There are, as it turns out, other reasons to make the annual geek pilgrimage to San Diego Comic-Con every summer besides convincing your friends to dress up with you in authentic Battlestar costumes. Producer J.C. Christofilis spent some time perusing the indie comics corner of the sprawling convention floor, finding comic artist Martin Shapiro and his graphic novel Chopper.
Months later, a teaser trailer for the upcoming Chopper web series is now out (below), and even a clothing line has come on as lead sponsor. To be sure, the actual series hasn’t been shot yet, but the recent addition of horror actor Tyler Mane (Michael Myers from Rob Zombie’s Halloween films) is helping with the early buzz. Mane stars as the titular ‘Chopper’ character, a headless horseman killer—who’s horse is a Harley—seeking vengeance on “mortal sinners.” This means killing and collecting his victims heads of course.
In getting this project off the ground, Christofilis pitched the concept to Southern Cal-based Sullen Clothing, an edgy action sports brand, in hopes of securing enough capital to shoot the first season. Sullen was looking to grow its presence amongst the horror-loving young male demo that Chopper is targeting. “We pride ourselves on being an innovative, art-driven company,” said Sullen co-founder Jeremy Hanna, “and J.C. laid out a clear vision of how Chopper’s creative execution will enable Sullen to authentically reinforce our edgy brand values with our existing fans, while driving awareness of our products with a new consumer base as well.”
It’s still early, but Christofilis and his branded entertainment agency DILEMMA have already made some smart moves. One of which is tapping Nina Bargiel, the transmedia producer behind MTV’s Streamy-winning series Valemont. Add to that bringing on web series vet (and Tubefilter writer) Jenni Powell for some of the social elements of the project.
We caught up with Christofilis to find out more about how he optioned the comic, scored a local brand, and landed some name talent all without a majort network distribution partner.
Tubefilter: How did you find Martin and his Chopper comic, it was Comic-Con right? What was the deal like?
Christofilis: Martin and I go way back to our days at UCLA film school. I was in the producers program and he was in the screenwriting one. I knew he had a Chopper script in the works for a number of years, but it was when I ran into him at San Diego Comic-Con 2010 that his prequel comic really got me interested in the project. Since he had already been thinking in terms of backstory with the prequel comic, the material just struck me as a natural fit to create a fun, immersive story world that could lead up to the film/comic storylines—hence I optioned the material once I got Martin onboard with my vision to give Chopper the transmedia treatment.
Tubefilter: Did you pitch several brands or just Sullen? Was it hard without a network distribution partner already on board?
Christofilis: I’ve followed action sports brands for years as they tend to embrace the type of bold, edgy marketing I find most fulfilling. As soon as I optioned the material, Sullen was the first brand that popped into my mind as far as being a perfect fit for the dark, envelope pushing content I wanted to create. So I stalked the owners at the MAGIC Fashion trade show last year and thankfully they were bold enough to respond to my vision for integrating them into the project. Their support has been unwavering and now that we are launched, they will be working closely with me to convince some larger brands to get onboard the Chopper horror train.
Tubefilter: Is Sullen going to be integrated into the series itself, or just selling ancillary merchandise?
Christofilis: I believe in subtle integration. When I was spearheading New Media for Mandalay Pitcures way back in 1999, our division shepherded a program creted by Kent Bateman called VPOV (Various Points of View) which offered talent guidance on how to organically interweave and integrate products into storylines without hitting people over the head with typically lame, corporate product placement. If you look at the trailer, it is perfectly natural for a tattoo artist to be wearing a Sullen shirt as they are a brand with deep respect in the tattoo community. That said, there will also be more overt tie-ins, promotions and other merchandising opportunities cross-pollinating our social media channels.
Tubefilter: What kind of transmedia experience can fans expect? Are we talking pretty elaborate in terms of layers?
Christofilis: The million dollar question! And the simple answer is that any future scope is entirely budget dependent. Thankfully, with Sullen’s support and some pending deals we will have enough to create a compelling multi-platform experience on a modest scale. And myself and my transmedia producer are masters at creating a lot of value with limited resources. But one of the goals in launching the trailer a bit early in the process was to demonstrate the traction we could get on a single video in order to reassure larger brands that this is content their consumers are hungry for and ideally that will bring more dollars into the fold to expand the scope of any content we already intend to produce.
Tubefilter: How many episodes in the first run?
Christofilis: Since we’re still pretty early in the process, my writer Martin, along with Nina, Jenni and myself, are working diligently to map out a distribution pattern for the content we have been developing so far. At minimum, we intend to give our first season story arc the level of treatment that would justify repackaging the content down the line. So I’d say a safe bet is that we will be looking at 6-12 episodes minimum. But, again, evolving budget matters may change that game plan to justify more episodes in Season 1. And we are also developing Season 2 and beyond content given the belief we have that the project will really connect given the level talent and production value we already have in the works.
Tubefilter: Will it be available globally or are you geo-blocking territories?
Christofilis: Interesting question. Tyler Mane has a true international following and I think it would behoove us to get this out globally. Those crazy Europeans love their dark, edgy content! German goth fans, keep an eye out for us!