Weve been tracking the progress of the indie film Officer Downe for some time. It’s about an LA police officer who is killed in the line of duty then resurrected as a zombie to fight evil nuns. As you do.
Based on an Image one shot by Joe Casey and Chris Burnham, it was optioned, but unlike so many other comics most suitable for being an indie film…this one got made, in large part because Casey took a very active role in producing and making the film. After a succesful debut at the LA Film Festival earlier this year, this Friday Officer Downe is finally available in limited release and on VOD for all to see. Directed by M. Shawn Crahan of Slipknot with Sons of Anarchy’s Kim Coates in the title role, it’s already being hailed with such bon mots as “If you thought Deadpool was perverse, you ain’t seen nothing yet,” by the NY Daily News.
Casey is also part of Man of Action, the writing studio that created such TV hits as Ben 10, Generator Rex and the comic that Big Hero 6 was based on. He’s also busy writing for animation, and for comics, lest we forget. How does it all fit together? Read on.
Officer Downe is a cop who gets killed and comes back as an avenging Zombie. You created the book with Chris Burnham six years ago. Has the meaning of the character and story changed at all over that time?
JOE CASEY: I’m not sure there was ever any real “meaning” behind the character beyond pure, balls-out entertainment. In the movie we go a little deeper into the implications of presenting a new hero cop to the world. But not much deeper. It’s not that kind of movie.
You were very very involved in making Officer Downe. I assume you could have just taken the easy road of taking the money and letting them make the movie but you got hands on involved including getting funding and producing. Why take the hard road?
JC: I like making things. It’s why I love doing comicbooks at Image Comics, in particular, where you have the most control of the actual making of the thing. I wanted that same kind of completely immersive experience when it came to this movie — that’s why I made sure I was a producer so I would be. And I certainly was involved. From writing the script to helping to pitch it to potential financiers to pre-production and principal photography to editing and VFX and all the other post-production details… I was there for absolutely all of it. So I wouldn’t have known how to sit on the sidelines. For a process junkie like me, being in the belly of the beast is where I had to be.
You have a pretty good Hollywood track record with co creating Ben 10, Generator Rex and Big Hero 6, as well as writing a ton of cartoons. It’s safe to say you know the lay of the land, but what was the biggest surprise you had in making the movie?
JC: I’d imagine the biggest surprise — in hindsight — is how much I learned from the whole experience. I know that sounds weird, but it’s the absolute truth. I’d directed a no-money feature before, but that was on a fairly small scale in comparison to Officer Downe. So, when it came to seeing how to take millions of dollars and allocate them to make this thing happen from the ground up, it was a goddamned education from top to bottom. But that was also the best thing about it.
And just how hard is it to get funding for a movie about a Zombie Cop directed by a member of Slipknot?
JC: It’s about as hard as you could imagine. I think it took us about two years to get this thing in front of the cameras. Looking back, I guess that doesn’t seem like a long time but when you’re in it and you have no idea if you’re ever going to get to actually make the film, it can seem pretty fucking interminable. But we got lucky, obviously.
Tell us one secret from the making of the movie.
JC: Oh damn… well, some secrets obviously need to stay secret. But here’s one… there are a handful of producers on the film besides me. All of them actually appear in the film except me. But that doesn’t mean I’m not in the film. I’m just in it in a very specific way.
What is the general state of the indie film in Hollywood right now? I keep hearing how it’s easier to get a $5 million feature or a $200 million feature made than a $20 million mid budget film. Streaming has opened up lot of possibilities but do you see the chance to take more chances?
JC: Based on this experience, I can’t imagine that any indie film has an easy road to production, regardless of size or budget. And, when I really think about it, it’s not the amount of money involved that correlates to the amount of chances you can take… it’s the will of the filmmakers that really determines that. I’m pretty sure that applies to any creative endeavor where there are forces — be it corporate or any other type of anti-creative resistance — working against you. But whether you have two hundred thousand dollars or two hundred million, it’s really up to the filmmaker whether or not he makes the film he ultimately wants to make.
I’ve yet to see Officer Downe but every review has mentioned that it’s mental. The comic, drawn by Chris Burnham, is pretty psycho so just how crazy is the movie?
JC: Pretty much everything that’s in the comicbook ended up in the movie. If you find that “pretty psycho”, then buyer beware. The movie is what it is with no apologies. Personally, I think it goes farther than the comicbook in a lot of ways. It had to, really. If we couldn’t push the envelope in areas the original material couldn’t go, then there was no point in making the movie at all. It’s escapism on a grand scale… which is something I think we could all use right now in a big, bad way. Considering the state of things coming out of the election, why not take a hundred minutes out of your day to sit back and enjoy the comicbook adventures of a new type of superhero? It’s exactly the kind of cathartic release we probably all need right now…
You also wrote the script. Was there anything you had to change from the comic to the screen?
JC: Nothing really got changed, but I ended up adding quite a bit of material. There are characters I added, and characterizations that I expanded far beyond what originally saw print. The comicbook is very much a laugh, an exploitation adventure in the 2000AD tradition. The movie had to be more than that. When you’ve got flesh-and-blood actors bringing it to life, you have to go deeper to justify their participation.
You’ve been able to own a lot of your content over the years. Is your secret just having a day job that pays well or is there more to it?
JC: Well, I was doing creator-owned comicbooks at Image long before it was fashionable, and long before it was even remotely profitable. And the truth is, I don’t have a “day job” in any traditional sense. I write comicbooks, I work in television, I make movies… but fundamentally my job is to create stuff. Actually, the very idea of a “day job” gives me big time douche chills. I got into this so I wouldn’t have to suffer a day job and I bust my ass to make sure it stays that way.
The movie opens on Friday in limited release and also on VOD. What are the concerns that going into promoting VOD films?
JC: Just making sure the awareness is there, that people know the fuckin’ thing exists. For me, it’s pretty uncharted territory… on a larger scale than anything I’ve done in comics. The trailer on JoBlo’s YouTube channel is at nearly two million views after a month. Is that a lot? I have no idea. Will that translate into actual ticket sales (or VOD orders)? I have no idea. So I guess we’ll see.
I know you are concentrating on opening this film, but did this scratch your movie itch? Will we see more Joe Casey on the big screen?
JC: I’ve been sniffing around the film side of things for about ten years now. I just make a point of trying not to talk about stuff to any great extent — certainly not in the press — until it’s real. That way I don’t end up eating too much shit when something doesn’t happen.
Finally, why did you decide to grow a mustache just like Officer Downe?
JC: Well, I think any journalist worth their salt could do some basic research and see that, over the years, I’ve done my fair share of experimentation in the facial hair department. Just a simple Google image search will tell that sordid tale. This last round of mustache fashion was, in fact, grown for the Downe world premiere at the LA Film Fest back in June. A tribute to the title character and Kim Coates, I guess. But, as with all things involving my face, it wasn’t a permanent condition.
You can buy the Image Comic Officer Downe in digital here or in print at your local comics shop.
Heidi MacDonald is the founder and editor in chief of The Beat. In the past, she worked for Disney, DC Comics, Fox and Publishers Weekly. She can be heard regularly on the More To Come Podcast. She likes coffee, cats and noble struggle.