, and then we collaborate on the edits -- but it's really rare that we need such a document anymore. Typically, Mike Phillips handles some coordination with interviewees, and he and I both give notes on drafts of the movies as they come in. We all have conference calls where we talk about what's working, what's not, what's missing, who else should be interviewed, what we could stage or dramatize, the movie's style and pacing, etc. We have the same calls about release and fundraising schedules, as well as press releases, DVD production, etc. Sometimes, Mike, me, or Jordan Rennert will screen a cut for our friends or family as a kind of test audience, recording their reactions and making sure references aren't lost on them. My own notes can occasionally be rather detailed -- I occasionally give notes suggesting where seconds can be removed from a shot that's too long, or how music can fade in or out a few seconds earlier. But that's relatively rare, and my personal involvement varies widely.
So I do think it's a collaboration, and I definitely have direct input on everything -- although how much really depends on the specific project. And at Sequart ultimately we defer to the filmmaker. That's important to us -- that once we greenlight something, we're committed to seeing it through and will help every step of the way, if needed, but that ultimately we're there to help the filmmaker or the writer see his or her vision through. We press our points, we make clear what's an idea and what we think is really, really important to do and why. But we're there to help, not to micromanage. And we're always willing to be wrong, or to defer to the consensus. For us, nothing at Sequart is about being right, or who does what, or stupid ego stuff. It's always about making the project and Sequart as a whole better.
Patrick in particular is really great about this sort of collaboration, because he always wants to know what's working and what isn't. He asks the right questions. He's definitely got a vision, and he's not shy about saying what doesn't fit it. But he's also open to suggestions, and he loves getting feedback.
Rip: Is there a dream topic you would love to see Sequart help explore on video?
Julian Darius: Sequart has lots of dream topics for documentaries. But we tend to get to them eventually. You may know that we're doing a Neil Gaiman documentary, directed by Patrick, and that was years in the planning and coordination. Neil's one of those writers, like Grant, that I grew up reading and who really helped teach me how to write and how to think seriously about comics. So the Neil Gaiman documentary was definitely a dream project (so to speak, given Neil's writing of Dream). Thanks to Neil's generosity, it's a dream project that's actually coming into being. And that's an amazing thing to be able to say.
I have my own dream topics -- ones that I'd love to direct, or find someone to direct, but that I don't have the time to do right now. It can also happen that the subject of a potential documentary is too modest, or too busy, or just impossible to contact. But I have faith that many of these topics will be done eventually, and I also don't presume that my own list of dream topics is necessarily anyone else's. Any list of books or documentaries is going to have holes, or things you wish were covered, and there are usually explanations behind the scenes for why they weren't. But the collection of topics that get produced is ultimately better because it doesn't reflect a single person's agenda. Including mine.