D&D Director's Odyssey Includes Cameron, Elvis

Do you remember what you were doing 10 years ago? Courtney Solomon was at the foot of a personal mountain, just beginning to climb, little suspecting how long it would be before he saw the summit.

"I just turned 30, actually, in September," he confesses, a little sheepishly. "I started when I was 20. My whole 20s was doing this."

Doing what? Producing, directing, and pouring a decade of his young life into Dungeons & Dragons, the fantasy adventure that opens today in theaters across the United States. The movie, of course, is based on the popular role-playing game of the same title, a pastime that has sucked in millions of devotees from around the world since its creation in 1974.

Rookie Director Makes Good After a quarter century of orcs and ogres, and traps and treasures, the phenomenon is nearly as old as Solomon himself. What convinced its originators to place their cinematic future in the hands of a 20-year-old college dropout with no previous filmmaking experience?

"Well, they certainly didn't want to, to be honest with you," says Solomon. "They were like, 'No.' But I was very persistent." Persistent for 18 months, in fact, which is how long it took the eager Torontonian just to secure the rights to take the game and turn it into a movie.

"I've played the game," he adds, "and I knew that the worst thing you could do for D&D players would be to call a movie Dungeons & Dragons and not make it Dungeons & Dragons. You know, have clerics walking around with swords slicing people up, and stuff like that."

And what about Solomon's pristine, unmarked moviemaking resume? "I grew up in the film business in Canada," he explains. "My mom was a freelance production coordinator, so I did all the odd jobs. Did I produce or direct a movie? No. Did I write a movie? No. [But] I worked on a lot of stuff. I certainly didn't walk on the set and go, 'Ohmigod, what's all this equipment?'"

My Dinner With Jim Cameron Of course, not all the challenges of bringing D&D to the big screen were technical. There are some things you can't prepare for by hanging around a studio lot. Getting the rights to make the movie turned out to be significantly simpler than finding financing for it.

"Nobody believed in the [fantasy] genre. Even though you're bringing them Dungeons & Dragons. You're going, 'But do you understand that this is a huge trademark and a franchise all by itself?'" Solomon recalls. "And that didn't matter, the genre was a dog. That was the single hardest thing over those 10 years to getting this movie financed and made."

Not even TSR, the D&D parent company that gave him the movie rights, was in Solomon's corner 100 percent. "There were some times that were real down days. I'd fight with TSR," he says.

"I remember one time I had Jim Cameron interested in the movie, and we had basically done most of a deal. And we went out to have dinner with Jim Cameron, and Rae Sanchini, and Stan Winston, and a bunch of people, and the then-owner of TSR." You'd think it would be any young filmmaker's dream to be in such a setting and, says Solomon, it was — until it became clear that his guests and his co-host didn't quite see eye to eye. "I'm sitting beside Jim and I'm putting my head down and thinking, 'I don't believe this is happening to me.'"

You Ain't Nothing But a Hound Dog Solomon's deal with the King of the World never worked out, but the project itself did eventually come together. Determination, hard work, and the backing of Joel Silver — who eventually joined the movie as executive producer and helped arrange its distribution through New Line — will do that for you. That, and maybe just a pinch of spiritual guidance from a certain other king.

Solomon's production company is called Sweetpea Entertainment — not exactly the moniker you'd expect a lifelong D&D devotee to settle on. What's in a name?

Solomon rolls his eyes, looking sheepish again. "All right. When I was making the company, I was living at home still. I'm very close to my mother, and she is a big Elvis Presley fan. And she said, to be lucky, the company's name has to have something to do with Elvis Presley."

And that would be? "Somewhere or other I came across a picture of Elvis Presley's mother with a little dog in her hands, and the dog's name was Sweetpea. And so I said, 'I can live with "Sweetpea."'"

Solomon shakes his head a touch ruefully. "It totally has nothing to do with Dungeons & Dragons. It should have been called Slay the Dragon Productions, or something like that. But it's Sweetpea, and people seem to like the name. It's just a name, but it's the name I guess I'll be stuck with now."