Can life get any better for Kevin Smith?
The prolific filmmaker and self-professed nerd previously directed two “Flash” episodes, and followed up those excursions into The CW superhero universe for tonight’s “Supergirl” episode, the tongue-in-cheek titled “Supergirl Lives.”
The episode finds Kara (Melissa Benoist) and Mon-El (Chris Wood) stuck on another planet where the red sun has robbed them of their powers. To make matters worse, Roulette (Dichen Lachman) runs a trafficking ring there and sells slaves to the highest bidder.
Ahead of tonight's mid-season premiere, Smith spoke with CBR about stretching his directing muscles, and attacking the action. We also discussed why he prefers the quieter moments, and the Easter eggs longtime DC Comics fans will discover throughout the episode.
CBR: Congratulations on two well-received “Flash” episodes!
Kevin Smith: Well, thanks. I wish I could take credit. I got very lucky with two insanely, well-written scripts. You are working with cast and crew that make brilliance week in and week out, without your fat ass. That’s the beauty of going to these shows. It’s foolproof. I’ve found it’s a scam. I could go up there and people go, “Oh, my Lord. You did a great job on that episode.” But, honestly, even if I went up there and specifically made every wrong choice and shot myself in the foot, you are surrounded by people who are so good at this, and do this on a regular basis, that they won’t let it suck. You are safe as a kitten.
I got very lucky on two scripts on both episodes of “The Flash.” They were fan-favorites. Then, on this episode of “Supergirl,” I got lucky as well. This is the first one back after the break. Secondly, they are jumping off planet in this episode. This is the first one where it’s like, “Alright. Let’s see how far we can take the alien thing.” I remember when I read the script, I was scared. I said, “Andrew [Kreisberg], I’m not the guy who does the big stuff. I was hoping for a chatty episode and here you have us going to another planet and there’s makeup. There’s people with ray guns and there’s a battle and spaceships. This might be a little big for me, dude. You might want to think about giving it to somebody else.”
So, what advice did Andrew give you?
Andrew was very sweet. He said, “If you can do ‘Dogma,’ you can make this.” We went forward and made an ambitious hour of television. While we were making it, I kept turning to Eric Carrasco, the episode’s writer, and going, “This is crazy, dude. It’s kind of like making ‘Star Wars.’” Yeah, it’s not “Star Wars,” but we’ve got ray guns. We have people in rubber masks. We’re in a rock quarry pretending to be on a different planet. We built an alien fortress. An alien ship is involved at one point. It’s crazy.
As a person who grew up watching these things, but don’t really work in this milieu – Most of the stuff I write or direct is about people who watch these things, or the characters in these things. It’s nice to be able to jump into something where you can do a little part of your childhood. Being involved in Supergirl scratches that itch a little bit, where you’re like, “Ohhh. Now, I'm playing with the big toys without hurting anybody.” I would never want to do a comic-book movie. I feel very comfortable in this world on The CW. They built this amazing infrastructure for all these wonderful stories. They have the audience built in, so I don’t have to try to deliver an audience. When I show up, I’m just trying not to drop the ball. I don’t go up there trying to direct the episode in my style. I try and make it look like their episode as much as possible because I don’t want to derail it.
As a lover of the superhero genre, why was this a perfect script for you? What were some of the story elements you gravitated towards?
Interestingly enough, like most episodes of “The Flash” and “Supergirl,” there’s a lot of heart and relationship. They make you think you're watching a superhero show for 42 minutes, but you're watching about 11 minutes of superhero show. The rest of it is character and relationship drama. That’s what drives the show.
How does that apply to “Supergirl Lives?”
The episode has a lot of character stuff in it. Even though we go to space and have aliens and an interplanetary slave ring, there’s a lot of relationship development that I was thrilled about. I was scared by all the shit in space and the action. In the third act, it says, “They fight.” It was a quarter-page description of this gun battle and I’m like, “I don’t know how to do this.” What made me feel safer was all the scenes between the characters. Melissa and Chris, who play Kara and Mon-El, had wonderful chemistry. They get to fight together, but they also get real with each other and have this real heart-to-heart conversation. Chyler [Leigh], as Alex, got to engage with Floriana [Lima], who plays Maggie. They had a really emotional scene that would be as at home in any drama as it was in this episode. I was programmed for those scenes insanely well. Those scenes were the sweet spot for me.
The rest of it was them going to space on this big adventure. Even though I’m not programmed to do that stuff, that’s the shit I grew up watching. I’ve never got to exercise many of those muscles. “Dogma” is a bit of a fantasy. That’s as far as I might have gone in terms of unreal characters. In this episode, we have a Daxamite and a Kryptonian discovering a different race, Maaldorians, and finding intergalactic trafficking, and finding people from Earth and different planets. You are dealing with big comic-book elements, but at the heart of it is an interpersonal story between characters that love each other at the end of the day. I love this episode so much. One of my favourite things in the entire episode is a great scene towards the end after they get back from space. Kara and Mon-El are sitting on a couch, having a conversation about him wanting to do the right thing. It’s beautiful. It’s insanely well-acted. It’s wonderfully written. It’s a warm reward for having gone on this journey together with them. There’s a lot of in-jokes that pay off throughout the episode. It’s almost like them starting to date in that scene. That’s not what they are doing at all, but that’s kind of how it plays out.
And I can do that stuff in my sleep. That’s what I do. It’s the other stuff -- “This alien has to shoot him with a ray gun.” I’m like, “Please show me how to do that. I don’t normally do that on my day job.” What’s nice about going to work on something like “Flash” or “Supergirl” is there’s a comfort level, for sure, particularly because you are a fan of the show and you’ve seen it many times, but it also pushes you in subtle ways. That makes you a stronger storyteller. One day, when I go back to doing my stuff, I’ll bring some of those skills.
In the meantime, how comfortable are you getting with certain elements like the VFX that you need on shows like “The Flash” or “Supergirl?”
I’m getting way more comfortable working with visual effects. That was always my kryptonite. “Oh, that’s expensive. That’s time-consuming.” I’d rather just have people talking. That’s my special effect. But, after two episodes of "Flash" and one of "Supergirl," I trust that process. I know when I’m done shooting, I’m going to hand this over and visual effects supervisor Armen [V. Kevorkian] is going to make it all come together by putting in a creature that didn’t exist, or by making Barry run fast, or by making Supergirl take flight or shredding a starship in outer space with laser vision.
Taking a page from your late-night talk show, what Easter eggs made you geek out?
Before Andrew sent me the script, he goes, “You’re going to love the title. It’s ‘Supergirl Lives.’” It’s an in-joke and reference to the “Superman Lives” script that I wrote. Then, he’s like, “You are going to love what’s inside.” This was before the crossover event, and the script referred to a Dominator. I went nuts. I bought "Invasion" when it was on the stands.
In the earlier drafts, they had Winn [Jeremy Jordan] go to space as well. At first, he doesn’t want to go because he’s nervous about getting hurt. Alex was saying, “Suit up. You’re going to space.” He was like, “I can’t go. You don’t know what’s on the other side of this portal. It could be anything. It could be a giant spider.” It was cute, but it didn’t end up making the cut when we were shooting. Instead, we referenced the giant spider later on in the episode. There’s a reference to the Thanagarian Snare Beast. The red sun - and having Supergirl depowered by one - is an amazing DC staple. Watching everyone react to that – “What? A red sun? She’s screwed!” - was fantastic.