Superman Returns Set Visit – Part 1

I should start out by saying that I’m a lifelong fan of Superman. Many of you know I’m a “Star Wars” geek, but I’ve actually been a fan of Superman even longer. As a child I had everything from Superman Mego dolls…er…action figures all the way to Superman Underoos. Over 30 years later I have children who are Superman fans, too. So it was with great eagerness that I flew to Sydney courtesy of Warner Brothers to visit the set of Superman Returns. I joined my fellow members of the internet press at Fox Studios Australia to check things out. Since “Star Wars” had recently filmed there, I was familiar with some of the offices and buildings on the lot. I recognized the main production office from some of the “Star Wars” on-set videos.

After gathering together in the office, we started walking to visit Guy Dyas in the production design office. Everywhere you looked, you could see the name “Red Sun”. That is the cover name for the film and it is seen on everything from the call sheets to the garbage bins outside of the offices. As we walked along, I saw a small set for a cockpit of an airplane. A little farther down we saw construction workers dismantling what used to be the exterior of the Daily Planet building. There were a couple of columns and lamp posts still laying around, but almost everything was gone. One memorial statue still remained. It was a 1938 monument to “Metropolis heroes who were fallen in the Great War”. Among the listed dead was Guy Dyas himself.

As we continued walking we passed a sound stage with a large set that looked like the Fortress of Solitude, but with two big exceptions – it was dark grey and it had water running down the walls. I thought it was unpainted and they were washing it at first, but I later came to find out it was intended to be grey and wet. I won’t spoil things here, but we also learned that there was a crater in the middle of the set where a very ticked off Superman would land.

We passed that stage and arrived in the production offices. Inside we saw parts of a Cessna plane (with a “Do Not Spin” sign on the propeller) and part of a helicopter. This helicopter had apparently been recently used for shooting at a nearby beach. There were also a variety of brown statues piled up in a corner. It was then that Guy Dyas appeared, apparently feeling better after having died in the Great War.

Guy led us up to a production art office where we saw a great variety of paintings, models, and photos spread out on walls and tables. Looking at the walls we saw paintings of the Fortress of Solitude. A Styrofoam model of the Fortress was on a table nearby. There were also paintings of an Air Force 777 plane that a new Space Shuttle was riding piggyback on. There were several Shuttle designs and they were labeled “Shuttle – MK II”. Next to those paintings were beautiful shots of the plane crashing towards Dodger Stadium with Superman chasing the flaming debris.

Also in the room were many pictures of the Kent Farm, Superman’s spaceship, and a mansion of a rich widow named “Gertrude” that Lex swindles out of a fortune. (I saw this was called the “Vanderworth Mansion”.) This woman also owns an incredible yacht named the Gertrude that some of the action takes place on. There was a model of the yacht as well as paintings of the ship caught among crystals at sea and being broken in half. One of the coolest paintings there was of the remains of Krypton. Large chunks of the planet are seen floating in space with pieces of broken city on it. Superman’s ship illuminates the wreckage with a spotlight and an ominous green glow can be seen in the debris. A detailed drawing of the train set and the Metropolis coastline were also there.

Throughout the office was a TON of Alex Ross Superman art. Despite the fact that the artist is not involved in the project, his work is heavily influencing the design. Along the walls could also be seen costumes for Superman, Lex, and Kitty. One drawing of Lex shows him with a curly wig. There are also a ton of shots of various boots they designed for Superman. Along the wall I also spotted a design for what appears to be a Kryptonite missile. It’s a missile with a Kryptonite rock core.

We also saw art for several action scenes. One appeared to be a bank robbery involving a helicopter falling from a building (a tip of the hat to the first film?). Another shot showed a robber with a large machine gun like the Terminator. Apparently Superman gets hit with hundreds of bullets at one point. Another scene showed Superman helping put out an oil rig fire, but this scene has been dropped from the movie. They apparently worked on a lot of “rescue scenes”, but they couldn’t go with all of them. In one photo I saw on a desk you could see Superman saving a group of mountain climbers. He was flying with them dangling from a rope.

Guy proceeded to show us a number of set photos on his computer. Most of the pictures featured the Daily Planet building and the Kent Farm. The train set which is located in the basement of Gertrude’s mansion was also shown. Following the slide show Guy proceeded to take us on a tour of the remaining sets. He took us to the grey crystal set described earlier, then to a set where the model train set once stood. Now in the place of the model was a giant column of grey crystal. It appears to have violently exploded out of the train set and sent bits of train set flying everywhere. It was quite an impressive scene of destruction, but we were all a little sad that we didn’t get to see the original train set.

Dyas then took us to a set that contained a portion of the Gertrude yacht deck. We walked up a fake boat dock and onto the yacht. The press had to be sure not to touch any of the props on the set for the sake of continuity. (We later joked that we should have left a candy wrapper on the deck to see if it made it into the movie.) The deck of the yacht featured a Jacuzzi, a bar, a workout room, and everything you could want in a luxury yacht. The set was so detailed that there was even bird poop painted on the deck.

We then moved on to the next set which contained the interior of the Gertrude yacht. It was a long room with book cases on either side, various statues, and a glass bottom floor with a grand piano sitting on it. At the end of the room was a spiral staircase with a bunch of mermaids carved in the stained glass. Our tour of the studio ended here and after a brief stop at the production offices we proceeded to get on buses and head to the Australian Museum where the evening’s filming was taking place.

Day One – Night Shoot

The press and I arrived at the Australian Museum where filming would take place. The museum was closed for the day and the production had run of the building. Just like in the photos you see taken by fans, all sorts of trucks and production equipment surrounded the building. We pulled over and were escorted in. The crew was crawling all over the place hauling equipment to prepare for the evening. We were escorted to the back of the museum into a room where there was an exhibit on aborigines. (It seemed somehow appropriate to put some of us right next to a cave exhibit.) This is where my fellow internet press and I were based for the rest of the evening. Despite being bleary eyed and jet lagged, we had some really interesting conversations with writers Michael Dougherty and Dan Harris, producer Gilbert Adler, executive producer Chris Lee, and Kal Penn who plays Lex’s Henchman “Stanford” in the movie. After the interviews concluded, we went in to get a look at the filming.

As we walked back into the lobby, we saw where they were setting up. There were extras dressed as security guards everywhere. We saw the video village where Bryan Singer sits and directs right underneath a massive totem pole. The director’s chairs were there with the Superman logo on the back. They were rehearsing the scene and the director and stars were nowhere in sight. After a few practice runs, they were ready to begin filming.

First we saw the ever present writers Michael Dougherty and Dan Harris walk in. In the earlier interviews, they were both wearing green t-shirts. We joked that they dressed alike. Now, again, they were both wearing “Metropolis University” sweatshirts and of course we joked how they were dressed alike yet again. Then came Bryan Singer wearing a cap and using a cane. He had injured his foot while shooting at the beach a few days before. Singer came in, said “Hi,” and got to work. Kal Penn was also among the group as was Guy Dyas, but then I saw Kevin Spacey suddenly appear out of the crowd. He was wearing a coat, high brown boots, and a baseball cap. Spacey removed his cap and we got a glimpse of his beautiful bald head for the first time. All the time this was going on we saw Robert Meyer Burnett filming footage for the DVD and the Blog videos. After a brief problem with the PA system (during which Singer discussed movies in general), they were ready to begin shooting.

In the scene we were watching, the camera was zoomed in on a sign on a donation box in the lobby of the museum. The sign reads “Suggested Donation – Ten Dollars”. After a “Red Sun” clap board appears in the screen, the camera pulls back and we see Lex and his goons arrive, but we don’t see Lex’s face. He puts a small coin in (obviously to spite the $10 suggestion) and proceeds into the museum. A female guard says, “Sir, we’re closing in 10 minutes!” The camera pulls back and we see Lex, dressed like a tourist with a camera and wearing a long haired wig. He replies snidely, “We only need 5″ and proceeds into the museum with his goons. Obviously he’s up to no good. (Some of the internet press later told me one of the goons was a famous Australian football player.)

Spacey then came over to us at the video village and said, “How do I look?” while showing off his new hair. Everyone laughed and someone said that he looked like Russell Crowe. The scene was shot a couple more times and in between each take Crowe, er, Spacey thumbed through his script apparently memorizing a big monologue later in the movie.

With that the production broke for lunch and we were shuttled back to our hotel to rest up for Day Two of our set visit.

Read Part 2 of our visit, in which we get a close look at the costume and talk to more talent at the museum.

Superman Returns opens in conventional theaters, IMAX and IMAX 3D on June 30.

Source: Scott Chitwood