Superhero Shorts: One on One
Superhero Shorts: One on One: A Superman Story
Welcome to the latest 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 talking with Jake Thomas, the man behind a more unique superhero short film called One on One. Instead of focusing on the superhero everyone knows and loves, he instead makes it a more real world story with the superhero reporter with the glasses. You can check out the short film below, or you can visit his YouTube channel which also has some other fun superhero shorts.
I actually heard about this film shortly before it was finished through its Facebook page several months ago. It just recently came out online and I was excited to watch it, as this has been one of the first fan films I actually found out about before its release rather than after. And it did not disappoint. It’s very much a different take on Superman than the typical action/special effects/stunts style short, but instead it focuses more on a random Metropolis teenager and her interaction with Clark Kent. Both the actors played their roles very well, I especially loved all the little Superman-esque touches throughout the conversation. I thought the story behind the girl and her feelings towards Superman bordered on being too heavy handed, but the portrayal of Clark Kent by John Nagle was spot on. The look and feel of the short was also quite beautiful, with a more relaxed pacing that wasn’t so slow as to be boring. It’s well worth a watch, but enough from me, I managed to get my own 10 questions with writer/director/bunch of other stuff Jake Thomas.
Bubbawheat: Let’s start the same way Clark does, what is your name? And what roles did you play in getting this film made?
Jake Thomas: My name is Jake Thomas, and I was the executive producer, writer, director, and editor for the Superman fan film One on One.
BW: What initially sparked your interest with Superman?
JT: What initially sparked my interest in Superman was reading several Superman stories around the time I first moved away from my home in Ohio to Los Angeles. Mark Waid’s “Birthright” and Jeph Loeb’s “Superman for All Seasons” were great stories that illustrated Clark Kent grasping his purpose in life. That resonated with me. Even though I knew the character since my childhood, it was the first time I connected with him as a person. Those stories remain two of my favorites, as well as “Secret Identity,” “All-Star Superman,” and “Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow?”
BW: Why choose to do a story focusing on Clark Kent instead of Superman?
JT: I chose to focus on Clark Kent instead of Superman because I really enjoy the stories that focus on him. Clark is more than Superman’s mere disguise. Clark dons that costume. Clark flies faster than a speeding bullet. Clark fights the never-ending battle for truth and justice. John Byrne’s “Man of Steel” mini-series illustrated how he was at work saving lives before he ever created the public identity of Superman. If you’ve ever listened to the old Adventures of Superman Radio Show, Clark Kent actually keeps the very existence of Superman secret for as long as he can. It’s fun to think of Superman working in secret by helping people anonymously, so that made me want to write a Clark Kent story. Plus, I could save money on costumes and special effects if the story only featured Clark. Production companies like Bat in the Sun and Blinky Productions already make amazing shorts with great costumes and special effects, so I wanted to do something different.
BW: I agree with you, I’m also more of a fan of Clark Kent than Superman. Did you ever consider making Clark Kent into just a regular reporter and having a short film rather than a fan film?
JT: I never intended to have Clark Kent be just a regular reporter. The idea for the movie came from a dream I had. In it, I saw a young boy sitting at a crowded bus stop talking to an adult. The boy said Superman was stupid and didn’t exist because people don’t fly. Then I could clearly see the adult, and I recognized him as Christopher Reeve in glasses. He said, “You’d be surprised,” just like he did to a similar critic in the director’s cut of the 1978 movie. Then in the dream, Clark gave the boy a hug and listened to the rest of his problems. It was a short dream, but it stuck with me. I liked how he didn’t have to prove the boy wrong. He just wanted to listen. That little kernel grew into the first draft.
BW: That sounds like a pretty neat little dream. When you were writing the script, did you always have the idea that if someone watched the short without any outside knowledge, they wouldn’t know they were watching a Superman story until near the end?
JT: While I was drafting different versions of the script, I had a hard time deciding whether or not the audience should know they are watching a Superman story until the very end. The first draft made his identity a surprise, and my good friend and fellow filmmaker Drew Siragusa advised me that it was the most obvious surprise he ever read. Later drafts simply told the reader that he was Clark Kent, even though he never introduces himself by name. Also, if you catch the name of the newspaper lying on the park pathway at the beginning, it’s a copy of The Daily Planet. I liked dropping hints, such as Clark’s playful reference to “X-ray vision.” Right now, whether or not I want the audience to know it’s a Superman fan film beforehand depends on the venue. By that, I mean that if I’m posting a link to show people my cool new Superman movie online, I’m going to tell them it’s a cool new Superman movie. However, I recently attended a screening of it at the Celluloid Bainbridge Film Festival in Washington, and I left it as a surprise in the program description. I have asked audiences who have seen it either way, and both types of audiences responded positively regardless.
BW: That’s good to hear. I agree that it would be a pretty obvious surprise, but I also liked the fact that it didn’t hit you over the head with Superman. What was the hardest part about making the film?
JT: The hardest part about making the film was the shooting day. We raised $2000 to buy a day permit to shoot in the middle of Angels’ Knoll in downtown LA, where they shot scenes for 500 Days of Summer. We couldn’t afford to come back, so we had to shoot ten pages of dialogue in under ten hours of daylight. That’s a challenge for the director to remain on schedule, the actors to have their performance down, the director of photography to quickly adjust set-ups, the boom operator to wait until traffic and wind quieted, and for all of us to finish the day and be sure we got it all covered. I actually did go back weeks later with a skeleton crew of myself and the actress to film additional close-ups, so in the end we still got to be guerrilla filmmakers.The easiest part about making the film was working with the actors. Both John and Erin were so good after rehearsal that they knew the script cold. Throughout the movie, there is one wide shot filmed from behind them. That is a take we did at the end of the day where they ran the entire script like a stage performance so that we always had an angle from behind.
BW: The easiest?
JT: The most fun part about making the film was shooting the final shot. If you could have seen John in the park wearing the boots and cape over his street clothes and being lifted off the ground, you would have thought it looked like the crappiest in-camera effect ever filmed. But having the camera and the shot placed just right pulled it off. After we filmed it, all the men on the set gathered around the screen to watch the boots and cape enter and fly away. Everyone yelled, “That’s sick!” and laughed. It was great.
BW: Sometimes the simplest things have the biggest impact. In a world where most superhero movies and short films focus on the visuals and action sequences, what do you think the world of superheroes holds for the human interest side of the story?
JT: I think the world of superheroes and comic books holds so much potential when it comes to the human side of the story. It’s not new to say that. Our interest in these characters crumbles if they don’t have a human story that touches or inspires us. The superhero films that became new classics in the last decade ALL focused on the human side of the story: Spider-man, X-2: X-Men United, Spider-Man 2, Batman Begins, Iron Man, and The Dark Knight. The ones we want to forgot about focused on the cool action set-pieces or special effects alone. The Transformers films are the best example of that. You also have films that humanized too much and sank to the level of melancholy, namely Superman Returns and Hulk. However, you eventually have something like The Avengers that focuses on both and does it so well. Joss Whedon used big special effects and intense action sequences to help answer the important question: what if these characters WERE REAL?
BW: Those are all some of my favorite movies, and I completely agree that it’s the human side of the story that’s just as interesting as the superhero side of it. I saw that you’re already working on a new project, can you tell me a little bit about that?
JT: My next project with my wife is the documentary feature Honeychild. It’s the story of a mother named Cyndi who escaped from the sex trafficking industry when she was a teenager. Now she’s taking her daughter Leanna across the country to tell the full story of how she got out and created her own music and poetry to heal. We have been to several cities in Texas and Indiana. We are in the middle of fundraising for our next shoot in Florida, where Cyndi was held in the brothel with other young girls. You can find out more information about the project or even donate through our website at www.honeychildfilm.com. It’s been a very rewarding experience, and Cyndi is an amazing woman who has helped young women overcome the very abuses she overcame.
BW: And for my last question, what’s your favorite superhero movie?
JT: My favorite superhero film has to be The Dark Knight, but up until it was released I would have said X-2. The other one close in the running is Spider-man 2. There’s just something about sequels. When I was a kid, I watched Adam West’s Batman: The Movie and Superman II a lot. Batman Forever was the first Batman movie I was allowed to see in theaters. Man, I had all those toys. I think it will be a long time before something as good as The Dark Knight comes out again, but I’m definitely looking forward to Man of Steel next year.
I have some reservations about Man of Steel myself, but at the same time I’m very curious about it. Thank you so much for your time and good luck with your next project Honeychild. Until next time, this has been Bubbawheat for Flights, Tights, and Movie Nights.