We visit the set of Frank Miller's latest directorial effort and get the low down on the production
Upon entering Albuquerque Studios in New Mexico, I was engulfed in a sea of green. This is the home of Frank Miller's latest directorial effort; an adaptation of Will Eisner's pulpy serialized picture book The Spirit. He is shooting it in the same style as his own big screen adaptations of Sin City and 300. The film is going to be made up of CGI'd images, the actors acting as the only practical props on stage.
There are a few actual items littered about this huge production barn. Tangible objects that the actors will have to interact with. A wrought iron fire escape. An old grey van marked Ditko's Speedy Delivery, a direct nod to Miller's previous work. There are sand bags and lighting equipment packed into every square inch of the floor space. Even though it seems like there would be less to do when working in this new medium, the crew is hustling and bustling harder than I've ever seen a crew work before. A lot of emotion is going into The Spirit. Miller is nailing the comic's look with absolute perfection. It seems that he is staying within the lines originally drawn by Eisner, himself.
To read my entire set visit, you can CLICK HERE
Before getting a chance to talk with Frank Miller, we spoke with the film's producer Deborah Del Prete. She has previously worked on "Mean "Creek" and "Hooligans". She had a lot to tell us about this latest big screen graphic novel adaptation. Here is our conversation:
What are you guys shooting today?
Deborah Del Prete: We are shooting what we call "The Projects". Which is part of the finale of the movie. It is the last big set piece of the film. We are shooting two units simultaneously. Both Frank and I have monitors in our stations, so that no matter where we are, we can see what is happening on both units. We have a second unit, which is the splinter unit, going on. Which are basically these stunts. We can look at it and go, "Oh, that is not right!" We can run over and take a look at it, since we are essentially right here.
There are two stages that you are using?
Deborah Del Prete: Yes. What we have done is separated them into quadrants. We have a green world and a black world. We have all of our big stunt work going on the black side. We have rigged these stages for our stunt people.
Is there a difference between the green side and the black side?
Deborah Del Prete: Yes. We are the next generation of the new digital effects era. What we are trying to do here is take it one more step. We have gone beyond Sin City and beyond 300. We are taking techniques from those films and going one step further. Our visual effects genius Stuart Maschwitz, who is from The Orphanage, is the head of visual effects. Sometimes green is good for certain things, while black is better for others. Sometimes you don't want the reflections from the green screen. Like, compositing, and things. Sometimes we shoot in black. Sometimes we shoot in green.
Seeing as how there is no quintessential Spirit story from beginning to end, what are you guys basing this film on?
Deborah Del Prete: We are basing it on a number of stories. But I would say that the Sand Saref comics are a major component to this movie. Eva Mendes plays Sand Saref. About the casting, they are all very different stories. Lets start with Gabriel Macht. Frank and I made a decision a few months ago that we weren't necessarily going to cast the Spirit as a major name actor. We would spent a lot of time really searching, really auditioning, and finding the person that we felt really embodied the quintessential Spirit. To that end, we did a lot of auditioning and a lot of interviewing. We found Gabriel Macht. He has done a number of movies, and some great work. But he is not a very large name actor at this moment. We felt he really captured the feeling of what we wanted the Spirit to be.
Which is what, exactly?
Deborah Del Prete: Well, it is a hero. There are certain elements of a hero that you need. Eisner's Spirit is a true American hero. He is a man that is really trying to do right, and really trying to right wrongs. We wanted somebody that had that in him. We also wanted someone that was very relatable to the common man. For those of you who know the comic, he could be anybody. We wanted someone that had a quality of every day. We also wanted someone that understood the humor, and had that twinkle in his eye. Somebody that we could believe gets along great with women. Because the Spirit is very much a rebel. We needed someone that had all of that. The hero, the sex appeal, the guy next-door quality.
How developed is the Spirit? In the comics he is just sort of passing through the stories.
Deborah Del Prete: Yes, but this is the Frank Miller version. He is a lot more developed. It is not a period movie. There is no period. Central City is its own world. It's not New York. It's not Los Angeles. It is a city that is anyplace. It is someplace in time. It is contemporary. People have cell phones. But the costumes are somewhat stylized. It could be happening anywhere at any time.
Can you tell us about Eva? She describes her character as a femme fatale?
Deborah Del Prete: Oh, she is a femme fatale. Very much so. First of all, we think of all of all the Spirit's women as femme fatales. They are all women with power. They have the ability to have a dangerous edge to them. Even the nicest of them have strength. They are all beautiful. But I guess that Sand is the premiere femme fatale of all of Eisner's femme fatales. She is the great original love of the Spirit's life. She also goes bad. She becomes a criminal mastermind of her own. She is the essential ultimate. You know that she is sexy, smart, powerful, outgoing. She wants beautiful things. The Spirit's entire world is reminiscent of Lower Manhattan. It is not the glitzy part of town. It is the downtown. They were not well off kids. They were poor kids. She is the girl that has tried to get away from that and make her life something different. But not legally.
Why did you cast Eva in this role?
Deborah Del Prete: Because she is breathtaking, she is powerful, she is exotic, and at the same time, you can believe that she'd be your girl next door as well. She is ideal in the role. She is just perfect.
What about Scarlet Johansen's character?
Deborah Del Prete: When Frank was first conceiving Scarlet's character for the movie, it was a very small role. It wasn't originally intended for her. After he met with her, he was like, "I know what I want to do with this role." At that point he had just had a general meeting with Scarlet. Then he came back and said, "I've got this idea for Silken Floss. I want to make her a bigger character. And I think Scarlet Johansen can bring her to life." She was pretty much accustomed for her. People will get to see a different side to Scarlet Johansen. She is quite wonderful in it. She has already finished shooting. She is quite funny in it. She is very sexy. And she is different than we have seen her in other movies.
What about Sam Jackson?
Deborah Del Prete: He was the only person we thought of to play the Octopus. If you know the comic, we never see the Octopus in the comic. We just see his gloves. That is not necessarily the way it will be in this movie. But Sam is the actor that has been waiting his entire life to play the super villain. And "this is" the super villains of super villains. Our Octopus is quite the psychotic character. Insane is the best way that I can describe him. But he is a brilliant scientist, also. Very, very smart. Sadly, evil smart. Sam is just amazing in it. Sam is larger than life, and the Octopus is a larger than life character.
Do you consider this movie an origin story? What will we see in the development of it?
Deborah Del Prete: I wouldn't call this an origin story. In fact, one of the things Frank said when we first undertook the project was that he wasn't interested in telling an origin story. That is not what he likes to do. People will find that there is quite a bit of origin in it. But it is not like any other origin story. That is not the purpose of it. There will be origins revealed. It is done in a refreshing way. You'll get it. It is all in there. It is a well-written script. I think everybody will be up to date on it.
How has Frank's relationship with Eisner affected the material?
Deborah Del Prete: Tremendously. Frank and Will's friendship was very long. Frank really considers Will a mentor. I will tell you, I have been working with Frank for a long time on this project. We have been developing it for a good number of months, obviously. Pretty much not a day went by that we didn't talk about Will or what Will's take was on it. I was fortunate enough to talk to Will about the project before he became ill and passed away. We have been very careful about protecting the things we think Will wanted protected. We laugh many days about Will's scenes coming to life, and how he would have really loved it. I think Frank is thinking about Will throughout all of this. But he is still Frank Miller. And it is the Frank Miller take on Will. One of the things I can tell you, is that Frank and Will became friends, and then they had a lifelong argument over this, or that, or the other. Any of you that have read the Eisner/Miler book can see that. I hope it continues on in this.
Frank Miller's material tends to be R rated by nature. Will Eisner's creation was very clean, and family friendly. Is this going to be somewhere in-between?
Deborah Del Prete: I think that would be the right way to put it. It will be something in-between. I feel that this has a James Bond quality to it. It has adventure, it has mystery. It has romance. It is somewhere in the middle. It has some Frank Miller edge to it, but it also has the Eisner aesthetic in there as well.
Are you guys going for a PG-13 rating?
Deborah Del Prete: We are not going for anything. We are going for the movie we make, honestly. We never once sat there and went, "Well it be 'this' or 'that'?" We are just making the movie.
How much of the film is going to be CGI?
Deborah Del Prete: The film is all composite. Because there is nothing in it that doesn't have some element of background. Nothing is made of full CGI. It is live action. There are some things that we will be using all CGI for. But, eh, it is not the whole of the movie. Maybe ten percent. Something like that. But, it is definitely a mix. When I saw Sin City, I thought, "Oh, now we have a way to make something that is between a comic and a movie." Okay? We definitely use the best of those techniques. But all of the people are live action.
Were there comic books on the set?
Deborah Del Prete: Here? Oh, yeah. One of the things Frank did was board everything in the movie. He drew for hours and hours. And we pre-vized the film off of Frank's drawings. What he did was take the most important elements of the Spirit's story, and then he made a book for all of the art department. Each one had a book made by Frank. Frank redrew stuff in his way, and gave that to them as well.
How approachable is this material for people not familiar with the Eisner comic books? Is it easy for them to understand what is going on?
Deborah Del Prete: Very easy. There are some inside jokes, but none of those matter unless you know the inside joke. Everything else in the story is self-explanatory. We let people that weren't familiar with the comic books go through the script. They told us when they didn't understand something. And we would review that. We have made the movie extremely accessible to someone that is not a fan of the Spirit.
Will Eisner's The Spirit opens January 16th, 2009. It is being released by Lionsgate.