Producer Gilbert Adler has a long history of making horror films. He was involved in “Tales From the Crypt,” “Thir13en Ghosts,” Ghost Ship,” “The House on Haunted Hill,” and more. However, in 2005 he planted one foot firmly in the horror genre and one foot firmly in the comic book movie genre with Constantine. He’s following that up by producing the film based on the biggest comic book character of all time â€“ Superman. It’s a big task, but he’s more than up to the challenge. We spoke with Adler last year at the Australian Museum in Sydney while they shot a scene for Superman Returns:
Q: How have you enjoyed working on Superman, was it an ambition for you?
Gilbert Adler: Well you know, I came out of the world of horror as you may or may not know. I did “Tales From the Crypt”. It was my show, we produced all of them and wrote and directed a lot of them and then I have “Constantine” which just came out on video, and I did “Starsky and Hutch”. “Superman” was a project that as I kid I used to watch it on television, grew up with the comic books, loved it. So when this came about, it was just like a surprise that… you know I sometimes pinch myself in the morning going, ‘Am I really making Superman’ and I go ‘Yeah, I really am! Well why am I going through such heartache’… No (laughs). Yeah, it is sort of a dream come true because its such a classic character that we’ve always known from when we were kids.
Q: Obviously Spider-Man did very well for Marvel, do you see Superman as maybe even eclipsing that?
Adler: Spider-Man… what’s that? Is that a show about a bug? No, this is about a guy with a cape (laughs)… I don’t know, I mean Superman to me at least was always THE guy. I mean when I grew up as a kid, that was the guy that I watched and I loved, and even now looking back at those old episodes you look at how they flew him and how hokey that was, well when I was a kid I was like, ‘Wow look how he flies’. So he’s just the top of the heap for me.
Q: Out of Superman powers, which has been the most difficult to realize onscreen?
Adler: The one that caused the most headaches is trying to make the money work for the budget, oh no that’s not Superman’s power (laughs). There are no easy ones or hard ones, they’re all… we can make him fly, we can make him melt things, we can make him use his super powers, it’s all very available to us – we can do all those things. We obviously use all the modern technologies, and all the capabilities that we have with computers that are available to us and we actually take it up a notch. In all of our conversations, Bryan and I have had, we don’t want to do something that’s already been done, and we want to do it differently. You don’t want to disappoint, you want the audience to just be wow… blown away. Well, how do you do that? You tell a story that hasn’t been told before, you try to make it very contemporary, you make it so that it’s very accessible and you make it very special in that you work the effects to help aid telling the story.
Q: Having grown up with the 1950′s Superman, how was it for you having Jack Larson and Noel Neill involved?
Adler: It was a treat, I mean what can I say, it was such a treat to meet these people. You know they landed here and they were only with us for a couple of days, and it was just such a treat because I would look at Jack and I would see him as he was in the 50′s when I was a kid. He’s an 82-year-old man, Noel is in her 80′s… (someone comments that he’s 74) He’s 74? He lied to me he told me he was 82… and the same thing with Noel, she was just such a delight to meet, and she was so happy to be a part of it. I look at her and I see the Lois Lane that I saw as a kid on television, I don’t see her any older, and it was just special.
Q: With Warner Brothers owning all the rights, has it been easier for you to get this up and running than other comics (with legal issues)?
Adler: Having the rights obviously makes a big difference, I mean we never really had to deal with or had any issues with that because they were available to us, so we could concentrate on making that character and making the story rich, and making it compelling and that’s kind of what’s the excitement about making movies. Not the legalities of this or suing that or having a negotiation, but really telling that story.
Q: Can you tell us what are the things that made Brandon Routh a great choice for the role?
Adler: You know we… lets go back a few steps ok. In prior incarnations of this movie, we had eleven casting directors all over the world submitting people and we filtered in through our casting people in Los Angeles and through Warner Brothers casting, and brought it down from maybe a thousand people from all over the world to five and then to one. Brandon was one of those five even after that cull, and Bryan really took to him, and when he met him – he loves telling the story so I don’t want to spoil his thunder but – he met him at a coffee shop and he was sitting down when Bryan got there. Bryan walked in, Brandon got up, and up, and up, and up… and then he sort of fumbled around with the coffee and Bryan said, ‘I know he’s Clark Kent, I know he can play Clark Kent but could he be Superman’. There’s a presence that he has, he’s very tall, good looking, has a vulnerability I think that a lot of people don’t have. You want Superman to be the power that Superman needs to be, and that you expect. But you also want him to have a human vulnerability which makes him accessible and I think we found that in Brandon, and we knew it.
Q: This project had several false starts with directors and people attached to it over the years.
Adler: (jokingly) Did it??
Q: At what point did things start to really happen?
Adler: Well you know when they were doing the TV show in the 1950′s and I was a kid watching it, that’s when they first approached me about doing the movie… (laughs) Bryan came in with an idea for a story, and I know you just spoke to the writers, and they had this wonderful idea for a very contemporary yet very reverential story about our hero that when they told it to the studio, the studio got very excited and then they had set up a meeting for Bryan and me to have dinner one night and we had a four hour dinner where we closed the restaurant. In fact I was afraid we might be lynched because we wouldn’t leave the restaurant as we were the only people left. We talked about everything from the story to our relationship to what he’s done to what I’ve done just to get to know each other, and the story was a wonderful story that’s just very accessible. It’s very emotional, it’s very active, there’s action in it, there’s humor in it, so when we heard the story we just had this very strong feeling that this was the right time to tell this story.
Q: What was the hang up before though, was it just that the studio didn’t like what they were seeing?
Adler: I think the studio liked a different version, they liked this version better. I think that there was issues with McG and his capability of getting on a plane at one point, he had some problems with that. But, really when it came to the story, when you hear the story that makes the most sense to you and you feel like, â€˜Wow that’s a wonderful story to tell’, cause that’s really all we do – we’re just storytellers. We tell this story, we tell that story. This was a story that we felt, ‘My God, this is a wonderful way to go’.
Q: At what point did Nicolas Cage drop out?
Adler: I was about 8 years old when he dropped out…you know, many years ago (laughter).
Q: What about Jon Peters involvement, do you think he’s had a bit of a bad rap?
Adler: Well, he secured the rights ten years ago and he’s been trying to make this picture for ten years. All I can tell you is, he’s very much involved with this production, he and I talk daily. Bryan, he and I talk often, and he’s very much involved and very aware… he was down here a couple of weeks ago. If you had something that you were trying to do for ten years and finally came to fruition in this way with this group of people telling this story, I mean how happy can you be – he’s ecstatic. You know sometimes it just takes a long time, you always hear these stories about movies that take eight years, five years, etc.
Q: In past incarnations, Jon Peters has had quite a bit of creative input into what we’ve heard. How much creative input has he had in this?
Adler: As much as I have, as much as any producer has on a picture. I mean we’re very collaborative, we respect Bryan’s storytelling capability which is a big plus, there’s no getting around that. We love that, and we really like working with him on that. If he doesn’t like something he says it as I do, if he does like something we tell him we like it or we make a suggestion it should be this or should be that and we deal with it as you would any picture.
Q: Shooting in Sydney, did you play any part in that or was it a studio decision?
Adler: No, I think it was a studio decision, when we first talked about making the picture they always said to me that they wanted it to be in Australia.
Q: When all is said and done, do you know what the cost will be in the end?
Adler: Of course I do. It’ll cost what any of these big pictures cost to make it really well. One thing I can tell you is that we have enough money to make it really well and that’s what we’re doing.
Q: What do you want the movie to say when you’re done with it?
Adler: This is going to sound a little corny, but bear with me ok. I personally feel that we, the human race, needs a Superman. When given the opportunity to be involved with a project about Superman, I thought, well maybe there’s something we can do here that’s bigger than just a movie, and when I heard the story that Bryan and the writers told me I felt we were really on the right path. I think we all need this.
Q: There was the Wolfgang Petersen “Batman vs. Superman” movie, is something like that possible to do?
Adler: Was there really? I need to hang out with you guys more. You know more about this than I do. (laughs) I don’t know, I haven’t really thought about it. No-one’s ever presented it to me to think about, I wouldn’t even know where to start. I suppose you could think about it and come up with something. Would it be good? I don’t know.
Q: Would it be something you would want to do?
Adler: I don’t think so.
Q: Do you see this as a trilogy, or is it a case that if the movies are still good they can keep going?
Adler: I think we’re worried about making, and we’re concerned about making a really good movie, and that’s our goal. I don’t think we think about what’s after this. I think the studio might, I think the studio may have plans for how far they can take this or where it would go, but I think we as filmmakers are concerned about making this the best picture we can possibly make. Whether that leads to anything else you know, maybe, maybe not.
Q: Has Bryan or any of the cast signed on for more than one?
Adler: Well, the studio always wants to protect themselves in terms of future endeavors so I would say they probably have. Yes.
Q: Are there any other superhero/comic book movies you’d like to work on?
Adler: Yes, but you’ll be hearing about that in about three weeks. There’s a new comic book that I’ve recently acquired that we’ll be announcing in about three weeks.
Q: Are there any particular sequences on the film that proved a real challenge?
Adler: How about all. They’re very ambitious sequences, I think they’re all very challenging. You know I don’t like to compromise, I like to do it at only this level – I don’t like to do it this level (indicates lower) and I get nuts when people tell me ‘no’, that’s a bad word to use with me. So, I try to make it the best we possibly can make it, only if we can’t make it to that degree of quality then I won’t make it – I’ll say we can’t do it, we’ll do something else. With this picture, with these people, with this director, with these writers, with this crew we have, we haven’t had to compromise. And we don’t plan to.
Q: Any sequences that you are particularly proud of?
Adler: Most of the picture I’m proud of, so far I look at pieces and things coming together and it’s very exciting.
Q: What’s it like working with Bryan?
Adler: I think the one thing that we both felt over that four hour dinner I was telling you about, was that we’re both very passionate, and that’s good. You know I don’t think I could make a movie that I wasn’t passionate about, and I don’t think I could make a movie with anybody who didn’t feel a passion. Whether those passions are always the same, probably not, nor should they be. But I think that’s good, so when we disagree about something, we know it’s for the better of the picture and talking it out makes it even better and we both know that we’re coming from a passion of storytelling that we both thrive on.
Q: The writers obviously mentioned the first two Superman films that Richard Donner was involved with, and you mentioned the series. What series, what era, what creator had an influence on this film?
Adler: I did “Tales from the Crypt” with Dick Donner and Dick is a real good friend as is Bob Zemeckis, Walter Hill and all those guys. I think Dick’s movie had a great influence on us, I think the quality of that movie is special, and I think what Dick went and did in that year was very remarkable. I think that and the television show from the 50′s and oddly enough I think the original Max Fleischer cartoons… when I look back at all these different reincarnations, whether its the more current television shows which I think they do a great job, Smallville is a wonderful show I think, or even the earlier ones. But the one that we keep going back to that really feels like it has a texture to it that makes you want to tell the story is the Max Fleischer ones.
Q: How about Richard Donner, has he had any input?
Adler: No, he’s busy making a movie right now, so no, he hasn’t had any input into the picture other than to bless it. He spoke to Bryan, he’s a friend of mine and he was excited when he heard Bryan and I were teaming up to make the picture. We haven’t spoken to him.
Q: How did you feel about the positive reaction to the Comic Con footage?
Adler: Outstanding! I mean it was just so exciting to see 7000 people in a room stomping their feet saying show it again, show it again and then giving us a standing ovation, it was very exciting. We flew in especially for that, and then immediately flew back and that’s a long flight. We’d been shooting many, many days, we were really tired, the flight’s very tiring, and you get sort of myopic when you make these pictures, you’re so concentrated on ‘what’s the camera see’ and ‘is it good’ and ‘are we making it as good as we can possibly make it’ that you don’t really think about what’s going on in the rest of the world, and then to show three and a half minutes and to get a reaction like that just gave everyone goose bumps and you know we couldn’t wait to come back here, and it gave us energy to move on. It was thrilling.
Q: Working on location, how difficult and how important is it for you to keep the secrecy around the project?
Adler: That’s a really good question, that’s haunted us. If there’s one paranoia, and it’s probably more than one paranoia Bryan and I share, it’s keeping this project under appropriate wraps, and when I say appropriate wraps we want the public to know about us, we want to show the fans, we want to include the fans. But you know, how do you think anybody would feel if you spent so many hours and so many months writing, and directing, and cutting, and producing, and costume designing, and art department, and months we’ve been working on this. And if on the internet tomorrow we saw a scene from our movie, it would just be awful. I think our concern is to protect the property, and to protect it to the point of exposing it when we’re ready like we did at Comic Con. So I think the security issue is a very real one for us, much more so than before the Internet.
Q: How much information are you willing to give out though up till release?
Adler: Let me answer that in two ways. One, we released a picture of Superman at twelve midnight on a Friday night. Fourteen minutes later, I received e-mail from friends of mine in Paris, London, New York and Los Angeles that they’d seen the picture and commented on how great Brandon looked. So we put something out, fourteen minutes later around the world everyone sees it. You have to be careful, you have to pick and choose moments that make sense to expose because, yes you want the fans to see and we did make that part of the Comic Con. Many of us flew a long time to show those few minutes and to give them a reaction and let them be a part of the excitement. So, we’ll continue to do that and continue to expose in the blogs, and continue to do that through post.
Q: How important do you see the Internet these days in filmmaking?
Adler: Look at who I’m talking to! (laughs) Is that a loaded question or what? Notice it came from the same guy that asked me about Spider-Man! Of course it’s important, I mean you guys have cutting edge technology, and you guys have the first tier of exposure to stuff so of course it’s important, and it’s getting more important.
Q: Did you release the photo of Brandon as Superman so early as a way to say stop someone sneaking a photo out?
Adler: I don’t think it was so much to stop a person sneaking a photo out because we didn’t want somebody else’s photo out, I think we wanted to control the exposure of Superman so that the audience would see what we’re making. We didn’t want some picture of him leaning against a pole, or sitting and having lunch, those kinds of pictures can get out there and they can do damage, and that’s not what we’re making. We wanted the exposure to be real to our picture, and to be truthful.
Q: Once filming was underway, was the studio heavily involved or let you do your own thing?
Adler: They’re involved, we talk to them daily, literally daily. They have input, they tell us what they like, they also tell us what they don’t like – they have no problem telling us what they don’t like.
Q: What haven’t they liked so far?
Adler: Some of the time we’ve taken to do things, when we’ve had issues with…. the issues with story and everything happened months and months ago before we came down here, and those were all worked out with Bryan, the writers, and the studio and with us and that was all part of the process. I mean that’s what you do when you write a script, and you want to produce a movie – there is conversation with the studios. But they’ve been so supportive, and so helpful that… you know I’ve made a lot of movies with Warner Bros. and with HBO which is owned by Warner Bros, and I feel very much at home with Warner Bros., I just feel very much a part and parcel with them and I don’t look at them as the studio, I see them as our partners.
Q: When will we see a trailer?
Adler: Probably in the Fall
Q: There are a lot of young kids who are Superman fans, are you trying to make this movie something appropriate for them to go to?
Adler: I really think that the audience for this movie, and you know you’re talking to the producer so I apologize up front, but the audience for this movie is anyone 8 to 80. It’s young kids, it’s young girls, it’s teenagers, everybody around the world. It’s really everybody, and I think we’re going to deliver. I really feel that that’s our audience, and I think that people who grew up with the TV show, who grew up with Max Fleischer’s stuff, if any of them are still around, as well as kids who dress up as Superman for Halloween, 5-year olds, I think they’re going to fall in love all over again with this guy. This you’ll be able to take your kids to.
Q: Superman is such a big character for DC, do you feel nervous that this must be the superhero movie that has to work?
Adler: I think that’s their issue, not mine. Mine is to just make this the best possible movie we can make. I don’t really think about that, I can’t think about that I really have to think about how do I make this picture the best thing we can make.
Q: How do you see the future for comic book movies, do you see it as an ongoing thing?
Adler: Well historically in the last 3-5 years, knock on wood, I mean “Constantine” did very well for me and for Warner Bros., Batman did very well, that other movie [Spider-Man] you mentioned – they’re about to start making Number Three. I think as long as we keep coming up with innovative way of telling stories, I think those superhero characters are places we want to go.
Q: What about the marketing and licensing, is it going to be everywhere next year?
Adler: Absolutely, everywhere. That’s a good term, everywhere. I think we’re going to try and appeal to both male and female
Q: Are you using one company for effects?
Adler: We’re using effects houses all over the world, there are about twelve houses we’re using. Some from Australia, some from New Zealand, some from England, many from the States. I mean when you’re making a movie with a thousand visual effects shots, and it comes out next Summer, you really can’t afford to have one company do it because the people might start off looking like they’re 25 years old, but after they’ve finished the picture they’ll be ready for the old age home.
Q: How do you keep the same style across so many different companies and people?
Adler: We have many conversations, Bryan meets with them, we have storyboards, we have pre vis, I mean we do a lot of the work and make sure that’s part of what we do.
Q: Will the movie be ready for June 30th?
Adler: Yes it will be. Why, have you heard differently?
Q: Do you see the July release date as the perfect date for this movie?
Adler: I do, I think it’ll be a very exciting movie, I think it’ll be very exciting for that audience at that time of year. School’s getting out, classes are out from college, people are taking holidays with their families, I think it’ll be a really good time.
Q: Will there be a IMAX release?
Adler: There will.
Q: Can you talk about the Genesis camera?
Adler: It’s a digital camera, it’s the most current generation of any digital camera that Panavision has tried to come up, and I believe we’re the first company that’s using it.
Q: Why did you make that decision?
Adler: I think that’s probably a question to ask the DP and Bryan. We looked at 70mm, we looked at super 35mm and we looked at the digital and the digital gave us a quality that we think is quite special. It doesn’t cost less, it doesn’t speed up the process.
Q: Who’s your composer?
Adler: John Ottman who worked with Bryan, and we’ll be using some of John Williams score as well
Q: How many of Williams themes will be used in the movie?
Adler: I don’t know, we’re still shooting. We haven’t really talked about what the score’s going to be like, and John Ottman is very busy cutting right now. That’ll come.
Q: Do you feel five months in, you’re getting all you need?
Adler: I never stop cameras until we get everything we need, that’s how I work with directors. I don’t stop cameras because of a time or an issue, or anything except when we get everything we want. That’s what our job is to make sure we have everything we want, so when we go into the editing room we have everything we need.
Read Part 12 of our visit, an interview with Kal Penn, who plays Stanford.
Superman Returns opens in conventional theaters, IMAX and IMAX 3D on June 30.
Source: Scott Chitwood