The second day of the “Superman Returns” set visit to Fox Studios in Sydney, Australia on July 30th, 2005 began with cheers and applause as journalists were shown the much coveted “Superman Returns” comic-con trailer/footage (check out this article for a more detailed critique). Journalists were joined quickly by members of the “Superman Returns” hierarchy such as Executive Producer Chris Lee and director Bryan Singer who seemed pleased with the response to the footage. Wearing his signature gray Abercrombie beanie, Singer spoke with journalists for a few moments before he had to return to work on his other big film, “Logan’s Run,” and later met journalists in the Sydney Museum where additional scenes were being filmed. Check out this article for Part 2 of the interview with Bryan Singer.
The following interview occurred on July 30th, 2005, in one of the theatres at Fox Studios immediately following the presentation of the Comic-Con “Superman Returns” footage.
Press: 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 and it will mean, for me, based on this film, higher resolution image that will at the same time will retain a romantic quality, the texture and dynamic range of film. When you see it you’ll feel like you’re watching something special but you’ll still feel like you’re watching film. The only analogy I can make is the one when there came the advent of 70mm- that’s the idea. The impetus came from when I was doing a screen test with Brandon Routh [actor playing Superman] and originally I was just going to shoot it in 35mm- 35 widescreen- and then Tom & I decided, why not get an old 70mm- or 65mm whatever- camera to shoot a few takes in that so we can have the experience of shooting in 65mm since we’ll probably never have that experience again. So we shot a few takes in that and 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 “2001”- and we felt that it- 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, they don’t process it in Australia and the lenses of the 70mm camera have too little depth to focus. What you had in this situation- and then you couldn’t use zoom lens 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 there’s a new camera built from the ground up in a joint project by Sony and Panavision called the Genesis camera that takes the image onto a single CTD chip with about 12 million mega-pixels. It is meant to take the light and color more like film and the final result is very different than the standard three chip cameras being used in features. They only had one of them and they’re building a second one because for every six hundred chips that get made, only one works, which is then put in a camera and tested in the hot, cold environments and shaken up and then they send it to Panavision, where many of them are rejected, so you have a lot of unfinished cameras. There were only one or two, they brought it from France, brought it here, tested and did what to date is the most comprehensive Genesis film possible. We did long, elaborate late night, one light tests with Brandon, tests with crystal, to try to make an actual comparison. We sat in this theater actually, sent everything back to L.A to have it transferred to film so we could compare the results and how they appeared next to each other for an absolute comparison that was much like the one the day we screened of the dailies of Brandon’s audition. That side by side comparison, Tom & I just exclusively, without anyone involved, we really wanted to make this a personal decision of two people who have worked together a long time since making “Usual Suspects” together, to make this leap. We felt the comparisons were acceptable and the artifacing that usually bothers me in digital film wasn’t there and there was a possibility to make it look something you hadn’t seen before yet wasn’t making you feel like watch Superman: The Video.
Press: When you screened this footage at Comic Con [International, held in San Diego annually] it had this amazing response. Has that changed how you feel the fans may or may not respond to the film?
Singer:: It just 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.
Press: 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 you’re offended by after spending 7 years in the X-Men universe. So no, I wasn’t too worried.
Press: 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, because, to me the film, for all its modernism and scope and action and contemporary nature in regards to the plot and in terms of Superman returning, and putting the early films into history, to me it’s a very 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 in Comic Con, it’s informed by the costume design and production design, some of the things which Guy [Dyas, production designer, who was interviewed earlier] probably talked about, it’s part of that whole trying to make the film look like “Rebecca” but in color.
Press: 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.
Press: Can you talk about the casting of Kate Bosworth and why Kate Bosworth as Lois Lane?
Singer:: I first became aware of Kate through “Beyond The Sea,” Kevin’s [Spacey, playing Lex Luthor] film, the one Kevin Spacey directed and I then, because of that I met her, brought her in and her chemistry with Brandon was, uh, extremely good, very appropriate for the role. For her young age, she’s only 22, I felt she could carry the maturity and experience 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 the ability to carry that off impressed me tremendously.
Press: 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 since I produce a show called “House M.D” and I cast him in the pilot, I have a relationship with him since I cast him before with success and I felt that would be great. Then the show got picked up for another year- good news for me, but bad news- it was a high class problem so to speak. I also knew Frank Langella through a mutual friend and have been a fan of his for a long time, ever since I saw Dracula on stage and I thought “wow, what an opportunity” I went for it and Frank turned out to be perfect for it. And we’ve been filming ever since [laughs].
Press: Can you talk about casting Brandon [Routh, playing Superman] and where that came from?
Singer:: The role of Superman to me was always to be an unknown so that was a lot of going through a lot of tapes and materials that had been collected previously, along with new material and combining all those tapes and all that material, going out there and starting meetings with unknown. With Brandon, I had seen a tape of him that intrigued me so I was at the “Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf” on Sunset and figured, he’s either physically going to be the guy or not going to be the guy, so…
Singer:: [visibly excited] Yeah, Yeah, it was very funny we were sitting there and I was like hey, “you want to get coffee?” I walked in and I figured I’ll know in 20 seconds if it’s a no go or he’s just not Superman. I walked in the room and 20 seconds later, I’m thinking, “it’s still working for me” and I talked to him for a moment and asked “Do you want to go outside?” since there were tables- and I was actually going to Australia for a scout so I was 2 hours from my flight. I had to get picked up from the coffee shop to make it to the airport. It was a good feeling because I started to feel good about him just sitting there and then after 10-15 minutes of us just sitting there, 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 asked him, “Do you want to go outside?” and he stood up, and up and up, and I went, “Woah!” [laughs]. Have you guys met him? [motions to the journalists]
Singer:: You’ll see. In the whole frame, he’s quite a-
Press: That’s when he fumbled the coffee?
Singer:: No, we went outside and the meeting went on for two hours. What was weird about that was in the middle of the 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. She then said, “Well, I hope you find the next Hugh Jackman [star of the “X-Men” films as Wolverine]” and I said, “Well I may just be sitting in front of him right now.” [smiles] 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, you should ask him- no wait, don’t!- and then I hung up and said, “I’m actually meeting with someone but let’s talk about Kevin, because I’m excited about that” and we’d always written that role [Lex] with him in mind and he’s an old friend and this is a great opportunity for all the obvious reasons and I worked with him on “The Usual Suspects,” so we’ve wanted to work together again for some time 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 that I knew when I got on the plane, this was two months before I cast him officially…
Press: When was that?
Singer:: Do you remember? [indistinct speech with production persons] He first came in for the first photographs in Sepetember. When we did our first scout to Sydney, it was that day and I was sitting in the plane, on my first flight to Australia to scout and I was thinking, “I think I’ve got Superman. Ok, well that’s good” [laughs] It’s frustrating when your building a whole movie, scouting here and 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 photograph, we painted his face onto a drawing, which is in the art department, stuff like that. The decision had to be vetted because we had other people constantly coming in but I chose him that day at the “Coffee Bean.” I knew literally within 10-20 minutes that I had Superman.
Press: Did you ever consider the other actors who were mentioned as being Superman?
Press: 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 series as a kid, loving the Donner films in 78 and it began when someone mentioned they were making a “Superman vs Batman” film and I don’t remember this, but apparently I was talking to Mike Dougherty [one of the writers of the film] about what I’d do if I had these two superheroes in a movie and ultimately I started thinking, “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’d then make him gone for a while so then one night in Austin, Texas, about two years ago, Richard Donner, Lauren Schuler-Donner, who was producing X-Men, and I went up into a hotel room for some reason and I said, “Can I talk to you for a second?” and Richard said, “sure,” so I said, “What if I were to make a Superman movie? It’s not available, there’s a whole other script, someone else is involved, but what if I did that?” Richard Donner said, “That’s fantastic. That’s great. What would you do?” and we started talking about it and I told him a vague idea of what I’d do and he embraced it, so it gave me the blessing that in my heart was required for me to take that and do that. I pitched it to Warner Bros who were committed to another idea, I read that idea and did not respond to it, that’s why Hawaii was very interesting to me because when I was speaking at the Hawaii University with Chris, when I was given the JJ Abrams draft, which wasn’t badly written so I didn’t respond to it and then it was gone and then the next year in Hawaii it was available again, no director, so Warner Bros, with whom I was producing “Logan’s Run” so I had a relationship with them and they saw how quickly I moved in the development process with “Logan’s Run,” so they were more receptive to the idea of me taking everything I’d done and doing something new. They saw how fast I could possibly do that, that it was possible so then I started talking to Dan [Harris, writer on the film] and Mike in Hawaii- the first trip I didn’t let them read the J.J Abrams draft because I had to make the decision myself and I wanted to share it with them but I promised I wouldn’t so I kept my promise. This time I said, “Here’s my vague idea” and we started talking about it and after my four day experience there, my second time there, we were halfway into the treatment, a 30 page single spaced treatment, half way into it on the plane back and 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 decided let’s make this now, let’s make this next.
Press: And Bryan, I’ve read on certain websites of you getting physically kicked off the Fox lots?
Singer:: No, well yeah, I mean no-yeah- 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 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 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. It’s a big Hollywood story [laughs].
Check out this article for part 2 of the interview with Bryan Singer
And for an overview of the entire set visit, check out CBR News’ Set Report.