Superhero Shorts: #DirtyLaundry
Superhero Shorts: #Dirty Laundry
Welcome to this week’s edition of Superhero Shorts where I take a look at a different superhero themed short film and get the creator of the film to answer a few interview questions. This week I’m pleased to say that I’m talking with Thomas Jane, who played the Punisher in the 2004 film, and reprised his role in a new short film created by his own production company Raw Studios. You can read our conversation below as usual, or for the first time, you can actually listen in. But first, you should check out the short film right below.
While I was never a big fan of the Punisher comic books, in fact I’ve never actually read one yet, I was a fan of the 2004 Punisher movie. It has its problems, but I’ve always enjoyed it, I’m a sucker for a good revenge story, and I especially liked Thomas Jane in the role of Frank Castle. So when I heard that he made his own pseudo sequel short film produced independently, I had to watch it. And I was blown away by it. The dark, gritty look and feel to it, the little touches like the bullet casing in his pocket, the honor roll sticker on the back of his van, and the fact that if you didn’t know what you were watching beforehand, it’s not likely that you would think that you were watching a Punisher film. At least, until he says the line about punishment, and of course when the skull t-shirt is revealed at the end. I think it’s funny when I read a few comments about the bottle of Jack Daniels not breaking during the fight, when I believe that it’s actually much more likely that it wouldn’t break. The only thing that I wish could have been done a little bit better, was that I could tell that the blood spray effects were done on the cheap, but that’s a very minor complaint to an otherwise amazing short film. And it’s great to see an actual big name get behind a high profile fan film like this, the attention really will spread out to the little guys who put just as much work into their efforts. But enough from me, let’s hear from the man behind the skull t-shirt, Thomas Jane himself.
Bubbawheat: Who came up with the idea for this project?
Thomas Jane: I did. I came up with the concept of doing a short film that we would put up on YouTube. I came up with that because because I knew that the franchise had been killed. And I always had an itch to scratch in terms of portraying Frank Castle on film. I fell in love with the character doing the research for the comics. And I also joined a forum Superhero Hype that was big back in the time 2003 and I joined under a fake name. I think it was Francis Castiglione. And if you go into the archives in 03 then you can see my questions and the stuff that I would comment on. But I was reading the boards more than I was commenting and that was great because I got all the feedback about what they loved about the character, which was all of the things that I loved about the character, which stemmed more from the original pulp novel the Executioner, the circle of blood graphic novel which was very reminiscent of a pulp movie, and the illustrations of Tim Bradstreet. Tim’s covers are what Avi Arad sent to me and got me to agree to do the movie because the script was really fucking hokey, the one I read. But I went into those guys and said “If you guys could make it like these Tim Bradstreet illustrations, then that’s the movie”.
That’s what they seem to love about this character, that he’s far outside the Marvel universe. He’s sort of the grounding character, grounded in brutal reality. He’s a very black and white character and kinda psychopathic, and there were things that had never been done in a comic book movie up to that point. My pitch was basically was to make him like the Frank Miller Dark Knight. Of course, this was years before the Dark Knight movie came out and made half a billion dollars, so my pleas fell on deaf ears. Which is understandable, they had so much success with the X-Men, treating their comic book characters like comic book characters. And I never really felt that Frank was treated fairly on film in any of the movies and so, being in love with the character, I felt like it would be really fun to put a version of Frank Castle on film that I wanted to see, that I loved, and a character that I loved playing. So I kicked around this idea in my head that was just a pipe dream.
And the other thing I learned on Superhero hype is that these movies get slaughtered way before they ever come out, they get picked apart. It’s really quite a unique community, the comic book fanboy community, and they’re so passionate and they’re so in love with these characters that if you treat them without the respect that they deserve or if you deviate from what the people fell in love with the characters then you just get blown apart. But in the transfer from comic book to film you have to make some sort of alliterations and you have to change stuff, and how you do that can really determine the fate of your character way before the movie comes out. People can be for you or against you way before the movie comes out. And my other fantasy was that I would make a Punisher film that nobody would know it was a Punisher film until they saw the trailer in the theaters. And something I write about in the forums at rawstudios.com we have a wonderful forum there and somewhere in the Punisher archives is my forum I wrote down what my fantasy would be and why and that would be to create a comic book movie Punisher film and shoot it all in secret; change the names, change the title of the characters, change everything so that even if a script did leak out, no one would know that we were making a Punisher film, and make it so secret and shoot all the scenes that involved a Punisher skull really privately with closed sets and as few of a crew as you can get. Just drop the bomb on people, and give them no chance to think about or refute it or fantasize then that in itself would create its own kind of magic. And people would be so curious that they would have to go see it if you could pull that off.
BW: That would be pretty impressive if you could pull that off.
TJ: You know, that’s exactly what we did with the Punisher short. In my fantasy type dream, I figured who would be the guy to direct this? Who would be able to bring that kind of intensity and reality and respect the dramatic characters on the screen? And one of my favorite directors is Phil Joanou who did Final Analysis which I think is very nearly perfect film noir with Uma Thurman. Around the same time I actually got to meet Phil on another project, and after we had our little meeting, I brought up to him this idea and he loved it! Phil said “Man, if you ever get that together count me in, I would love to do something like that.” Phil shoots a lot of commercials, and said “I have a full crew that I could get to show up and we could get special effects and color timing for very cheap, and I would be super excited to do that.” So after I met Phil, that’s when I said maybe this is something that could be brought to reality. At that time one of the best scripts I read at the time was by a guy named Chad St. John who had written a script called Motor city that’s being made into a film right now. I called Chad’s agent and I asked if I could meet this guy because I loved this script, and Chad agreed, and that turned into a three hour sitdown at a little cafe down at la Brea, and again I brought this up to Chad, and chad has a healthy dose of “fuck you” and “fuck the system”, so the next step was to get everybody together, which we did. I didn’t have much of a story but I told these guys that I was inspired by the old Mean Joe Green commercials.
I thought it would be fun if we never saw the skull until the end of the short. That we didn’t really know what we were watching until the very end and that would have a great impact, a great way to reveal Frank. So we batted around this idea with a kid and it had to be set in an urban environment, and slowly the three of us hashed out what this little short could be. And that is usually when things go away in this town. People go away, they’re being paid to do other stuff, Phil went on to do other commercials, and Chad went on to write this pile of scripts that he’s got, and I went on to do different acting gigs. And frankly that’s probably where the idea would still be if Chad didn’t sit down and write the damn thing!
So I got an e-mail in my inbox from Chad and there was this little nine page script. And that’s when we knew we had a real, viable thing. Phil loved it, I loved it, and Phil said “what weekend is good?” And we narrowed down a window where we all were kind of available. Phil had his crew prep it, and we had costumes and I brought in my makeup girl, and Phil brought in this fantastic DP that he was working with that had shot for The Grey, and he brought in Andy Chang who works with that crazy maniac Jackie Chan and Pat Romano, the other stunt guy. And Phil said “Ok, we’re shooting this weekend in January”, which happened to be the weekend of the Golden Globes. I had been nominated for a Golden Globe so I had to go. We tried to rush through the shooting on Sunday and I had the limousine meet me downtown and was waiting for me to get the last shot off. The problem was my hair was dyed black, and we were trying to keep this on the DL. The fanboys are so sharp that if I show up to the Golden Globes with my hair dyed black they’re gonna go “what’s up with that?”, so I had Stetson send me a couple of hats, and I put this ten gallon hat on my head and I wore it all night and I never took it off. Even inside the damn ball there, I just never took off this hat all night, so nobody knew I dyed my hair black and that’s why I wore that damn hat to the Golden Globes this year. So that’s kind of the story of how it came together.
Most of the crew didn’t even really know we were making a Punisher film. We called it an Untitled Thomas Jane project. We kept it really on the DL, the only guys who knew we were making a Punisher film were the guys who made the shirts and the wardrobe dept and of course Karlin Walker who played the kid in the film. And we asked everyone to please not tell anybody that this was going to be a surprise. And I never really thought that we could pull it off, but we did. Nobody talked. Phil had to edit the thing and he had to go through and get all the special effects for free, and we borrowed music from the Dark Knight. And people asked “Why the hell is it Dark Knight music?” well we didn’t have a composer. And the effects were all favors. So it was really amazing that this thing came together. And that we were able to surprise people.
Then came the problem that we had finished the film, it was great, and Phil had a screening at his house where we all stopped by and we were all blown away with what Phil did with it. And they said “What do we do with it, just pop it up on YouTube?” And I said that Comic Con was coming up in about a month, I actually have a panel, and I’ve taken the liberty of asking for a room with some audio visual equipment, so we could screen it there on Saturday night of Comic Con, and we all loved that idea. Then came the problem that we’ve got a Punisher short, but we don’t want to tell anybody that we have a Punisher short, but we want Punisher fans to show up. So how are we going to get people in the damn room without blowing the surprise? So Tim Bradstreet, my partner in Raw Studios, me and him put our heads together. We came up with the idea of creating these little giveaway cards that would say that we have a Raw Studios panel on Saturday night, Friends of Frank welcome, it says “special surprise unveiling of a new Tim Bradstreet Punisher skull”. So that’s how we got folks to show up. We were also launching our Bad Planet video game on kickstarter. So we launched that, we had some nice video for that. I had a couple of girls wear Punisher t-shirts and hand out these cards, asking if they were friends of Frank. And that’s how we filled up the room. And they had no idea what we were doing. Ron Perlman, who we invited to be in the project, and to his ever-loving credit said he just said “Man I’m in, that sounds like fun.” So he was there, and I said “Ron, we’ve invited 200-300 of your closest friends to come and watch this thing with you.”
The moment that this thing came on, you could just feel the electricity in the room. And they loved it, they were cheering, clapping, and that was just during the movie. But then when the Punisher skull was unfurled at the end of the short, my God I’ll just never forget that moment. I mean, the visceral reaction of the room, it actually brought tears to my eyes it was so cathartic. and that was the moment, that was the thing that we built up all this time, it was always a fan film, it was just for people who loved the character, and we actually got them in a room. To actually give them the gift, that surprise, was really what it was all about for me, it was a very cathartic moment, and so much fun the way people’s faces lit up, and the fact that they had shown up and hadn’t know what it was. And in this day and age with Facebook and Twitter that we were able to surprise people with that little gift, just made everything worthwhile. It just made it all come together in a beautiful way.
BW: After it’s came out, it’s really blown up, were you expecting this kind of fan reaction?
TJ: I just knew that I was very proud of it, and that I had accomplished my mission, which was to bring a vision of Frank Castle. My vision, our vision of Frank Castle, to the screen. And it was something that Phil Juano instinctually got, and something that Chad instinctually understood. We were all on the same page with what kind of character and what kind of story we wanted to put up on screen, and we were very proud of the way that it turned out. I’m very pleased that it’s gotten the response that it’s gotten. Because it’s been validating to me to see that the vision of the character that I had in my head is appreciated and understood by Punisher fans. It’s frustrating being an actor and being a puppet in someone else’s show. That’s me. That’s why I started directing and producing. I’m very proud of producing this short, and my film school was a movie called Dark Country that I shot on Sony DVD. They gave me two million bucks, and I made the first all digital 3D film in Hollywood for Sony DVD, and that was my film school. I learned so much on that movie and now I’m applying it to my next film which is a western that I’ve written with a guy named Jose Prendas. We’re casting it now.
BW: I saw the trailer for Dark Country, and thought it looked really great.
TJ: I think the movie is really made to be seen in 3D, there is a 2D DVD that’s out, but for whatever reason, it was printed about one stop too dark on the DVD, so they should retitle it Really Fucking Dark Country. We screened that film for the film noir foundation up in San Francisco in November. That film was made for that audience, and they loved it. That was a great experience. It’s only had a few screenings. We screened it at the Long Beach Comic Con, and the comic book crowd loved it. It plays really well with a great crowd. It’s a strange movie and it’s got its problems, but it was my film school. I’m very proud of it and what we were able to achieve with so little money. I’m excited about what I’m doing now which is producing and directing my own stuff. And getting the guys around me like Tim Bradstreet doing production design and Jose doing the writing. People that are on the same wavelength with me, and I’ve got great guys like Phil Juano and Frank Darabont giving me great advice, and that’s what I’m excited about about. And I feel that Dirty Laundry is part of that new phase of my career which is producing and directing my own stuff.
BW: What do you think about other people’s fan films? Have you seen any good ones?
TJ: I thought Sandy Collora’s film was wonderful. He had a great movie for a minute, it was set on another planet and there were gladiator type aliens.
BW: Hunter Prey
TJ: Hunter Prey was so cool. I think fan films can be a great launching pad for someone who’s really talented and has something to say and a vision to give. It’s a great way to pay homage to characters you love, it’s a great way to say that’s how I would have done it, it’s a great showcase for people who are talented. And more than that it just gives the fans a voice, and you don’t feel so beholden to the studio’s interpretation of your character. It really says if you don’t like it, then go do better. And you can, and you don’t need any money. What’s fantastic about YouTube and digital production is that you just don’t need any money, you can edit the damn thing on your laptop and get friends together and literally your imagination is the limit. And I think that we’ll see more of these visions brought to life as people get more savvy with what can be done. And the good ones get a lot of exposure, and if it sucks then no harm no foul, it’s fine, it’ll float away and you can make another one. I think fan films are a very special sort of love letter to favorite characters.
BW: Can you tell me a little bit about the Bad Planet videogame?
TJ: The other reason I did the short was because I’m an avid lover of comic books, pulp novels, and general fanboy fantasy material. I’ve always loved all of it. And about 5 years ago I started my own comic book publishing company called Raw Studios and obviously we’re doing films as well. But Bad Planet was our first book, it’s an epic science fiction story about an alien convict who breaks out of an intergalactic prison and comes down to Earth to help fight this alien death spider invasion. The death spiders. They Crashed on Earth and it appears accidental, but it’s no. They were sent by this other wave of aliens who are waiting to come in. It’s just a real pure sci-fi dream, and I’m very proud of the visuals. I got some fantastic artists to work on it, James Daly and Tim Bradstreet did the inks, and I’m working on volume two with Bruce Jones writing and Gregory Staples doing the art, but Red Fly Studios approached us about a Bad Planet videogame. And to keep it authentic we decided to go through kickstarter to launch it. It’s a third person action story, and it’s got a lot of unique gameplay in that you’re actually controlling the alien convict who has this electrified battleaxe and there’s these twelve legged death spiders that are basically like giant cockroaches with teeth and legs and they’ve got four mouths and they’ve got these sort of anal protrusions on their body that shoot these crushed bone daggers and paralyze you and there’s also this little African kid named Anon and he’s kind of the brains and he rides on the convict’s shoulders. And he’s got this little homemade computer and he’s able to break into the crashed alien craft and you have to disable this homing beacon that was sent to the Quadripoids that are these octopoid creatures that actually sent the death spiders to decimate the earth and they’re going to come in as the second wave, and you have to prevent the second wave from coming so it’s a mix of brains and brawn. At Raw Studios we really pride ourselves on our art, and the game is going to have first rate art, it’ll have a unique look to it, and I’m very excited about it. And we’re gonna make the game. We’re very proud of the creatures we’ve been able to create with this video game and the comic books. And we’ve got a lot of dudes working for us, and it’s episodic too. The first episode leads to the second episode and there’s all sorts of characters to introduce and some unique gameplay, so we’re really excited about this game.
BW: I have to ask you, because I ask everyone this question, what’s your favorite superhero movie?
TJ: My favorite comic book film is Road to Perdition, that’s my favorite comic book to film adaptation. Superhero movie? I really like the first Superman, with Marlon Brando. I think that’s almost a perfect comic book movie, you know. It really holds up today with great bad guys, Gene Hackman. Christopher Reeve was superman, there’s really no one else who could play the part. Unlike me with the Punisher, I don’t really look like Frank Castle. If I were directing the movie, I’d try to find an actor who looked a lot more like the Italian Frank, battle weary Frank Castle. I think the ultimate Frank Castle would be older, in his forties like I am, but I liked Steve Dylan’s Frank Castle and I’d try to go for a guy who looked like that. But I tell you, I do have this understanding of the character and the heart of the character is something that I relate to, and I feel like that’s almost more important than the way the guy looks, he’s still my favorite character I just love the guy.
I have to say that I’ve seen all three Punisher movies, and yours was by far my favorite. And I’m not just saying that, you can go check the reviews. I thought you and John Travolta were the best part of it. And thank you for talking with me today, I really appreciate it.
TJ: This is kinda what it’s about. I think it’s a perfect place to talk about fan films, because your site is dedicated to fan films, so of course I have to talk to you. Thank you.
And if you want to hear to the whole thing, you can listen to the entire conversation right here. Until next time, this has been Bubbawheat for Flights, Tights, and Movie Nights.