How the 1990s Elfquest movie project came together

Most of what you’ve read until now was written some years back, and until early 1993 there was not much happening with Elfquest and animation. Wendy and I had, for the moment, had enough. We’d decided to pull the wagons in a circle, get back to the business of telling comic book stories, and let the cosmos roll around to moviemaking when it felt it was good and ready.

It must have felt good and ready that particular winter/spring, for we got the news that a major producer was interested in acquiring the rights to develop Elfquest as an animated film. In the March 1994 issues of the Elfquest titles, the following appeared, written by Wendy and sent in to Poughkeepsie, as she says, from Lala-land:

Faxed to Warp from Hollywood, March 16, 1994, with the assistance of Elfquest reader and Century City Marriott aide Hugo Stevenson. The details as we know them…
The development deal has been signed. The movie will be animated. No animation studio has yet been chosen (Edward Pressman Film Corporation is the producer, not the studio). Ed Pressman has produced both Conan films, Wall Street, Storyville, Talk Radio, Hoffa, The Crow, Judge Dredd, and a slew of others; he knows fantasy, quality, and the portrayal of outrage, all very important to a project like Elfquest. A treatment was requested and provided; it takes elements from “Fire and Flight” and connects them with “Kings of the Broken Wheel.” We wrote it; we’re happy with it, but there’s no guarantee that it will be used. We do, however, have treatment approval over whoever does write it. In casual conversation (not at all binding), a Christmas 1995 release has been mentioned. The deal includes licensing, so who knows? Maybe you’ll see gummy elves some day. This is first gear; we’ll share more as things get to (but of course) Warp speed.

Oh yeah, one other item: We’re reeeeeeaaaaaaaal pleased!

One month later, Wendy moved out to Hollywood, the better to oversee the development. We found her a very nice house to rent, a block away from the beach near Santa Monica (which is a beautiful area in which to live), where she set up her studio and went to work wrestling with the powers that be on matters creative. We’d had many long conversations about the pluses and minuses of living the bicoastal life, and it was a difficult set of options to choose from. But in the end, there was no escaping the realization that her vision and talent are so crucial to this project on such an ongoing basis, that she had to be there.
In September 1994 Wendy sent back another progress report:

Dear Elf-friends,
It’s really happening. I’m still pinching myself… but I’m really here — in H-O-L-L-Y-W-O-O-D !!!!! — working on the ELFQUEST movie! For nearly three months, now, I’ve been on the west coast taking meetings, doing lunch and learning how to navigate in LA traffic. Oh, and working! Working very hard on the storyboards and screenplay. Yes, that’s right. Ed Pressman, producer of the eerie, superb and faithful “The Crow,” probably the most creator-friendly producer in the industry, considers Richard’s and my input on the film crucial.

So far, this has been the most amazing and gratifying part of this adventure — the respect that has been accorded our creative concerns. They get it, folks! They really get what ELFQUEST is about! It all started with Ed and Annie Pressman’s six year old son, Sammy. He got it. Annie, reading it to him (Sammy reads it to her now), got it. Then everyone involved got it. It’s a family thing. I won’t tell you the director’s name, yet, because that deal is still being closed. You have certainly seen his fanciful, myth-exploring work (his best is yet to come!). But, boy, does he get it! Because he, like everyone else on the team Ed has put together, has actually bothered to read Books 1 through 8! What a concept! Reading!

So how the hell are we doing this, you ask? How are we condensing, altering, squeezing, and mutilating eight books worth of material into one 90 minute feature? Breathe easy. We’re not. As we said in our announcement of the movie deal’s closure, the screenplay will contain elements from Book 1, “Fire and Flight,” as well as a healthy dollop of the “Kings of the Broken Wheel” story line. What we’re focusing on (this time, since there’s already been talk of a sequel) is the love triangle between Leetah, Cutter and Rayek and the theme of a family’s tragic separation and triumphant reunion.

You will recognize almost every incident in the movie as inspired by (or in some cases literally adapted) from the books. But the order of events has been shuffled in surprising ways. We’ve even included “what ifs” such as, what if Picknose went with the elves on their desert journey to Sorrow’s End? Indeed, there will be plenty of humor, songs and fun, but the overall tone will be dark, intense and probably PG-13. Just how it’s going to be animated we’ll tell you later. You ain’t seen nuthin’ yet! What’s most important for you to know is that I’m out here to be this film’s passionate advocate. It’s going to look like ELFQUEST and feel like ELFQUEST because my hand is in it — up to the elbow!

Which brings me to Warp and what’s been going on back east since I left on Hollywood Quest. Apart from the fact that I miss everyone in the office very much (when I write about painful separation in the screenplay, it’s from the heart. ‘Nuff said.), I continue to be amazed by and proud of the quality of work that’s being produced on a monthly basis by all our new, young artists and writers. If Richard had not made the move to expand Warp and oversee the creation of an entire line of ELFQUEST comics when he did, the elves would’ve all but vanished from public awareness for the two or more years I’d be working on the film. These days you’ve got to have a presence on the stands every month or you don’t exist. Now wouldn’t that be ironic? Spend multi-millions of dollars to produce an epic animated feature based on — what? “Duh, what’s an ELF QUEST? I never see it in the comics shops!” So, even though I’ve kept my hand in as the writer of Shards, no one appreciates more than I that high quality ELFQUEST comics are coming out regularly, every month, without me as Warp’s one and only “pen.” If you appreciate this too, please continue to send your encouragement to our hard-working editorial and creative staff. They care very much.

Since then, the treatment and storyboards have undergone several revisions, all of which have strengthened the story that will appear in the film. It’s a great deal more mythic than either of us could have imagined when we began writing and drawing the adventures of the elves, or even when Wendy moved out to California to begin work in earnest.
Of course, as we learn things, I’ll tack them to the end of this ongoing journal of “Elfquest – The Movie” (almost certainly not its final name). Everything that I can tell you, I already have, so please don’t ask who’s doing voices (they’ve not yet been chosen), or when the release date is (none has yet been set), or which studio is doing the animation (none chosen yet). Moviemaking is still, after all the years we’ve been waiting, a slow process if you want the end result done right, and we’ve learned a great deal of patience since 1981. When I have information, or permission to show off some of the storyboard art, or start letting bits and pieces of the story out, you readers of this very page will be among the first in the world to know.

See you at the movies!