Elfquest Animated Film Delayed by “Hollywood-Merger-itis”

Life is a movie. Sometimes one’s personal screenplay gets sent back to be rewritten; sometimes it goes into what is called “turnaround,” a ghostly state of affairs in which – usually after much sound and fury – one is left wondering which way is up. At the moment we – the Elfquest movie team – are right there, in turnaround.
Moviemaking is a process, a journey. Sometimes you go forward, and sometimes you go back. As you have no doubt gathered from the headline, this news has to do with the latter – even though, thank the High Ones, it’s a case of “one step back” and not “back to square one”!

We know that it’s frustrating for you, reader, fan, elf-friend, to wonder what’s going on and to see updates on the web site less frequently than you would like. That’s the nature of news; it can’t be manufactured (although we’re pretty sure some people do just that) and anything is subject to change without notice (and we’re certain that happens).

We’ve asked Wolfmill Entertainment, Warp’s partner in the production of the Elfquest animated film, for a few words about what’s been going on the past few weeks and months, now that some of the dust has settled.

Wendy & Richard Pini have asked us to let you know the current status of the Elfquest animated film. I’m Craig Miller and, along with my partner, Marv Wolfman, we’re Wolfmill Entertainment and we’re proud to be producing the movie.

The short answer to the question about what’s happening with the Elfquest movie is that it’s taking longer than any of us thought it would and it, unfortunately, won’t be coming to the screen next year. When we started work on this project, our intention was to have the movie out for Elfquest’s 25th anniversary. Alas, that’s not to be. Right now I can’t give you an exact date as to when it will be ready but I can try to tell you a little about what’s been going on.

Some of you may be very familiar with how movies and TV shows come to be but, because some you may not be, I’m going to outline the process and hope you’ll forgive me if I tell you things you already know.

Previously on this website, you’ve read about the on-going deals that have been made in pursuit of this project. Richard and Wendy reported to you about making a deal with us. And they also told you about the deal that was made with a group of European animation studios to produce the animation for the movie.

Things were moving right along. Among the things that got accomplished were:

Wendy, Marv, and I completed a script, adapting the first four volumes of the Elfquest saga into a simpler-but-still-true-to-Elfquest story.

Wendy created a large number of drawings, paintings, etc. that helped visualize the screenplay. You’ve seen versions of some of those in recent Elfquest calendars and limited edition prints.

We even brought together a group of talented voice actors to record a scratch track* of the dialogue from the screenplay.

(* A note of explanation about scratch tracks: Animated features grow in stages. Today, first there’s a script, then storyboards, then pencil animation blends with computer animation. But because full animation takes so long to do, bits and pieces done separately are continually edited together.

A work print – which is just what it sounds like – will start with only storyboards. As sections of the animation are worked on, the animation – first the pencil test, then rough animation, then finished animation – is edited in, replacing the storyboard sections.

So that the animators can maintain the pace and timing of the film, a voice track of the dialogue is recorded, that runs over the entire film – it only changes if and when the dialogue is rewritten. The actors whose voices you hear in a finished film are brought in quite a bit later in the process, frequently after the storyboards are completed and sometimes after the animation is well underway. So to get the process started, animation voice actors or people just around the studio are brought in to record a temporary voice track, or scratch track, to be used during the production process.)

We had gotten that far. But then, we had a serious setback.

Our production partners were a group of animation studios in France, Germany, and Spain. The largest of these, by far, was a French studio called Canal Plus. They were the largest studio in France, both for animation and live action, and have been co-producers on many major American films as well. They are owned by an even larger French utility company called Vivendi (in much the same way that General Electric owns NBC, or Sony owns Columbia Pictures). As you may have heard recently, Vivendi bought Seagrams, the American company that owned Universal Studios. Without getting into a lengthy discourse on economics or Hollywood, let me just say that when large companies merge, things change.

The new structure of the corporation put Universal Studios in charge of Canal Plus and the films it makes. In Hollywood, there thrives an unfortunate practice: when new people take over they immediately disdain everything the people before them did. After all, they reason, “Why hire me if the person before me did something good? Therefore, the person before me did nothing good.”

And so the powers that be pulled Canal Plus out of the Elfquest deal. It had nothing to do with Elfquest. We weren’t the only film this happened to. But the fallout from the merger is that we lost our major partner in Europe and production there halted.

We’re now looking for new partners to take over the funding and animation of the Elfquest movie so that we can continue. We’re talking with studios in the United States, in Japan, and in other countries. Until that new partner or partners comes on board, we’re delayed. But never fear. Elfquest will happen.

Marv and I have been longtime fans of Elfquest. We believe in it. We know its quality and we know that it will make an incredible movie. We also know that, in Hollywood, little happens quickly. Look at Spider-Man. It was in “development hell” (and there’s a good reason it’s called hell) literally for decades, going from one studio to another. Only now has it finally been made and boy, what an incredible movie and incredible success it’s turned out to be.

Look at it this way: Warner Bros., which owns DC Comics, can produce any movie they want. For the last ten years or more, they’ve been trying to bring Superman back to the screen. They have the money. They have the studio. They own the rights to the character. But, for whatever reason, it hasn’t happened yet. It’s discouraging but that’s the way of Hollywood. And someday, they’ll figure it out and Superman will re-appear.

And, never fear, so will Elfquest.

(Richard again) So of course, in recent news we learn of tensions escalating between Vivendi and Canal Plus, generated by – what else? – financial difficulties and unmet expectations. The dominoes fall, one by one, and a new pattern emerges.

Not the end.