Pickstarter Plus: Jon Schnepp on the “Death of Superman Lives”
By Brian Walton on February 13, 2013
Recently on Pickstarter, we recommended Jon Schnepp’s The Death of Superman Lives. The documentary plans to detail the fall of one of the most outrageous films of all time, Tim Burton’s Superman Lives. You may know Jon for his work on Metalocalypse and with Titmouse animation or his upcoming Grimm Fairy Tales. The director is rightly obsessed with getting his hands on as much information as possible about the project he thinks would have lived for the ages as the campiest and greatest Superman movie of all time. With just over three weeks left on the Kickstarter project’s funding window, we wanted to get more details from Jon about the movie, so we did what normal people do and asked.
Nerdist: Okay Jon, let’s get it straight from you. Why are you obsessed with a movie that for all intents and purposes should never have gotten as far as it did?
Jon Schnepp: Actually, I’m of the opinion that this movie should have been made. If this film was made, it would have changed the way a lot of films were done in the future (now our past), and opened up a lot more creativity in the realms of filmmaking and approaching the ideas of adaptation. Just imagine how different superhero films, and genre films in general, would have been. The ripple effect is staggering! This film is a perfect example of many other projects that were stopped after a considerable amount of work had been done, and this project especially holds a certain appeal to me, because it would have been going in a different and unique direction with a character that had been around for at that time almost 60 years. All the artwork slowly released over the last fifteen years, especially after the release of “Superman Returns,” really made me want to know more about this unmade project.
JS: I’ve cut together several BTS docs in the past as well as having edited features and many TV series, and have found that, to me, making a documentary is in many ways very similar to making a narrative. It’s all about story, and successfully telling it, be it from a script with actors, props and sets, or in animated form, segmented into storyboards and radio plays and final composites. The documentary also allows interesting and unique story breakdowns, flashbacks, flash forwards, voiceover, and combinations of stills, video, film, and animation. In other words, it’s going to be very exciting and creatively rewarding to me to make this documentary now.
N: What phase of pre-production are you in?
JS: I’m still researching and setting up interviews, and am waiting on hearing back from several folks. I have the spine of the documentary completely laid out, with its beginning, middle, and end, plus lots of fun surprises. I’m approaching this story much like a private investigator, with many of the stories to be told out of sequence, intercut with both the future and the past, and to eventually add up to the “why this did not happen” at the end. Think about this documentary as a slice of various perspectives creating a whole, told with interviews and animation and recreations.
N: Has anyone involved in Superman Lives contacted you to get involved with the documentary, and who are you pursuing or hoping will sit down with you?
JS: Actually, lots of people involved in the making of Superman Lives contacted me through the Kickstarter, as well as fans who have been collecting images over the years just like me. I have gotten okays for interviews from several of the main people involved in this project, but I’m still waiting to hear back from Nicolas Cage and Tim Burton.
JS: Not yet, but I will be talking with them eventually. I am not making a negative or “slam” documentary; In fact, quite to the contrary, I’m going to be showing the creative process, from inside the studio perspective, and how projects become a reality or how they eventually transform into something else. WB and DC should be quite happy with what I’ve got planned, and I hope they will give me full access to the materials I’ll need to make this doc stand out.
N: It would seem like they were far enough along in pre-production that some behind the scenes stuff may have been shot for the film; Any chance of you getting access to that gold mine?
JS: I’m hearing lots of things, from sets to costumes, from many different people, so I’ll be putting on my fedora and getting all “archaeological” very soon.
N: How much are you watching Lost in La Mancha to prepare for this undertaking?
JS: I had already seen that film at least five times before I even thought of making this doc, and now I don’t want to see it again, because I don’t want to go through any part of that ordeal at all!
N: You’re now a Kickstarter veteran; How is crowdfunding changing the way you produce content?
JS: I love crowdfunding projects, because it removes the filter between me and my audience. I can directly communicate with the people who would want to see what I want to make, and hopefully convince them to help me make it. This is opening up so many new ways to make all types of media, as well as innovative inventions, new technologies, etc. I like the freedom I have to make exactly what I want, and deliver it to the people who already know what I have made, and are expecting that type of quality from me, but without interference. This is Hollywood 2.0, and this is part of the new media way. Alongside the internet’s viewing changes brought on by Netflix, Hulu, YouTube, we now all watch and enjoy media in micro-bursts or mega-binges, and this is all intersecting with modern filmmakers who have taken the reigns of their own career, and are working with the crowds as well as the larger corps. to re-brand and re-signal the overall viewership. ABSORB!!!!
JS: I learned quite a lot from running the Grimm Fairy Tales Animated Kickstarter, and successfully raising $188,000 from people who wanted to see my take on that comic property. After funding, I was able to write the script, and then go immediately into production, and make it the way I had envisioned it, with no detractors or obstacles, aside from only being able to produce 19 minutes, because that’s all the money we had to make it. It’s completely finished now, and we will be sending out the BluRay/DVDs to all the pledgers in April, after a limited release on VOD this March. If any of the readers here are going to WonderCon in Anaheim at the end of March, we will be having a few screenings there.
N: You’re one of the most knowledgeable nerds I know and gave some of the clearest explanations about the draw of cons in Comic-Con Episode IV: A Fan’s Hope, so tell me, why DO we get so hung up on what many in the mainstream media consider trivial?
JS: I think the True Nerd has these kinds of numbers and statistics floating around in their head, like what was the first appearance of Wolverine? #180!!! Who drew it? Herb Trimpe!!! When did Saturn 3 come out? 1980!!! Who wrote the screenplay for Blade Runner? Hampton Fancher and David Peoples!!! Now when it gets down to the sweaty nerd facts like how much can the Hulk benchpress, or which way does Moondragon swing, these become stats like in baseball or football, and the heavier the sweat, the more these stats float around their beaded brows! Half-Nerds take cover, we come for you!!!
N: What other ideas are floating around in that head of yours that are going to result in me giving you my money on Kickstarter?
JS: Well, I have an animated comedy web series that is like “Thundarr on Acid” that I want to make, as well as a feature film about a magically depressed superhero. Both of these I am planning on running as Kickstarters later this year. I also have an experimental art book, and a sci-fi comic book that I’m working on, also to be crowd funded. I plan on working inside and outside of media, through large companies and through individual investors, because working in both worlds keeps me creatively alive. I know that I’m making what satisfies my creativity, as well as giving back to the people who want to experience what I make, unfiltered.