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Q&A: Writer/Producer Joe Casey talks “OFFICER DOWNE”

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Considering the many page-to-screen comic book properties that have hit the cinemas in recent years, fans might think that they’ve seen it all. However, even those who prefer their superhero fare with blood and battery haven’t seen anything quite like the big screen adaptation of OFFICER DOWNE, a chaotic, over-the-top action epic that promises camp and carnage in equal measure. Based on the popular comic series from Joe Casey and Chris Burnham, C. Shawn Crahan’s OFFICER DOWNE is an ultra-violent fever dream, complete with killer nuns, undead supercops, and a whole lot more. With the film only mere hours from being unleashed unto the unsuspecting masses, FANGORIA spoke with Casey (who also served as writer/producer on the film) to talk about the process of bringing OFFICER DOWNE to life…

FANGORIA: How did you first come with the idea for OFFICER DOWNE?

JOE CASEY: I’d like to say I thought long and hard about it, that I’d spent a lot of time developing it very meticulously and precisely, but as a guy who’s been making comic books for about twenty years now, there are things that are always floating around in the ether of my mind. I first came up with the idea a little over ten years ago and considered doing it as a comic book then, but it wasn’t until six years later that I decided to actually do it.

I had been reading a lot of vintage British comics at the time, from the ’80s and early ’90s, and I was really into the anarchist nature of their weekly serials. Look at something like Judge Dredd; even though they’ve done a couple of movies on Judge Dredd and an endless amount of comics, the character himself is just an idea, or rather an archetype that they put through the ringer every week in 2000 A.D.. So the initial idea for OFFICER DOWNE was me asking, “What’s the archetype in America for that kind of authority figure character?” Of course, he became a policeman. Then I came up with the “coming back from the dead” angle, and this was way before zombies were in vogue, by the way. I mean, I didn’t even think of it on a “zombie” level; it was more of a Frankenstein’s Monster kind of idea applied to an L.A. cop.

FANG: At what point did the OFFICER DOWNE movie become a possibility?

CASEY: Well the other producers, Skip Williamson and Mark Neveldine (who was one of the directors on the CRANK movies), found the graphic novel on their own. They didn’t know about me, and they didn’t know about anything else I’ve ever done, really. They didn’t know about Man of Action (my company) or Ben 10 or Big Hero 6 or any of my other comics. They got in touch with me and they asked about the feature rights. When they met with me, they outlined a really vague notion of how they thought they could do the film on a budget but still be really cool and exciting. My counter offer was, “I’m into it, sounds good but I want to produce it with you and write the screenplay.” I said I would write it on spec, because I was in a good mood that day, and they said, “Great! We’ll get a free script out of this.” So then I went off and wrote the script and had the unique pleasure of adapting my own material.

FANG: Was there anything you knew you specifically did or did not want to include in the screenplay from the source material? Was there anything that was simply not practical?

CASEY: I was definitely writing in a vacuum. Aside from just meeting with Skip and Mark, there was no real plan in place. I was just writing for the fun of it. Once I had adapted the material contained in the comic book, I quickly realized I’d have to add more stuff if it was going to fill out the time of a feature film. So I loaded it up with even more wacky shit. And that’s where the nuns came from and that’s when I deepened the relationship with the other beat cops. I also pumped up Gable’s role.

Quite honestly, I never thought the movie would actually get made. I wasn’t writing for a budget; I was just having fun with it. Lo and behold, we found the money and we made the movie.

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FANG: Were you familiar with Mark’s previous work? OFFICER DOWNE is very much in the vein of films like CRANK and GAMER.

CASEY: I had seen CRANK and CRANK 2; I had even seen the GHOST RIDER sequel that he and Brian Taylor had done, so I knew his work. It made perfect sense to me once I knew who I was dealing with that it was a good match for this type of material.

FANG: Was there anything you were specifically excited to see come to life from your screenplay?

CASEY: Well, when you’re making a comic book, like I did with Chris Burnham on OFFICER DOWNE, you really have no boundaries. There’s no budget limitations. Whatever you’re willing to think of and whatever the artist is willing to draw, you can do. Chris Burnham is a madman; he’ll draw all kinds of over-the-top shit. We were having a good laugh as we were doing the comic, like the Fortune 500, who are these crime bosses wearing animal heads. All that stuff was just, “Wouldn’t it be funny if these were the bad guys?” There wasn’t much more thought put into it than that, really.

So in terms of writing the feature, it was almost like a big dare: “How much of the comic book — both visually and in terms of the action — could we get into the movie?” As it turns out, “most of it” was the answer. So I was very much looking forward to how we were going to pull it all off. I was right there as a producer, each and every day of production. I knew the Fortune 500 would wear these masks, and I knew that we’d bring in a good stunt team and really go over the top with the action.

So I don’t know if I’d say I was looking forward to anything in particular, I was just excited that we were going to put the pedal to the metal and go for it. We didn’t compromise on any aspect of the story, from the concept to the violence to the blood to the gore to the sex. It’s all in there.

FANG: What were your responsibilities like as a producer on the picture?

CASEY: Well, like I said, I was on the set every day. Everybody was on the same page for what OFFICER DOWNE should be and what we wanted it to be. The struggles were when we would come up against budget or time, but any film has to deal with those issues. We didn’t have a ton of money, so those limitations were something we’d be up against pretty quickly. As I said, I wrote the script with no budget in mind, and I wrote big action set pieces and all kinds of crazy shit. Once we got into production, I had to get out the red pen and start to really hone certain things, based on where we’re going to spend our money and the smartest ways to spend the money to get the most bang for our buck. So one of my responsibilities was, as production rolled on, to keep track of what we were going to keep and what we could lose in the script and still maintain the story. Sometimes those were painful moments, but I think it turned out alright in the end.

FANG: What was your reaction to the possibility of Kim Coates as the titular Officer Downe? He really runs with the character in a big, fantastic way.

CASEY: Kim is an actor’s actor. So I was totally onboard the minute his name was brought up. Then we met with him, and he was extremely cool. Kim was psyched to do it. He’d seen the comic, obviously, and in the comics, Burnham drew Officer Downe as a much more burly, beefy guy because in comic books, you deal in exaggeration. That physical exaggeration really helps sell who the character is. Kim was worried that our expectations would be too high in the physical area but we reassured him that we were more interested in his performance. We wanted someone who could own the character, and he was relieved to hear that.

From that day forward, that’s exactly what he did, and the first time he was on set, in wardrobe and in character, it was bizarre. Kim was that character, and everybody on set had their jaws on the floor. He set the tone for the rest of the production with how committed he was, how serious he was about the character. Look, OFFICER DOWNE is not a film that’s going to cure cancer or win an Oscar; we all knew what we were making. However, within that, to see a guy like Kim really commit was inspiring and motivating.

It was a long climb up a mountain to get the movie into production, and then the moment where he stepped on set, it was the scene in the L.A.P.D. locker room after the first resurrection. He’s just talking to himself in the mirror. That was Kim’s first scene, and from that moment on, everything just took a big jump up. The whole production began to think, “Wow, this is really going to be something.”

OFFICER DOWNE hits select theaters and VOD from Magnet Releasing on November 18th.

About the author
Ken W. Hanley
Ken W. Hanley is the Managing Web Editor for FANGORIA and STARLOG, as well as the former Web Editor for Diabolique Magazine and a contributing writer to YouWonCannes.com. He’s a graduate from Montclair State University, where he received an award for Excellence in Screenwriting. He’s currently working on screenplays, his debut novel "THE I IN EVIL", and various other projects, and can be followed on Twitter: @movieguyiguess.
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