Superhero Shorts: Resignation
Welcome back to another Superhero Shorts where I feature a superhero themed short film and ask a few questions from its creator. This time around I’m talking with Joshua Caldwell, director of a multimedia web short called Resignation about a very well known superhero who decides to walk away from the responsibilities shouldered upon his hero persona and instead sit back and let the events unfold around him, no matter what the outcome may be. You can watch Caldwell’s director’s reel below, or visit ResignationSuperhero.com to get the full multimedia experience of the Resignation short film. You can also visit his blog Hollywood Bound And Down for more information on Joshua and his podcast.
I always enjoy these different takes on the character of Superman/Clark Kent like this and One on One: A Superman Story. For the most part I think that Superman is a fairly boring character, but there is so many different stories to tell about Clark Kent and this really gets to the heart of what would happen if Superman grew tired of the heavy burden of heroism placed on his shoulders and decided to resign his duties as a superhero. Instead, he continues his job at the Daily Planet only instead of just being a reporter, he becomes a photojournalist. It’s shot fairly simply, with most of the short cutting between a scene with a hostage situation and one where he’s talking with another photojournalist at a bar about the event and a bit of what led him to his current situation. I also always like how Clark Kent is such an iconic character that there isn’t much needed past the glasses, the build, and the clean cut clothes, though there’s also the added bit with the moment where he takes the glasses off and starts to pull his shirt apart. Even though the actor is a bit older and unshaven, he still pulls off the right Clark Kent feeling. As far as the multimedia aspect of the short, it did add to the experience being able to see the different mini-articles, headlines, and drawings that expanded on what was being talked about in the conversation. My only complaint was that I couldn’t find any way to adjust the quality as my computer/connection struggled to keep up with the high quality video on top of the extra images. But enough from me, let’s hear from the director, co-writer, and co-producer Joshua Caldwell.
Bubbawheat: Superman is often considered more of a boring character, but I always find these types of stories that take a look at the human side of someone who is basically a god among men to be fascinating. How was it that you came to the concept of this story about Superman leaving his responsibilities.
Joshua Caldwell: The producer of the film, Alex LeMay, and I had been discussing shooting a 3-minute VFX short based on an original idea. Shorts like that have been popping up all over the Internet lately and people were getting a lot of attention for it.
Rather than do something completely original, however, I pitched Alex on doing a short based on an existing character or world. The problem with originals is that you had to spend the time explaining what that idea was to your audience — in effect, you HAD to tell an origin story. With online attention spans getting shorter and shorter, I didn’t want to have to spend time doing that, so why not bypass the explanation and get into the meat of whatever story it was we wanted to tell?
I always loved the idea of a superhero who had had enough — turned in his cape — left it all behind. I actually wrote a play in college about Clark and Lois arguing about him being Superman and the toll it had taken on their relationship. For RESIGNATION, the idea of a former superhero wandering the earth trying to be a part of humanity, instead of separate from it, and find his place in the world was a really different and exciting. Alex suggested the idea that he should then be confronted with a situation in which he’d have to make a choice, to save a life with his powers or not.
Finally, the whole combat journalism angle came out of us both really loving the HBO Documentary series Witness and the idea of a person being in a position not to save a life but to snap a photograph of it and share it with the world. The struggle that must come from that — journalistic ethics, not being a part of the story — and it felt like the perfect surface level narrative to help deflect from our eventual twist, so that in the end you realize that Clark is not just talking about journalism, he’s talking about being a superhero and playing god.
BW: The multimedia aspect of the entire Resignation web experience is an interesting one, who came up with that concept and why was it important to you to bring this to life. Also, was there anything else that you would have liked to have done with it that didn’t/wouldn’t work either based on the technology, or just as something that would make it be too busy?
JC: It was one of the main reasons we wanted to do the short. Alex’s company, New Velocity Media, had been working on a media player called Multi-Pop that allowed for ancillary and immersive experiences within the player. We set out from the beginning to create more than just a short film — but a piece of content that could narratively utilize the features of the Multi-Pop player. In the end, this felt like a really great project to do that with (i.e. the photographs, DEA raid, etc).
In addition to that, I spent three years as the Director of Digital Media for Anthony E. Zuiker (creator of CSI:) much of which was trying to find new and and innovative ways to create and distribute content. It would have been easy to just throw this up on YouTube or Vimeo and hope it catches on. However, both Alex and I wanted to find a way to be different about it.
That said, we also didn’t want to overburden the audience, which can happen when you work with immersive storytelling. We didn’t want to distract from the short with a bunch of bells and whistles. Content is still king and you have to honor that. But we thought there could be this extra special layer beyond the short that might interest people.
As a storyteller, you’re always looking for tools that allow you to tell that story in the best way possible. We had a really awesome tool available with Multi-Pop and I wanted to find a way to take advantage of it and give audiences a taste of what it can do.
BW: There are many different versions of Superman throughout comics, TV, and film, which version do feel is most closely related to the one here in Resignation?
JC: I’ll admit that I am not the most knowledgeable about the Superman canon so I’ll answer this in a different way. I think that superheroes can serve to reflect back on our society. They are both who we are and who we want to be. With RESIGNATION I wanted to explore the character of a superhero in a way that I hadn’t seen before — at least in the movies. A complex, multi-layered, yet digestible portrait of a superhero struggling with the reality of our modern world.
Superman was born out of a time when audiences really loved the idea of a guy who can do anything, who can’t be killed, who can swoop in and save the day no matter what. Think about what we’ve faced as a society in the last century: two World Wars, the atom bomb, Vietnam, the Cold War and more. It’s very comforting and appealing to think of something to can stop all of that. So, he’s very simple, pretty much undefeatable and in that way, as you mention above, a little boring. I wanted to find a way to get in there and really put this character in a place we hadn’t seen before.
I love that Jon is basically telling Clark, “Look man, you can keep saving these people, over and over and over again. But at some point, they will die. No matter what you do. As humans, we’ve come to accept that, we’ve found a way to live with it — be it science, religion or what have you — we’re coping. And what you’re struggling to understand is how we do that. Because in your world, that doesn’t happen. People don’t die.” That to me was one of the more poignant themes of the story.
That’s where I get excited as a director — and framing this argument around a superhero felt like a really unique and interesting way to present it.
BW: While this is quite obviously a story about Superman, there isn’t anything that concretely ties this short to DC’s Superman, was this a conscious decision to try and avoid any conflicts with DC that have happened in the past with fan films, although rarely?
JC: There is certainly the element of being careful, although I think companies are much more open to fan films these days. The main reason, however, was narrative. For one, we thought it would be more fun to have the character be a reveal, which left little room for seeing him in the suit. And second, we crafted a story about a superhero who had left it behind, turned in the cape. As a storyteller, I was far more interested in exploring the psyche of that character, than seeing him in the suit, looking heroic and saving the day (since we’ve seen that million times now). As such, there just wasn’t a need to see him beyond his alter ego. Also, we were curious how little we could put in there and still have the audience get who it is we’re talking about.
BW: There was a good handful of subtle references, but definitely when he introduces himself as Clark and flies off at the end, there’s little doubt who he is. Was there any point during the thought process of the film to end before the flight? Or did you think that was something that was always integral to the story?
JC: It was always integral. We needed something that blatantly revealed who the character was for the twist to be effective. The biggest challenge we had with it, however, was tone and timing. When should he take off? How does he take off? I mean, Clark just let a kid die. Him flying off at this point is not meant to be heroic. If anything, he’s using his powers to run from the situation.
But it also comes at the climax of the reveal and it needs to feel big and important. Coupled with the fact that tonally, Clark’s decision to possibly return to who he is, and him flying off happened several days apart (the flying off being in the past) yet that had to coalesce into a single moment without it feeling like, “Yeah! Up, up and away!”
There are definitely aspects of the character you want to honor and one of those is seeing him fly.
BW: And finally, as I ask everyone, what is your favorite superhero movie?
JC: I’m a huge fan of Nolan’s trilogy as a whole. Of those, I’d say THE DARK KNIGHT is my favorite.
That’s a popular answer, but as always I can’t argue with it. Thanks again for taking the time to talk with me and I will keep an eye out on the projects you have coming up in the future. I really enjoyed Resignation and I think it’s a great representation of Clark Kent. Until next time, this has been Bubbawheat for Flights, Tights, and Movie Nights.