John Rogers has Leverage

Comic book writer John Rogers talks about his new show and game.

craveonlineby craveonline

John Rogers has Leverage

Comic book writer John Rogers is now the creator and producer of TNT's new action show Leverage. We got to catch up with Rogers to promote the new online game available to play on Like the team of specially skilled thieves and con artists, players can test their skills for a chance at $100,000.
Crave Online: Where did the idea for the Leverage online game come from?

John Rogers: This is the thing. I'm an online freak and a multimedia freak. If we could be available on every electronic device on the planet, I would love it. The TNT PR people are great. They're the best in the business and I'm not saying that to suck up. I don't need to suck up. They sold the hell out of it. They had the idea for a game and they got a really good company. I'll say as a gamer, they called me and I said, "All right, just to let you know, I was up 'til four a.m. playing Dead Space last night. So be aware of who you're talking to here." They said, "All right, good. We can shorthand." We talked about the format for a lot of the games, what they would look like, how to integrate them in with the characters. They already had done a lot of great work. They sent us the scripts to look at and make sure they were in the right voices and I think they've done a great job. Anything that keeps you hooked into that story space in these days when there's a new thing to get your attention every five minutes, I will take, absolutely.

Crave Online: Did you have to do any extra writing for the game?

John Rogers: No, they do a fair bunch of writing and then we gave them some voice stuff. The writing is so specific around setting up the elements of the game. When we're working on an episode, we're working around classic cons and classic crimes. For the computer game, you're working around the formats of flash based games that work well on websites. They're the game designers. They knew how to build stuff around that format and we just gave them flavor.

Crave Online: How would you compare doing TV with a new episode every week, with doing comic books with a new episode every month?

John Rogers: It's a similar thing. It's interesting, I was doing comic books, mostly a big chunk of it during the writer's strike. I flipped back and forth between movies a lot and TV. I say in movies that a lot of times in movies, we talk about doing our job more than we actually do our job. In comic books and TV, it's the same deadline, it's the same feeling, also sequential storytelling stylistically speaking. So I think, ironically, TV writers have a little bit easier time transitioning into comics than feature guys.

Crave Online: Do you storyboard your episodes? Do you carry that over from the comic world?

John Rogers: Well, we don't really have time to tell you the truth. Certain sequences that are particularly complex, we do storyboard. For example, we have Paul Robins who is a consultant from law enforcement on cons and heists. A lot of times we'll say we want to do a particular pickpocket move or a particular con and he'll actually film it on his flip camera. We'll then break it down into storyboards with some software and we'll have that as reference. And our studio head and director, Dean Devlin, who's directed four episodes this season, he storyboards quite obsessively. Really it's the choice of the working director what choice they want to make.

Crave Online: How about the idea of having an ending to each episode, rather than a cliffhanger to make you buy the next issue?

John Rogers: Yeah, the thing I think about when I do comics is, and you'll see even when I did Blue Beetle, I ended up doing a bunch of one and dones just to learn how to do it within 22 pages. It was very much a learning experience in a new medium for me. But each issue of the comic is much more like a half a TV show or an act of a TV show, which is something my editor, Joan, had to get me used to on Blue Beetle.

Crave Online: What was your entrée into the comic book world?

John Rogers: I actually started, Ross Richie had started BOOM! Studios, the comic book company, and I said, "Listen, I want to give it a shot. Can I write for you?" He said, "Yeah, we're actually doing an anthology, Zombie Tales." That's actually where the book came from, is a bunch of writers, myself, Ross and Andy Cosby were sitting around saying, for whatever reason every writer has a zombie story. The zombie myth is kind of really a bigger archetype or bigger metaphor about whatever that writer feels about death or fear or corruption or civilization, whatever. So he put together his first book, Zombie Tales. We each took a run. We each had like six to eight pages to take a run at it. I tell you, it was funny, I wrote mine and then I immediately called both Mark Wade and Warren Ellis and said, "You know what? Whatever crap I've given you over the course of our friendship, I completely apologize. This is the hardest writing I've done in my life. This kicked my ass. I've written movies in four weeks and this thing took me two weeks and nearly killed me." So it was a really steep learning curve, particularly short form which is brutal.

Crave Online: So that was before Blue Beetle.

John Rogers: It was before Blue Beetle. What happened is I'd done a bunch of BOOM! anthologies, different shorts for BOOM! and I had met Keith Giffen through Ross actually. Keith was actually a fan of mine because he had read my adaptation of Matt Wagner's Mage, just one of those weird little coincidences. You all hang out at Comic Con, you all wind up bumping into each other. What happened is after they killed Ted, what they did is they went to Keith and said, "Listen, if you don't want to take the Blue Beetle mantle, we're just hanging it up. It's just going in the closet." So Keith thought about doing a series but he was thinking, "Yeah, I'd like to work with somebody just in case I wind up having something else." He knew I was interested in writing bigger comics so he called me. I had publicly bitched about how much I didn't like how they handled Ted's death which always amuses my friends. I got a job for basically insulting my bosses. Keith said, "Listen, you didn't care how they handled it. You want to be in on the ground floor starting the new legacy?" So I thought, "And learn to write comic book writing from Keith Giffen? Come on!" So that doesn't come along often. I immediately jumped in and he very much broke and storied out the first couple issues and with me dialoguing over it. Then around issue six or so, I started doing more. Issue seven was a solo to see whether I'd learned anything. Then he really transitioned out over eight and nine and then handed me the book by 10, 11.

Crave Online: Talk about the tone of Leverage. It seems it doesn't take itself too seriously.

John Rogers: We can't. That's a choice you make now and the choice a lot of dramas make is to go very grim and very gritty. We have a saying in the room: Don't stop the fun train. Other shows have that stuff locked down. We joke about when it comes to the villains on TV, with serial killers, they have caught more serial killers every year on television than have existed in the history of mankind. Greasy white dudes who are breaking into your house and terrorizing you, other shows have that locked down. We're the fun Robin Hood show every week. If that's what you're in the mood for, great. We're really trying to be a late '60s, early '70s show, consciously. As a conscious decision, we really try to stay fun and light. We try to make sure everything makes sense and we try to make sure the puzzle is very satisfying. There's actually a lot of research that goes into every episode where there's a framework and accretion of detail that even if you're not aware of, there's a reason we do things the way we do it. If you're going to worry about how they got into the building from outside when they're repelling down the 40th story, we're not your show. We're the show for Robin Hood and Ocean's 11 and It Takes a Thief and Rockford Files every week.

Crave Online: I was hoping each episode would end with the freeze frame but so far only your first one did.

John Rogers: You know what, they won't let us do it. We really wanted to but they wouldn't let us do it. Unfortunately that's one stylistic thing they wouldn't let us do. We totally dug that we got away with that for the pilot.

Crave Online: There's dark humor too though, in the flashbacks.

John Rogers: Yeah, we don't take ourselves seriously but at the same time we want the jokes to be honest. We want the jokes to be hip and funny. It's basically saying just because you're doing a late '60s/early '70s style show doesn't mean you can't do little hip, dark, subversive things along the way.

Crave Online: My only issue is, did you have to do the slow motion running from the explosion?

John Rogers: You know, it was one of those things where we went back and forth on it. The fact that the actors actually did it was kind of a big deal because all the actors are totally gung ho for their stunts. They said, "We really want to do the run." We had them run in front of a secondary explosion. We did a slightly smaller blow before them as they ran away from it. They risked getting set on fire so we figured we should give them a little honey.

Crave Online: Will Sterling be a recurring nemesis?

John Rogers: Yes. He doesn't show up a lot. He shows up twice more and then in the season finale but really Mark [Sheppard] is somebody you want to drop in very light because if you have him around too much and you beat him, then he loses the threat. The interesting thing about Sterling up to the season finale and maybe even into the season finale is he never actually loses. Worst he ever gets is a tie. We really want to make sure he stays very scary so yeah, he'll be recurring.

Crave Online: Does that garter belt card scanner really exist?

John Rogers: The card scanner that you saw is actually bigger than the real one. The amazing thing is the more tech research we do, the more we have to fudge it so it looks believable. The bone conduction ear pieces they use are right. If you set up a series of transmitters over a city, you can get citywide communication. Almost everything the phones can do is real. That card scanner was interesting because we got a note from the network, like, "Isn't this a little over the top?" I went, "Over the top? It's sitting on my desk. It's $15. I'll send you to the website." One of the things that we found during the research is the world's a lot more chaotic and scary than you think it is. A really determined bunch of smart dudes is well nigh unstoppable.

Crave Online: Do you have any more comic book projects in the works?

John Rogers: I've had some stuff in talks with DC and scheduling just got out of hand. Also, to tell you the truth, I'm much more interested in digital delivery right now. If you read my blog, I'm a bit of a new media whore. So I'm actually working with some website designers and some other comic book writers now to figure out some sort of experimental project for digital download. Then we're going to grab some artists and do a little launch project to see what works.

Crave Online: Do you call on any of your RPG experience for that?

John Rogers: Well, it's interesting. When you step into someplace like DC, you are stepping into a fully formed world. To a great degree, a lot of the fun of Blue Beetle was our weird little take on what you usually think of the DC universe behaving like. So when I just did some design for Wizards of the Coast for Dungeons and Dragons, I did the thing for Manuel of the Plane, it was all world building and basically creating an atmosphere for a narrative that the players and DM will create. So it was definitely an interesting additional bit of writing. No writing you do is ever wasted, ever. It always adds to the tool box. It definitely made me think, "Okay, if we're actually going to do our own material, I have to put much more thought into building the world and building the tone for the arena for my characters." So yeah, it always adds to it. Everything adds to it.

Crave Online: How big an honor is it to have a Razzie for Catwoman?

John Rogers: [LAUGHS] Well, it's just weird because there's one sentence of mine in that script. There were close to 20 writers on that movie by the end of it and the guild only allows four. So they basically drew straws and the people who's name are on it are on it. It's kind of cool because it's a Razzie. On the other hand I don't think I really earned it. I really want to direct a movie that earns a Razzie so I can take full ownership of it.

Crave Online: Mike Ferris went and accepted it, didn't he?

John Rogers: You know what's weird? I didn't go. It says on my IMDB page that I went and I keep correcting it. Apparently, whoever was doing the reporting confused me and Ferris and Brancato, so they assumed it was me. It was actually Ferris who went. And Ferris and Brancato will be the first ones to tell you that movie that's up there isn't what they wrote. It's the nature of corporate filmmaking. On the other hand, I just got a lovely check from my residuals from having my name on it that I sent to my favorite charity. End of day, whatever grief I take for having my name on that movie balances out for the good I've managed to do with the money that I made off it.

Crave Online: Well, there's a certain status in a Razzie too.

John Rogers: Yeah, in the great morass of horror that is Hollywood, it's a sign that you're at least involved in the process to a legitimate degree.

Crave Online: Listen, Halle Berry accepted hers.

John Rogers: Halle actually was very funny. I saw a video of her speech and she was pretty hilarious. She was a good sport.

Crave Online: How much of your work was in Transformers?

John Rogers: Oh, it was pretty huge. The Sam/Bumblebee, that entire relationship was mine. The highway fight, the fight in the city, the fight at the army base, the whole bit with them coming down from space, landing and taking different forms. Really my job as first guy on, I'll tell you how I was hired. They said, "Listen, we need a geek. We need someone who we don't need to teach all this stuff to who can break the spine of this movie." So I went in and basically wrote that version of the movie. The guys came in, Rob and Alex, with Michael and Michael had a certain vision of the movie he wanted to make. Also the whole reason Megatron is frozen is in my version, he shows up and that's the big fight all the way through the movie. Budgetwise, my version was a $250 million movie. So they really had to find a plotline that really limited the amount of frame rendering they were doing because it was just brutal. So that's how they wound up freezing him and that's why that whole Sector 7 plotline and everything developed.

Crave Online: Was the backyard scene you or them?

John Rogers: That's Bob and Alex. In my version of the script, that's mostly Sam and Bumblebee up to that point. There's a version of that with Bumblebee in mine without the rest of them. The timelines and scenes kind of got shifted around. They did a great job. They were the ones who humped it through production and managed to make a lot of changes that needed to be made so the damn thing could be shot.

Crave Online: I know you're busy, but you haven't stopped reading comics, have you?

John Rogers: Not at all. Joe Casey and I are friends and we just spent an hour yesterday trying to figure out Final Crisis together.

Crave Online: What are you into now?

John Rogers: I'm a big Drew fan so I liked his arc on Buffy, the Buffy the Vampire Slayer media expansion. I find the idea that you can extend that story into a different story space is really fascinating. I like Secret Invasion. Call me crazy, I dug a lot of it. I'm liking Thor. I'm liking Punisher. Let's see, what's on my grab pull list? Birds of Prey is going away which sucks. I really loved Gail's Welcome to Tranquility. I don't know if she's still doing it anymore. I'm kind of following different writers now than titles. I love Secret Six of course because it's Gail's. That's great. I love The Umbrella Academy. I think it's amazing that he managed to do that considering he hadn't really done comics before. I mean, Gabriel Ba helps but I think he really was writing the hell out of that. Superman's hard now because I have to admit, all that stuff is so tied up in the crossovers. It's not the type of storytelling I enjoy. I like small, contained storytelling because then you get a sense of how that writer works.