Tim Sulka is a screenwriter, playwright, producer and graphic novelist. His first feature, co-written with actor John Franklin, Children of the Corn 666, was produced and distributed by Miramax/ Dimension and directed by Kari Skogland. Tim was served as the Managing Director of the Alliance Theatre Company of Chicago, co-producing productions of Come Back Little Sheba, The Ruling Class, Moonchildren and The Wake of Jamey Foster to name a few. He now serves as the Associate Company Manager on the Broadway production of the Global Hit, Jersey Boys.
Tim Sulka is a part of the creative team that has brought us the world of Todd Sweeney in the graphic novel Prime Cuts, new twist on an old tale, off the beaten path, way off. Tim was kind enough to take some time from his busy schedule and grant the GEEK an interview.
GEEK: Can you please tell us a little about your background, please?
Tim: Sure, I grew up in the south suburbs of Chicago and focused primarily on theater when I was in high school. I also was involved with the local Community Theater and then when I went to college, I was a theater major as well. I ran a small theater company in Chicago after college and then I moved to Los Angeles to pursue screenwriting with my cousin and writing partner, John Franklin. We were writing partners in high school, writing plays and things. John and I co-wrote Children of the Corn 666 which starred John Franklin, Stacy Keach and Nancy Allen and was produced by Miramax Dimension. Currently I’m in New York where I’m the associate company manager of the Broadway show Jersey Boys.
GEEK: Would you tell us a little bit about Prime Cuts and its main character Todd Sweeney?
Tim: Sure, Todd Sweeney is a young man with a mysterious past who returns to a town called Pure Springs. It is clear right from the beginning that Todd has a vendetta against someone who destroyed his family and that’s pretty much all we know for now. In Volume 1, we first meet Todd when he is being released from Laddsville Cosmetology Prison for Troubled Boys, which is run by mute monks. Through sign language, the monks give Todd advice about how to run his life but he has vengeance in his heart and that’s his only goal. We don’t know what happened to his family or why he ended up in Laddsville at this point but more will be revealed in later issues of Prime Cuts. In spite of him being an innocent in many ways, Todd has great hate in his heart. But, it’s safe to say that he will get caught up in some things that he did not expect. That’s why in the novel’s narration, we focus a lot on fate. Todd is trying to defy his fate, but there are some things that even he cannot control.
GEEK: Very interesting. Now the main character Todd Sweeney of course is based on the legendary fictional character Sweeney Todd.
GEEK: Have you done much research on this legend and do you believe that Sweeny Todd was an actual person or do you think he was just a legend?
Tim: I’ve done a lot of research on the subject. There is even a book out there that tried to find evidence of a real Sweeney Todd but due to poor record keeping at the time, it’s not likely. The legend we know of today actually goes back to the Penny Dreadful pulp fiction of the late 1800s in a story called String of Pearls. And from the research that I did, there was a similar character in fourteenth century France that was used to scare children. It was kind of like the boogie man of its day where parents would tell children a scary bedtime story about the demon barber who would kill them and chop them up and put them into pies. So I’m not sure if there really was a Sweeney Tood in England; there is certainly no proof. Over the years that character has been reincarnated many, many times -- in early silent film, various TV movies, it’s even been a Broadway musical. In Prime Cuts, John and I went for a modern representation of the character.
GEEK: I noticed that there are several people who are helping create Prime Cuts. Would you describe for us what the creative process is like?
Tim: It was pretty painless as far as the working together creatively. John and I created the script and since neither of us were artists, we needed to find someone who could bring the story to life and give it a visual representation. And I formed a company with two partners called Laddsville Entertainment and we’re producing the novel. We also worked with Amy Neswald who helped us conceptualize the visual look -- the sizes of the panels, the camera angles, etc. She’s a writer and filmmaker so she was instrumental in getting us to that level. Then to find the artist, we sifted through a lot of submissions and we ended up finding someone through a co-worker on Jersey Boys whose brother was an artist. The artist is Rob Gutman who currently lives in Austin Texas. We contacted him and he had the unique style that we were looking for. He really got the dark humor of the piece. We didn’t want it to have a standard anime look or the kind of a Marvel Comic look. We wanted it to have its own look because the world of the story is very unique. We wanted to have an Indie feel to the comic and Rob really brought that to the piece. The longest part of putting together the whole thing was creating the characters and creating the setting. There was a great deal of back and forth with that but eventually I think we got something really, really good and with Laddsville Entertainment producing it, we’re able to get the business side of it going and launch the novel. It was a pretty long process though.
GEEK: Something every writer faces as you know is the dreaded writer’s block. What do you do to get the creative juices flowing again?
Tim: I don’t know if I believe in writer’s block. For me, it’s just laziness. Its either, I want to sit down and write or I don’t. Even if I sit down and journal about what happened during my day, getting something done is better than nothing. John and I have been writers for a long time and while I was living in Los Angeles, we would work pretty much every day. But there would be some days we would look at each other and say, “Do you want to just go to a movie?” You know, you just don’t feel like it. The only time I have a real block is I’m plotting out a story and just not getting through it. And so what I’ll do is take a long walk with the dog and just let my mind wander and see what feeds into the story; put it out there basically to my higher self or whatever and say hey, I need some help with this and then see what comes into my consciousness. You just have to sit down and write anything. If that doesn’t work there are different writing techniques -- there is clustering where you start putting down ideas and seeing what stuff comes together. You know you just have to sit down and do the work. Sometimes I hear that writer’s block thing and while it may be true for someone else, I know that for me, I’m just being lazy about sitting down and doing the work.
GEEK: Do you have any other projects that you are currently working on?
Tim: I do actually have something totally different from Prime Cuts. I’ve been developing a family musical with a really great composer named Debra Barsha who composed the musical called Radiant Baby which was about the artist Keith Haring. She and I are writing a musical called The Most Miserable Christmas Tree, which is about a Christmas Tree named Douglas Fir who wakes up on the day after Christmas to find himself out in the trash and doesn’t know what happened to his marvelous life, the one he had being this celebrated Christmas tree. From there, it’s his journey to find out what to do next. The idea we’re exploring is when someone’s purpose is used up, what they do? Especially when they’re not ready to be thrown away! We’ve already had a few readings of it here in New York and we may have another reading of it in Los Angeles in the fall. So we’re trying to get that off the ground and that’s been a great project to work on the last 3 years as well.
GEEK: That is a very unique perspective. I’ve never even considered that angle. I can’t wait to see that.
Tim: You know when you go out on the street and you see these poor trees. They are just lying there and you wonder what are they feeling? What do they think now that they’re being tossed away? For now, we’re planning it as a stage musical but there is also the chance of it being an animated film. There are a lot of prospects for it.
GEEK: You’ve changed December 26th for me forever.
Tim: Laughs. I know you look out on the street and you’ll never be the same.
GEEK: Do you ever see Prime Cuts being made into a feature film the way other graphic novels have?
Tim: Yeah, absolutely. That’s part of our goal with Prime Cuts – to get it done as a feature film. Since we brought it to life with the visual look, it could be an animated series, it could be an animated feature, it could be live action. We’re open to whatever comes our way. Definitely, I’d love to see it done on film in some capacity.
GEEK: And in closing do you have any advice for aspiring writers.
Tim: Well, my advice is to start writing and to not be afraid of rewriting. People sit there and they work and they work and they get their script or whatever done but generally the first pass is not the final product. I’ve come to learn this with the screenplays that John and I have written through the years and with the musical that I’m writing now -- and that we’re still rewriting! It’s always going to need more work and it’s just at what point do you decide, okay, this is finished and I’m ready to send it out. I also advise writers to find people that they trust and that can give them feedback. And generally the rule of thumb for me is, if I hear the same note three times, then I know that this is definitely something I need to look at in my work -- whether it’s a short story or screenplay or whatever. Sometimes you may hear some other things from people and you’re like no, no that’s crazy! But if you hear the same feedback coming three times from people then you know that is something you have to look at. And just do the work. I’m a big structurist so when we write we definitely try to decide what it is we are trying to say with the piece and work out a real plotted storyline and character development. It takes a while before we get to sit down at the computer and write the screenplay. You have to really work up a detailed structure. That makes the first draft so much easier.
GEEK: Good advice, good advice.
GEEK: And in closing do you have anything specific you would like to share with our readers?
Tim: I’m really hoping that everyone checks out Prime Cuts. We have downloads and hard copies available through IndyPlanet.com. And tell your friends. We’re really trying to build a fan base. That’s what will help us produce further volumes, depending on demand and how well it is selling. So the point we are at now is trying to get the word out about the novel, getting fan reaction and getting it to the next level so we can put out more volumes. We’re ready to do it!
GEEK: Tim I certainly appreciate your time.
You won’t find this penny dreadful in your local comic book store so go to http://www.primecutsnovel.com/ and grab yourself copy.
You can also download or purchase a hard copy of Prime Cuts, Vol. 1 IndyPlanet.com.