Superman Returns Set Visit – Part 4

On July 30th, 2005 on the second day of our Superman Returns set visit at Fox Studios in Australia, we were treated to a screening of the footage that was shown a few weeks before at the San Diego Comic Con. As a surprise, we were joined by Executive Producer Chris Lee and director Bryan Singer. After the footage was shown, Singer conducted an impromptu Q&A within the small theater before running on to do work on his other upcoming WB film, “Logan’s Run”.

Q: Why did you decide to use the Genesis cameras to record the film?

Singer: Uh, well it depends on if you’re projecting film digitally but it will mean, for me, at least on this film, higher resolution image that will at the same time will maintain a romantic quality, and the texture and dynamic range of film. So when you see it you’ll feel that there’s something special but you still will feel like you’re watching film. The only analogy I can make is the one at the advent of 70mm- that’s was the idea. The impetus came from when I was doing a screen test with Brandon Routh and originally I was just going to shoot it in 35mm- 35 widescreen- and then Tom and I decided, why not get an old 70mm- or 65mm whatever- camera and actually shoot a few takes in that so we can have the experience of shooting in 65mm just because we’ll probably never have that experience in our lives again. So we shot a few takes in that and then when we processed them and had them in a theater we were just so- when we switched back from the 35mm take to the 65 mm take it was just, there’s a clarity and the image was so strong- like in films such as “Lawrence of Arabia” and “2001”- and we felt that – how can we shoot Superman in 70mm? Then the issue was that the cameras are too large to put on certain complicated rigs, the film is too expensive, and they don’t process it in Australia and the lenses with the 70mm camera have too little depth of focus. And also you couldn’t use zoom lenses because of the elements in the lens is too visible for what the 70mm picks up and it became impossible to make this movie in 70mm. Then Tom says, well, there’s a new camera built from the ground up in a joint project between Sony and Panavision called the Genesis camera that takes the image onto a single CCD chip with about 12 and a half million mega-pixels. It’s meant to take the light and color more like film and the final result is very different than the standard three chip camera that’s being used in features. They only had one of them and they’re building a second one. And every six hundred chips that get made, one works, and that gets put in a camera and tested in the hot, the cold environments and shaken up and then that camera gets sent to Panavision, many of them are rejected, to get a finished camera. There were only one or two, they brought it from France, brought it here, being tested and did what is to date the most comprehensive Genesis to film comparisons. We did long, elaborate day and night, stark light, warm light tests with Brandon, we did tests with crystals, we did all these different things to try to make an actual comparison. Then Tom and I sat in this theater, basically, sent everything back to L.A to have it transferred to film so we could compare the results and how they appeared on film next to each other so there was an absolute comparison that was much like the one we did on the day we screened the dailies of Brandon’s audition. That side by side comparison, Tom and I just exclusively, without anyone involved, we really wanted to make this a personal decision of two people who have worked together since making “The Usual Suspects” together, to make this leap. We felt the comparisons were acceptable and the artifacing that normally bothers me in digital films wasn’t there and there was a possibility to make it look something we hadn’t seen before yet something that wasn’t making you feel like watch Superman: The Video.

Q: When you screened this footage at Comic Con it had this amazing response. Has that changed how you feel the fans may or may not respond to the film?

Singer: It only makes me feel more positive about the imagery and look of the picture. Anything you just saw there [the footage], the fact that it was so well-received just makes me feel better about what you saw. I’m pretty excited.

Q: You have any doubts though? Fans can be skeptical about this kind of film.

Singer: [smiles] No, you make two “X-Men” movies and have the early costumes released, you’re so- I don’t want to say “used” to fan criticism- but it’s not something I’m a stranger to after spending 7, 6 years of my life on X-Men. So no, I wasn’t too worried.

Q: Y’know, that smokey, kinda retro-y feel to the movie- with the hot whites- what does that mean to you and why does that work for Superman?

Singer: For Superman? Because, to me the film, for all its modernism and scope and action and contemporary nature in terms of the plot and in terms of Superman returning, and putting the early films into history, to me it’s a very much a 1940’s love story about what happens when old boyfriends come back into your life. And out of respect for the late 30’s, early 40’s origins of the character and interest in that, the look of the film evolved in not just the treatment the film, which is going through a process by the way, this is just one, we did our first rating session of actual material we did very quickly in time for Comic Con, but it’s informed by the costume design and production design, things Guy [Dyas, production designer] probably talked about, it’s part of that whole trying to make the film look like “Rebecca” but in color.

Q: Did “Sin City” have any effect?

Singer: No. I don’t know what that is. I mean, I know it’s a comic book and a movie, a friend of mine, Robert Rodriguez made the movie, but that’s all I know. He wanted to show me some footage from it but I wasn’t able to see it so I’m a bit ignorant in this.

Q: Can you talk about the casting of Kate Bosworth and why Kate Bosworth as Lois Lane?

Singer: I first was aware of her through “Beyond The Sea,” Kevin’s [Spacey, playing Lex Luthor] film, that Kevin Spacey directed and I then, because of that I met her, and brought her in and her chemistry with Brandon was extremely good, very appropriate for the role. For her young years, she’s only 22, she felt to me like she could carry the maturity of a woman who’d been a reporter for a period of time and also had a child of 4-5 years of age. The combination of chemistry and her ability to carry that off impressed me tremendously.

Q: Can you talk about the casting of Hugh Laurie [as Perry White] and then Frank Langella coming in?

Singer: Well Hugh Laurie for me was obvious for me cause I produce a TV show “House M.D” and I cast him in the pilot, so I have a relationship with him and I cast him before with success so I felt that would be great. Then the show got picked up for another year- which is good news for me, but bad news- it was a high class problem, so to speak. But I also knew Frank Langella through a mutual friend and I also am a huge fan of his. I have been since I saw Dracula on stage as a little kid and I thought, “Wow, what an opportunity.” Frank ended up being quite ideal for it. And “House” is shooting as we speak [laughs].

Q: Can you talk about casting Brandon [Routh, playing Superman] and where that came from?

Singer: The role of Superman for me was always to be an unknown so that was just going through a lot of tapes and a lot of the materials that had been acquired previously, then looking at new materials and combining all those tapes and all that material, going out there and then starting meetings with unknowns. With Brandon, I had seen a tape of him that intrigued me so I met him at the “Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf” on Sunset and I thought, well, he’s either physically going to be the guy or not the guy, so…

Q: We were told that when he stood up…

Singer: [visibly excited] Yeah, Yeah, it was very funny cause he was sitting there and I was like, “Hey, you want us to get some coffee?” I walked in and thought I’ll know in 20 seconds whether it’s just a no go, whether he’s just not Superman. I’ll know when I walk in the room. And I walked in and 20 seconds went by, I went, “It’s still working for me” and I started talking to him for a moment and I said, “Do you want to go outside?”, where there’s a little table outside, it’s just a nice day – and I was actually flying here to Australia for a scout so I was 2 hours from my flight. I had to actually get picked up from the coffee shop and go straight to the airport. But it was a good feeling because I started to feel good about him just sitting there and then I went to get us some coffee and I got the coffee on myself, I don’t remember, and I went to him and I said, “Do you want to go outside?” “Yeah!” and he stood up, and up and up, and I went, “Woah!” [laughs]. Have you guys met him? [motions to the journalists]

Q: No.

Singer: You’ll see. In the whole frame, he’s quite a…

Q: That’s when he fumbled the coffee?

Singer: No, we went outside and the meeting went and I just sat and kept talking to him for two hours. And what was weird about it was in the middle of that meeting I got a call from Joanne Horowitz who’s the manager of Kevin Spacey and we started talking about that idea for the first time. In the middle of the meeting! And she said to me, “Well, I hope you find the next Hugh Jackman” and I said, “Well I may just be sitting in front of him right now.” [smiles] And I look at Brandon and he just looked away like, “I’m not listening to this, I’m not listening to this” [laughs from all]. And then I hung up and he may remember this completely different, so you have to ask him- or don’t ask him – but then I hung up, and the phone rang and I said, “I’m actually meeting with someone but let’s continue these talks about Kevin, because I’m excited about that” cause we kind of wrote that, developed that with him in mind and he’s an old friend and this is an opportunity for all the obvious reasons and I worked with him on “The Usual Suspects,” so we’ve wanted to work together again for a long time. And then I hung up the phone and I finished the meeting as I had to go to the airport and I said, “Brandon you know who I was talking to? Please just don’t-” and he walked me to my car or I walked to his car in the parking lot and I don’t know if he knew at that point that I knew when I got on the plane, this was two months before I cast him officially…

Q: When was that?

Singer: Do you remember?

Assistant: September?

Singer: He first came in for those first pictures in September. When we did our first scout to Sydney, it was that day and I got on the plane, sitting on the plane to Australia, my first flight out here to scout and I thought, “I think I have Superman. Ok, well that’s good” [laughs] It’s very frustrating when you’re building a whole movie, you start scouting here and thinking about it when you can’t visualize the guy but it wasn’t till a couple of months later I asked him to come in and do a photographs, we painted his face onto a drawing, which you saw on initial costume designs in the art department, stuff like that. The decision had to be vetted so we had other people constantly coming in but I chose him that day at the “Coffee Bean.” Literally within 5, 10 minutes in the conversation I knew he was Superman.

Q: Did you ever consider the other actors who were mentioned as being Superman?

Singer: No. Honestly, I didn’t.

Q: You said you’ve had the idea for this movie for a while. Can you tell us where the inspiration came from?

Singer: Loving the George Reeves television series as a kid, loving the Richard Donner film in 78 and it began when someone said they were gonna make a “Batman vs. Superman” and apparently, I don’t remember this, but I was talking to Mike Dougherty about what I’d do if I had these two superheroes in a movie but ultimately I thought, “What if I was just making a Superman movie?” I started thinking I wouldn’t want to touch the first one, because to me it’s very classic, so I would then have him be gone somewhere for a while. And then one night I was in Austin, Texas, about two and a half years ago, with Richard Donner, Lauren Schuler-Donner, who was producing X-Men with me, and we went up in a hotel room for some reason and I said, “Can I talk to you guys for a second?” and Richard was like, “Sure!” So I said, “What if I made a Superman movie? It’s not available, they’re doing another script, it’s a whole other project, I’m not even involved. What if I did that?” Richard Donner was like, “That’s a great idea! That would be great. What would you do?” and then we started talking about it and I told him a vague idea of what I would do and he embraced it, and that gave me the sort of blessing that was, in my heart and mind, required for me to take that and do that. I pitched it to Warner Bros but they were very committed to another idea, I read that idea. I did not respond to it, that’s why Hawaii was very interesting for me because when I was speaking at the Hawaii University with Chris, when I was given the JJ Abrams draft to read, and I read it, and it was not badly written, particularly, it just wasn’t the story I wanted to tell of Superman. So I didn’t respond to it and then it was gone and then the next year in Hawaii it was available again, there was no director, so Warner Bros, because I was developing “Logan’s Run” with them and I had built a relationship with them, they saw how quickly I moved in the development of “Logan’s Run,” and they were kind of receptive to the idea. They were more receptive to the idea of me taking everything they had done, moving it aside, and doing something new. They saw how fast I could possibly do that, that it was possible to do it. So then I started talking to Dan [Harris] and Mike in this other trip to Hawaii- the first trip I didn’t let them even read the J.J Abrams script because I had to make the decision myself. At first I was going to share it with them but I promised I wouldn’t share with anybody so I kept my promise, read it, and made the decision myself. This time I said, “This is my vague idea” and we started talking about it and by the end of this four day experience in Hawaii together, my second time there a year later, we were halfway into the treatment, a 30 page single spaced treatment, half way into it on the flight back and very committed to doing it after “Logan’s Run.” The next night, after workshopping it some more, we were at dinner with Guy Dyas and the four of us sat down and decided, “Let’s make this now, let’s make this next”.

Q: And Bryan, I’ve read on certain websites of you getting physically kicked off the Fox lots?

Singer: No, well yeah, I mean – when I made the choice to do this- it’s a very complicated thing to talk about with the people involved, it’s a complicated, emotional thing and it’s a sensitive issue because of Fox, my love for X-Men and I committed seven years of my life to that universe and I worked quite well with the studio through very difficult times, budget, studio, etc. Ultimately, yeah, what happened was I was shooting, oddly enough, the pilot of “House”- no, the first episode, the show had been picked up, the pilot was filmed in Vancouver and I had directed the pilot and I was directing the first episode just to get the show going and break in the new crew. [Production personnel motion Singer to get going to “Logan’s Run”] Follow me up with that and I’ll try to explain that but what that is because it’s kind of like that. A very Hollywood story [laughs].

Read Part 5 of our visit, the second interview with director Bryan Singer!

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

Source: Scott Chitwood