The director of the mockumentary from within the world of Watchmen discusses taking the expanded material from the graphic novel
Fans of Watchmen have a bonus headed their way as Watchmen: Tales of the Black Freighter/Under the Hood heads their way on Blu-ray and DVD on Tuesday, March 24. The DVD will contain two features - an animated presentation of "Tales of the Black Freighter" - the comic within a comic from the Watchmen graphic novel, and "Under the Hood", a mockumentary about the autobiography from Hollis Mason/Nite Owl I.
Eric Matthies, who directed the "Under the Hood" segment, has been one of the cutting-edge creators for DVD content for some time, having worked on the DVD bonus features for The Matrix, 300 and Spider-Man.
"Under the Hood" is produced as a segment of the fictional "The Culpepper Minute" News Magazine, and features faux-interviews with the characters from Watchmen. Carla Gugino, Matt Frewer, Stephen McHattie and Jeffrey Dean Morgan all reprise their roles from the film in this production.
Matthies took some time to discuss the work that went into "Under the Hood." Here's what he had to say:
What made the news magazine format work for "Under the Hood"?
Eric Matthies: We needed a concept that would not require a leap of faith, and that would not just be a book on tape. The news magazine format really allowed us to expand in so many ways. First, we were able to incorporate Larry Culpeper, and have him represent an outside voice speaking about both the memoir and the world in which it was taking place. And by having Culpeper revisit the story 10 years later, we were able to cover two different time periods and give the original piece greater perspective within the Watchmen movie. It also gave us the chance to explore more of the characters through interviews - like Wally Weaver and Laurence Schexnayder- and delve more into the background of their characters. This was an idea that worked on so many levels.
As Zack said to Hans, "When in doubt, go back to the source material and you really can't go wrong." And he's right.
Did changing the format from first-person narrative to a new magazine perspective work for or against the original content?
Eric Matthies: One of the ways we stayed true to "Under the Hood" was simply to have Stephen McHattie answer the interview questions pretty much the way Hollis had written them, combined with some of his own improv on what Hollis would say. And then we were able to fill in the gaps with other interviews.
How did the cast react to these in-character interviews - especially Stephen McHattie as Hollis Mason?
Eric Matthies: Stephen McHattie was great - he really got it and was able to really bring something special to that material. It was obvious that he had read "Under the Hood", and I think it was fun for him to be able to put some life behind those lines.
It's a testament to each individual - they're all fantastic actors with a great understanding of their character, regardless of the size of the role - and to Zack (Snyder), who gave them a three-ring binder of resource material and back story. So when we came along and gave these actors the opportunity to bring even more depth to these characters through this ancillary content, they all jumped in and really embraced what we were trying to do. And they all had their different approaches, which made it even better. Carla (Gugino) was amazing - she and I probably had the most dialogue about the project. Rob LaBelle and Matt Frewer were great, too. We even got to introduce Malcolm Long and he alludes to how he'd love to interview one of these masked heroes. They seemed to really appreciate the opportunity to play with these characters.
Was it difficult shooting "Under the Hood" during the filming of Watchmen?
Eric Matthies: The planning started pretty much day and date with production, and we started shooting in late November knowing that there would be a couple of things we'd have to pick up later. The tricky part of "Under the Hood" was balancing the shoot schedule with the film, and coordinating shoots on certain sets or areas of sets in combination with which actors were available, in coordination with hair and make-up and costumes, because everything had to match with the different time periods. So a lot of things needed to come together and, yes, we had to change our plans a few times, but everyone really pitched in. It was complicated, but a lot of fun. It's an honor and a challenge when you get handed the responsibility of something like this - working with a crew this talented - and part of that thrill is that you really have to raise your game every day. So for me, that was great.
What were the specifics you were seeking to convey behind the TV commercials within the program?
Eric Matthies: Originally we talked about showing three Veidt ads, and the one we used was actually the one we made as a sample for the fan contest. Discussing it with Wes Coller, Debbie, Zack and the producers, we wanted commercials that would help anchor the piece in something familiar to the audience for that time period. We had obstacles - a lot of what we found and loved was either not available or not licensable. But I like the commercials we used - the Seiko commercial is a nice nod to the watches in the film.
Our researcher Anna Obropta really deserves a lot of the credit - she really knocked herself out. Those are actual commercials - we just redid the voiceovers. Anna was responsible for getting us the commercials, plus all of this amazing stock footage - everything from the old New York street footage to the McCarthy hearings. She and a team of lawyers worked hard to clear to use what we used.
Do you have a favorite scene within "Under the Hood"?
Eric Matthies: I really had a lot of fun going back to recreate the footage from the 1930s of Mothman and Silhouette and those characters, having them in costume on the New York streets fighting crime - and shooting it on 16mm with an old Bolex hand-crank camera. We mixed that footage with interviews we shot on high-def, which we treated in post-production. It gave the film a nice texture.
Do you believe you achieved your initial goals with the final result of "Under the Hood"?
Eric Matthies: The goal was to make ancillary material that complemented the film, and I think we achieved that. The wonderful thing in the graphic novel is that "Under the Hood" gives you all the background and psychology and philosophy of the masked adventurers and the impact they had prior to Dr. Manhattan. But there was no way Zack could include every bit of that information. It was a great responsibility to make something that they didn't have to shoe-horn into the movie.
The production team on the feature was so fantastic - especially because I don't think they completely understood what we were up to at first. It took a little convincing. But they all did amazing work on our behalf. When we first shot with Hooded Justice, that was a thrill to walk out onto the New York Street set. I'd shot on that set before, but now it was my set. To have Michael Wilkinson's team doing their costume magic to help our production, and to have prop master Jimmy Chow making things like holsters for us - it was amazing to have all the resources of this giant movie afforded our little 40-min piece. I want to thank them all - they were very gracious about everything, they were so attentive to details, and I appreciate that they wanted to elevate our production value so it would fit into this amazing world they had already created.
And then there was Zack and Debbie Snyder and Wes Coller, Lloyd (Levin) and Larry (Gordon) - they all gave me the confidence to run with it and do what we did as well as we did. It was a huge responsibility and a tremendous honor, and I'm proud of what we achieved with "Under the Hood".
They're in the book. And on this disc. From the director of Watchmen and 300 come two tales from the celebrated graphic novel that do not appear in the extraordinary Watchmen Theatrical Feature. Tales of the Black Freighter (featuring the voice of 300's Gerard Butler) brings to strikingly animated life the novels richly layered story-within-a-story, a daring pirate saga whose turbulent events may mirror those in the Watchmen's world. Stars from the Watchmen movie team in the amazing live-action/CGI Under the Hood, based on Nite Owls powerful first-hand account of how the hooded adventurers came into existence. Two fan-essential stories. One place to watch the excitement. Watching the Watchmen begins here. Watchmen: Tales of the Black Freighter/Under the Hood is available on DVD, Blu-Ray and on-Demand on March 24, 2009.