One Soul at a Time: Developing R.I.P.D.
Before Peter M. Lenkov wrote for hit television series such as 24, CSI: NY and Hawaii Five-0, he cut his procedural teeth on the series of graphic novels known as "R.I.P.D." Since Dark Horse Comics founder Mike Richardson first heard Lenkov's pitch for this story about two rogue cops working on the other other side of the law in the late '90s, Richardson has had an eye on adapting the otherworldly "R.I.P.D." series of comics for the big screen.
During his tenure at Dark Horse, Richardson has led his team to translate some of their most popular graphic novels into hit films such as The Mask, Hellboy and Hellboy II: The Golden Army. The producer knows that the endeavor of selecting the right time to adapt unique properties for the big screen is a strategic one. Richardson remarks: "As a publisher, you're always looking for great publishing material. We try to recognize that potential, which is what happened with 'R.I.P.D.' Keeping mindful that his company traverses two mediums, Richardson adds: "It's hard to be precious with the graphic novel when you're talking about translating it to a screenplay. They have different requirements and elements that require a director who is able to extrapolate that something special to make a great film."
First published in 2003, Lenkov's popular four-issue series tells the raucous story of a police force comprising officers who are on their second tour of duty with the Rest In Peace Department. This team has the ability to traverse the real world and the netherworld to keep demons at bay and ensure that the balance of life and death -- and the inherent safety of humanity -- remains a guarantee.
Over the course of the past decade, several different treatments of the material were floated around Dark Horse, and some scripts came close to being made. But it was when R.I.P.D. executive producer Ori Marmur, a production executive at veteran producer Neal H. Moritz's Original Film, saw Lenkov's graphic novel during a visit to Richardson's offices that the project kicked into high gear.
Fortuitously, Marmur -- quite taken by the concept of the graphic novel in front of him -- was having lunch with filmmaker David Dobkin and asked Richardson if he could show Dobkin "R.I.P.D." to get the writer/director's thoughts on the material. Dobkin called Richardson after reading the comic and advised that he loved the book and was interested in developing it into a film. In fact, he came onto R.I.P.D. and did a great deal of work on the story before the project took on a new direction.
Ultimately, it was the writing team of Phil Hay and Matt Manfredi -- working from a story in which they share credit with Dobkin -- who jump-started a version of the screenplay that Richardson and Moritz would feel was ready for the big screen. Richardson explains the next stage of development: "Phil and Matt were working on another Dark Horse project when we pitched them the idea of creating a screenplay for R.I.P.D. that expanded upon David's terrific work. They liked the material and switched over from the earlier project to this one. We were lucky to get them."
Coincidentally, over the past several years, Hay and Manfredi have also worked with Original Film on several other projects. Their writing style is complementary to the action genre in which Moritz, a prolific producer who counts the Fast & Furious franchise, 21 Jump Street and I Am Legend among his numerous film credits, excels. At the same time, the writers chose to infuse the story with additional elements that reflect their darkly comic tastes.
The richness of the premise and intricate world creation excited Moritz as much as it did Richardson. He notes: "On the conceptual level, the idea of the R.I.P.D. was a unique one about a police department whose sole task is to find the dead living amongst us and bring them back to the other side to face judgment. On another level, it hearkens back to my favorite buddy-cop films like 48 Hours and Lethal Weapon. There is this fantastic dynamic between these two guys. What we set out to do was make a buddy-cop movie that had great action, but at the same time we wanted to ensure that there are big stakes and the cinematic scope of a summer film."
From the start, the screenwriting team's goal was to retain the salient elements of the graphic novels while exploring the rapport between two wholly disparate guys -- a newly dead modern-day police officer and his gunslinger counterpart from the Old West -- and how they learn to work with one another. This interplay became the standout aspect of the script. Says Hay: "We wanted to maintain that inspirational nugget of the comic book. It's morphed into this landscape that fits the best of what we've been thinking about over the last few years."
Adds writing partner Manfredi: "But it always comes back to this buddy-cop movie that we wanted to tell of a newly dead officer and his veteran partner."
Joining the core team in production duties was seasoned action producer Michael Fottrell, whose diverse resume of motion-picture credits includes Fast & Furious, Fast Five and Live Free or Die Hard. Offers Fottrell: "What I loved about Phil and Matt's script is that they were able to make this new world that Nick and Roy have entered just as believable as the one that exists on the plane that humans understand. It's a delicate dance to merge comedy with action and spectacle, and they nailed it."
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