Hollywood’s biggest studios come to Comic-Con International in San Diego with their wallets wide open.
They charter private jets, hire fleets of limousines, book blocks of high-end hotel rooms and ensure with countless assistants and publicists that their stars, directors and producers never have to lift a finger.
The makers of “Super” came to the fan boy gathering in very different circumstances: trying to make ends meet.
Most Hall H panels focus on big-budget studio spectacles with million-dollar stars, but Friday’s presentation for “Super” was a study in the opposite extreme.
The independently financed film (think of it as an art house vigilante story, where the superhero makes his own ill-fitting costume) arrived in San Diego looking to land a distribution deal, hoping that the enthusiasm the film generated in its hour-long presentation does not dissipate into the cool wind blowing across the bay.
A year ago, “Kick-Ass” came to Comic-Con in similar circumstances, but that film was a far more expensive undertaking with eye-popping fight scenes. Although “Super” has its combat action, some of the film’s most memorable struggles could very well be the emotional clashes involving a despondent husband (Rainn Wilson) who is trying to save his drug-addicted wife (Liv Tyler) from the clutches of a drug dealer (Kevin Bacon).
“It’s a very edgy film,” Miranda Bailey, whose Ambush Entertainment financed the film, said in an interview. “It’s a very dark, violent and underground look at a character trying to make something of his life. The one thing that is good in his life — his wife — is stolen from him. And he feels like he is fighting evil — in all its forms — to get her back.”
As one of the clips in “Super” makes clear, evil does indeed have many forms, including that horrible person who not only cuts a long line but also doesn’t go to the back when he’s called out for it. Wilson’s Frank D’Arbo can’t stand that kind of behavior, so he climbs into his Buick, awkwardly wrestles into his Crimson Bolt outfit, and brains the guy with a monkey wrench. His girlfriend doesn’t fare much better. The scene played especially well in Hall H.
Writer-director James Gunn (“Slither”) said he wrote the film eight years ago, but couldn’t cast it. “There was nobody who could really do the part service in my mind,” Gunn said on the dais at Hall H. Eventually, Gunn’s ex-wife (actor Jenna Fischer) commended the script to Wilson’s attention on the set of “The Office.” Wilson said he called Gunn up before he finished reading, saying, “I have to play this character.”
With little money (no one will say how much it cost), the production worked at a break-neck pace. “This was a huge struggle,” Gunn said. “It was sort of hellish the whole way.”
But there was esprit de corps, and the actors apparently went the extra mile. Tyler said she doesn’t like using hand and feet doubles, because hers are so over-sized it’s always clear (to Tyler, at least) that the close-ups are fakes. So when Gunn’s script called for Tyler’s character to shoot heroin, she took one for the team, and had someone jab a needle in a vein. Not to worry, though, she said. “It was saline.”
Bailey says the reaction from potential buyers was good. “We’ve gotten a lot of e-mails, ‘Can I see a screener?’” she said. “But we’re not even done with the movie.”
— John Horn
Filmmaker James Gunn and the cast of “Super”; from left, Michael Rooker, Ellen Page, Rainn Wilson, Liv Tyler, Nathan Fillion: Getty Images
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