Leon Ford offers new insight into his romantic superhero adventure starring True Blood's Ryan Kwanten
Ryan Kwanten (True Blood; Knights of Badassdom) stars as an office worker by day, heroic vigilante by night, whose life is changed when he meets a beautiful young scientist (Maeve Dermody) with a passion for the impossible.
We caught up with director Leon Ford from his home in Sydney, Australia to chat about this latest movie in an increasingly long list of "everyday Joe turned heroic savoir" adventure comedies. This is our conversation.
In your own eyes, what makes Griff the Invisible different from all of the other superhero movies this summer?
Leon Ford: To be honest, I haven't seen a lot of the indie superhero films, because I wanted to keep my head in this one. But as far as I know, this one really tackles the idea of why someone would become a superhero, and what kind of circumstances would dictate this. What would happen to someone if they chose this path. I guess the real difference was about finding two like minds...Two lost souls who live in the world like this, and then find each other. They are the perfect fit for each other. So, I think it's the love story that makes this one really different.
In writing this story, it seems like you'd have to put yourself in this guy's shoes. Did you discover within yourself a reason why someone would want to put on a costume and head out into the world to fight crime?
Leon Ford: Through the character, I did start to think about what the effects would be on a normal man's life. Especially if he is living in other realities, and this reality was becoming more important, more real, than normal reality. It starts to take over his life. Me and Ryan Kwanten talked about this a lot. It does parallel what we do for a living as writers, or actors, or filmmakers. We spend a lot of time in other realities as well. I had that to call on. My own life experience. I think all of us have some sort of Griff inside of us. Maybe its miniscule and its been shrunk to something you wouldn't recognize. Even at that, I think everyone has something inside of them that is like Griff.
In saying that you stayed away from other indie superhero movies, like James Gunn's Super or Kickass, is it because you were worried they might change or inform what you had initially set out to do?
Leon Ford: Yeah, right. I didn't want to influence it too much, or muddy it. Obviously, Griff himself, as a character, is influenced by the big superheroes, like Batman. That is where he draws his inspiration. That is what he has grown up with, and that is the basis for his own superhero. In terms of these modern superhero comedies? They all seemed to happen at the same time. I'm not sure why that was. But we started to notice it as we were going into the final stages of pre-production. There were all these other films starting to come out. I wanted to keep my hands on the wheel, and punch through on this one. Even though I have finished this film, I haven't gotten to those other ones just yet. I don't know why I haven't. I am curious. It's a strange phenomenon that has happened in the last five years.
You always hear pundits claiming that audiences are going to get tired of superhero movies. But that hasn't happened quite yet. Superhero fans continue to devour movies like Griff...
Leon Ford: Yeah. I think that is right. There is just so much content out there now. There are various audiences and demographics that need to be catered too. Suddenly, there are all of these subgenres, and sub-subgenres popping up, because people are getting so specific about what they like. I suppose it's hard to compare one film to another, because there are so many of them. On top of that, you have all of this other content. It's happening on multiple levels. At the same time you have all of these films coming out at the cinema, you have all this other interactive media. It's all happening at the same time. It makes sense. There are 60 billion people on the planet now. It's understandable that there are this many sub-groups of taste.
As indie producers, writers, and directors of this subgenre, though, you are able to keep audiences on their toes, and you are not always giving them the norm. We don't know what to expect of something like Griff the Invisible. Its able to surprise and entertain in ways that big budget "safe" studio films are not...
Leon Ford: That has to do with the ongoing conversation between filmmakers and audiences. You listen to what audiences love. Then, as a filmmaker, you decide that you want to tell this particular kind of story. At the same time, you want to talk to your audience, and you want to do it in a new way. You always want to excite your audience, and take them down a new path that they have never been down. I suppose that, even though there are similarities between these subgenres, whether it comes from the big studios or the Indies, the main name of the game is to keep people on their toes and keep them excited. And surprised. From writing, to being on set, I am always conscious of how people will feel when they walk out of the cinema, and what they will keep with them from the experience. If you always keep that in mind, I suppose you will naturally want to surprise people. Its not going to be a conscious thing, it will just happen because of your desire to affect people.
It seems, at this point, the director of any smaller superhero movie, whose main character is not from a larger cannon or franchise, will be kind of flippant about the look of their superhero. Here, it seems as though you placed a lot of detail and thought into Ryan Kwanten's alter ego...
Leon Ford: The costume designer and I spend a lot of time together making short films, and we have a real shorthand with each other. We were on the same page from very early on in the script development process. The hero would change, or the character would change...Even though we were in the pre-production stage, the costumer designer was kept in the loop. Because I like to brainstorm ideas. A lot of work did go into the costume. And a lot of the budget, too. Because, I feel that to make a big movie on the indie level, we had to decide where we put our emphasis. We had to decide where the biggest checks were going to go. If you are going to imagine yourself as a superhero, you are going to imagine it pretty cool. You are going to be influenced by things that you grew up with as a kid. The world is going to be influenced by the comic books, and the graphic novels, and the films that you've seen. For that to become an actuality, for that to become real, it has to have a lot of thought going into it. Across the board, we had two modes going on for this film, and for the crew. We had real life mode. Then, we had what was called hero mode on the set. For that, we would change the lights. We would change the lens for the angles. Fog would come out. Ryan Kwanten's character would change his whole physicality. Throughout the process, we developed a shorthand. We could change, very quickly, from one mode to the other.
Don't you feel that you have more freedom working from an indie budget on a film like Griff?
Leon Ford: I think that if there is more too it, yeah. I think money gets thrown at most problems on a big budget set. If we have no other option than to get together as a team and solve it...We have all of these great brains in the room, trying to work out a good way to solve the problem...Having written on it for years, as a writer, you are aware that there are limited resources. Because of that, you have to figure out a different way to do it. It's that old necessity, the mother of invention.
You lucked out getting Ryan Kwanten when you did. He has become a pretty hot commodity, and that should help push people to go see Griff...
Leon Ford: Yes! In some ways, that was accidental. To have a name like his, someone that is becoming so well known...We tested so many people for the role. Eventually the script found its way to Ryan Kwanten. He sent a tape to me in Sydney from Los Angeles, and it was perfect. He fell into this character, and he quickly knew the character better than I did. In that respect, yeah, we were very fortunate. What came with him has helped us get the film into other markets. I had no idea that would happen when we found him. I was just so extremely happy to find the right guy for the character. He has such a huge following now. I was at Comic Con when he was signing, and that could have gone on for hours. But he got whisked away by security. I had no idea he had that many fans. Comic Con was just insane.
Where does Griff the Invisible take you next as a filmmaker? Will you continue to direct? Or will you go back to acting? Or will you meld the two crafts together for your next project?
Leon Ford: Um? I am very happy going out for things as an actor. I enjoy acting. But we are in development for our next film, and we are very quickly trying to get into the early stages of that. I was just in Los Angeles last week pitching the film, and we are going to New York next month to pitch it. We're back to where we were with Griff the Invisible two years ago. Just pitching it. Getting interest in it. We are starting to talk to actors. Yes, we are starting this whole process over again.
Is that exciting for you? Or do you dread it just a tad?
Leon Ford: No, it is fantastic. The best thing about this job is that there are so many faucets to the journey. The writing is isolated. You sit in your office with cards on the wall, you act out scenes, and things. More people come on board. You start to create the world. You paint the walls and put the actors together. Ever single stage is so different and so exciting that you are ready to go onto the next thing. I am really excited about starting the next one.
Will you direct yourself in this new project?
Leon Ford: No! I don't think so. Maybe I will do a cameo in one of my own films sometime in the future. But, no, the next one needs far too much attention from me, for me to be getting made up, and to be thinking about a performance. Yeah.