DC may struggle to compete with Marvel at the box office, but if there’s one arena in which they are the undisputed champions, it would have to be animation. For the past decade, Warner Bros has released a seemingly endless line of direct to video animated features, the latest of which is ‘Constantine: City of Demons‘. Unique among these animated features, ‘City of Demons’ made its debut in a serialized format on the CW Seed streaming platform before being released in an expanded (and R-rated) form on home video. While at New York Comic Con, we had the opportunity to speak with producer Butch Lukic about this unorthodox approach to moviemaking, his thoughts on Constantine as a character, and more.
How much new footage is in there compared to the web series?
I think originally we were set to do about twenty minutes, but by getting the animation back and stretching certain scenes out, I think it’s closer to twenty-five, twenty-six minutes of new footage. Almost a third of the film.
Was it always part of the plan to convert the web series to a film or did that come later?
Yeah. That was the assignment, for us to take the script and now section it into five sequences, to break it up. But then also we had to find twenty minutes to take out. So whatever you were shown on CW Seed would be the five-minute episodes, and later on, the stuff we took out would be added to the movie. The separation – to me – works and doesn’t work. Because with the material we had to cut out, those scenes that are in between two different episodes. I feel were needed for more character and advancing the story, but if you didn’t know about those scenes you’d probably carry through just fine.
What are some of the ‘Hellblazer’ stories that inspired this movie? Do you have any favorites?
The ones that spoke to me were early ones, like the Newcastle story and that whole origin, which is what we’re actually doing. It’s just that version that was generally in the early nineties saw the character – I forget his name, the occultist that was trying to summon the demon. But otherwise, he was dressed and looked more like a hippie character. I guess because at that point Grateful Dead was a big deal in the mid-nineties. So people dressed like that. And Constantine’s band were basically more of a hippy type style band, which is more of a British style like Hawkwind or something like that from the seventies. For the film, I decided we probably needed to hear more hardcore punk or probably more death metal, which is not exactly modern but put the music more in this place where it fits the visuals. Other than that, ‘All His Engines’ was always a good story. I’m glad J.M. (DeMatteis, writer) put it together.
Constantine has never been as high profile a character as, say, Batman. What kind of challenges were there in bringing this together as a result of that?
Honestly, I think the TV show has helped us significantly to where we do have a built-in audience for Constantine. I think it’s proven out even on the comics side, where they’re doing a whole new run of ‘Constantine’ issues. And I just think that’s because he is different from the pattern of what DC heroes are. He is a good slide in character that works in any situation. Even when I did ‘Justice League Action’, which is a kids’ show, we threw him in to see what would happen and he worked. He worked in a kids’ show. So he’s a strong character.
He’s also a dark character. How hard is it to push an R-rated animated movie as opposed to something a little more PG-13?
Just with what we showed to the audience (at the panel) today, they opted not to include much of the violence and gore that’s in there, because it’s R-rated. It’s not there for that audience, but it’s in the DVD and the rating is because of that. But in the beginning, when we got the script, I could’ve played easily PG-13, but I told my guys “Look, let’s play it hard and see where we can go with this.” And because we weren’t told we were getting an R-rating, we had to find out from DC itself if they were going to push us back and limit the scenes and cut out some of the violence and gore. They didn’t, so we left it in and that’s what we ended up with. Because initially they just weren’t telling us it was going to be R-rated. And I added a little more swearing and other things, just to play it up more towards “Okay, if it’s gonna be an R, let’s try for it.”
Are we going to see some of those eighteen years where Chas and Constantine weren’t speaking?
We do show some of that in flashback, but it’s more montage stuff because of time. But at least there’s an element of that that helps you to get a feel for the characters.
Do you prefer working on features like this or would you rather be doing a series?
Right now it’s preferable. A TV series is a grind. I mean, I enjoy it, but it’s hard sometimes.
It seems a lot of DC’s better animated shows are killed off pretty quick these days – ‘Green Lantern: The Animated Series’, ‘Beware the Batman’, ‘Justice League Action’… Why do you think it’s been so difficult to keep these shows on the air?
Well, my personal feeling is that it’s because of Cartoon Network, that they just really didn’t promote anything we did. And they’re their own entity, they can do whatever they like. But they’re more into the comedy stuff, and that’s their preference, and I don’t think promoted our stuff very well. More likely the DC Universe stuff will do better because they have the audience of DC fans and comic fans, whereas for us we have to compete with the funnier stuff for there to be any interest. And honestly, we tried the twelve-minute format for ‘Justice League Action’. I guess it worked for that. The only problem I had was trying to balance character or story beyond the twelve minutes. They’re kind of stuck on their own. After you’re done the twelve minutes, you can’t really do a part two or a part five or link to one ten episodes later. So on that level, it was just standalone cartoons, which are actually fun to do, but series-wise I don’t know if it would have generated more interest going into a second or third season.
Are there any plans to do more with this version of Constantine?
Yeah, I’m assuming right now. Past this, we have a contract to do a second season of the five-minute version. Now, I don’t know if that’s still going or if they’re going to stop right here and just let the Blu-ray finish off the storyline.
‘Constantine: City of Demons’ stars Matt Ryan, Damian O’Hare, and Rachel Kimsey. The film is available now on Blu-ray, DVD, and digital platforms.