Eric Gitter didn’t need a huge Batman movie to tell him that comicbooks were a great place to find material. Like many of his generation, Gitter and siblings Marshall and Lisa were already hooked on the medium — not to mention the worlds of film and television.
“We were just pop culture idiot savants,” says Gitter, who now serves as the Hollywood point person for Portland, Ore.-based indie comics publisher Oni Press.
With more than 10 of Oni’s properties in development around town, Gitter’s company, Closed on Mondays, is supplying A-list producers with proven pulp alternatives to the same old superhero fare.
“What’s so incredibly unique about Oni is they’re one of the very few comicbook companies that’s not genre-specific,” Gitter says. “When I looked at what they had coming out, it was almost like they were running a studio development slate in a different medium.”
Edgar Wright took to the “Scott Pilgrim” series, about an early-20s slacker extraordinaire with no end of girl trouble. McG optioned “Maintenance,” a sci-fi comedy featuring two janitors stuck cleaning up behind a group of mad scientists. And Mandalay tapped F. Gary Gray to direct “Julius,” which transposes Shakespeare’s “Julius Caesar” to the modern realm of organized crime.
That last example echoes Gitter’s first producing gig, “O.” He’d loved Tim Blake Nelson’s “Othello”-in-high-school script, which then-UTA-agent Howard Cohen had sent him after watching “a teeny little film” Gitter had been working on with his siblings.
But the Columbine High School shootings in 1999 complicated “O’s” release, adding instant controversy to its finale.
“We went through one of those tumultuous rides that wound up taking a tremendous amount of my time fighting to get the film out,” recalls Gitter, who has two more projects with Nelson in the works. They’re shooting “Leaves of Grass” now, with “Seasons of Dust” up next.
But Gitter needed more material and, in partnering with Oni, was ahead of the curve on where to find it: “As producers, we’re all chasing after one-offs, and I said, ‘There has to be a better way to do this.'”
Oni deals mainly in graphic novels and limited-run comics, which Gitter finds far easier to adapt than men-in-tights sagas with decades of backstory.
First into production will be “Scott Pilgrim vs. the World,” starring Michael Cera and Mary Elizabeth Winstead, set for an early 2009 start, though DreamWorks, Universal and Warners all have multiple Oni properties in the works.
Gitter even sold some, like Ben Stiller starrer “The Return of King Doug,” as treatments for forthcoming titles.
“With Oni’s reputation, everybody has such a level of confidence that the book’s going to be a quality piece of material — they make me look really good,” he says.
PROVENANCE: West Orange, N.J.
INSPIRATION: “Fear of abject poverty,” he jokes before listing “the usual suspects. I grew up on Scorsese, Coppola and Spielberg.”