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On Valentine's Day 2011, I had the pleasure of attending the world premiere of "All-Star Superman." The film is the tenth entry in the WB Animation line-up of feature length straight to DVD films being regularly released since starting with "Superman/Doomsday" in November of 2008. "All-Star Superman" features the voice talent of Christina Hendricks (Firefly, Madmen), the expert voice direction of Andrea Romano (Animaniacs, Justice League Unlimited and all ten of these features), and a screenplay from renowned comics and television writer Dwayne McDuffie. The three were on hand for the red carpet event at the Paley Center for Media in New York City and answered questions before and after the screening.
"This might be my favorite Superman story of all time. When I heard that they were doing it I sort of went in there and said 'Oh, me! Me!'"
Grant Morrison (Writer of the Comic mini-series "All-Star Superman" from which this film was adapted) wrote a lot in the comics about Superman as an icon, a figure that we all think of in our culture. What did you try to do for the movie that kept some of that idea while trying to streamline it?
"Grant was working on Superman as a figure in the comics almost entirely and the wonderful thing about the mini-series is that he found a way to touch on the seventeen or eighteen different versions of Superman over the years, bring it somehow into the present and make it contemporary and make all those wildly different eras seem to be of the piece. I thought that was great. It was a lot of stuff to delve into for a comic reader, especially for a longtime comic reader. I sort of had to pull back to the pop culture image of Superman which is somewhere between The Super Friends and Christopher Reeve and current day Superman while honoring those pieces that he was doing. I really needed to concentrate on the story and couldn't afford to divert for a couple of issues because... aw man, we really need to do a crazy Jimmy Olsen story here. We'd have loved to do that but we couldn't because we only had 75 minutes and we really wanted to concentrate on the dramatic arc that we'd chosen out of everything that Grant did but I think we kept it very close to the spirit of it."
Can you give us a quick tease of anything that hasn't been announced that is next up?
"They'd kill me. I can say there's another one of these I've done that will probably be announced this summer."
Is there any chance of bringing any Milestone characters over to one of these with DC in the future?
[Milestone was a company created by Dwayne and other artists in 1992, distributed through a deal with DC, featuring characters representing different cultural groups and ethnic minorities in America, of which Static Shock was probably most well known.]
"Oh I would love to see something like that but it's pretty tough because when doing direct-to-videos, they kind of have to sell in Wal-Marts which means everybody has to know who they [the characters] are. As much as I love those characters, they're not at that level. I'm always trying to convince them to do Static because he had the T.V. Show for four or five years."
"There's this wonderful sequence in the book where Superman talks this suicidal teen girl out of jumping off a building and he's got a lot of problems of his own at that point and that's the essence of Superman, which isn't flying and hitting things but caring about people and inspiring us to be better and I just wish I could have gotten it in."
[Writer's note: When that question was continuously posed, Dwayne also added that the scene was written for the movie but that in trying it at various points in the story, there was just no place it fit and felt right. At certain points where he tried to put it in, just where Superman was emotionally in the story he just couldn't put it in. He says he'd have instantly cut 2 minutes out of a fight to keep it in but it just didn't work. Superman is very strong, not physically, but emotionally and morally. To me, Dwayne continued, Superman's greatest power is the sense of hope he instills in us and that's the cool thing about Grant's book that we tried to keep in the movie. When Superman comes in contact with someone, it changes them for the better.]
In casting these roles, do you ever have ideas for actors you'd like to suggest?
"Sometimes they ask me but with Andrea Romano casting, what more could we need? She always casts these interesting people who bring something to the characters we haven't seen before. She's done it again here. We got really lucky with wonderful performances from everyone in the cast."
If you could pick any Marvel character to adapt in this manner, who would it be?
"I'd say Damage Control, and four people are gonna get that."
Why is it necessary for these features to remain under 75 minutes?
"Because every minute costs money and there's a price point you have to hit to sell the thing and since it hasn't been in the theaters and it hasn't been on television every dime comes out of people paying for the DVD. So if you do a 90 minute one, you can't price it at whatever they're pricing it at. You sort of run all the numbers and there's a sweet spot, you don't want it too short cause it's not worth the money but after a certain point, somewhere between 70 and 75 minutes, every minute you add is just taking away the chances that this will make money and we'll get to do anymore. So there's a tradeoff. Comics used to be 22 pages and now they're 20 and that's basically for the same reason."
Do you enjoy picking apart the source material and making it your own in that way?
"Well, that's part of the job. For instance, when you're doing a 22 minute episode of Justice League then you know that the episode needs to be 22 minutes, whereas with these adaptations it's a little more difficult because the piece is what the piece is. So what you have to do is find a subset of that story that's true to what it originally was that fits in the amount of time you have. Sometimes that means you have to drop stuff you like. Sometimes it means that scenes I wanted to play a lot longer I have to make shorter. Sometimes it means that because it was just a comic book, they only had 22 pages an issue and they wanted to make something longer and they didn't have time. It's like Haiku, you have to fit it into the form that you're writing it for and I think 75 minutes was plenty of time for this movie. I feel like emotionally this is the same experience as reading the books which are wonderful and if you haven't you should go read them."
Are you personally working on any original Superman stories you'd like to see them make?
"There are a lot of things they're considering for Superman. I think it's be pretty tough to bump in with something original because there are so many great Superman stories they want to adapt but it's not off the table."
[At this point, Randall Lotowycz, writer of the D.C. Fandex, begins a question but Dwayne stops him because he notices Randall has a Gary Frank inspired Superman flying with Lois tattoo covering the inside of his forearm. Dwayne mentions that it's "hardcore" to have such a tattoo and when Randall replies "Don't you have any Superman tattoos?" Dwayne says "none that I could show you!"]
Were there any scenes you didn't mind losing from the mini?
"I didn't mind losing Bizarro, because, while he's very funny, a lot of the stuff was very visual and written in a way where you had to read it. So if you adapted it to film oftentimes by the time you'd get the joke, you'd be on to the next joke and you'd be missing it. But I wish I could have kept everything."
Are there any surprises in this film?
The mini-series packs an emotional punch and there were moments where, when reading, I was very moved. What is your emotional reaction to the comic as opposed to the film?
"The comic made me come very close to tearing up...okay I teared up, and so did the movie. I think what the character design, board guys and voice actors bring to it, they bring a feel that isn't in the comics that works to the same end and you're made of stone if it doesn't get you. That part was more important to me than seeing Superman pick up something really heavy because I've done that a whole bunch. I really think Grant and Frank's piece went to the emotional core of Superman and our relation to Superman in pop and American culture and I didn't want to lose that. Everyone who worked on this thing had an emotional connection to the material and wanted to honor it, to the extent that, if it doesn't, it's because we failed not because we didn't want to."
How was it working on a series that was episodic and trying to make a finite film?
"That was a big fear of everyone when we started working on this but as I closely read it, there's a very clear arc. Almost everything in the comic, and we had to drop some stuff anyway, so we pushed away stuff that weren't part of that emotional core and what you're left with is, I think, the most faithful adaptation of a DC Comics story ever done by a bunch of people who loved the original comic."
What was the hardest part of condensing a 12 issue book into a 75 minute film?
"The biggest challenge is the enormous amount of love people have for the original source material. Fortunately the people working on the film shared that love and no one wanted to let down the book that we all loved so much."
In this story, you're facing the huge issue of mortality, so what was it like writing for a character who had been so invulnerable for so long knowing he'd be facing that mortality?
"Well to be fair, Superman dies on a fairly regular basis."
[Writer's interjection: At this point I was thinking once in regular continuity and now twice in total that I can remember and in this case it's a separate story and not canon so it really doesn't count.]
"I think this piece deals with the emotional part of that much better than the other Superman dying stories."
You've been working on animation for a long time. What's it like writing for all these animated action series?
"I've been lucky to mostly work at Warner Brothers, where they've been pushing the envelope constantly and didn't treat them like animated series. We sit down as if we were doing a live action piece. I've been lucky enough to work with Andrea Romano, which means that we get actors of a level you don't generally get in animation so we can really run the full gamut of everything we want to do emotionally in these complete character arcs."
"No... no I was immediately on the page. I had never done voice work before and so I was already excited about that and then, it was Lois Lane, the crème de la crème of a way to start so as soon as they asked I said "Absolutely, thank you!""
You were rumored to be interested in the role of Wonder Woman when Joss Whedon was connected. Now that he's doing Avengers, is there any possibility for a role in that movie?
"I have spoken with Joss and it doesn't look like there's anything for me in that one. As far as the Wonder Woman thing, that rumor was started by... I don't know who but it's a great compliment and it's a nice rumor to have going around."
Lois Lane is a character very different from the types of roles people are used to seeing you play. What was it like playing such a different character?
"Well she's a little more rough around the edges this Lois Lane than the character I play on Madmen but both very strong and independent women. I don't think they're so different.
What was the challenge of recording your lines separately from the other actors?
"It was definitely a very interesting way of doing things but the direction on this project was just so good so they'd always give us options of responses and they knew exactly what they were doing so I wasn't too worried about it."
It was rumored that your co-star John Hamm was in the running to play Superman. Now that you've played Lois Lane will you be talking to him about it, maybe to sort of rub it in?
"I just heard that rumor outside today so I didn't even realize but I think that he would be a great Superman and yes... I'll probably rub it in. [laughter]"
It's been said this film has a lot more emotional heft than that of other previous animated efforts. Did you feel that in just reading the script or did you have to bring that yourself from somewhere else inside?
"I think just by reading it and also, we know these characters so well and they're so a part of our culture that we know the relationship between Superman and Lois Lane. So we've already experienced that and we understand the dynamic between these two characters and their relationship. I was actually quite surprised when I read the script and saw the adventure that they take together."
So many of your co-stars in other projects and now you are involved in the Superhero genre now. What is it about this genre that's attracting so many stars?
"Well, first of all, there are so many of these projects right now. But it's like we were saying, these are such iconic characters that we've all grown up on and especially, I think, as actors we probably all grew up acting like these characters already. So I'm very grateful for this opportunity."
Did you read the original Grant Morrison comic before you did the role?
"I didn't. This was completely new to me and very exciting. I didn't know that you could do what they've done with these characters until I got involved. I looked at it and was like wait a minute this isn't the Superman that I know!"
We then went into the film and waited eagerly for it to begin. There were announcements, applause, laughter, prizes and fun times had by all. After the showing the stars came up on stage and held a discussion where they took audience questions and discussed the project further. I've been told that soon a video of the discussion will be available at www.paleycenter.org in the Screening Room section of the site.
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