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Bryan Edward Hill on writing for comics, TV and film, and why he doesn't want to work on Star Wars
Bryan Edward Hill likes to keep busy.
The dude seems to have about a dozen projects always percolating, and those are just the ones he’s able to publicly discuss. Hill has AWA Studios' Chariot, his fresh-to-press creator-owned comic with artist Priscilla Petraites, in stores now. He’s writing Dark Horse Comics' Far Cry: Rite of Passage, the tie-in comic for the Far Cry 6 video game franchise. He’s a producer on the Titans television series as it nears a wrap on Season 3 production. And he’s also a screenwriter currently banging away at the script for the upcoming big-screen Power Rangers adaptation.
In Hill’s world, time is more valuable than any cryptocurrency because of his wide-body To-Do List. “I just finished up the Far Cry comic book, that was on my plate until a few weeks ago,” he says during a Zoom interview with SYFY WIRE. “Right now it's mostly just TV and film. And then when I can, I'm working on a movie that I want to direct later on this year, but that's like a personal art project. So I have to squeeze in time for that, where I can.”
How has he managed to crack the time-management theorem that plagues most writers? “Part of it is, I don't have any kids, so that gives me a lot more free time than a lot of people who are raising kids,” Hill says. “Also, I've been writing a long time, so I can put down pages pretty quickly. Like for instance, I'm rewriting a screenplay that I’m turning in tomorrow. End of business. When I got that gig, I could take a look at it, look at what the producers and director wanted me to do, and just get a feel that this is a 14-hour job, or three work sessions, or whatever. Basically, the more time you put in the dojo, the more you can understand how long it will take to do this or that.”
For Hill, writing isn’t something you do when the inspiration hits you. You have to write every day. “Let's say I'm working on a feature, right? If I write five pages a day on this feature, then I can get a draft done in a month. Five pages is a lot of time at the desk, so sometimes I'll write more, and I'll never write less,” he says from his sleek, minimalist room, which looks like what a room in Neil McCauley’s house would look like today if he hadn’t gone after Waingro in Michael Mann’s Heat.
Hill is a comics renaissance man, one of several present-day talents helping to redefine what the career for a comics professional is in today’s multi-hyphenate age. Anyone who follows BEH on Twitter — and you should, especially if understanding the craft of storytelling interests you — knows he’s a big time fan of comics. Comics is what nearly made him go into a career chasing bad guys, instead of writing about them. It’s partly why people responded so well to his run on Batman and The Outsiders with artist Dexter Soy. Readers of that book knew it was being written by someone who not only understood the characters, but had true affection for them. It’s why he says one of the highlights of his tenure on Titans was a moment during a break in shooting with Brenton Thwaites, who plays Dick Grayson on the show.
“I was talking to Brenton about some kind of thing that we had to do in the episode, and he's wearing the Robin outfit,” Hill recalls. “So like 90% of you is going, 'I’m a professional television writer-producer, and I'm having a conversation about whatever.' But then there’s that 10% part of your brain that is saying, 'Man, that’s Robin.' And I’m really excited about it.”
But despite the love he has for the characters, comics are just part of his professional portfolio. He bounces between TV, film, and comics regularly, and says he has a novel and stage play in the works, too. The St. Louis native prefers doing self-contained arcs on books so he can juggle other opportunities. Even with his own idea, American Carnage, which he did for DC's Vertigo imprint, he resisted stretching it beyond the nine-issues he felt it was suited for, even though a 12-issue mini-series is more the industry standard. He's admitted that story, a searing look at white supremacy in America, took a lot out of him personally. And that's likely why he seems hesitant to revisit it.
"I think I've pretty much said as much as I can say about the role of violent white supremacy in American culture within those nine issues," he says. "I don't think I have much more to offer on the subject, but there are other aspects of American crime, of American inequity, of American struggle, like the interface with law enforcement, that I think could be interesting."
With Chariot, Hill gives a tip of the cap to the bright lights and fast cars that helped define 1980s action movies, with a nod to the aforementioned Michael Mann’s visual aesthetic and synth-heavy, new wave music. A call from Axel Alonso, who helped launch AWA Studios, put him on the path to working with Petraites, an artist whose work Hill had long admired. “Axel reached out to me and I said I really want to work with Priscilla. I think she's amazing. Um, so can we facilitate that?,” he recalls.
Hill says the idea for Chariot came about as the two creators got to know each other and what they were looking to do. “I like to talk to the artist because I consider them like a storytelling partner. When you're in the initial concept phase of things, I want to know what they want to do and what they don't want to do,” he says.
After sharing some of the ideas from his journal, notes about sexy characters, slick action, and insanely cool cars, Petraites was fully on board with the idea. Chariot is a wildly inventive book about the ultimate super-spy vehicle that disappeared during the Cold War. When a thief finds the “Chariot,” he learns that the agent that used to drive it is still in control of the car. It's a visceral mix of Knight Rider, Thief, and even Walter Hill’s The Driver, and the kind of thrill ride that Bryan Edward Hill was looking for to cleanse his creative palette.
“I tend to write these dark, intense things a lot, like even the Far Cry comic that I have coming out,” he says. “So with Chariot, I wanted to do something breezy, that really felt like recreation for me.”
With the Power Rangers, Hill is wading into the deep waters of franchise development. Based on the Japanese entry Super Sentai, Power Rangers is a huge property with a giant fan base and lots of toys. Hasbro, which now owns the Power Rangers brand, hired Hill to do the screenplay for director Jonathan Entwistle. Hill is quite aware that working on any movie where licensing is involved brings its own unique challenges.
“With these bigger jobs with bigger IPs and all of that, there's a lot of conversation that happens before you sit down and you actually type, because no one wants to get a surprise in their inbox,” Hill says. “When you're dealing with these huge, billion-dollar brands, there's a lot of moving parts to deal with. So you have a lot of discussions and preliminary documents, outlined treatments, that kind of thing. That way everyone is on board with the story you're trying to tell, and then you can go tell your story.”
Hill says the Power Rangers experience has been a thrill, and credits the director for having a compelling vision for the movie. “I can’t go into any creative details, but Jonathan's a very talented storyteller, he's a genius really in a lot of ways,” he says. “I'm having a blast kind of working with him, telling the story that he wants to tell.”
Hill points out that a writer’s approach needs to adjust when working on a high-profile property like Power Rangers. “Your job as a screenwriter in these scenarios is to tell the story that they want to tell more than it is your sort of tour de force, right? So you’ve got to believe in the vision of the people that you're working with, and when it comes to Jonathan, I certainly believe in his vision for it.“
While discussing navigating the world of Hollywood’s IP wonderland, I asked Hill if he had dream franchises he would like to take on. He surprised me by revealing he spends just as much time thinking about the franchises he doesn’t want any part of. Not because he’s not interested, but because he’s eager to hold on to some things as just…a fan. “You have to ask yourself, what are the things that you actively have to do when you work in this business to preserve the candle, the flame of your initial excitement about these characters and these worlds,” he says.
“One of the things I love about working with Jonathan [on Power Rangers] is that Jonathan reminds me of a friend I would have had in grade school. Like we can have a 45-minute conversation about whether or not Boba Fett could beat Storm Shadow,” Hill says, confirming that this was an actual conversation that took place. “Like, he's that dude. And it's such a great reminder of why you initially got interested in this stuff. I am invested into continuing to be a fan of stuff. And I'll tell you, it has prevented me from working on certain things or taking certain meetings because I don't want to be part of it professionally.”
(For the record, that argument ended in a sort-of tie where it was decided that if the fight involved Return of the Jedi's Boba Fett, then Storm Shadow would win easily. However, Fett from The Mandalorian would be the winner. “In the great summit, that's about where we ended up at right there,” Hill says.)
Hill has seen that passion and love be sapped by the realities and complexities of the film industry, and he’s eager to hold on to it for at least one childhood favorite. “Like I tell everyone, and I sincerely mean this, I don't want to work on Star Wars. I just want to watch it. I just want to read it. I just want to play it,” Hill says.
What if Jon Favreau and Dave Filoni come calling and ask Hill to write an episode of The Mandalorian, I ask? The answer, he insists, would be no. “I genuinely mean it, because you run out of things where you can just be a fan. So I don't want to work on Star Wars because I don't want to know. I just want to watch the characters.”
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The views and opinions expressed in this article are the author's and do not necessarily reflect those of SYFY WIRE, SYFY, or NBCUniversal.