La Machine Infernale

Yubai Zhang Rêve de FerLa Machine Infernale. Written by David Webb / Art by John Higgins. Closing Kickstarter date September 5. A First look into a brand new world / franchise – Pitched as Bourne under the French revolution – including a graphic novel and film!

David Webb writes,

I'm David Webb, and I want to take you into a world of, cloak and dagger, mysteries, illusions, passion, lies, violence, deceptions and machinations…

The movies and comics business.

Where does it begins? Post the Bourne/Batman films explosion. Films so powerful, they spawned a new wave, changing the Bond saga forever (or at least, until the very next craze that they will hitch their wagon on). A refreshment of both the spy and super-hero genres, orchestrated by two masters at their craft. Like you gals and guys, I watched the sequels unfold, mesmerised. Then a thought occured to me: why are all those films modern day / near future set? Why not do an original variation, that is set it the past?

Jonathan Henry Rêve de fer

I've been wanting to do a different kind of period film for a very long time. In fact, ever since I began in the business. My first contract was a blind shot, stab in the dark spec script, called Vidocq, based on the french TV show, that got sold two weeks after hitting the (french) market. It was basically The Fugitive meet True Lies, set in 1796. Chases, fights, a badass cop chasing a badass con, kills, one-liners, nudity, love, twists and explosions. Oh and guns. Lots of guns.

Somehow, and I'm sure you already heard this typical Hollywood nightmare tale before, all the originality of the script got lost in the rewrite process. A novel writer took over the writing duties, coming out with an abortion of a script that made absolutely no sense, and they eventually made the film in 2001, starring French star Gerard Depardieu (lucky me, my name was not on it). Of course, it flopped. The writing was on the wall, as they say. (as was the directing, though someone in Hollywood was impressed enough to hire the same director for Catwoman — go figure).

Years later, that original period film cocktail that never got made was still living in the dark recesses of in my mind, untarnished by the experience (it's all water under the bridge, you see, never let any kind of similar experience affect your creativity, or you won't go anywhere). So, fired up by the Bourne and Batman films — I wrote the craziest spec ever. This time, f— them. I will do it my way. And nobody will be able stop me.

I sent several producers an email, with a synopsis, and the pitch: "Bourne in 1800".

Half and hour later, it was optioned.


And so a new journey began, as we sailed into development. As we talked and I honed and refined the script, we realised the universe I created worked way beyond the film stage. All those characters had backgrounds which were too rich to live only within the confines of one film. We thought it would be great to explore them on other avenues. Why not do a graphic novel, or comic-book, to go along with the film, that would serve as a prequel?
In the course of a week, I outlined the back-story of a limited series prequel that went over four graphic novels (or comics), and covered the French revolution from beginning to end. Then I went into a search for the perfect artist, all the time still working on the film project. I eventually found a great french artist, who was living in London at the time. "I'm interested" he said, "but I will not be able to color the graphic novel, so can you find someone, preferably in England, who could color it?". I thought about it, for about three seconds. If you want an english colorist, who's the best? John Higgins of course. The guy colored the original Watchmen and Batman: The Killing Joke! There's no competition. Of course, his colors always have been controversial. But hey, I love controversy. Give me a bed of nails anytime. I didn't knew John from anywhere, but I found his website and shot him and email, along with a pdf presentation of the project. "I'm sorry, but I only do coloring for friends", he replied. That was the first part of the email. The second part read "but if you your artist would drop out, for whatever reason, I would be willing to draw AND color it."

As we prospected publishers, the initial artist was suddenly unavailable as he took over another project. I shot John an email, asking if he still wanted to do it. "Sure", replied John, "When do we start?".

How crazy is that? John's one of the most respected artists in the business. His resume, from Dredd, Battlestar Galactica and Doctor Who, to Batman: Legends of the Dark Knight, Hellblazer and Razorjack, goes back to nearly 40 years.

As we began working, the project evolved, sightly but subtly. We were not able to find one french actor between 21/35 years of age who could embody the main character (the description read: "he could kiss you, or kill you. Or both as the same time"). I always saw him/her with a dark, venomous, hypnotic, almost perfect beauty, and upon stalling in the search, it became evident the role was written for a woman. We found one fantastic actress, as it became evident after discussions with several producers, that I should direct the film too. Even thought that would be my first time directing, that world only made sense in my head.

When the initial actress who was interested was suddenly busy (it's often that way, the ones you want always are engaged elsewhere), I switched to working on another project, a sci-fi web series. There I hooked up with actress Yubai Zhang, and after a time working with her, it occured to me perhaps she could play that character too. Of course, there was a catch. She's asian. Sure it's weird, but so what, it's a movie. So now, this is the adventures of a mysterious asian female spy / assassin, set in 18th century France. It sound mad, but trust me: it works! That's what unique films are made of.

So here we are now. Over the months with John, we did all kind of samples, characters sketches, pencils and layouts, some put into color by John's wonderful colorist Sally Jane Hurst. French publishers are circling the series, while French and US movie production companies are circling the film.

I directed a self-financed proof of concept short film, 15 minutes long, a full reel, that is currently in post-production. Oh irony, the actor who was supposed to play to antagonist to heroine Marianne was unavailable at the last minute, so in stepped on short order fantastic french actor Alexandre Brasseur to replace him. Alexandre is the son of Claude Brasseur, who played Vidocq in the original french TV show, the movie adaption of which was my first professional sale! Things have now come full circle. The short has everything: 18th century locactions, mystery, seduction, twists, a great fight where heroine Marianne must go head to head against three goons, choregraphed by the amazing Manu Lanzi and his great stunt team, a gunfight, a murder and kickass music. All set in late 18th century France.

And now this is where you come in. Tired of seeing to many comics adaptations? Longing for something fresh and original for once? As we head towards the finish line for the short, and try to find the right publisher for the graphic novels, maybe you can help this whole new universe to exist, by being on the ground floor of it. We organised a Kickstarter, offering you the one time only opportunity to own a DVD or Blu-ray of the short film, along with all different kind of goodies. The goal is fairly low, and reaching it will allow the goods to be printed. But if we go beyond, it will also help fine-tuning the short film VFX and sound mix. So if you're in for a lethal 18th century asian spy action, help us get to that goal by next saturday july 25, as then we will post a presentation video where the lead actress and myself will guide you through this world, along with behind the scenes footage, and some exclusive art by John Higgins! We will even give a special shout out to Bleeding Cool readers! If this proves successful, maybe John and I will Kickstart the first graphic novel too. You decide. Remember, there's not fate but what we make. Make it happen!

Thank you for reading this and supporting us, and thanks to Bleeding Cool for reporting on all things Comics and not just major companies blockbusters.

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About Rich Johnston

Head writer and founder of Bleeding Cool. The longest-serving digital news reporter in the world. Living in London, father of two. Political cartoonist.

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