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Joe Kelly Interview: I Kill Giants

Writer Joe Kelly penned the script for I Kill Giants, the live-action adaptation of his 2009 graphic novel of the same name. The story of I Kill Giants follows Barbara Thorsen (Madison Wolfe), an acerbic young girl who distances herself from others in order to stay vigilant in her mission to protect her small town from the likes of villainous giants. Though her sister Karen (Imogen Poots) and school psychologist Mrs. Mollé (Zoe Saldana) try to reach out, it's new girl Sophia (Sydney Wade) who finally connects with Barbara. Still, school bully Taylor (Rory Jackson) and the ever present threat of giants force Barbara to face some of her greatest fears.

Kelly and co-creator/artist J.M. Ken Niimura launched I Kill Giants as a comic book series in 2008 from publisher Image Comics. The limited series was compiled into the graphic novel and released in 2009. It has since been nominated for an Eisner Award and inspired a dedicated fan-following who have connected with the story of Barbara. Now, I Kill Giants is taking on a new life as the live-action adaptation from director Anders Walter arrives.

Related: I Kill Giants Movie Trailer

In an interview with Screen Rant to promote the release of I Kill Giants, Kelly spoke about writing both the graphic novel and the movie script, whether he believes fans should read the book or see the movie first, and which other of his projects he'd like to see adapted to live-action.

Screen Rant: First off, I wanted to ask about the graphic novel. How did you come up with the idea and develop it?

Joe Kelly: So my non-spoilery version of that answer is I was a relatively new parent. I had two young children, my daughter was about five or six at the time, and I was faced with a big life event and it got me thinking about all sorts of major issues that one thinks about. I was sort of thinking about it through the eyes of my daughter, who is very sassy and salty and I was trying to get [her] into all the geek culture I loved and it didn’t quite stick. She has a firm grip on cool movies, but I couldn’t get her into comics. So the character of Barbara arose out of picturing her as a little bit older, as somebody who gravitated towards really smart, and with a fast-mouth, but who had gravitated towards D&D and fantasy gaming and things like that. And created this world of I Kill Giants, and her being convinced that a giant is coming and she’s got to kill it.

SR: OK, cool, and can you walk me through the process of what it was like adapting the book to the movie?

JK: Yeah, I was lucky enough to have met Ken Niimura, who’s the co-creator and he drew a beautiful graphic novel. Over the course of time, people found it - a few people in Hollywood who are the producers on the film. I had already written a screenplay; when I wrote the graphic novel script, I loved it so much, I immediately rewrote it as a spec script. Through conversations with people on the film, especially Anders Walter, the director, we talked about the elements that would break the movie. Because you can do things in a comic based on the relationship between the reader and a comic book - what you’re bringing with your own imagination and what happens between the panels and all that sort of stuff. That kind of goes away when you’re watching a film that you can’t control the pace of and so certain things that were in the book would impact the narrative in a way that would kind of shatter this question of is what Barbara’s experiencing real or is it in her mind? That question, which I think, carries through most of the film because it’s all from her point of view. So it was a matter of going through and cherry-picking what works for film and then replacing those other scenes, because they had value in terms of expressing things that we wouldn’t want her to say out loud and [be] on the nose, but expressing her emotional state and finding the things that would work in the film. So that was really the biggest challenge.

SR: Yeah, I was going to ask about the biggest challenge. But was there anything from the graphic novel that you had to leave out that you were heartbroken to leave out?

JK: There’s a few scenes, yeah, some of them were cut, like I said, so they didn’t break the movie. There’s a few images that I think would look stellar on film, like there’s an image in the book of Barbara in a suit of armor that would have been really cool to see made flesh. And her introduction in the comic is the career day scene, as it was known, which we did have in the script for a long time. That wound up getting trimmed for time. A few of those darlings it’s always tough to let go of, but you gotta, to make sure that the film can get made, and get made properly.

SR: What was one line or scene or visual from the graphic novel that you were adamant had to be in the movie?

JK: It’s funny, it’s the last line of the film. The last line, which it was one of the few things that Anders and I butt heads on a little bit and I just felt that it was - even though there’s an argument to be made that it is a sort of on the nose something for Barbara to say. My experience of meeting people and talking to them over the course of time with the graphic novel, it’s the line that is the most quoted to me. It’s the line that people carry with them. So I really fought hard to keep that line in the film and it stayed. So there actually was one. It’s funny, nobody’s asked that question.

SR: So I know that the book came out quite a few years ago now and it’s amassed a dedicated fan following. Did you ever feel beholden to the fans more than the actual source material or not because you were so attached to the original source material yourself?

JK: Yeah I think you just said it. I’m the biggest fan. This all comes from my gut and even though I do believe - there’s a quote that the audience is the final collaborator. So whether it’s the reader or the filmgoer, they do get ownership of the thing, the fans, the people who really love it. I have a tattoo, an I Kill Giants tattoo, I was not the first person to get an I Kill Giants tattoo. Fans beat me to that, which was a mind-blowing experience. But I am aware, because I am them and what I love about any - whether it’s a book I read or a project I’ve written - I know for myself how elastic a thing can be before it doesn’t feel like the thing you fell in love with because I’m a fan of all sorts of genres and all sorts of stuff. So when I see something translated, I put the fan hat on as well as the screenwriter hat. So yeah I’m definitely aware of it and my hope is that people who’ve read the book will, I think get the same... They know the story and they’re gonna see just a slightly different version that is a really strong companion to it. I think it will hopefully enhance that experience that they had with the comic because it really does honor it. So much of the dialogue and so many of the scenes are right out of the book. And everybody did such a good job, Madison is just - she is Barbara, she’s incredible. Sydney [Wade] looks like Ken drew her, it’s just ridiculous. And Zoe [Saldana] and Imogen [Poots], everybody just did such an incredible job - Rory [Jackson], everybody’s great. I think fans will be happy.

SR: Yeah, what struck me was how close to the source material the movie stuck and I’m sure part of that is because you were involved as the screenwriter in addition to being the writer. But I’m curious, because I read the book before I saw the movie, and I think many people will probably have that experience. But you can only experience this story once. So I’m sure you have a biased opinion, but would you want people to read the book first or see the movie first because you can only experience this story for the first time once.

JK: Right. So that’s an excellent question. People I know who, like yourself, have read the book still get a lot out of the movie. I haven’t met anybody yet who has said, “Well I couldn’t enjoy the film because I already knew the story.” So I’m gonna take the completely wimpy answer and go: Either one is OK. I think that you can see the movie and go find the book and see what was different, because the book, like I said, there are these elements that you can get away with in a graphic novel and are artistic in a different way that are really fun to explore. And Barbara’s a little saltier in the book, which is kind of cool. And yet the film is such a visceral emotional thrill ride at the same time that I think it’s pretty unique for people, especially with the movies that we’re used to getting. It’s a comic book adaptation that’s not a big superhero book. So that’s kind of a thrill in and of itself.

SR: So you have a long career of working on comics and for TV and I was just wondering, if you could write another live-action movie based on a comic or character you’ve previously worked on, what would it be?

JK: I’ll be good an only pick one, because you love all these things equally. But I would love to adapt Four Eyes. It’s another story with a young protagonist. I love stories that are mature stories with kid protagonists. Partly, my partners at Man of Action [Entertainment] will tell you, that’s because I’m evil and I like to torture my characters and I’m a horrible person. But Four Eyes, I just love that world I love the dragons - y’know dragons in Brooklyn in the Great Depression is just crazy. And seeing this 10-year-old try to navigate that world is, it’s a really thrilling story to me. So that would be a really fun one to adapt.

SR: Yeah, I’d love to see that movie.

JK: I have to finish the comic first, but yes, I’d love to see that movie, too.

Next: Screen Rant's I Kill Giants Review

Key Release Dates
  • I Kill Giants (2018) release date: Mar 23, 2018
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