Superhero Shorts: Wonder Woman trailer
Welcome to another edition of Superhero Shorts, where I feature a superhero themed short film and ask a few questions of its creator. This time I’m talking with Jesse V. Johnson and his Wonder Woman concept trailer. It’s been a long time since Wonder Woman has really made a good live action presence, and he made it look like it could work in a high action concept with actress/singer Nina Bergman. You can watch it below as usual, or you can check out the short at Jesse V. Johnson’s Vimeo page, Nina Bergman’s official website or YouTube channel.
It seems like I keep saying this, but the quality of these short films that keep coming up keeps getting better and better and this is no exception. Jesse V. Johnson, the director has been a stunt coordinator and stuntman for many big movies and the action in this short really exemplifies that. Also, the actress that plays Wonder Woman, Nina Bergman, looks amazing. She’s buff, she can handle the action no problem, and while she may be a little on the thin side, she can kick some major ass and look great at the same time. The outfit looks great as well, it’s not an exact match to any Wonder Woman costume that I’m familiar with, but it immediately evokes the character in a more realistic way. The look and acting from the Nazis played by Peter Stormare and Timothy Murphy are also great. While it can be a bit of an easy pull to go with Nazi’s, in a 2 minute segment it’s really the best way to get your point across quickly and easily. As I mentioned, the fight choreography is amazing, and I thought the Zack Snyder-esque touches of slo-mo worked well in this situation and looked beautiful. The only real complaint that I had was that the CG plane looked a little rushed/a victim of the micro-budget, but considering it’s a very small part of the short, it’s not a big deal. But enough from me, let’s hear what the director, Jesse V. Johnson has to say.
Bubbawheat: There have been a few recent higher profile fan films with notable actors like the Mortal Kombat concept trailer and Thomas Jane’s Punisher short. The Mortal Kombat trailer ended up getting picked up and turned into a webseries. Did you have a specific goal similar to that or greater in mind when you made this short film?
Jesse Johnson: Both of those fan films were enormous inspirations for my WW piece. I loved them, and quite frankly do not love very much in the world of narrative short films anymore – they are usually way too derivative and formulaic feeling, they exude a desperate need to be embraced by the “nerd” culture while ignoring story-telling, shot composition, basic cinematography and most criminally irritating, by not employing actors with any discernible skill, experience or enthusiasm.
My manager, Kailey Marsh had really put the thumbscrews on me to make a short that we could use to introduce potential studio employers to my work. These are folks with heavy schedules, for whom a two minute teaser is more enticing than a 90 minute feature. They are looking for a director with a handle on the zeitgeist more than an ability to cram an action movie into a three week shooting schedule.
It was a difficult pill for me to swallow because I have directed full length films and felt they showed my abilities. She countered that although judged within their budget and genre ranges they were acceptable, they didn’t impress on a studio level. She is quite brutally straight with me, which is why I like her.
The WW trailer has been a phenomenally successful calling card, and has succeeded on every level imaginable, I am thrilled with the attention and amazing reception it has had, that it has also been accepted by the fans of Wonder Woman is just icing on the cake for me.
BW: I find that acting really is one of the biggest downfalls in many fan films, and when they get it right, it becomes pretty amazing. Do you have any theories as to why it’s so hard to find good movies featuring strong, female superheroes? What do you think is the key to get a female lead into a superhero movie that doesn’t suck?
JJ: Your question deserves an answer I haven’t given before, and I have discussed this at some length. My theory is this: you can create a female superhero to appeal to men, or to women, and you have to choose. And when you have chosen you must remain faithful to that initial choice and you will be OK.
If you try to make her appealing to both sexes you will falter – the truth is, I believe, that a strong female, with integrity and physical prowess is going to appeal by default to men as well as women.
But, I feel where creators go wrong, is by trying to please both mindsets. Wonder Woman was created for women, to stir patriotic wartime spirit into them during the second world war, to give them someone to root for, to believe in – it worked.
Women were leaving the kitchen for the workplace, trading oven gloves for rivet guns. WW was a strong heroine ideal for a profound time in our nation’s history. Then in the 70’s we get the TV show, which appealed for vastly different reasons, to a very different audience, high heels and soppy pseudo karate chops – it had very little to do with the original character. Linda Carter did great and brought grace to the role, but it wasn’t an affirming vision of female strength, it was something else, kitsch.
BW: If you were ever given the opportunity to expand this trailer into a full length feature, do you have any story ideas that could be used to expand this idea you created, or were you just focused on something that would work the best in the short form?
JJ: I wrote a treatment for a feature, and laid out the bible with regard to our version of the character. There was a detailed twenty five minute movie there, it was just too expensive for my resources and not a part of the initial plan. But I feel you have to overshoot a trailer and give yourself five moments to choose each one moment you end up with, there should be a process of whittling down, or cutting away the chaff. It was all quite calculated. I am too cheap to spend my own money without having a rock solid plan of attack and delivery.
BW: You were originally trying to create an original hero for this short, how far down that path did you go before deciding to go with Wonder Woman instead?
JJ: I wrote a short film script, its protagonist was a normal gal who was a superhero on-line, a famous gamer really, an incredibly skilled computer game combatant in a modern dystopian future, where the only real emotions a person can feel involve realities created within virtual scenarios.
It was interesting, and we had three different scenarios for her – as the same character. But it was too much and there were too many elements to cover. I wanted to work with Nina, we had written a script together, I enjoyed working with her, and I knew she had an edge of strength that could translate to film.
I found the original fight scene rehearsals that my friend Mike Smith did for the ill fated David E. Kelly TV pilot of WW. They were awesome and very, very well done – it was easy to see that the show had been over cut, over thought and anything good trimmed, tinkered with, and second guessed way too much. I immediately realized that this was a character who needed a clear take, not one that was diluted and softened, tweaked, adjusted, rethought, revamped or reduxed (whatever that means.)
My daughters loved the Wonder Woman comic books, and I started to read them. There was an awesome character there, you just needed to stick to what worked.
BW: Is there any established actress that you think could give this style of Wonder Woman life, or do you think if Wonder Woman made it to the big or small screen that she should be played by an unknown?
JJ: There are so many great actresses out there. Any actress will work out and get ripped – I have great people to do this and they will only take a few months – given the inspiration and motivation.
What I would look for is that slightly crazy, slightly unstable look in her eyes. She’s seen combat, she’s seen the other side of the human animal, she’s seen great loss, hardship, unfairness and cruelty. This scars your soul, leaves it’s mark on your character.
I’d look for that first.
Gina Carano is AWESOME, I had a two hour conversation about this with her, and she is the living embodiment of a beautiful woman who lights up the room but can look at you with a glance, where you know instinctively she just figured out how to brain you and leave you unconscious, even if she didn’t intend for this thought process to take place. She is too programmed and too efficient a killer not to – and all professional fighters are killers, it’s their self discipline that stops them from killing, not their good nature. WW has a burden of responsibility and it weighs on her – but we need to feel for her, she mustn’t simply be a brooding sociopath.
I’d love to take someone people weren’t expecting like a Kristin Stewart or Emma Watson, and come with an out of left field reinvention of them, something that shocked and worked. There are more obvious choices, but I find them less interesting.
BW: Do you wish you would have been able to work in the lasso, or do you think that’s a part of Wonder Woman’s mythos that should be left behind?
JJ: I truly wish we could have achieved what I had planned for the lasso, we shot footage and discussed the CG effect, but I was spread quite thin and the German dive bomber was a very difficult CG effect that took longer than the prep, shoot, and edit of the rest of the trailer, lol.
I had also had some truly disappointing results from a CG metal whip on another movie and didn’t want to spend money to recreate this – I had two minutes, I wanted to show my best work and hide everything else.
BW: And finally a question that I ask everyone that I have on my site, what is your favorite superhero movie?
JJ: I am in the minority I know, but I loved the last Batman, I loved Bane, he walked like an English gangster and talked like one, too. There was so much grand opera to it – absolutely NOTHING in that film is done in moderation, and as another filmmaker I just adore the balls, the audacity to choose to do this, I loved every second of it – if it failed in some purists eyes, it failed on a grand scale a scale mere mortal could only dream of attaining, how delightfully over the top and wonderful, we will see fewer and fewer filmmakers who dare to or are even able to achieve this. I thought it was a sensational film.
Then the Christopher Reeve Superman films were incredibly important to me growing up. The second one where he gives up his powers had me sobbing real tears in the theater, what the Hell, you’re giving it up for a woman??????? It was incomprehensible, but, I had to trust he knew best, I just couldn’t understand it, and it was so upsetting, lol.
Great choice, many people didn’t think Dark Knight Rises was the best of the trilogy, but there’s still a lot of fans out there for it. And Superman II is another great choice, if you haven’t yet you should check out the Donner cut of the movie, I think it works even better than the original, especially on the Clark Kent/Lois Lane romantic angle. Thank you so much for your time and it would be amazing to see a really great version of Wonder Woman come to pass. There’s always hope at least for the secretive and questionable Amazon over on the CW, but time will tell on that front. At least for now we’ve got an amazing 2 minutes. Until next time, this has been Bubbawheat for Flights, Tights, and Movie Nights.