How many people can say the path of their life has taken them from NBA hopeful to screenwriter to comic book writer? Such is the journey that Jay Longino has walked and he can certainly tell some stories about his adventures in each arena.
A series of screenwriting gigs and a steadfast determination to pursue his passion eventually led him to write the Jackie Chan action-comedy “Skiptrace“, but Jay’s talents as a writer would soon lead him to the comic book world and the creation of his new graphic novel, “Son of Shaolin“. Even more impressive, the book already has a film adaptation in the works, with “Dope” – auteur Rick Famuyiwa attached to direct along with Ryan Kalil of the Carolina Panthers and WWE legend Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson on board to produce!
Today, Jay sits down with KFK to share his amazing journey as both screenwriter and comic book scribe, along with the genesis of “Son of Shaolin” and the process of bringing a graphic novel to vivid, amazing life!
Hi there Jay, great to connect with you today! We hope you’re doing well?
Hi Brad, I’m doing great. Thanks for this chance to speak with you guys at Kung Fu Kingdom!
Awesome. Well, let’s kick off with how you got started as a screenwriter?
Well, it’s kind of ironic, with me being the screenwriter for the upcoming basketball movie, “Uncle Drew”! I played basketball in college, and the NBA had a summer league at the time, so I was able to go to Los Angeles and play one summer and got offered to play professionally in Mexico. While I was in L.A., I met a screenwriter, and was kind of curious about what that entailed, and he told me I should write something myself since I was so curious. So, I started writing a screenplay while I was in Mexico and later when I was in Atlanta coaching a high school team – I probably spent about three years on it and sent it off to some folks in L.A.
I wish I could say I sold my script right there, but I was chasing the dream for about seven or eight years. I actually got a paying gig as a screenwriter when I was hired to do a re-write on “Doctor Dolittle: Tale to the Chief”. Then I wrote “Bachelor Party 2: The Last Temptation” then later, I was lucky enough to fly to China and pitch Jackie Chan on my idea for the movie “Skiptrace”, which was an amazing experience.
Quite a winding path to success you’ve taken and working with Jackie Chan definitely sounds like a major highlight. So, what advice would you give to aspiring screenwriters or comic book writers?
Well, the cliché “Keep writing” is true, so definitely write as much as you can. In my experience and for a lot of other writers I know, it’s pretty rare to see someone sell their first screenplay and get rich overnight. By the time “Skiptrace” was released, that was when I had built up enough contacts that people saw the movie and started asking me what else I had cooking, and I’d had so many ideas like “Son of Shaolin” already stockpiled in my head by that point.
It’s like anything else, the more you do it, the better you get at it. I would also say that even though the internet has changed how we connect, so much of it is about networking that it’s really a good idea to be in L.A. where you can make a lot of connections.
I’d also say don’t listen to people who tell you that certain ideas won’t work. So many people told me “Son of Shaolin” wouldn’t work with an African-American lead character because there’s no market for it, but I’ve been in a lot of situations where if I’d listened to the naysayers, I wouldn’t have the projects that I have now. If you let other people tell you what ideas won’t work, you’re really just chasing your tail.
Well said! Well, that brings us to your graphic novel “Son of Shaolin”. What can you tell us about the genesis of the book and the process of creating it with artist Canaan White?
I was actually walking through my old neighbourhood in Los Angeles and ran into an old friend. We got to talking and he ended up asking me if I had any ideas for writing comic books. I said, “Well, I do have this one idea that I’ve been thinking about”, and I had a two-page treatment for it, so I sent it to him. Then I heard back from him later, “Hey, I’m partnered with Ryan Kalil of the Carolina Panthers, I showed him your treatment and he’d like to finance making of your comic.” I was totally blown away.
As a screenwriter, you write a lot of things that you never end up seeing produced and to see Canaan bring “Son of Shaolin” to life as an artist is so incredible. When you’re the writer of a comic, it’s a lot also being the director of a movie, so I’m definitely down to doing more in the comic book world!
Well, we’re definitely looking forward to reading your future work. On that note, “Son of Shaolin” also has a film adaptation in the works. What can you tell us about how this came about?
Well, this kind of goes back to what I was saying about being in L.A. Canaan had sent me the first five or six inks of the book and I was at dinner with an old friend I hadn’t seen for years who works at Sony. I wasn’t even trying to sell him on any projects, he just asked me what I was up to and I told him about the book and showed him Canaan’s inks. He flipped out and said “I gotta buy this so we can make it into a movie!”. Later on, while we were shopping it around to different studios, he called me up and said, “The Rock’s producing partner, Hiram Garcia, was in my office, and he saw the book on my desk, and he and The Rock want to produce the movie”. I was totally stunned, and I just kind of went, “Okay, that works!” (Both laugh)
That’s a great story right there about how so many big names jumped onto “Son of Shaolin”! So, what can you tell us about the process of writing a graphic novel? How does the writer coordinate with the artist to achieve a common vision for the project?
It involves a lot time alone in a room staring at computer screen when you want to be doing other things! (Both laugh) It was my first time writing a comic book but for me, it wasn’t that different from writing a screenplay. I looked at a lot of samples from other writers on how they staged shots, and read some books on directing to learn how to compose a shot. It’s a lot like writing a storyboard for a movie. It ended up being really challenging for Canaan to illustrate, because I wrote in so much detail for every panel.
I love David Fincher, he’s my favourite director and every shot he does has so much detail and so much going on, even if it’s just a bottle on a desk behind someone. I also sent him a lot of screenshots from movies like “8 Mile” because that’s the kind of environment I wanted to create. So, I really tried to write that kind of minute detail into the book, but we both had a really good sense of what we both wanted the book to become and were able to communicate it to each other. We actually have three more books coming out next year, and two more books in the “Son of Shaolin” series – I think we’ll be working together for a long, long time…
Superb! On that note, the book also features a foreword from Aisha Tyler. What can you tell us about how this came about?
It’s not as exciting as you’re probably hoping. (Both laugh) She and I have a mutual friend, and he knew she’s a big comic book fan. So, I reached out to her through him, and she said “Wow, this is great, I’d love to write the foreword” and I think she really knocked it out of the park.
Indeed she did! You were also at San Diego Comic Con this past July giving a panel on the book and the film adaptation. What would you like to share about that experience?
Well, Comic Con had seen an advance version of the book, and we really wanted to do a panel on diversity in comics and movies, so they contacted us and told us we had a spot. I’d never done anything like that and it was a really cool experience to see people very excited for the book before it was even out. The security guard actually stopped me afterwards and said, “Just so you know, I specifically asked to be stationed at this room so I could see your panel.”
Icing on the cake, fabulous! Thank you so much for the pleasure of this interview Jay. We look forward to the upcoming film adaptation of “Son of Shaolin” and all of your upcoming projects. Keep in touch!
Thanks a lot, it’s been a pleasure to be here on Kung Fu Kingdom!