Thomas Jane & Tim Bradstreet
Double FeatureInterview by Joshua Jabcuga
Thomas Jane is an actor who has taken on some iconic roles. He played the lead in THE PUNISHER. Mickey Mantle in 61*. And he's also starred in two films based on the work of Stephen King, most recently THE MIST. He's currently in post-production on his directorial debut, THE DARK COUNTRY. Thomas Jane is also no stranger to the comic book medium or its fans, thanks in large part to his work with fan favorite artist Timothy Bradstreet.
Tim Bradstreet is an Eisner-award nominated illustrator/production designer who has been working in the comic book industry for over twenty years. Perhaps best known for his work on books like THE PUNISHER, HELLBLAZER, and CRIMINAL MACABRE, Bradstreet's work has always had a cinematic quality that has jumped off the racks.
It should be no surprise then that Thomas Jane and Tim Bradstreet are partners with their own multimedia company, RAW STUDIOS. In this exclusive interview with The Cult, Thomas Jane and Tim Bradstreet talk to comic book writer Josh Jabcuga about their latest project, the extremely unique STEPHEN ROMANO'S SHOCK FESTIVAL.
(To read part one of the interview, with Stephen Romano, click here.)
Joshua Jabcuga: Tom, you've been keeping busy with your directorial debut, THE DARK COUNTRY. You've worked with so many great filmmakers, everyone from Frank Darabont to Terrence Malick. What are some of the things you've learned as a storyteller that you were able to utilize while filming THE DARK COUNTRY?
Thomas Jane: Stick with the story. Take every shot that does not forward the story and cut it out of the film.
JJ: Can you give us any update on the status of this film?
JANE: We're in the final stages of mixing and adding FX and score. I just got back from a marathon session with Eric Lewis, our composer, who's giving the film a kind of grand menace. I like to think of the score as Bernard Hermann meets Penderecki.
JJ: Tim, you served as the production designer for THE DARK COUNTRY. What did you take away from your time working on the film?
Tim Bradstreet: A pocketful of experience. I still have a lot to learn but working on a low budget genre film was the perfect way to get my feet wet. I was spoiled somewhat too. Tom let me all the way in so I was involved in a lot. I had some small input with the script, was involved with casting, music, sound design, I worked with the FX unit, directed the gallery shoots in conjunction with our still photographer . . . I got to wear a lot of hats. I also got to sit at the right hand of our Director Of Photography, Geoff Boyle. Geoff was very cool and patient cause I asked a lot of questions. That was a tremendous kick for me. I remember saying to Tom, if I never work on another film I'll always have this experience.
JJ: Tom, we know you're a fan of comic books, even having your own company (RAW Studios) with Tim. Any comic books you're reading these days that you're really digging?
JANE: Millar's KICK ASS. Brubaker's CRIMINAL. Anything by Charles Burns. Joe Hill's LOCKE AND KEY. And there's a great adaptation Marvel put out of MOBY DICK.
JJ: The two of you actually met because of comic books.
BRADSTREET: It started with us meeting while I was doing a gallery shoot and movie posters for THE PUNISHER, but that quickly led to us striking up a lasting friendship and we eventually became business partners.
JJ: There must be a tremendous amount of mutual respect and faith in the other's abilities--you seem to live vicariously thru him.
BRADSTREET: After THE PUNISHER I used him as a model for Nick Fury (for a PUNISHER cover), a teaser poster for a film concept (THE LURKERS) we at one time had over at Lion's Gate, tons of other PUNISHER related things including the DVD extended cut animated intro and a pre WARZONE teaser design. Tom is also the face of Steve Niles' famed antihero, Cal Mcdonald, so he's our cover boy for CRIMINAL MACABRE over at (publisher) Dark Horse.
Tom's great, he's got that old school look. He's Gary Cooper, Steve McQueen, you know? So yeah, in a way Tom has become that frequent collaborator, and I gotta tell you, there is a world of difference between using my normal stable of fantastic friends and relatives who have no experience in front of a camera, and a guy like Tom who knows how to bring life into a character whether that's in a film production or a still shoot. The camera loves him.
JJ: Tom, are you the De Niro to Bradstreet's Scorsese?
JANE: That's a good way to put it. Tim inspires me. He's got a fantastic cinematic eye. Plus an encyclopedic knowledge of actors, films and old TV shows. The guy is a freak. He's got one of the biggest film score collections I know. He listens to the shit all the time while he's working, and I think it shows in the final product. Tim's work inspires the kind of stuff I want to see on film, that gritty realism and great artistic sensibility thrown in with meaty, pulpy Crime stories or Westerns or a heist flick. We're dying to get that look and feeling captured on film. We're gonna do it. Just a question of when. Oh yeah - plus he makes me look good.
JJ: Let's talk about the book that your RAW Studios and IDW Publishing has just released, STEPHEN ROMANO'S SHOCK FESTIVAL. Stephen told me the development of SHOCK FESTIVAL went full throttle when you came on board. When you were first approached, what percentage of the book had been completed? Were you familiar with Stephen's work prior to this?
BRADSTREET: Stephen was just beginning the book when he first contacted me. We met back around the turn of the century when I was visiting Austin for a comics show and visit with my friend Guillermo Del Toro. Met Stephen during an impromptu Del Toro screening of PHANTOM OF THE PARADISE. Stephen showed up with a horror trailer reel with stuff like DEAD AND BURIED and THE BEAST WITHIN. Naturally we hit it off right away. We kept in touch through the years so SHOCK FESTIVAL wasn't too out of the blue. He emailed me this tremendous pitch for what he was aiming to do and it was like magic time. As a movie poster collector and fanatic of the art form I was immediately smitten with the idea. I'd created my own poster art for kicks often enough and here was Stephen giving the whole idea a purpose. The book/concept was in the beginning stages but he already had a bunch of art put together. Stephen pretty much taught himself to draw and paint specifically for this project.
JJ: Was it Tim who originally brought Stephen Romano's idea to you, Tom, and what was your initial reaction?
JANE: That's right. My reaction was "of course." It seemed like a natural and organic extension of what RAW Studios (editor's note: RAW Studios, run by Thomas Jane and Tim Bradstreet, co-branded the book with IDW Publishing) is all about - creating a haven for the extremely talented and equally demented artist. My first thought about SHOCK was "You mean no one has done this yet?"
JJ: How involved did you get with the nuts and bolts of this book? Did Stephen give you some rough ideas and then you rolled from there?
BRADSTREET: It was total jam session and easily one of the most joyful collaborations of my career. I brought a bit of a different angle to the package that we didn't have yet, but that fit harmoniously within the context of the project. He gave me free reign to come up with my own ideas and films and I'd often provide him with a brief story synopsis. I'd send Stephen over these pretty slick layouts complete with graphic elements, logos, taglines, all in layers. Then he would give my art what I like to call "The Shock Treatment"...he'd desaturate, add water damage, grit, old musty-crusty poster folds, he even played with the compositions in some cases or moved logos, changed fonts to a style and vibe more appropriate. He didn't really change much at all, but the things he DID change were the absolute RIGHT things. I never felt like my toes were being stepped on. It was like perfect synchronicity. SHOCK was an opportunity for me to work in a style I love, more as a graphic designer, so it was a chance to spread my wings a bit and do something completely different from what folks have seen me do.
JJ: The addition of Tom's presence seems like an integral element to the book, in the sense that this bizarro world you guys invented becomes very much real and authentic, albeit in a surreal way. It's sort of like, "Wait, this is supposed to be a work of fiction, but I recognize THAT GUY! I've SEEN that face in the movies before."
BRADSTREET: Getting him in SHOCK FESTIVAL was Stephen's idea. I used existing shots I had. We shot nothing specifically for the book. Tom became Elliot Swann nonetheless, so he also became Molly Machine AND Nathan Oblivion. A rip roaring, cigarette smoking, hard drinking, B movie actor who was so dedicated to his craft he successfully created two careers for himself, as a leading man and doubling for a woman in a successful string of hit films. Stephen's brainchild again. Tom never even batted an eye. He loved it. I was having so much fun with the RIDING SHOTGUN poster that I decided to do a sequel called EDGE OF OBLIVION, where Nathan Oblivion lives and fights in a landscape of toxic waste and mutated zombie antagonists. On the poster he's kinda being dragged down into Hell. Stephen wrote the movie and the whole idea into the book. We fed off each other. I still have a bone chip from his elbow lodged in my teeth.
JJ: Tom, can you tell me about Elliot Swann, the character you portray?
JANE: Don't know much about him, except I hear he's not gay. That and at one time Elliot Swann was very famous in underground 'Hollyweird' circuits for putting cigar butts out on his bare chest in the seedier bars in Echo Park. Tim and I are always brainstorming shit. Elliot was born out of one of those skull sessions between the two of us, and the rest I had absolutely nothing to do with, except perhaps to provide an encouraging sounding board for the madness from time to time.
JJ: Were you a fan of grindhouse/exploitation cinema? Were you into that scene, catching the double bills, going to drive-ins, seeing midnight screenings, hunting down videotapes?
BRADSTREET: I am a fan but that came later. Initially I did see a lot of that stuff but I was so young when I was first exposed to it (a child of the 70's) that I didn't realize it was a thing of its own. When I was a kid there was this drive-in, right off the interstate, and every once in a while we'd drive by at night when they were showing films. I used to get exited by catching a glimpse because I got a face full of Russ Meyer's SUPER VIXENS one fateful night. That's the drive-in where I first saw Mad Max. I didn't really realize they were exploitation films until a little later in life when I got into film. The term "grindhouse" was something I only became familiar with in the late Eighties watching Sonny Chiba films or stuff like ASSAULT ON PRECINT 13 at the local revival hangout, the Castle Theater, in Bloomington Illinois. I love exploitation films. There is a singular charm to low budget. I love stuff like George A. Romero's KNIGHTRIDERS and even lower budget fare like GALAXY OF TERROR. Videotape is what really exposed me... when my family FINALLY got a beta max I would be at the video store almost every night renting four movies at a time. Stuff like THE CAR, MAUSOLEUM, SHOCKWAVES, etc...all the way up to the American International and Corman stuff. Like Stephen and thousands of other genre fans out there, when I got access to a VCR I became insatiable for trigger tripping entertainment, and it was finally within my grasp.
JJ: Do you have any personal recommendations, Tom?
JANE: Always. Right now I'm checking out the incomparable MESSAGE FROM SPACE which I can't tell you anything about because it's all in Japanese and has never been translated. Impossible to find, I first came across this sci fi gem at BURNING MAN '06 but you may be able to find it in Japan. It's put out by TOEI VIDEO.
And if your reading this I'm sure you've already heard of CARNIVAL OF SOULS. I'm re-watching that now and it's brilliant. Like French New Wave cinema made in Kansas in the '60's by hot rod mechanics. Must see.
JJ: Tim, what are some of your favorite films of that type, and did any in particular inspire your vision for DEAD HEAT IN COLD BLOOD and BLACK MAN'S CURVE? What were you aiming for?
BRADSTREET: Well DEAD HEAT IN COLD BLOOD was visually inspired by WHATEVER HAPPENED TO BABY JANE. It's pretty much a straight rip-off of the composition; I even stole the hilarious "Warning" label. I love that poster design so much that I simply HAD to do it homage. Naturally I filled the frames with my characters and came up with a concept. It's not a gothic psychological horror tale, more of a sly, gritty, brutal, biker, crime/action thriller in the guise of something highbrow. The original title was THE HELL RIDERS, but Stephen thought that title was taken so I started to think of interesting titles like DEAD HEAT ON A MERRY-GO-ROUND, which somehow led me to IN COLD BLOOD. Then I thought, combine the two . . . the very spirit of exploitation! Likewise, BLACK MAN'S CURVE was originally DEAD MAN'S CURVE, starring Leon Curve as a blaxploitation version of Steve McQueen's BULLITT. Stephen again didn't want to repeat a title. I was like fuck Jan And Dean. But he was right, it needed its own identity. Again, the jam just worked.
JJ: So often those old one-sheets and trailers were way cooler than the movies themselves were. What goes into designing a killer one-sheet? And in a technical sense, how have you seen the medium and possibly even the function of movie posters evolve?
BRADSTREET: It's all about iconicness, if that's a word I can use. Selling the star and the concept. I absolutely HATE the way studios only like to appeal to the lowest common denominator, like audiences don't have a brain in their heads, like we're just a bunch of entertainment seeking automatons. There is an art that is mostly lost these days with Photoshopped head shots. You see the same thing over and over and over ad nauseum. Everything looks the same because there is hardly any originality. It's the most incestuous art form going today. One good idea shows up and then everyone is on it like ants to honey. The Internet stuff especially, where it's been broken down into "every one of our marquis stars gets their own poster." Gone are the wonderful paintings, it's all gone digital. Drew Struzan is one of very few actual painters still working in the medium, though I just heard he's retiring. Bob Peake is a particular favorite of mine. That's all been replaced by small scenes at the bottom of the poster with giant "God Sky" shots. Look at SHOOTER, CLOVERFIELD, THE HAPPENING, and FLAGS OF OUR FATHERS/LETTERS FROM IWO JIMA, and you'll see the same poster design, only the foreground theme and the color tint of the sky changes. It's actually an accurate microcosm of where our entertainment is right now, formulaic and unoriginal. An industry caught up in the remake, the reboot, and the sequel. Still, those teasers and one sheets released on the Internet are all important to marketing and promotion.
JJ: Tom, in THE MIST you played David Drayton, an artist who painted movie posters. Here you are in a book that features cool-as-hell movie posters along with Stephen's intricately detailed story. Do you have a personal favorites from the book that you wish you could bring to the big screen for real?
JANE: I've got a couple. But rather than tell you what they are, why don't I put my money where my mouth is and make the damn things?
JJ: STEPHEN ROMANO'S SHOCK FESTIVAL is about paying homage to legacies, real or otherwise, and by-gone eras. What do you want your legacy to be, Tim?
BRADSTREET: Thankfully I've never been that flavor of the month guy. I've always sat back and quietly did my thing. I never wanted to be Alex Ross, this hugely popular guy. I'm extremely proud of him but I like living on the fringe. I don't want to be Elvis, I want to be Gene Vincent or Eddie Cochran. A goddamn good artist, but the kind of guy you have to look around a bit to find 30 years later. It's up to the response of others to determine my place in this era. Fuck, Bernie Wrightson, Frank Frazetta, Al Williamson, and Michael Kaluta are still around and kicking ass. I'm nobody.
JJ: Speaking of legacies, Hollywood lost Paul Newman this year, a true actor's actor. In my opinion Newman's HUD is one of the greatest antiheroes ever portrayed on screen. His performance really FELT dangerous. SHOCK FESTIVAL is a tribute to the maverick spirit of cinema. The risks. The DANGER. I'm still in disbelief that someone actually "got" what Nolan was trying to do with THE DARK KNIGHT RETURNS and had the guts to release it. With test audiences and script doctors and "director's cuts," it often feels like cinema has lost that sense of urgency and those moments that don't seem like they were planned in advance by committee. Tom, do you ever think that Hollywood has lost its balls?
JANE: Let's tell the truth. Hollywood has not lost its balls. We have. Hollywood will be glad to make and sell any goddamn thing that people will buy. No scruples here. If it sells, make three of them! We all pine for the 70's - when antiheroes ruled and people were lauded for 'not doing interviews.' They're artists for Christ sakes, leave them alone. We were all hunting for the dark night of the soul, and when EASY RIDER hit it at the box office - the studios opened their doors and their pocket books to the rebels. Then came STAR WARS and the gig was up. Now a whole new legion of fanboys are gorging themselves on over-the-top SFX - sitting glassy eyed in the dark while studio and filmmakers throw all their energy and talent and money into the latest and greatest cinematic fireworks. But when we leave the theater, is there anything worth talking about? Did anything stick to your gut like the last scene of TAXI DRIVER?
Joshua Jabcuga is the writer of such comic books as SCARFACE: DEVIL IN DISGUISE, and is a regular contributor at Comics101.com. This is his third piece for the Cult. Previously, he interviewed Jack Ketchum about the film adaptation of THE GIRL NEXT DOOR.