Superman Returns NEW Bryan Singer Interview (SR on 8000 screens WW?)


May 30, 2004
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Bryan Singer & the Man of Steel
The mild-mannered director behind the X-Men movies is on a mission to save Superman from the Hollywood hacks.
By Thomas GoetzPage

For a guy who never liked comic books, Bryan Singer has spent a lot of time reinventing them. In 2000, the director surprised the fanboy cognoscenti with an original take on Marvel’s band of superhero misfits in X-Men. He followed that with X2: X-Men United, a sequel that had the temerity to be better than the original. Singer’s task this year is to return the man of steel to pop culture relevance with Superman Returns, a movie that picks up where Richard Donner’s Superman II left off. (Let’s pretend Superman III and IV never happened, shall we?) Expectations are higher than a tall building: Made for almost $200 million and opening on more than 8,000 screens worldwide, Superman Returns is the most hyped movie of the summer – and, Warner Bros. hopes, the start of a new franchise. Ordinarily, such stakes would rule out radical experimentation. But the 40-year-old Singer – seizing on a prototype camera from Sony and Panavision – decided this was his chance to go digital, making his movie a laboratory as well as a would-be blockbuster. The result is a spectacle of superheroics, storytelling, and groundbreaking CG, with a dose of Imax 3-D for good measure. Wired pulled Singer away from a marathon editing session in late March to talk about digital moviemaking, the state of f/x, and what would really happen if you spun the Earth in reverse.

WIRED: You’re up to your neck in Superman. What’s it like to take charge of not just the film but the Superman brand?
SINGER: I call it the industry of Superman. There’s the core brand, the movie, and all the merchandising and cross-promotions. I’ve been supervising everything, from Look Up in the Sky, a documentary on the history of Superman [on A&E June 12], to Got Milk ads. It’s powerful stuff; you’re dealing with almost 70 years of history in comic books and TV shows and movies. I mean, little kids who have never seen or read a comic book, you ask them who Superman is, they know he’s got a cape. Take the S into the jungle and you’ll have 50-50 recognition.

You’re producing a 3-D Imax version?
Yeah, it’s a little P. T. Barnum. Imax has this amazing technology: They took our teaser and turned it into 3-D Imax. I was pretty blown away. There’s this mailbox shot of the Kent farm, and they had the mailbox, the fields, the cloud, the sky – everything had its own separate plane. Very impressive. Based on that demonstration, I thought it would be fun to do this. The idea is that when Clark takes off his glasses in the movie and becomes Superman, the audience puts on their 3-D glasses and watches the scene in 3-D Imax. Hopefully it will be more fun than disruptive.

How much of the film will be in 3-D?
We can’t 3-D-ify the whole movie; it’s not feasible. I’m allowed 20 minutes. I picked my 20 minutes today.

You’re one of the last big directors to go digital. Why did you make the switch?
I’m an old-fashioned guy, so this was a huge step. I remember going to George Lucas’ digital summit at Skywalker Ranch in 2002. It’s this event to showcase digital technologies, with all these filmmakers: Spielberg, Coppola, Scorsese, Ron Howard, John Lasseter, Bob Zemeckis, Oliver Stone, Robert Rodriguez. It was a hoot. Texas Instruments had a demo of the new digital protection systems. Suddenly I’m sitting with all my idols – I felt like I won some big prize. I had breakfast with Lucas the last morning. He was really making the pitch hard for digital, and I just felt there’s still this artifact, there’s still stuff going on that bothers me.

What changed your mind?
We shot the screen test for Brandon Routh, who plays Superman, in Super 35 film. That’s how I shot X2 and The Usual Suspects. And we thought, just for fun, we would throw up an old 70-mm Panavision camera at the same time. That’s how they shot Lawrence of Arabia and 2001: A Space Odyssey, but it’s not used anymore because it’s outrageously expensive. We threw the screen test up in a theater that had 70-mm capability, and then we just went back and forth. Suddenly the 35-mm image looked so primitive. It was depressing, in resolution, clarity, and intimacy. The 70-mm was like Imax but without the crazy eight stories. But using 70-mm cameras would be millions of dollars more expensive. Around that time, my cinematographer, Tom Siegel, said, “Well, there’s this new digital camera called the Genesis that uses the Panavision lenses and records the image onto a single chip the same size as the 35-mm film frame.”

They had some prototype cameras just sitting around at the ready?
Well, there was one. We brought this one camera to Australia, where we were filming, and started doing tests against the Super 35. We filmed a girl in a golf cart driving around the lot, from midday to sundown, so we could see different light qualities, what the headlights would look like, how the look would change from natural to artificial lighting. We shot surfaces, like wood and stone. We shot everything with both film and the Genesis. And then Tom and I locked ourselves in a screening room at Fox Studios Australia and just watched all of it, digital next to film. We felt that it was exquisite enough and different enough. In that room, the two of us made the decision to do it.

But nobody had used these cameras to shoot a movie yet. How’d you convince the studio to take the gamble?
I wrote an email to Jeff [Robinov, president of production at Warner Bros.] and said I wanted to do this. And he said, Cool. So then the next step was Panavision’s gearing up to make enough cameras. By the end, we went through almost a dozen of them and found that a lot of things hadn’t been worked out yet. Our movie became a big testing ground for the technology.

And you’re recording onto tape?
Onto a digital tape, an $85 tape. My $200 million movie is being recorded on a big stack of $85 tapes. It’s scary. When I saw those little tapes come out of the thing, it reminded me of the days when I was a wedding videographer. Someone’s whole wedding is on this one tape that could easily be erased by a magnet.

Was it the best wedding video ever?
It was horrible. And frankly, it actually cost me money to do that job for a night, because I had to buy a suit, which I never wore again. Of the 37 jobs I’ve worked since I was 16, that was the shortest.

Hayden Christensen talks about a moment in filming Revenge of the Sith when he forgot to put on his wig before a scene, and George Lucas says, “Don’t worry. We’ll put it in in postproduction.” How do you resist the temptation, or compulsion, to do everything with CG?
Yep: We have the technology; we can rebuild your sky. But I fight that every day. We try not to tamper too much with reality. We built beautiful sets; we have wonderful actors and great costumes. Then, every once in a while, you’ve got to do it. Wave your hand and the wall changes color. At some point, I’m going to make a film for $20 million, not $200 million, and I’m not going to have that flexibility. But since this is Superman, the film supports that kind of budget.

You re-created Marlon Brando, for instance, bringing him back for the Fortress of Solitude scenes. In that scene where he’s talking, he’s completely …
… created. We just had grainy photographic references. So he had to be created from those. It’s like bringing back the dead, in a way. He’s actually saying words that he never said on camera. He said them into a microphone back when they made the first movie. And I’m moving around him in multiple dimensions. So he had to be animated.

Superman’s cape was mostly CG, too. Was the fluttering a challenge?
It’s the fabric, the movement. It’s that whole “physics of superheroes” thing. How fast is the cape moving when he’s flying? How does the cape respond to speed – casual speed, supersonic speed? It was one of the first things we asked Sony Pictures Imageworks even before we started: Can you guys make a realistic cape? They went off for six months and then showed us this amazing stuff, and we thought, OK, this will look real.

So, you’re really innovating with the CG technology here.
Well, yeah, because of the cape and the hair – these things hadn’t been done before. Every film of this level is like that: Spider-Man, The Polar Express. These movies are a chance to take a step forward. Eventually, you’re going to have CG characters that look completely real.

How do you calibrate the physics of super-heroes – strength, speed, and whatnot. There’s no Superman rule book.
No, we just rely on the actual physics, the way the computer interprets certain kinds of physical interactions, and then our own interpretation and the animators’ interpretation, what feels right. And I do that with the acting, the physical stuff. With each event and each thing that Superman encounters, I have to invent the physics.

What about the quandary in the first Superman movie when he flies around and around Earth, spinning the planet backward and turning back time? It’s always been strange to me that all of a sudden he can fly so much faster.
Yeah, well, that’s a moment when the death of Lois Lane stimulates him to do the unthinkable, to fly faster than he’s supposed to. That had a romantic logic, but in my opinion, it broke several rules. After all, the idea that flying around the Earth would cause time to go backward, when really if you stop the planet that would just basically cause everyone on Earth to fly off. We don’t have anything quite like that in this film.
seems like this will be ahead of its time in quite a few ways
If that George Lucas quote is real, then he's truly lost it...

Great Singer interview... good to hear he's still pretty down to earth. Too bad he didn't talk about opening on 8000 screens though... I'd like to hear his thoughts on it. Personally I think one of the flaws of the current studio methodology is the number of opening screens. All you end up doing is creating more half-emtpy theatres. There's no anticipation or waiting in line to get into the movie. The harder it is to see, the more people will want to see it... or so that line of thinking goes.
- he talked about using CGI only when you have no other chance.
-creating marlon brandons face with CGI
-the cape will be a lot of times CGI and IMO it looks real in the trailers.
-i am scared about the strenthg of superman. here he talks that it was not right to fly so fast in S:TM but for christ sake he will throw NK in the sapce.
that's more of a desperation move for Superman when it come to throwing the continent away. and going from spoilers it won't be easy for him to do
but you know how hard is this to do? this is in my opinion bigger than the turning back time.
dark_b said:
but you know how hard is this to do? this is in my opinion bigger than the turning back time.
ok but in my opinion turning back time is alot bigger then moving a mass of land.

Juding by what he said I think he is taking the idea that Superman can push himself beyond his limits if neccessary from that time traveling thing in the first film and applying it to this film, when he needs to get rid of the land and he has to do it quickly. and going by what I've read even though he pushes himself to do it it still doesn't seem like its an easy thing for him to do.
Da Vinci Code opened in 12000 (3735 in the US) theaters world wide, making $224M ($77 US /$147 WW) in the process... with 4000 less theaters, and with about the same running time, I doubt SR will make as much on it's worldwide gross on its opening week. I'm pretty sure it'll make a bigger US opening gross though. Just thinking out loud :)
Nice Interview. Images from the genesis camera looks great, so they made the right choice :up:
Well, Im going to try to see this on IMAX 3-D if possible.
dark_b said:
but you know how hard is this to do? this is in my opinion bigger than the turning back time.


Oh my God...
Well, the turning back the world thing is one of those things from S:TM thats very hit and miss with people. Personally, I always saw it as Supes going back in time, not actually turning the entire world backwards. But thats my personal interpitation of the scene.
I was 12 years old when I first saw Superman II and even I thought Superman flying to turn back time was a bit odd.
dark_b said:
- he talked about using CGI only when you have no other chance.
-creating marlon brandons face with CGI
-the cape will be a lot of times CGI and IMO it looks real in the trailers.
-i am scared about the strenthg of superman. here he talks that it was not right to fly so fast in S:TM but for christ sake he will throw NK in the sapce.

If you go back to the SUperman 6 issue mni-series in 1986 when he was "re-born", he basically lifts a mini-ocean liner out of the water and flies with it. In that scene he thinks to himself that he can hold much more weight when he is flying then when he is not flying and he is not sure why. I always figured it was the fact that to fly he manipulates gravity in some way (no other explanation i can think of) and therefore makes things he is flying with "lighter" (although there overall mass stays the same)
Nautica7mk said:
I was 12 years old when I first saw Superman II and even I thought Superman flying to turn back time was a bit odd.

It was Superman The Movie (Not Superman II) where he turns back time ;)

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