Starting in 2005 with Batman Begins, comic book adaptations abandoned camp in favor of grittier, more realistic storylines and action sequences. In 2008, Marvel released the first Iron Man movie, the film that kickstarted the Marvel Cinematic Universe and redefined what was possible in terms of world building across different forms of media. Suddenly, comics were cool again, and millions of people — including Justin Connors — were paying attention.
“2008 was the year I graduated from film school,” says Justin. Everything he knew about comics and movies was changing, and it was changing in a way that favored the kind of movies he wanted to make.
A couple of years later, Justin was browsing his local comic shop when he came across a copy of filmmaker Kevin Smith’s Green Hornet, a comic based on a script Smith had written that never got off the ground. In this version of the story, Britt Reid, Jr. takes up the mantle of the Green Hornet after his father, the original Hornet, is slain. He teams up with Kato’s daughter Mulan, and together they build upon the legacies of their parents.
“I remember opening that book and thinking it felt different than a normal comic — it felt like a movie,” says Justin. “I knew about Green Hornet from the TV show, which was campy. This wasn’t, and furthermore, it added to the lore.”
For Justin, Smith’s book captured his imagination and opened up limitless possibilities regarding storytelling. He started thinking about other ways to play with the family dynamics of the original Green Hornet series, and in turn subvert traditional comic book tropes.
“What if Britt Reid became the Green Hornet not because his father is rich, or because he died tragically, but because his father is the bad guy?”
He wrote an outline for a script in which Britt’s father is a media magnate funding evil on the side. Britt turns to vigilanteism to undermine his father’s shady dealings.
Kevin Smith is also heavily involved in the Wayne Foundation, a non-profit dedicated to fighting and eliminating child slavery and sex trafficking. After hearing Smith talk about his work with the organization, Justin reached out to the Wayne Foundation’s Founder and President, Jamie Walton, with an idea for a commercial promoting the work the foundation does with women and children all over the world.
That project didn’t end up panning out, but it did open his eyes to the issues surrounding that particular kind of evil. He decided to work it into his story outline for The Green Hornet, both as a nod to Smith and Walton’s work and as a way to raise awareness.
In Justin’s version of the story, a group of girls find themselves drugged and imprisoned after a night of partying. They’re saved by a mysterious hero in a green mask and trusty sidekick, Kato. Rounding out the party is Jade, Kato’s sister.
“She’s every bit the fighter Kato is,” says Justin. “and I think it adds a fun sense of sibling camaraderie (or rivalry) to the whole thing.”
Justin sent the outline to his friend, writer Esteban “Steve” Rodriguiez. An early version of the script was produced, and then the project sat in development for a few years. Justin worked on other projects — Actress, a short-form psychological horror film released in 2013, and Fauxtography, a comedic web series released in 2014.
“During that time, the idea for the Green Hornet film kept percolating. Steve would send me a version of the script, I would send him notes, and so on, but it just kind of sat on my back burner. Finally, I decided it was time to make this thing I’d been working on for years.”
The timing is no coincidence. To make the film, which begins shooting in April 2017, Justin is teaming up with co-producer Van Manson and director of photography Andy Sankovich, friends he met during his time as a student studying film at Full Sail University. After graduation, Justin, Van, and Andy all found themselves working at Full Sail, where they met co-producer Andrew Geimer. Their professional lives allowed them to continue honing their filmmaking skills and deepened their creative bond. Now, says Justin, it’s time to put those skills to work.
“Me, Andy, Van, and Andrew are all action guys,” says Justin. “We’re ready to take this project on, and we are unafraid to make something great.”
“There are a lot of factors personally in my life right now that are helping me realize this thing I feel like I was meant to do is possible,” he adds. “I’ve been saying “What am I waiting for?’ for years. Well, I’m not waiting anymore.”