December 2, 2011: Interview - "S: A Superman Fan Film"

As promised, the Superman Homepage contacted Johnny Wu, creator of "S: A Superman Fan Film" and put to him a series of questions submitted by you, the members of this website.

Johnny is joined by script writers George Tutie and James V. Geier in answering the following questions.

S: A Superman Fan Film Q: What was your goal in this project? What made you decide to make this film?

JW: Since the release of my first parody fan film A Joker's Card, we have been tossing the idea to do another fan film. (We is me and a few friends and producers from A Joker's Card), but we wanted to first make a feature that is sellable, so we made The Rapture, a 95 mins sci-fi/Anime styled action film, which was kind of inspired by A Joker's Card. During the process of making The Rapture, one of the actors, George Tutie resembles Tom Welling, so we thought "Maybe we can make a Superman fan film"... lol. Not to mention George does have that 6-pack body that kinda resembles what Superman would be. So with our passion for comic books (George and James) wrote the script, and while I'm not a comic book fan (or an avid reader), I do enjoy what the superhero action movies and cartoons bring. Also Superman was born in the same city as I am (Cleveland), we thought why not make a Superman Fan Film. The goal was simple, to bring our vision of Superman, to have a good time at the same time, using this short film to garner additional fans to my other projects, create a bigger fan base for our work.

JG: To help my friends Johnny Wu & George Tutie make a fun Superman movie with an appropriate "feel" to it.

S: A Superman Fan Film Q: Why did you choose these particular characters for the story and what influenced you tell the story you did?

JW: They were characters I thought would work for this particular case, I wanted to do a story about Superman and have 'action' in it. I wanted it to be a bit different from other Superman fan films that I've seen, and knowing the we would use wire-work and a lot of 'flying', I decided to do this all in a Green Screen environment, just because it's a controlled environment that we can practice, rehearse and do it all on schedule/time. We thought about doing this all outside on location, but the logistics of using wire-stunt work and setup would make the production very difficult. Because of what I wanted to see, and knowing that Brainiac is one of the 'harder' characters to pull off, I decided to challenge our team to make this happen. It was a good learning experience. As for the story, originally Superman dies at the end, but I just felt it was 'already done' and thought of a way to 'shock' the audience, so they either love me or hate me for it. I also wanted a bit of a 'fresh' ending (and of course, having Donna Williams playing Lois Lane and 'dying' again on screen for me was a must - she died in The Rapture, she died in Jean Claude the Gumming Zombie and now in S: A Superman Fan Film) LOL!

GT: Johnny Wu told me the characters he wanted me to use but pretty much gave me free reign to tell the story the way I wanted. I love Superman but I never felt like Superman was actually in danger of losing the battle. As a viewer I pretty much always knew that everything was going to be okay and the hero was going to come out on top. In my original ending, which I will talk a little more about later, I had Superman die. Now people will say "that has been done before" or "Superman can't die!" and you know what? People have to accept change! I want to feel like Superman could actually lose this fight. I also wanted to have Lois and Clark married. Enough beating around the bush already! They love each other so I thought it was time to have them married. Yeah, it's been done before as well, but I felt it should be included in S. The ending was pretty much all Jim and to tell you the truth, I liked it! It was different. He took a chance with it.

JG: The original story and character choices were made by the primary writer, George, with input from the director, Johnny. Given that starting point, my interest was in punching up the dialog to reflect what I - being a lifelong comics fan - see as some of the most interesting aspects of the characters: Lex Luthor's arrogance, humor, and genuine dislike for what he believes is the "infantilizing" effect that Superman is having on the world by solving people's problems for them. Brainiac's alien, semi-mechanical megalomania.

S: A Superman Fan Film Q: How did you go about casting your actors? Did you have someone in mind from your friends/family who were interested in playing the roles or did you conduct casting tryouts?

JW: Well, the actors were all people that I've worked with before, Kyle Znamenak played Joker's son in A Joker's Card (all the videos can be seen at vimeo.com/mdifilm), George Tutie was cast as Midael in The Rapture and because of his resemblance to Tom Welling, he was cast as Superman. Donna Williams, who worked as crew in A Joker's Card played Mia in The Rapture and a lonely woman in Jean Claude the Gumming Zombie, I thought she would be the 'later' version of Lois (a bit more curly haired), and finally Lex Luthor, I wanted someone that could play that 'sinister' role, and thought of E Ray Goodwin Jr. who was cast as the main bad guy in The Rapture (we re-wrote the script to fit his character). All of them are seasoned actors (E Ray Goodwin Jr. now is SAG, Donna Williams has appeared in many movies including some DVD releases, George Tutie and Kyle Znamenak have been in many films as well). Because I've worked with them before and trained with them (Superman, Brainiac and Lex all had to practice and rehearse their fight sequences months before the production started), I believed they could easily portray these characters and they did great.

JG: I believe George was slated to play Superman from the very start - meaning he wrote the part for himself - and I'm also pretty sure that Johnny knew who he wanted to play the other main characters - Lex, Brainiac, and Lois - from very, very early also, because each of those actors have worked with him on multiple projects in the past. (And Ray Goodwin is such a good physical model for Lex, how could anyone NOT think of him for that role?)

S: A Superman Fan Film Q: How long did "S: A Superman Fan Film" take to make, from concept to completion? What was the most challenging aspect of the entire production?

JW: Pre-production started 2 years ago with the script, George had to re-write a few times until I was happy with it, then I sent it over to James to polish it up (having two comic book readers go through it helps make the story a bit better), then I just read and did my best to adapt their interpretation to what I envisioned. Right after the cast was selected, we started training them for the fight sequences, George and Kyle practiced with me for 3-4 months, once a week for martial arts training and fight choreography. E Ray didn't have to worry as he is already an accomplished martial artist. While training them, I got to meet the Fiorella Brothers during their Cleveland 48Hrs film submission (I was authoring the final DVD for theatre presentation for the Cleveland 48Hrs team). So after talking to them and knowing that Nick Fiorella can do animation and Joe Fiorella is great with costuming, I asked them to come on board, that took another 2-3 months to figure out the costumes (as Lex and Brainiac's costumes were made out of Paper Mache) and I had to make a creative/artistic choice of either going with real animated background or 2D animated background. I choose the later because I didn't know how capable I was to really mask out the green and apply the background well, but by choosing a comic book styled background, it gives the visual a distinctive look like a 'live comic book' short film.

S: A Superman Fan Film We shot the entire short film on 2 weekends (blocking the different scenes), worrying about breaking the 180 degrees, trying to make sure the costumes doesn't break with the wire-stunt work, etc. Each day was a 10 hour shoot time slot and we had our meals donated by Koko Bakery and Mark Pittenger. At the end of each night, I would import all the HD p2 footage into the computer and prep a rough cut to make sure we had all the footage needed, if not then we would shoot those the next day.

After the 4 days, we picked another day for the reporter's scene (since we couldn't shoot that until we had the background plate done).

After all the footage was in the computer, we began making a rough cut, the script was 25 pages, and the first rough cut came out about 35 minutes, so from there we trimmed it down, and then started to key out the green, clean out the footage (de-noise) and send the clips to the Fiorella Brothers so they could start putting the background in. I gave them the liberty to be creative as it would keep them excited in working on the project... That part of the post production took about 6 months, every time they got a shot done, they would send it over via ftp server and I would put it into the final timeline and check for consistency and quality, then add in SFX first. We also did ADR for all the main actors but I decided not to use them after listening to the original sound a bit and thought it was usable. Finally when all is done with dialogue and SFX, it was sent to Jeff Pitts in Hollywood to re-master the sound. Jeff worked on many Hollywood films so he was gracious enough to take 4 weeks of his weekends to tweak, clean, replace and make it final for me.

S: A Superman Fan Film Right after that, it's time to put together the DVD with all the BTS footage, so that took another 3 weeks of work, at the end. If you were one of the 'lucky' people to have received the DVD or Blu-Ray, you will appreciate the clips included. (Some of the BTS footage is available at vimeo.com/channels/superman for your viewing pleasure).

So yeah, it took probably 2 years up to finishing the movie... And now it's the next step: publicity and promotion. :)

JG: For me, the most challenging task was helping to craft the dialog so it both (a) felt like it was appropriate to the world of Superman and (b) was interesting/worthwhile in and of itself, rather than just being necessary filler between the action sequences.

Q: Did you guys use a different "Superman Returns" suit or an altered CGI one? I noticed his S shield was much brighter than the regular suit.

JW: Joe Fiorella came to me with his design. The original idea Joe had was to have Superman wearing the new modernized S outfit (a tight outfit without the cape), my gut reaction said to me that THAT would make a lot of people angry. So after discussion with Joe and then with James, we opted for the current style, which is a little taken from the old style Superman comics plus from Superman Returns. The S shield was much brighter but that was not intentional, I think because it was made with paper mache and 'sprayed'...

S: A Superman Fan Film Q: Your film ends on a decidedly somber note. What led you to make a Superman film that didn't have the archetypal theme of hope that Superman films typically embody?

JW: It was my doing! :) I wanted a sad ending (which I wanted to be different) but at the same time, I wasn't too fond of Superman dying either, so I let James figure out what he wanted to do with it after telling him my thoughts...

GT: Like I said earlier, the ending we used was all Jim so I'm sure he can go more in depth with why he chose it. I loved his ending, but my original ending was different. It was still a sad ending but as I've grown older, I've liked sad endings more and more. They are more like real life. There can't always be a happy ending even in Superman films. Originally I had Superman die. I had Brainiac weaken Superman and Lex betray him like in the film but I also had Luthor beat the living tar out of Superman while he was in his weakened state as Lex delivered his monologue. Lois comes in and tries to convince him otherwise but Lex fires off the shot, Superman takes the bullet for Lois, he dies in Lois' arms, and the film ends with Lex throwing down the gun and a close up of his face with the glow of red and blue lights in the background and Luthor with an evil smirk on his face. I liked the idea of a human being the one to take Superman down. Especially Lex, since he's been trying to do that since his character was created. Haha! In the end I just wanted to do something different and I was satisfied with the ending.

JG: The original plan was to have a different type of somber ending, with the death of Superman. But upon discussing it between us, Kyle Znamenak (who played Brainiac and was a great sounding board for script ideas) and I were concerned that given the much-hyped "Death of Superman" storyline (at the hands of Doomsday) in the comics a number of years ago, anything we did along those lines would run the risk of being anticlimactic, no matter how well-executed it was. So one evening while we were all at dinner, Kyle and I broached the idea of changing the ending to what it is now, and Johnny liked it.

S: A Superman Fan Film Q: Both Brainiac and Luthor's battle suits look like an homage to George Perez's designs from the 80's, especially with Luthor's wry comment about the color purple. What were the factors that led to making this artistic decision?

JW: Well, a lot was made to make it a bit different, as we have a green screen background to worry about. Originally Brainiac was going to be his usual purple and that didn't work well with the green screen after we did some screen test, so we scratched the idea. Lex's costume was supposed to have some green but that would be really difficult to key out the real background, so we scratched the idea. We thought since this is later when Superman is already married, maybe the costumes can reflex a 'newer' model type. However the detailing and the creativity for each costume is all done by the Fiorella Brothers.

Q: How long did it take you to build the city animations in the background, and what software/hardware was used?

JW: All the background were done by the Fiorella Brothers, they used After Effects and Photoshoped images. They learned it all from video-copilot's website (thanks to all the tutorials there). Computer wise, I believed it was just a duo 2 core PC, while for the editing and keying, we had 3 I7 PCs. All edited with Adobe products, and color corrected, color processed, de-noised/cleaning up the footage, etc. were all done using Red Giant Software's plugins (which were amazingly good). So it was about 6 months or so for Nick and Joe to provide me all the footage, so I believe it took some time. :)

S: A Superman Fan Film Q: Now that the film is completed, if you could do anything different, what would it be? Was there anything you wanted to do but couldn't due to time or budgetary constraints?

JW: Maybe the beginning of the scene (see the attached PDF of the script). :) I felt we didn't need it because it did nothing more than reveal the character which isn't necessarily needed.

GT: I wish we could have used the scene I wrote where Brainiac stole the human's body. Originally in the script we had a scene where it actually shows Brainiac stealing the drunk's (who was originally a farmer) body. It was really cool, but I can understand why we got rid of it. Of course it would have been great to have a huge budget, more time to shoot, and a longer film. I would have loved to tell a much more epic story.

Q: How did you avoid DC trademark or copyright challenges in making this Superman movie? Are fan films exempt from the law?

JW: DC and Warner Brothers are very lenient with people doing fan films, because it is a fan of their material that is doing something that is not for profit. From what I've learned, as long as there is NO MONEY MADE with their character it is okay with them. (Note on what I said: Okay), technically it is illegal to make ANY fan film but WB has been allowing it because it helps garner attention to their franchise and future projects. I do know that Paramount isn't as forgiving.

S: A Superman Fan Film Q: Do you have any plans for another Superman or superhero movie?

JW: Maybe! Lois will come back in the sequel where she is resurrected by Lex and she becomes an evil Lois... George is already working on a sequel script. LOL! For me, now that this is over, I want to go back and do more original films and maybe another feature before I venture into the next fan film. Although I've always wanted to do a Teen Titans fan film...

GT: I have a sequel in mind for S but only time will tell if it actually comes to fruition.

Q: Will "S: A Superman Fan Film" be available for download or on DVD?

JW: Good question, it is available for viewing right now and I know many can easily rip it from YouTube. We have given away 500 copies of the DVD including a few to the Superman Museum here in Cleveland (with signed posters by all cast/crew). Maybe later down the road we'll make ISO files available for people to download. If YOU happen to live in Cleveland, you can always swing over to our studio to grab a copy or a poster of S. :)

Q: Thanks Johnny! We really appreciate you taking the time out to answer our questions.

JW: Thank YOU to you and all the fans out there that made me feel at home with your comments.

S: A Superman Fan Film from Johnny Wu on Vimeo.

Learn more about this fan film at the "S: A Superman Fan Film" Facebook page.



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