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Stan Berkowitz, Scribe of The New Frontier

Maybe you've heard of it...
Thanks again to Gary Miereanu who helped us play musical chairs (and at one point, musical rooms) with the talent behind Justice League: The New Frontier. Because of him, I got to sit down with a writer whose work has been playing over and over in my house as I expose my young son to the Justice League.

Stan Berkowitz wrote many classic episodes of that series, and despite not working in comics, clearly knows the League inside and out. In person, he's quiet and self-effacing, asking me politely to try not to make him sound like a little kid. And yet it's clear that he's very much in tune with the little kid inside him...

Derek McCaw: I was really impressed with how much you captured of the graphic novel….

Stan Berkowitz: To me, it really feels like the book come to life. It really does. When you're writing it, you're not sure, but the minute I actually saw it in the first cut, it was the book come to life. Even though there are differences, the similarities in visual style and so many of the scenes make it work.

Derek McCaw: What was the biggest challenge?

Stan Berkowitz: For me, the biggest challenge was in trying to make something that someone who is familiar with New Frontier would like, and someone who wasn't familiar would also like.

Derek McCaw: Was there a moment you had to cut that you wished could have been kept?

Stan Berkowitz: There were a lot of them. But don't forget, the book was obviously a different medium than film. When you write something that was, I believe it was a five-part mini-series, when you write something like that, you know that your audience will pick it up, they'll read it, a month will go by. They'll pick up the next chapter.

When you're doing a movie, it's something you're going to sit through in one sitting. So it's an entirely different kind of narrative. A lot of changes were necessitated simply by the move from one medium to another.

Derek McCaw: How did you get to be the guy to tackle this project?

"I'd like to say it's because of my brilliant sense of story structure..."
(photo courtesy of Gary Miereanu)
Stan Berkowitz: I'm not sure. I'd like to say it's because of my brilliant sense of story structure and all that, but the real answer is that my agents had lunch with the head of Warners' Animation, and he told me they were doing some projects. Then I got a call from the development people, who I knew fairly well. They said they were trying to develop a couple of them - a Flash story, a Wonder Woman story and a Justice League story.

I said, well, I've had the experience doing Justice League. That seems the most appropriate one.

Now, if your question was, why didn't Darwyn simply do it, that I can't answer. What was presented to me was either he and I would do it as a team, or I would write it on my own and then he would do his own version. At this point, if you really want to know the answer to that, you should talk to the people who hired me. Except they've all been fired.

Derek McCaw: When they obviously made a great decision with you?

Stan Berkowitz: I think they made a great decision in hiring me, but obviously, I'm a little biased about that.

Derek McCaw: Do you have a favorite episode among your Justice League work?

Stan Berkowitz: A favorite episode that I had a writing credit on would be "A Better World." My favorite that I didn't work on is "The Terror Beyond." It's the Hawkgirl episode where they talk about the Thanagarian religion, or lack of religion, and Solomon Grundy dies in Hawkgirl's arms. That's the favorite of mine.

Derek McCaw: You've gone deeper and darker with The New Frontier, turning out a PG-13 movie that obviously puts it out of viewing for some younger fans. But you had to do that with the material…

Stan Berkowitz: It's a whole different thing. It's a huge, huge gamble on the part of Warner Brothers. And I have enormous respect for them for being willing to try it.

As you know, superhero shows, animated superhero shows, are for very young children. Warner Brothers, by rating it PG-13, said, "nope, you can't go." We're going to try and find an audience other than those little kids. Whether they can do it or not, we'll probably find out in about a month.

With Doomsday, they certainly succeeded in that. They did find an audience to make these things profitable and were still able to exclude their youngest fans.

Derek McCaw: But there's plenty of material out there for them. These projects seem pretty likely to continue; is there any one from DC that you really want to work on?

The lightning is key, too...
Stan Berkowitz: There are several. The Dark Knight Returns. I just had a chat with a guy who works for Warner Premiere and encouraged him to consider that as a possibility. He said they are considering it, but there's nothing definitive at this point. If I were a DC executive, I'd be worried about the light that Superman is cast in in The Dark Knight Returns, but I love that one.

I loved Mark Waid and Alex Ross' Kingdom Come. I'd love to see that in animation. Presumably, Mark Waid would write it. The problem with that of course is finding an animation style that looks like Alex Ross' work. But I believe that even now as we speak, and I hope I'm not giving away too many secrets, there are tests being done to see if they can find a way to duplicate or mimic Alex's style.

Derek McCaw: With things like Beowulf, it seems they could, but wouldn't it be expensive?

Stan Berkowitz: I don't know. I'm told they're testing it right now. I don't know if it would look like Beowulf. To me the lighting is the key to Alex's work.

One thing, if we can't do it now, at some point in the future, they will be able to.

Derek McCaw: Are you onto a new project you can talk about?

Stan Berkowitz: Yes, many new projects. Earlier I was talking about how rare it is to do PG-13 animation, and now I'm working on a show for BET called Hannibal

Derek McCaw: The Vin Diesel project?

Stan Berkowitz: Yes. Hannibal the Conqueror. That's PG-13 animation. I've been working on that with Denys Cowan and Matt Wayne. There's a show that I worked on in England called Friends and Heroes that's for very little kids. That's Bible stories. They're doing a season two and a season three that will be out soon.

I'm also working on a script for a feature with Gary Kurtz, the producer of The Dark Crystal, Star Wars and so on. That's over in England, based on a children's book that hasn't been published yet. We're in the early stages on that one, but again, that's PG-13.

I have nothing against people that write for children, but the way I write, PG-13 tends to feel more natural for me. It's a gift to write for children; I'm impressed by it. No offense to anyone who writes for children.

Derek McCaw

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