I like Jon Schnepp a lot.
There are many, many reasons for this. For the sake of time, I’ll keep it brief: Metalacolypse. Space Ghost Coast to Coast. Venture Brothers. ABC’s of Death. Did I mention that he is responsible for creating the members of Dethklok as we know (and love) them? The Danzigian awesomeness of Nathan Explosion can never be ignored.
Clearly, I’m a fan.
It should come as no surprise to anyone that I was absolutely thrilled when he announced his Kickstarter campaign to fund a full-length documentary on Superman Lives, the most famous comic book movie never made.
First of all, I was shocked that anyone was as interested as I was in Superman Lives, let alone interested enough to make a full-length documentary about it. Secondly, but just as important, I was happy to know that it was being made by Jon Schnepp, a fan’s fan and all around gnarly dude.
To sum it all up, The Death of ‘Superman Lives’: What Happened? is going to be the definitive, go-to source for the whole story behind the saga that was (almost) Superman Lives.
Mr. Schnepp was cool enough to answer some questions that I had for him about The Death of ‘Superman Lives’: What Happened?, as well as his general interest in Superman Lives.
Here’s how it all went down:
Everything Action: Superman Lives, as you have said, is a very polarizing topic among fans. Some love the ideas and the shape it was taking, others are completely dumbfounded that it ever got as far as it did. Others fall somewhere in between. Where did you stand when it was initially announced? Did your feelings change as details leaked out? Does the fact that we never actually got to see the film change your reaction to the vision of Superman they were trying to sell?
Jon Schnepp: I think that this was the reboot that the character needed at the time, and that ultimately, fear got in the way. Fear of trying something new, something that wasn’t just more of the same. This fear was born in the voice of the fans, who sometimes become too overprotective of a character or icon, and do not allow it to grow. They could be right, they could be wrong, but I think for the most part you have to let films happen, just like any kind of media. Only then can you either have change that is good, like Batman Begins, born from Batman & Robin. I followed the release of production art & design with great interest. It looked really out there, in a good and exciting way. That we never got to see this, and instead were given a well shot but bland rehash of the Superman 80’s movies, with Lex Luthor trying to buy land and Superman floating around lifting various items. This just made me really want to see the more extreme, rebooted version of Superman.
Everything Action: Keeping with the theme of polarization, some of the creative choices made were interesting to say the least. For my money, the casting of Nicolas Cage as Superman and hiring of Tim Burton as director are at the forefront of these choices. In the grand scheme of things, do you think it was the people bringing this very unique vision of The Man of Steel to life that made Superman Lives so outlandish, or was it the vision itself (as mandated by Jon Peters and written by Kevin Smith) that made Superman Lives so head-scratchingly weird?
Jon Schnepp: I think it is the combination of extremes that creates the clash and the ultimate shut down of projects. Tim Burton was ideally a great choice for where the character of Superman was at the time, and Jon Peters’ desire to see Giant Spiders and Polar Bears kind of went against that. Even the casting of one of the greatest character actors turned action star was met with oddness by the same fans who rejected Michael Keaton’s casting as Batman until they saw the film and then later rejoiced.
EA: Alex Ford, the quasi-legendary fan who managed to pitch Warner Brothers a seven-film Superman series, has a great quote about his experience working with Warner Brothers:
“I can tell you they don’t know much about comics. Their audience isn’t you and me who pay $7.00. It’s for the parents who spend $60 on toys and lunch boxes. It is a business, and what’s more important, the $150 million at the box office or the $600 million in merchandising?“
JS: He was very correct, it is a business. The Batman Animated Series figures of Aqua-Batman and Orange-Batman and Spacesuit-Batman always outsold the Riddler and the Penguin, so with this new Superman, they wanted many different outfits and vehicles. Hence, Original Superman, Robot Suit Superman, Regeneration Suit Superman, and Reborn Silver Superman for the Superman Lives toy line.
EA: Are there any other unmade Superman movies that captured your interest?
JS: Well, when Superman Lives got shut down, the JJ Abrams/ McG Superman: Flyby came to life, and was another film that got very close to production, with casting shoots using a Stan Winston designed suit, to full 3D animatics being done. Then fans went nuts again, and we got Superman Returns, the movie the fans thought they wanted. Now we are getting a new reboot, with some echoes of the previous versions embedded within.
EA: Arguably, there is no more iconic role an actor can land than that of The Man of Steel. In that same respect, there’s probably no single role that comes with as much pressure or will be subject to such scrutiny by fanboys and casual moviegoers alike. What was your gut-level reaction to the casting of Nicolas Cage as Superman?
JS: Inspired! Truly inspired casting to get someone who could actually act, and get inside this larger-than-life character. I think he would have been incredible, and it’s a sorry state that a bunch of idiots keep referring to the “Not the Bees!” YouTube clips, and not his actual work as an incredible character actor. Though those “Bee” clips are hilarious, especially him running around in a giant bear outfit.
EA: Do you have a favorite Nicolas Cage movie or moment?
JS: Most of his facial acting in Raising Arizona and Face-Off, and his total performances in Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call- New Orleans, Kick-Ass, Vampire’s Kiss, Wild at Heart, Kiss of Death, and Adaptation.
EA: Depending on how you look at things, Tim Burton’s track record with superhero adaptations is either brilliant or tragic. Obviously, he had taken substantial liberties with the source material when directing Batman Returns, which for many fans is considered more of a “Tim Burton Movie” than a Batman movie. Is this something that worried you or intrigued you when Tim Burton was announced as director? Has your opinion changed in the past 15 or so years?
JS: Do Nolan’s character liberties with Batman in The Dark Knight Rises bother fans? That anyone can be Batman, that this replaceable symbol can re-retire once he’s found a replacement? This is Nolan’s take on the character, and now another director will come in a few years and reboot it all again. This is what is so great about these characters — they can be reinterpreted for every new generation.
EA: I find myself fascinated with all of the proposed DC films that never saw the light of day. Some got much farther than others. In particular, I have always been haunted by the Darren Aronofsky and Frank Miller adaptation of Batman: Year One. Are there any other DC films that never came to be that you would put up there with Superman Lives in terms of wishing it had been made? If so, is there any chance we may see a Jon Schnepp documentary about it one day?
JS: I have recently come into a lot of the Batman: Year One artwork & designs. The script, it would have been different, but it does not interest me in the way Superman Lives does. There are so many unmade superhero films that got so far and then the plug got pulled. The list I have is quite impressive, and also quite sad, especially compared to what actually got made.
EA: What is the single biggest unanswered question you have about Superman Lives that you hope to answer in your documentary, The Death of ‘Superman Lives’: What Happened?
JS: What was the ultimate set of circumstances that caused this project to collapse? I need to find the first and the last domino of this story.
EA: Above all else, what do you want fans to take away from your documentary, The Death of ‘Superman Lives’: What Happened?
JS: I want to make a film about not only what could have been, but of how what was not made had a ripple effect across every other iteration. How the actual production of a franchised character will go through all these different permutations and changes and challenges, and what is ultimately the final product that criss-cross past us as we wait for the next. I also want to show how ideas can be powerful, how negativity destroys creativity, and that everything has the ability to become fantastic!
Pretty cool, right? The best part is that, as of this writing, The Death of ‘Superman Lives’: What Happened? has officially surpassed its funding goal, so it is no longer a fanboy dream– it’s actually going to happen!
Having said that, there’s still a full day remaining to donate to this project if you haven’t already. Why donate if it has already reached its minimum goal? Simply put, the minimum goal is exactly that: a minimum.
To make this movie as awesome as it can possibly (and deserves to) be, Jon has set a stretch goal of $50k.
If you believe in Jon’s vision for this movie, have questions about Superman Lives, love comics, or simply want to support a project driven by genuine fan curiosity, consider donating to the Kickstarter for The Death of ‘Superman Lives’: What Happened?
We did, and we couldn’t be happier to have helped make Jon’s vision a reality.
Now, about that Batman: Year One artwork…