This article originally appeared three years ago today on June 26, 2009, at a now defunct webzine. Scott Marcano is one of those people cursed with a very interesting life. From working for MGM (Bio-Dome, anyone?) to teaching troubled teens to self-publishing graphic novels, Scott is a creative force to be reckoned with. Known in many circles as “Mister Diablo”, he keeps busy nowadays with assorted writing ventures, making his own movies, and keeping the fading art of sharing scary campfire tales from slipping away into the schizophrenia of our culture.
Scott, you produce comics, you make movies, you go in many directions. Share with us some of your background- when did you first consider a career in the Arts?
And what exactly gave birth to Diablo- the company and the persona?
Yes, I do work in different mediums like film and comics, but to me, it all seems to boil down to the same impulse- to be an imaginative storyteller. I grew up on the west coast, just north of Los Angeles. I’ve always had a big imagination and loved to tell stories. It was probably stimulated by reading fantasy and science fiction books voraciously as a teenager. The Dragon Riders of Pern, John Carter of Mars, the works of Tolkien, CS Lewis, Asimov were some of my favorites. I was always making little comic books and writing short stories to entertain myself with.
Funny enough, however, even though I always made films and comics, I never took being a writer or filmmaker very seriously until I was in my second year of college at UC Santa Cruz. Up until that point, I think I had some misguided ambition of becoming a politician or lawyer or something awful like that. I didn’t really have the confidence to think I could actually make a real living at comics or films. I remember I was at a party and a friend of mine starting talking about how great the film program was at NYU, and suddenly it just clicked in my head- I had to go to New York and learn how to make films. After I finished my undergrad at NYU, I traveled across South America for awhile looking for adventure, then I went to graduate film school at USC. Things took off really quickly for me in film school, and I sold my first script before I completed my studies.
The Diablo persona had its origins when I was a kid. For some reason, the other kids at school always thought I had a slightly devilish look to my face- maybe it was my slanted eyes and high cheek bones, I don’t really know, but they used to tease me all the time and say I was Rosemary’s Baby or Devil Boy. I always found the notion to be somewhat amusing. Years later, as an adult, I had a job between films, teaching creative writing to middle and high school kids in South Central Los Angeles and my students (who could never pronounce my name properly to begin with) also seemed to think I looked a lot like Satan, so to make it easier on them, I told them to just call me “Mr. Diablo”.
Around the same time, I started telling them a lot of ghost stories. In part to motivate them to do their work and also as a way to teach them about act structure and how to tell an entertaining story. It really took on a life of its own after that. I became a mini-celebrity at all the schools I worked at. I became “Diablo” – the ghost storytelling teacher. I put some videos up on the internet of me telling my stories and soon kids I’d never laid eyes on before were stopping me in the street and asking for my autograph.
Eventually, I started my own website, Mister Diablo’s Neighborhood, and put up all my stories, videos and pages of comic books I’ve developed. Word about the website had spread to pretty much every teenager in South Central. It became so popular that a Los Angeles Unified School District official banned access to it from school computers, which only succeeded in making it ten times more popular. So, “Diablo” has become my official horror pen name at this point. I can’t really escape it anymore, even if I tried. When the time came to start my own production company, I couldn’t think of a more appropriate moniker than Diablo Productions.
I think artists can affect more people than politicians or lawyers, or at least affect people more positively. I also think there are many a teacher who would be envious of the ability to capture and maintain the attention of students like that as well.
I read (and reviewed) your graphic novel, The Unwanted. Was that the first real professional stab at comics for you? And what was the process like, for you personally? Admittedly, parts of it were a bit shaky, but I have watched dozens of B-horror movies that lacked that level of imagination or characterization (nudge nudge).
Yes, I’m very lucky to have had the success with students that I’ve had. It’s been a very rewarding experience. The Unwanted was one of my first professional forays into comics. When we decided to start Diablo Productions we envisioned it as both a film and comic book company. To this end, we started developing three graphic novels simultaneously. Sadly, the artist on the first GN that was started died unexpectedly and we had to scrap it. The second one, Hum, took a bit longer to develop because we were using color and needed to be a lot more meticulous and make a lot of changes along the way to make sure the story was clear. The Unwanted ended up being the first graphic novel we published, because the story and artwork were very straight forward.
I got the idea for the story while working at a school. There was this one particularly bad class that no teacher had lasted more than a week or two in, so the administration asked me if “Diablo” wanted to take a crack at it. It was a really tough bunch of kids. They were so bad that the school had actually exiled them in this isolated area in the back of the school. I taught them for about three weeks and it was very difficult. They weren’t bad kids, but they had A LOT of issues. One thing I learned from getting to know these kids better was that most of their problems were emotional, rather than academic. All of them were from foster homes or dysfunctional families. It struck me how neither the school system or their families wanted to deal with them, how isolated they’d become in the world, they were literally Unwanted. This became the basic idea behind the story: a group of troubled kids, trapped inside an isolated juvenile detention center who are being hunted down by a relentless demon that feeds on society’s unwanted youth. Their only chance for survival is to face their tormentor and bond together to defeat it.
The characters of the kids were very much inspired by the real kids I was dealing with at the time. Although the situation in the graphic novel was very simple (perhaps a typical “B” horror movie set-up, if you will), however, I wanted the characters and themes to be complex, and to be relevant to the real world.
I think many people write off horror stories as cheesy because, unfortunately, there is a lot of poorly written and executed material out there. But horror can be quite original and enlightening. It really comes down to taking the time to be imaginative within the genre and developing good characters, you know, reaching for something more than just a bunch of stupid teens waiting to be butchered. If you look at The Exorcist for example, what made that film such a truly spectacular and chilling experience wasn’t just the flying buckets of pea soup, it was the incredible performances of the actors and the great writing of Peter Blatty that made all the characters feel very much like real people you knew and cared about. That’s what I was trying (hopefully) to bring to The Unwanted, to create a terrifying story, filled with good characters that the reader could identify and relate to.
Speaking of characters that an audience can identify with, the only films of yours I do not believe I’ve yet seen are The Fountain Clowns (with the always cool Ted Raimi) and your more recent The Journey, both of which seem like vastly different beasts than the more notorious Bio-Dome, which you also had a hand in. The Journey even sounds a bit auto-biographical. Was it flown under the Diablo Productions banner?
And having before worked as a writer/producer/director, which hat suits you personally the best?
Ted Raimi is awesome! I really enjoyed working with him, and I hope to do another film with him again soon. Yes, both The Fountain Clowns and The Journey were very different films than Bio-Dome. Although, for the record, a lot of people still come up to me and tell me that Bio-Dome is their favorite film of all time, albeit they are usually really, really stoned when they say this to me!
The Journey is a somewhat autobiographical film. It’s a romantic comedy based partly upon experiences I had while traveling from Mexico to South America by backpack one year. The inspiration came to me because I got so fed up listening to Lou Dobbs on CNN talk about how Latino immigrants are destroying this country. I felt that was a very one-sided and stereotypical view. I mean, you listen to Lou Dobbs enough and you’d think every Latino was an illegal alien.
So I made my story about a Latino character going to Mexico. I guess, it’s a reverse immigration story! The story follows the adventures of a Latino slacker who gets dumped by his PC girlfriend. After a bunch of misadventures trying to date other women, our slacker hero decides that he has to get his true love back, so he goes to Mexico to find her and winds up discovering his cultural roots along the way. The film was done under the Diablo banner, and I’m really proud of the way the film turned out. We shot on location in Mexico and won numerous awards in international film festivals. The film was picked up by Vanguard Cinema and released on DVD in February. You can rent it on Netflix, Blockbuster, or by going to our website: www.thejourneythemovie.com.
I wrote/directed and co-produced the film. Never again! It completely wore me out! If I had a choice I would not have worn so many hats, but getting the first film out under my company banner required that I take on a lot of responsibility. Fortunately, I had a lot of help from an excellent crew. If I had to choose a single hat to wear, I would be really torn. Producing is my least favorite activity because, no matter what producers like to say about “making art”, the truth is, producing is 99% a business and marketing job. There’s really no active creativity to it, per se. Writing is great, because it’s where the rubber hits the road in terms of pure imagination. The writer has the biggest challenge of anyone involved in the film because they have to create everything from scratch. So, it’s a very exciting and challenging profession from that perspective, however, it’s also a very solitary activity. It can be lonely. You can see the toll it takes on many writers.
Directing is also very creative. And it’s very social. Being on the set and working with the actors, you’re under constant pressure. It keeps you on your toes with adrenaline pumping all the time. Directing demands constant interaction and diplomacy with people. When it’s going well, there’s nothing like it, it’s like you’re on a big adventure with the entire crew- it’s fantastic. I guess I can’t decide which I like more, that’s why I’ve pushed to direct and write my projects whenever possible.
Where did The People of the Sea come from? As it predates much of your comics work, was it your first exploration of fantasy? And would you ever return to that world?
The People of the Sea was a fantasy novel I penned a year or two before getting into comics. Your instinct is correct, it was my first serious attempt at writing fantasy. I had always wanted to write in the genre because Tolkien and CS Lewis were some of my favorite writers growing up, but I wanted to do something that was very different than the “classic” fantasy realms they helped define, you know, a world of orcs, wizards, castles and dragons, etc. So I came up with the idea of setting a fantasy story in a totally different, unique environment, in this case, upon an endless ocean. The story follows an epic journey of a lost tribe of humans that are exiled on the “endless sea” in search of an elusive paradise known as the far shore.
The heart of the tale is a love story between a young girl, who has to hide her magic abilities because she’s a woman, and a reckless young warrior she’s trying to save. I incorporated a mix of a lot of different cultures into the narrative (Mexican, Scandinavian, and Polynesian) because I wanted to show that in this strange world (just like our own) people have to learn to overcome their various ethnic prejudices and differences in order to survive. I also touched upon environmental themes in the narrative because the journey the characters go through teaches them to respect and care for the ocean.
I found writing a prose novel like this to be much more intensive than screenplay or comic writing. Normally, I can pump out a screenplay in two months or less, but writing the novel is much more involved. The details take a lot of time to describe. It took me two years. I’d love to write another novel again soon, maybe even expand on The People of the Sea; I just have to find the time. I’m actually, currently involved in adapting the novel into a graphic novel, that we’re going to start illustrating sometime next year.
Your most recent GN, Hum, also deals with exiled peoples, along with many other themes. I think when I first contacted you I described it as an archetypal fable void of archetype characters. It really is a beautiful, endearing work. I would sell it as neo-mythological. Honestly, I could find absolutely nothing wrong with the book, and I take a human level of pride at times destroying others. This is why I wanted to interview you instead of reviewing the book. I want people to read Hum.
Tell us about the collaboration. What was your working relationship with co-writer Tom Lenoci like? And the art from Renzo Podesta, who illustrates like a cross between Ted McKeever and David Mazzuchelli, where on earth did you find him?
I’m very excited about Hum and flattered by the kind things you have to say about the book. I really hope people discover the book as well! Tom Lenoci, my collaborator, is a professional actor who has appeared in several film and stage productions in Los Angeles. We had been good friends for some time. I first pitched my idea to Tom because he was an absolute sci-fi freak and I had always respected his creative work on the stage. Even though Tom had never written a Graphic Novel before, I figured his instincts would be good on a project like this because he was extremely well read in classic and science fiction literature and Tom could also bring an actor’s sensibility to the dramatic scenes between the characters.
The original idea was a bit different (it had some of the same elements as the final GN, but it involved the planet being something more like a prison). Anyhow, we brainstormed about it almost every day for a few months before finally defining the story enough to write a script. Writing the script went really well, and fast, it just seemed to all come together in our minds very easily. We used music a lot to inspire us, we really got obsessed with Portishead and The Cranes because those bands really captured the mood of the story for us (the different worlds of the Masters and Slaves). Our working relationship was very good, Tom has very different strengths and weaknesses than me- he’s very detail oriented, whereas I tend to go a mile a minute. We clashed at times, we both wanted to kill each other at different times, but it was a very healthy collaboration and we remained good friends throughout.
Renzo, our artist, was incredible. I had never heard of him before the project began. I chanced upon him while looking for an illustrator at an international artists website. I saw his portfolio and was blown away. We actually had several artists audition for the job, but Renzo’s work really stood out because his style was so unique, it was dreamlike. I’d really never seen anything quite like it before. Renzo turned out to a great guy to work with, very easygoing and hard working. He had fantastic ideas. I hope to do another book with Renzo, he’s an amazing talent.
Do you think many of your stories contain lofty messages?
Yeah, I guess I’m a bit of an idealist, so I do try to infuse lofty themes into my stories (Bio-Dome not withstanding), but my goal is always to explore the human condition and give some hope to our struggles. I think you’re always on solid footing as an artist when you try to say something that is meaningful in your work. Even if you come up a bit shy, you always end up investing in a worthwhile endeavor.
A lot of folk’s ambition in the comic and film world is purely to make a lot of moolah, and I think that’s very sad. Stories are gifts to be shared. There’s nothing more fulfilling than to have someone come up and tell you, “Your story touched me.” I’m really fortunate to have been able to do that to a certain extent with my work. I feel really blessed, even if I am a bit of a “Diablo”.
Not to end on such a loaded question, but I can’t believe we finished this dialogue without once bringing up the bit about the championship water ballet instructor. Maybe next time? And thank you for talking with us, Scott. Please, let us know when your next story is ready to be told. We like a good story.
Sorry we didn’t get to the water ballet instructor. It is a pretty hilarious tale. Next time for sure!