By Steven Zeitchik and Borys Kit
Two weeks after promo footage unspooled at Comic-Con, "Kick-Ass," the Matthew Vaughn comic-book adaptation about an everyday teen who becomes a superhero, is closing in on a buyer.
Lionsgate, Paramount and Universal are in the running for the pic, which Vaughn financed independently after some studios found the project’s violence too graphic and some of its dialogue too profanity-laced and opted not to board it at the script stage.
But the Comic-Con event garnered a hugely warm response from the fan universe, which has in turn helped convince the companies to reconsider. Buyer screenings followed the week after Comic-Con, and several studios began circling the pic.
Studios interested in "Kick-Ass" see a Vaughn pickup, even at a price in the solid seven figures and with a significant P&A commitment, as a way to plug a franchise-level property into their slate with comparatively little financial risk or production headaches.
Nicolas Cage, Aaron Johnson and Chloe Moretz star in the pic, which Vaughn, the director of movies like "Stardust” and "Layer Cake," penned with writing partner Jane Goldman.
Mark Millar and John Romita Jr. wrote the comic book on which “Kick-Ass” is based. Both the comic and movie center on a high-school dweeb (Johnson) who attempts to reinvent himself as a real-world costumed superhero despite not being athletic or coordinated — and who then runs into real villains with real weapons. A colorful pre-adolescent girl who is adept at slicing and dicing villains is also featured.
Vaughn and his Marv Films had a deal with Sony Pictures, but the studio and filmmaker couldn’t see eye-to-eye on “Kick-Ass” on issues like the age of the protagonists; Sony, for instance, wanted Vaughn to turn the girl into an older teenager. Vaughn then decided to go the self- and indie-financing route.
The production backstory of “Kick-Ass” is part of a trend of bigger-budgeted commercial movies opting to go outside the system as studios become more selective about what they make. “There has never been a better time for independent financiers to access commercial material in the $25 million-$30 million range, because the studios just aren’t financing as many of these kinds of projects,” said one agent involved in the film-financing world.
Another such project comes in the form of the James Cameron-produced “Sanctum.” Despite a very commercial premise and a pic that will play in 3D, the deep-sea diving adventure is moving forward as a an indie and aims to land a distributor after it’s made.
Still, going indie with a commercial or genre project is not always a straightforward play. “The Rebound,” the Film Department’s Catherine Zeta-Jones romantic comedy, is perceived as having a large amount of commercial potential. But it has not yet sold to a distributor several months after first screening, as producers wait for financing for a P&A slate to come together.