Rambling: Directorial Impact

The Chair

Chris Moore was a co-producer on Good Will Hunting when several filmmakers were originally in consideration to direct, including: Kevin Smith, Mel Gibson, Michael Mann, and Steven Soderbergh. Ever since then, Moore was fascinated with the possibility of seeing those different visions with the same script. Moore, Affleck, and Damon would go on to produce Project Greenlight, a television series focusing on first-time filmmakers being given the chance to direct a feature film.

After three seasons, Moore would take that experience and finally crystallize his experiment into the reality competition television show, The Chair, which gave YouTuber Shane Dawson and NYU film school graduate Anna Martemucci each the opportunity to create movies based on same script by Dan Schoffer.

Consider and compare these two films based off the same initial script:

Project Greenlight

After a 10-year hiatus, Season 4 of Project Greenlight premiered this past Sunday and repeated this experiment with 13 different directors for 3-minute short films all with the same control- the identical script by the Farrlley Brothers (Dumb and Dumber, There’s Something About Mary, etc).  All 13 submissions are available in this playlist. However, if you only have time to watch a few, just in terms of sheer contrast, consider these:

A baseline similar to the writers’ sensibilities.

A starkly different approach.

A completely cartoonish take.

There’s nothing radical about the idea that “the director is important” but rarely do we get so explicit an illustration.

The many hats a director has to wear all come together into something completely different: The casting, the vision, the style, the technology, the interpretation, the cinematography, the edit, the  collaborators, the performances, the budget, the execution, etc.  allow productions to diverge dramatically before our eyes. Even having read the script, we can be completely surprised by the ultimate outcome! An actor, an editor, a composer’s score, etc. can all make something work beyond the four-corners of the page.

Consider that the next time you’re concerned about an allegation arising from only the script.

Really, this whole rambling is so I could write that line… but let me meander around in the hopes of finding a second point.


I enjoy Snyder’s style and am encouraged that we will have his films to provide the universe with a spine, it’s great that he’s so invested he wants to do this again and again, and fantastic that a director that everyone praises as collaborative is at the center of it… but I can’t wait to see the visions the other directors bring to the cinematic universe too.  They each have their own voice and contributions which make for a richer and more diverse whole.

I think it’s interesting that Snyder’s assisting with a Dorito’s Superbowl campaign that democratizes direction… commercials are essentially short films and Snyder and Jenkins got their start in commercials… and Ben Affleck’s passion project is a show which gives a young filmmaker an opportunity to make their first feature.  They’re actively giving back, understanding they’re in a position of uncommon privilege (Jenkins once said something like she had been given a brass ring to make any movie she wanted but never wanted or expected fame; and has consciously been selective… electing to do Wonder Woman suggests she’s willing to put up with fame and a big film to say something) inviting more into a world where there’s no clear path.

While our directors are incredibly diverse in their personal lives, filmmaking origins, career paths, politics, religion, family life, age, etc.- meaning our Justice League of directors reflect that same kind of diverse-individuals working towards a common goal found in our fictional Justice League- I think we’ll get the best of both worlds: unique executions of their individual visions but also a coherent universe (you know, like the comic books!).  Why?  The filmography of our known directors share a certain intensity (one which George Miller’s Fury Road would align with nicely).


These are passionate, serious, intense filmmakers… from the plots of their films to their process. Snyder’s participation in the now-famous “300 Workout” is legendary and his films tend towards a dark irony without happy endings. Ayer wrangled the mad and method LaBeouf and reportedly looked after the mental health of his Suicide Squad actors by providing a psychotherapist, not to mention his earlier films. Jenkins found herself diving deep into the minds of convicts and killers and Wan is responsible for a modern horror renaissance. Affleck’s thillers are routinely praised as tense and gripping. This is nothing new or surprising, we already knew this was the direction Warner Brothers was aiming for, but we can see that intention in the selection of those directors. The films will vary in subject matter, the fantastic, their humor, the role of magic, the period and setting, and more… but they’ll be unified by the intensity of their filmmakers and the common shared universe.

Tornado Topics: Adjusting for Age

MOSAIC has tackled a number of peripheral issues relating to the controversial tornado scene in Man of Steel. We’ve talked a little about the incorrect assumptions about available powers, unknown limits and vulnerabilities, distinguished this scene from the bus rescue, and more (with much more to come in the complete analysis), but I just wanted to touch on an aspect that layers throughout that analysis and goes to some of our gut instinctual biases rather than engaging our intellect, imagination, and empathy.

Problem with Perception

Essentially, it has to do with our intuition about age.

tumblr_mwky1r2rAV1rei3gfo3_1280Part of the gut reaction to Jonathan Kent as the man of action while Clark stands by… comes from seeing a man in the prime of his life staying in place, while a man nearing his sixties is performing a rescue. To make things a little more concrete, Costner was born in 1955, Cavill in 1983. At the time of filming (August 2011 in Illinois) they’d be around the ages of 56 and 28 respectively. Hair and makeup did a great job, but there’s still that dissonance. We want the adult Clark to rebel, to take initiative, to demonstrate the capability that is so plainly visible in his strength and youth… meanwhile the older man, approaching his 60s, seems like the better candidate to run to presumed safety.

Within the timeline of the film, we know Jonathan is 46 and Clark is about 17 in this scene, on the cusp of becoming an adult. Both actors were dealing with a decade plus gap. Costner was 56 playing 46 and Cavill was 28 playing 17. Incidentally, Dylan Sprayberry was 13 when filming and is 17 today.

Reasons for Using Cavill

So why did they use Cavill instead of trying to age-up Sprayberry or use another actor?

1461348_624250417620917_1461800411_nI’m speculating,  but I think the filmmakers felt that this was a critical moment of continuity for Cavill; showing his Clark experienced this moment which carried forwards, through, and until becoming Superman. With another actor, Cavill is denied a moment to work with Costner and the audience perhaps separates this seminal event with the contemporaneous Superman. Maybe. I know that for myself, I don’t quite think of Reeve as the one who witnessed his father’s heart-attack, but instead that was something left behind on the farm or in a cave by someone else.

Inserting a fourth (fifth, if you count Kal-El on Krypton) Clark into the mix may introduce additional risk of confusion or alienation. Continuing to use Sprayberry might mitigate the confusion but might fail to show how close Clark was to manhood (something highly significant that we’ll definitely analyze in depth in the future) and ready to set out on his own.

So trying to de-age Cavill was a calculated risk with sensible reasons. Even if it challenged audiences to consider how old these characters were supposed to be. That choice wasn’t entirely without precedent in the story of Superman: Tom Welling was 24 playing 14 and Jeff East was 21 playing 17. It tends to be something expected and requires some suspension of disbelief from the audience.

In retrospect, aging-up Sprayberry and suggesting that Clark developed a little slower than everyone else might have been better; However, we’ll never know.

Examples of Actors Age 46 and 17

Of course, age 46 and 17 may perhaps still not be intuitive; so to illustrate, let’s consider some actors who fit these demographics right now in June 2015. Jonathan Kent was a healthy active fifth-generation farmer. Consider these other men who, today, are about Jonathan Kent’s age in that scene:

Daniel Craig, Hugh Jackman, Gerard Butler, Will Smith, Eric Bana, Timothy Olyphant, Josh Brolin, Aaron Eckhard, and Terry Crews.

MenOfACertainAgeWould any of these men seem out of place as men of action? As having the authority to command their 17-year-old teenager? To be respected and listened to by that 17-year-old?

Although it’s a little harder to find 17 year olds who’ve distinguished themselves, consider the following teens who, today, are about Clark Kent’s age in that scene:

Dylan Sprayberry, Asa Butterfield, Chandler Riggs, Jaden Smith, Max Burkholder, Rico Rodriguez, and Tye Sheridan.

Age17forMOSIf you match up the men, age 46, with a teen around the age of 17, the dynamics of the tornado scene are more intuitive. Jonathan Kent’s protectiveness of his teenaged son is easier to grasp. Remember, that just prior, Clark expresses his frustration with being “safe”… meaning that for the past 4 years, nearly a quarter of his entire life and the time Jonathan has spent with his son… was with the powers suppressed, safe, and unseen. Jonathan had spent the last 1,500 consecutive days with just his son Clark and not his abilities.

approxJust as we, the audience, struggle to overcome our intuitions and assumptions based on what we see… for Jonathan, when he looks at Clark, he doesn’t see an alien filled with powers or abilities… he sees his teenaged son who still needs protection and guidance.

Of course, that imagery isn’t necessary for us to imagine or empathize with that attitude. It simply makes that empathy a little easier and more intuitive. Certainly we all have had, know, or been that parent who can only see their child- no matter how grown-up, independent, or powerful- as their little boy or girl to be protected. In that sense, no matter how mature Cavill’s Clark looked, Costner’s Jonathan would and could still see the same baby he cradled, boy he took fishing, teen he had long talks with, etc. I don’t think stretching our empathy (challenging it) rather than manipulating it (with a younger actor) is necessarily a bad thing.

Why Would Jonathan Be Protective?

45It’s a little bit ridiculous to believe that Jonathan performed a careful dispassionate utilitarian calculation in the face of a sudden emergency. Instead, he went with his gut which reasonably sought to protect a son three decades his junior. Jonathan didn’t do some heartless calculation, but even if he did, he be missing gross amounts of data and figures critics routinely assume as immutable facts known to the characters. How would Jonathan know that Clark would be safe against one of the most incredible and destructive forces of nature? A tornado contains 6 times the energy density of a hurricane and even average or typical tornadoes pack the power of 300 gallons of jet fuel, much less a tornado ranked 4 or 5 on the Enhanced Fujita scale (throwing cars through the air).

15-kevin-henry-dianeFor this level of threat, as far as Jonathan knew, Clark was as in just as much mortal jeopardy as he was. So the father did as you’d expect: prioritize his son’s life over his own. This is self-evident with respect to his own rescue, since Jonathan prefers Clark to live free from persecution, for a time, over his own life.  Clark, meanwhile, has reason to trust and obey the man who has lived three times as long and done nothing but love him his entire life.

However, we’ll get into all that soon, for now, the takeaway: while the film does present us with a 28-year-old actor following the wishes of a 56-year-old actor… if we consider what the scene is to meant to convey, we might overcome some of the biases based on perceived ages instead of what the story tells us their ages are and expand the capacity and thoughtfulness of our empathy.

Rambling: How It Could Have Ended

I enjoy How It Should Have Ended. Based on the prominence of Superman (and Batman) at the Super Café, I think their affection for Superman is obvious and I generally take their offerings in the spirit in which I think they were intended: superficial lighthearted jabs at plotting meant to raise an eyebrow and chuckle. HISHE isn’t a serious indictment of or malicious bitterness towards the films (they do take a few more pot-shots at Man of Steel in later clips, but nothing too vitriolic).

I think they tend to humorously raise the questions the general audience might, under the short window of their production schedule (this video was originally published a little over a month after the premiere), but often those questions can be answered by those more invested in the work than general audiences. For example, the issue of the eagles with The Lord of The Rings: The Return of The King.

They’re under time pressure to try to find a more seemingly rational course of action (and ending) while hoping that it’s received as funny. Their aim isn’t to test any film’s staunchest apologists. By the same token, the following isn’t meant to impinge on their intelligence, attack their efforts, or criticize their creation (never meant to do much more than make you chuckle) however it does address the questions raised by How It Should Have Ended.

The video basically raises these questions:

  1. Why didn’t Jor-El copy Lara’s consciousness too?
  2. Why didn’t Clark consult with Jor-El in response to Zod’s ultimatum?
  3. Why did Zod give Earth 24 hours to respond?
  4. Why didn’t Superman blitz the Black Zero with his vessel?
  5. Why didn’t Superman just do what everyone was expecting?

The biggest flaw in raising these questions is assuming too much about what characters know or don’t know.  If we don’t make the same assumptions, let’s see how things could have ended!

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MAN OF STEEL Prequel Comic [Supergirlradio]

IKvmv1aThis week on Supergirl Radio, your hosts Teresa Jusino and Rebecca Johnson are joined by The Flash Podcast’s Andy B. to cover news about CBS’ Supergirl TV series (including even more casting news and The Costume!), and discuss the Man of Steel prequel comic, which stars Kara Zor-El! Join in on the fun as the gang at Supergirl Radio prepare for CBS’ Supergirl, starring Melissa Benoist!

DrAwkward shares some theories on who is in the hibernation pod Clark discovers in the movie, why, and what impact it might have on the DCCU. How does Kara Zor-El stack up as a character?

Check it out!

Why did Clark speak with Father Leone instead of Martha?

movies-man-of-steel-henry-cavill-diane-laneFaced with Zod’s ultimatum, Clark wrestles with revealing himself to the world for humanity’s sake and uses Father Leone as a sounding board.  There’s much more to unpack here but a common objection raised is the question of why Clark spoke with a clergyman instead of his own mother?

Detractors will often immediately launch into an attack against allegedly marketing-driven overtures to court the religious and claim the film missed out on Clark’s parents providing him counsel.  However, if one takes a moment to empathize with the characters, the answer becomes immediately apparent… consider Clark’s homecoming with Martha, occurring right before Zod’s ultimatum:

Martha: I’m so happy for you, Clark.
Clark: What?
Martha: It’s nothing. [Recounts raising him.] And I worried all the time.
Clark: You worried the truth would come out.
Martha: No.  The truth about you is beautiful.  We saw that the moment we laid eyes on you.  We knew one day the whole world would see that.  I’m just… I’m worried they’ll take you away from me.
Clark: I’m not going anywhere, Mom.

man-of-steel-image04In other words, Martha’s greatest fear and worry, that the discovery of Clark’s people would lead to them threatening to take him away from her, has just literally come true!  Moreover, Clark has just told her that he’s not going anywhere, even if he knows in his heart of hearts he must.

As valuable as Martha’s counsel may be in this situation, Clark was raised to love and protect his mother.  As an adult, Clark shoulders this burden rather than burdening his mother.

Clark spares his mother the heartbreak of having to tell him to sacrifice himself or his own resolve if she begs him to save himself.

It is completely sensible that Clark would talk to someone other than Martha.  Now why Father Leone instead of some of the other candidates?  That’s another post!

Clark doesn’t have the speed to avoid detection and identification…


Why steal a disguise if you can “streak” like an invisible blur?

…until after gaining flight (and even then).

Granted, when we approach a film based on a preexisting property, as an audience we bring the baggage of expectation, but it is unfair to criticize the character’s in-film choices for abilities that haven’t been established. The film gives us a clear precedent for Clark developing his powers later than he is potentially capable of and later than tradition with flight.

Consider the following sequences which go differently if Clark has enough speed to avoid detection and identification:

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Man Of Steel Round Table [Michael Bailey’s Views From The Long Box]

Views From The Long Box 199: Man Of Steel Round Table – A three hour scene by scene discussion about Man Of Steel a year after by Superman fans.

Joining Michael Bailey (of The Superman Homepage, Fortress of Baileytude, From Crisis to Crisis/Superman Podcast Network, and more!) “in this mammoth episode are Andy Leyland (of Hey Kids Comics, The Palace of Glittering Delights, The Fantasticast and Listen to the Prophets fame and my permanent semi-regular co-host), Paul Spatro (of Back to the Bins and Listen to the Prophets fame) and Bob Fisher (of Superman Forever and Long Play fame).  We spend over three hours discussing Man of Steel in depth and deal with the more controversial aspects of the movie including the depiction of Jonathan Kent, the amount of destruction seen in the movie and the final battle between Superman and General Zod.  It’s a long conversation but I think it proves that you can talk about this movie with people and still walk away as friends.”

I have a ton of respect for the participants (and their work), their discussion, and civility.  Of course, I don’t agree with them on every point, but “reasonable minds will differ” and they prove the essential point that a difference of opinion doesn’t need to be accompanied by acrimony or degeneration.  They don’t pretend to speak for all fans but are honest about their feelings without belittling the feelings of others.

I appreciate the intelligent and genuine criticism as opposed to counter-factual bashing… and, of course, I’ll enjoy doing my best to answer some of the topics from my perspective eventually (not a direct reaction, just as the topics emerge).  It is not a love-fest, but an open-minded Man Of Steel fan should be able to listen to this without problems.  Not a “must listen” (then again, what is?) but I enjoyed it for what it was.  As illustrative as the podcast is of cordiality, it’s interesting that the venom to which some can approach this mere film almost proves the skepticism towards humanity presented by the film.  Be better!

A minor language warning, depending on where and how you’re playing it and the sensitivity to some swearing.

Anyways, if you can’t get enough commentary on a film that still has people talking even this far out, this might be the antidote to some of the mind numbingly bad bashing commentary out there, with a more even take on the film.  Enjoy!

American Icons: Superman [Studio 360]

Originally broadcast July 6, 2006, one month after Superman Returns and rebroadcast May 31, 2013, one month before Man of Steel.

Studio 360 is a public radio program about the arts and culture hosted by Kurt Andersen and produced by Public Radio International and WNYC. If you enjoy documentaries, insight, commentary, or Superman, this is a must listen. You don’t have to agree with everything presented, and some parts are given only a cursory analysis, but the production is slick, high quality, transitions beautifully, tackles a gamut of thought-provoking topics, and features Bryan Singer, Margot Kidder, Brandon Routh, Jules Feiffer, Art Spiegelman, Michael Chabon, Howard Jacobson, just to name a few!

For those who love food for thought and Superman this was a delight to listen to.

The substance of the show is about 50 minutes and provides endless prompts for discussion, analysis, etc. Literally entire books have been written around the topics which this show can only touch upon. Nonetheless, I’ll do my best to briefly summarize a few of the ideas touched upon recalled from my morning commute. Most of the segments transition seamlessly so it isn’t always a case of discrete topics, but comes off almost as a stream of consciousness.

In this program, they touch upon:

  • Superman’s Jewish parallels and origins
  • Superman as a product of shy, nerdy, nebbish young men afraid of girls
  • Superman as a product of Martin Siegel’s murder in an armed robbery
  • Superman’s popularity allowing Siegel and Shuster to mature and get girls
  • Siegel wanting Superman to grow up too, reveal his secret to Lois to proceed as partners, but axed by DC as upsetting the successful formula
  • The conflict between DC and Siegel and Shuster
  • Superman’s constant evolution and multimedia explosion
  • Superman the musical as satire and inner monologue
  • The romance and love triangle
  • Comics as mere research & development for the films
  • Bryan Singer who didn’t read the comics but was enamored with Superman The Movie
  • Singer pitching relationships as something unsurmountable to Superman
  • Interpreting the triangle as masochistic because of the willful acceptance of humiliation and pain
  • Kidder’s performance as informed by real-life: monosyllabic with crushes and bossy with mere buddies
  • The appeal and purpose of Clark Kent
  • Jules Feiffer’s essay and proposal, the inspiration for the Kill Bill monologue
  • Superman’s duality as the Western film archetype of the law-abider and lawless strongman, see The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance
  • Why is Clark Kent a journalist?
  • The historical context, ethics, and nobility of journalism, and Siegel’s desire to be a journalist
  • Discussion of the costume in film, the logo, and the shield
  • Comparing and contrasting the shield and the swastika
  • Superman as a Fascist ideal, Fascism, and absolute power

Even if you’re a longtime fan of Superman, you’ll probably find something new, surprising, or interesting within this, despite much of it being familiar. For an overview it is still professionally produced, well-researched by going to interesting sources, and peppered with appropriate audio. Give it a listen!

Studio 360 – American Icons: Superman