Anime Corner had the chance to speak with filmmaker and writer Mike Booth. Booth is a writer and filmmaker with both a passion and history for creating captivating stories. His short films have screened at prestigious festivals around the world and amassed millions of views online. Booth’s debut webnovel, Hawk, continues to attract a strong following and he is currently working on his second book, Elderland.
Following its incredible success as a novel, Hawk is being developed as an animated series at Wattpad WEBTOON Studios. The sci-fi project has an incredible team behind it — Christopher Yost, the writer of films like Thor: Ragnarok and shows like the live-action Cowboy Bebop and The Mandalorian, is writing the adaptation. Yost will work with Booth alongside executive producers Aron Levitz, David Madden, Sydney Bright, and Taylor Grant from Wattpad WEBTOON Studios. The Hawk webnovel follows space bounty hunter Kas Balera as she works with a motley crew to travel across the solar system and save it from disaster. The novel started as a screenplay before being turned into a short film. That short film, available on YouTube, features a set fully put together by Booth and a brief snippet of Kas Balera as the very criminals she was hunting down board her ship and apprehend her.
This is all a very exciting development. Wattpad WEBTOON studios, as the name suggests, comes from a partnership between the studio divisions of Wattpad and WEBTOON. Wattpad is a platform for original stories from all manners of people and WEBTOON is the largest digital comics platform in the world. The combined partnership stems from South Korean internet conglomerate Naver’s acquisition of Wattpad in 2021. Both have already worked quite a bit in the anime and animated film space; Mike Booth is a strong addition to that broader endeavor and we were incredibly grateful to learn more about him and his work.
Q: How did you first get into writing screenplays and stories? Were they always longer form or did you work on shorter form content as well?
A: I’ve wanted to be a filmmaker since I was in my early teens, and to make films, it helps to have a script, so I taught myself to write screenplays. Most of these were short-form, but I’ve written a few feature-length scripts as well. Screenplays can be very restrictive because you have to think about what you can realistically film, so you might take out a big action sequence and swap it for dialogue instead. It’s actually a great way to learn how to write because it forces you to get more creative. But a few years ago I started to wonder what I could come up with if I had no restrictions, so I decided to write a story that would need a huge budget if it were a film, and that story became Hawk.
Q: You mentioned in a Wattpad post that HAWK started as a screenplay in 2015, became a book in 2017, and then became a short film in 2019. What was the catalyst that caused you to pick the story back up and evolve it each time?
A: The original inspiration for Hawk was I wanted to make a short sci-fi film, something fun and achievable on a small budget but hinting at a larger story and universe. So I wrote a short script about a bounty hunter trapped on a spaceship with three super-criminals. I liked the script but ended up not making the film right away. When I got the itch to write a book a couple of years later, I remembered the script and converted it to a short story which became the opening chapter. Then I just kept going. After finishing the book, I got the itch to make the short film again, so I went full circle and turned the opening chapter back into a film.
Q: Having watched the HAWK short film, it’s clear that a lot of love went into the set design and direction. The ship feels like something a sci-fi character might underestimate from its appearance despite all the ability within; a trait seemingly shared by main character Kas Balera. Did you design different elements of the film and story bit by bit or was there always a cohesive atmosphere you were going for?
A: The design of the set was heavily informed by the small space we had available to film in and the random junk we collected to dress it with. The set is made of two areas: the cargo hold and the cockpit. To maximize space for each, I made the partitioning wall so that it could rotate and move back several feet, making each area a bit bigger, so that dictated the layout of the ship. As for atmosphere, I wanted the ship to look neglected and a bit battered. This is a basic ship that has probably had a few owners already. We gathered all sorts of trash that had interesting shapes, like old circuit boards and kid’s toys, and spray painted them to make them look metallic, then attached them to the walls or wherever they looked like they belonged. I didn’t know how the set was going to look until it was time to film.
Q: If you’re allowed to say, how involved will you be in things like direction and the appearance of the show? Since you built the set of the short film yourself and originally created a screenplay, I’m curious how much of the original is flowing through to the animated series.
A: I’m happy to be as involved or uninvolved as the production wants me to be. I wouldn’t want the set to look like the one in my film, because that was only designed to serve the short film. Part of what excites me about this new adaptation is seeing what other artists take from the story and how they interpret the characters and locations.
Q: Do you turn to any real-life events or places when thinking of the elements of the HAWK universe?
A: Yeah, often I’ll have something real in mind when creating a new character or location, it’s good to sprinkle truth across your inventions, makes them feel real. It’s also fun to just create something entirely new and see what your brain can conjure up.
Q: Will the series be a strict adaptation? Or are there some conceptual changes that the show will be making?
A: It’s still very early days, but it’s really up to Christopher what he wants to keep or change, and he has my full support for whatever he wants to do. But from what I’ve seen so far, it’s staying very faithful to what’s in the book.
Q: What are some of your own personal favorite anime or animated series?
A: I’m a big fan of Death Note. It’s such a simple idea but it’s so smart, I devoured the whole series in no time. But my favorite animated series without a doubt is ThunderCats. In fact, I’m working on a ThunderCats short film at the moment, but it’s a long-term project and there’s still some way to go with it.
Q: Can you tell us more about Elderland?
A: Elderland is a historical fantasy novel set in 1920s New York. I describe it as being ‘like Narnia, but for adults’. I took a break from it after getting about two-thirds of the way through it and realizing I needed to change the main character, so it’s currently undergoing major surgery but it is expected to survive and make a full recovery.
Massive thanks to Mike Booth for speaking to us about the Hawk adaptation. Thus far there aren’t any further details about the Hawk animated series. Wattpad WEBTOON Studios is also set to adapt several other titles, such as the romantic fantasy Lore Olympus. You can also purchase Hawk on Amazon.