Earlier this year I met Boy Wonder director, Michael Morrissey at the 2011 Festivus Film Festival here in Denver. We sat down for a long conversation about comics and cameras – fight scenes and spraying fake blood on young actors. I didn’t post the interview then because, well it was really long and to be honest a bitch to transcribe, as Mike and I talked like comic book nerds and film geeks rather than keeping it to interview bullet points. It was a really great conversation and deserved to see the light of day, so it was hard to shelve it. Luckily, film gods gave us another opportunity to dust it off and bring it back to our readers attention as Boy Wonder steps off the festival circuit with 12 awards, and moves to general release. You can check out the movie on VOD October 25 and DVD and iTunes November 8, but first here’s the conversation in its entirety. Enjoy!
As I walked out of the screening for Boy Wonder at the Festivus Film Festival, I suddenly got nervous. I had just sat through what could possibly the best superhero movie of 2011 (read my review here). But, I was to sit down with the film’s director, Michael Morrissey, that next afternoon. I no longer wanted to ask the questions I had prepared. In fact, I didn’t want to prepare any questions. All I wanted to do was pick the guy’s brain on how he achieved this indie gem! So, that’s what I did. As we sat down in the lobby of The Curtis Hotel in downtown Denver, he in his black hoodie, resembling his film’s protagonist Sean Donovan, we just began talking.
Ben Simkins(BS): How do you think the screening went last night?
Michael Morrissey (MM): I was really happy with the screening we had, because of the audience. It was kind of like, that was the audience I was shooting for, you know? There was a lot of comic book nerds and they got it.
BS: Yeah, there was that kid in the audience for the Q&A (last night at the screening of Boy Wonder) who talked about Jason Todd. I was thinking, they’re not going to know who Jason Todd is.
MM: Yeah, exactly. They all think he’s Dick Grayson. (Both Jason Todd and Dick Grayson were Boy Wonder’s, Robin, Batman… you get the picture [BS])
BS: Yeah. The guys that set me up to talk to you, Jonathan and Tim, when I asked them what films to see at Festivus, they asked me, “what kind of films are you into?” That’s kind of a really broad statement. I said, “I’ll tell you what, I’ll tell you my best picks of the year 2010; Inception and Black Swan”, and they were like, “go see Boy Wonder.”
MM: Funny, people said that. My producer John, said I’ve got to see Black Swan. I haven’t seen it yet. He said there are a lot of similarities with the two personalities and the twisted personality that she is supposed to have.
BS: I work in comic books, so a lot of my friends tend to turn everything into comic books. And they said that Black Swan is also like an origin story of a superhero. I didn’t see it that much, but I definitely see that kind of idea and I did see the similarities with Boy Wonder…I mean coming out at exactly the same time where you guys were working at the same time on something similar in tone.
MM: Similar, right, except I was working on it for a long time. He was probably working on it for about the same amount of time as I was, actually.
BS: Last night, I was really blown away by what Boy Wonder achieved. It was really, really dark and extremely visceral. It really moves along the work done in the eighties with comic books. I think that is what we are doing with superheroes now, continuing the idea presented by Frank Miller, Alan Moore and others. They changed it from the cookie-cutter, goodie two-shoes. Now, we’re changing things again and saying, “let’s throw Peter Parker out on the streets of Brooklyn, for real and with all those tragedies in his head, and see what he does with it.”
MM: Yeah, It’s gotten a lot darker. I said to my daughter, you are so lucky because when I was growing up reading those books, I always wanted these movies to come out. They came out so bad because the people that were making those movies, they weren’t reading the books, they were like, “Oh superheroes, great I will just put them in a tight costume, make them kind of campy, whatever.” Now, I think they are doing them right. Iron Man was right on. It was still a little tongue and cheek. I think it could have been a little darker. I think that if he does the Demon in the Bottle Saga with him, that would be kinda cool.
BS: I got confused about that with the Iron Man 2 because they hinted at it. They had that spreading of the disease from his chest piece. It was like the Demon Bottle storyline, but it was because of the chest piece. So I was like, is he drunk?
MM: Right. I think it would have been better if they made a decision, I think they were trying to do a bit of the extremist, you know the extremist books? They were awesome. I think they were trying to delve into that scene with the virus in his body. I agree, they needed to make a decision. I think it was a lot of fun. I thought that the new Spider-Man’s were done well, the new Batman’s, which the first one was Batman: Year One which is still one of my favorite books. That was an awesome book.
BS: Mazzucchelli and Miller, you don’t get much better than that.
MM: Right, you don’t.
BS: If you had the chance to get your hands on any of the superheroes from the big two – Marvel or DC, and could make them into a film, which character would you really like to get your hands on?
MM: Daredevil. I would love to do Daredevil because God knows he was massacred by that last crew [LAUGHS]
BS: Yeah, I doubt Ben Affleck will ever be able to live that one down, no matter how many The Town’s he does.
MM: Exactly. I think it would have been better if he’d directed it as I thought The Town was a really good movie. But, I would love to do Daredevil. That would be a dream.
BS: And it’s ripe for it because that is really Marvel’s Batman.
MM: Right and everyone has forgotten about the mess that it was, and it really is Marvel’s Batman, you’re right. He was a more complicated character than Batman. Matt Murdoch goes off the edge a little bit. He’s a really interesting character and what Frank Miller did with him back in the day was just great. Who else? You know, I was kind of disappointed with Superman because I really thought that they could have done that well. Superman in the eighties was a really cool book. I don’t know if I would want to touch that. Once you get someone flying and put them in space, you are all fucked up. Who else? I mean, Daredevil is one of my favorite books.
BS: It’s a good pick. It’s one I came on to later in my comic book reading. It was Batman for me, and if I went to Marvel it was Spider-Man. With Daredevil though, especially with all the hubbub about Michael C. Hall of Dexter fame, for Matt Murdoch…
MM: That would be great.
BS: It would be right up your street. Something to keep in mind if…
MM: Yeah, if anyone ever lays that on my desk [LAUGHS]. Silver Surfer too man, I would love to do that story. But that is a tough nut to crack, to do it right, because it would be this existential piece. He was one of my favorite characters growing up. He seemed like this really wounded guy and he was super powerful. His innocence always got him in trouble.
BS: The fact that movie whoever you went to for it, which I guess would be Marvel Studios, you would be like, “to make this, and to make it right I’m gonna need 200 million!” That’s not a 75 million, 50 mil, 10 mil movie. That’s Galactus!
MM: And to do Galactus right, how do you do it without being stupid? It looks kind of weird in the comic books itself, but I would like to do that. It would be some sort of fucking crazy challenge. The last one, I actually wrote a script for and it was Doom, Dr. Doom, but I wanted to do his story and not just the villain. I always thought he was a very interesting character. He had this one goal. He originally wanted to free his mother from hell and just didn’t want anyone to get in his way. He had this crazy ego, he was never really pursuing evil for the sake of evil, he was just, “I am hell bent on becoming powerful” and just didn’t want anyone in his way. He was just an interesting character and I thought it would be cool to open up every year on Hallow’s Eve he does an equinox, he battles Satan for the soul of his mother, that’s in the comic books. They go back to that story everyone once in a while. It’s where he learned sorcery and stuff. It’s pretty cool, and that is something I always wanted to do. My manager was like “Who is Dr. Doom?” I was like, “forget it.”
BS: Yeah, and he’s wrapped up in The Fantastic Four. It would be nice if you could separate the villain for once, but then you’d run into that huge problem of Warner Brothers trying to do the Joker movie or something. Heath Ledger’s done it. I am never the one to say this, but Brad Pitt said when Inglorious Bastards came out he said “now that Quentin Tarantino has done World War II, no one else has to do it anymore,” I thought that movie was amazing, but you don’t say that. Once Heath Ledger did the Joker, you have to take a couple of decades…
MM: Yeah when Nicholson did the Joker, I was like “Oh my god, he was amazing” when you think back to that movie back then, you were so desperate to see the darkest superhero you could, and with Michael Keaton you were like, “This is cool.” But it wasn’t cool. The one they did now was amazing.
BS: I think back then we were starved, parched, and we got a glass of dirty water. We thought, “this is great!” Then we got Perrier and now it’s like “I am not going to drink that dirty stuff.”
MM: Yeah, that’s a good analogy.
BS: So you grew up in a tough Italian/Irish neighborhood.
MM: Yeah, like down in Flatbush Avenue so, you had King’s Highway that separates Flatbush Avenue. Flatbush Avenue runs through the heart of Brooklyn. You can take Flatbush Avenue straight to the Brooklyn Bridge, all the way through Brooklyn. Probably about an area of 15-20 blocks called Marine Park and Canarsie. Marine Park is the Irish working class and Canarsie is the Italians. Up across Kings Highway it was the Blacks and Hispanics. This area of Flatbush Avenue was this area where we would collide. It wasn’t a drug area or ghetto, it was just working class and a tough neighborhood and if something happened to your kid, you wouldn’t call the cops you would just go beat up his dad or something like that.
BS: Do you think that it influenced your creative style and the way you write and the way you direct? Boy Wonder has a dark, unforgiving depth to it. There wasn’t much forgiveness to it. The only light-hearted character was the unknowingly racist, bigoted detective who you end up liking much more than the person who he is insulting.
MM: Right, but to me he was every cop I ever grew up with. Every cop I ever met, was a total fucking racist. I mean to the point where every word they would use was derogatory, slang and totally hardcore, every one of them, not an exception, every one of them. That was the kind of neighborhood we grew up in. Everyone had friends that were black or whatever, but that was the neighborhood. So to make the cop say things like that, that was matter of fact. When we did the casting, I saw these guys come in, and they were TV cops, but until Danny came in. With him I was like, “Oh my God that is a real cop, a real detective.” He is overweight, he is not about his job. These guys arrest someone at the end of their shift because they get overtime with the paperwork. It’s a job for them. It’s not like TV when they are like Superman. They say, you know, It’s like there is the bad guy, let’s arrest him tomorrow because the game is on tonight. So he was, part of the neighborhood. There wasn’t a lot of forgiveness in my neighborhood. It was a good neighborhood, but it was tough. I got my ass kicked every once in awhile. I came from a great family; I watch the movie sometimes and people must think that my father beat me. [LAUGHS] He was tough guy, but he wasn’t a drunk, didn’t beat my mother, he never beat me, he beat the hell out of my brothers, which was funny, but I never got it.
BS: Do you think you got your artistic side from inside the home; from your family? Myself, I grew up in a small town, slightly different, not in an inner city, but industrial town where same thing, you lived and died in high school by your fist and if not you were a punching bag. But, I had an out and became a creative person because of my family. My family discussed music and books and everyone else around me was just a meat-head. Did your creative aspect come from inside the home?
MM: No, I actually think it came in spite of the home. My family is not the most cultured, I don’t mean that in a bad way, my dad is a smart guy, but he likes hockey, he was an engineer, a blue collar worker. He worked for the same company for 30 years, got his pension, and retired. My brother Jamie joined the same company my father worked for, he was an engineer. My brother Joe was a little more out there, he started doing some of the clubs. My mother was probably my inspiration. She is a crazy person – a lot of fun and really light spirited. No one was really into music and no one was really into art. I think I found something that I could grab onto. I was very awkward growing up, I wasn’t really good in school. I remember I had this teacher, Mr. Madone, he was my Sixth grade teacher, I think he might have been a bit of a pedophile. Not to me, but I remember he did a couple things. We had a classical music class and he introduced us to Flight of the Valkyries, Bolero, Mozart pieces, and Beethoven, and that was my first taste of classical music and I really got into it after that. I think that started it, I started to write some stories and some comics. I started reading a lot. Stuff that I wanted to read, instead of what everyone else wanted me to read. It was just a way to express myself, I found that being around that neighborhood, it was really ignorant closed-minded neighborhood and it made me really angry so I hid in books. I took my refuge in books, I would draw, I was an artist. I would write stories. So I guess it came from my inside, not from my outside. I think it came in spite of that, I kind of wanted to get away from that so I went towards the creative side a little bit more.
BS: It’s funny that you should mention classical music as, of course, Sean in the film latches on to classical music in the film as a way of holding onto his mother. And it’s not always a happy link.
MM: Yeah, it’s for other people. In the beginning of the film, I wanted classical music to make it seem like it was soothing to Sean. If you watch the opening of the film, there is a beautiful classical piece that’s played and it’s composed by Herb Johnson, a very good composer. But for Sean, that isn’t why he always listened to classical music. He wanted to keep that memory fresh all the time. Always in his head, that was the truth. That was why he always listened to music, always carried the picture, he was a very hell bent kid on getting what he wanted, getting revenge for what happened to him. Those were the only moments that he had in his life where he was happy. He lived with this horrible father and that is where he stopped developing, and once his mother died that was it. He was still that kid in the car screaming his head off. So, where his father moved on and everyone else moved on, he stayed in that car basically the whole movie.
BS: I love the scene where he is laying down on his bed with the music in his ears. And, you make great use of tension, sonically. From the very beginning of the film there is the slightly longer cuts scenes straight into the initial credits where the mother is being pulled out from the car, where you use very quick cuts, very frenetic audio work. I was watching around me and the people, including me, we were really uncomfortable by that sound. And I found it again in the Birthday scene where you make classical music very uncomfortable – it’s very loud. The fact that you see the father beating the mother with the music, it’s like Sean is trying to make the music something horrible and so it seems like it is very sharp in the mix. It felt very much like you are seeing something you shouldn’t be a part of for one, and two, you didn’t feel comfortable being the voyeur.
MM: Right, it’s great you say that because for me, those were the times you were seeing Sean’s perspective. So, he was looking at his father and his father was like “you know your birthday is coming up, maybe we do something” and he just looks at him like “really? You remember my birthday” because all he remembers is that birthday. And that is when you go into Sean’s head, his perspective of things, that’s how he saw the birthday. That music is Bach. That violin piece, it just keeps getting bigger and heavier. In the beginning it’s really beautiful and you’re like this is great, it’s soothing. Then it keeps getting louder and sharper and you just kind of want it to stop a little bit. We did use sound and the cuts to make that such a distinct change. I always wanted it to be two different worlds when I was shooting it. You usually see slow, tame cuts for what Sean’s life is really like and this is supposed to be inside his head and what he sees when he puts his costume on when he goes out. It’s what he sees, how he perceives it. Music and sound is a big, big part of it. I put these low sub bass sounds in there. So when you go into his head it’s kind of like this “Blooo” and it shakes you. You actually feel it in your chest a little bit. Every time you swoosh into that world with him. It was really effective, I didn’t have it in the beginning and I was like something is missing. I put it in there and then you could see people move around, it was really cool. I just wanted people to get a taste of Sean and “Beware the Hero”, the films tagline. The idea of the vigilante is cool but when you were in his head, you really didn’t want to be in there too long. When he is on top of that homeless guy, you want that homeless guy to get knocked down, and he gets knocked down and he is on top and he is laying into him and he has brass knuckles on, what’s going to be left? There is nothing left of the guy on the floor. Then you want to be like “hey buddy, that’s good man, it’s done, stop.” But that wasn’t it for him.
BS: And with that homeless guy fight, you gave an extended amount of time. You stopped the action to show that Sean had time to think about this. It’s a bit of the heat of moment, but it’s also what he wants.
MM: Yeah he was done, the guy was done, he was like “stop, please, please, I quit, I quit” and he makes a conscious choice and he is like, “no, this is what I want.” I wondered how people would react. There is a lot of people that lean into that and they are like, “yeah, that’s it, man!” So, there’s a lot of fucked up people [LAUGHS].
BS: They are the kind of people that every time there’s a crime, they say, “oh, that person should be shot, no jury,” which is the vigilante aspect of the human condition. Whereas I always believe in due process, if my Mum came to harm like Sean’s, I’d want to kill that person, but would want due process in my way to stop me. People I know would be like, “no, let’s take him out on the street and shoot him.”
MM: Right, look at the scene with the homeless guy. What did he do really? He made everyone really uncomfortable on the train. Maybe he was going to do something, but he never touched anyone. He really was just a guy a screaming on the train. In my mind when I wrote it, was, that’s how Sean is seeing the scene so it’s amped up. I don’t necessarily believe that he was any worse than when we first see the guy, when he talked to the guy across from him, which, on New York subways happens every day. You sit there, and everyone stares forward and some people are screaming on trains and you just get off the train. But for him, it was something in his head, he saw him every day. He saw him on the train and said, “I’m going to help people, I’m going to put this guy out.”
BS: In the earlier scene he was one of those scared people, but after he killed a few people…
MM: He kind of evolved…
BS: Right, and now he could take power over the situation. Recently, in America we have suffered a tragedy with the shootings in Tucson, and this question of mental illness comes up often, depending on what news channel you watch and papers you read. For me it’s a point of, he did a terrible, terrible thing, but he was very, very sick, and still is sick. Do you immediately say, “Let’s take that guy out and shoot him.” But he is a troubled man and needs help. Not that we ever asked for that to happen, but it happened right as Boy Wonder is touring the circuit, and with it definitely in the forefront of the American psyche right now it’s interesting to see how it mirrors what, I felt, you were saying in that scene. Going into another tragedy, you said last night at the screening that you did an initial read through for Boy Wonder on 9/10/2001?
MM: I’ll never forget it. It was pouring rain that night, heavy thunderstorm in New York. We were up in a little theater in Harlem and we had great actors come in. It was actually funny, the guy that plays the homeless guy, was actually there. He ended up being my homeless guy, Tom Brangle. We did this reading and it went really well, we had a producer there he was like, “Mike this is amazing! It’s an amazing script!” The actors were excited. It was the best night of my life. I remember my father couldn’t make it because it rained so hard that the electricity went out in the building where he was working; he was working out in Trump tower. But it didn’t affect me too much I remember that we sat and people read my work and I felt vindicated as a writer. Everyone was like, “call me tomorrow, call me tomorrow.” To celebrate I went out and got hammered and the next day I woke up and it was 9/11 and it just kind of went away. It was really hard to get that script together after that.
BS: Was it because nobody wanted touch the subject matter?
MM: I don’t know. It was three years of trying. Maybe I was naive to think that, that producer was actually going to give me money. Because I found out everyone tells you they are going to give you money, but no one actually does it. So then you stop looking for it, I stopped looking for it. I was doing reality TV production, I made a little bit of money. I put 100 grand aside and said “I’m going to make my movie for 100 thousand dollars.” So, I tried to put the budget together, figured out it was impossible to do it for 100 thousand dollars. Then this guy David Green was like, yeah I would love to get involved, let me read the script. He thinks it’s great, but what kind of budget? I give him the budget and he was like, “do you really think you can do it for this?” I kept trying to raise the budget because I was trying to make the movie I wanted to make. He is probably the greatest, most positive individual I have ever met in my life. He never questioned my cast. He’d say, “Do you think you are making the right decision?” He made me think about things. When I showed him Caleb for the first time he said, “Are you sure about that?” You’ve met Caleb, if you look at him now he doesn’t look like the action hero. He was skinnier than he is now when I met him.
BS: He is still pretty skinny.
MM: He is pretty skinny, but not like when we met him. But David was really supportive and amazing.
BS: That’s fantastic. You were talking about changing the budget; there is this great big debate going on right now in Hollywood with digital vs. film. You said last night, you shot it on the Red camera. Do you like shooting in digital? Do you prefer shooting in film? Did you choose the Red because everything is so much bigger in digital right now especially with the Red revolution. Do you have a preference?
MM: Truthfully, I bought a Red because I thought it was the smart thing to do. It showed up at my house. I bought the Red before I got the money for the film. I said I was going to buy this camera and make this movie. I bought the Red and it shows up at my house and my wife is like, what is this? I am like, that’s like a car in a little box. I looked at movies that were shot on the Red, and I talked to one or two cinematographers who had used the Red before and it seemed the right choice for me. I didn’t go to film school, so I didn’t understand film that well. So I didn’t really want to delve into it. I knew what film looked like, I knew what digital looked like, and I watched the Red and was like, you know I can do this; I can do this on the Red. I knew how to process it on my own equipment, I had a production company. I knew I could do the posts by myself, so it just made sense to me, economically. The lenses were more important to me than the actual capturing of it.
BS: As every photographer says it should be.
MM: Right. It’s more about the glass. My cinematographer, Christopher LaVasseur, who is fantastic, we were going around looking for lenses and I was just a pain in the ass because everything was too sharp, because the Red is able to capture all that information. The Red had also just come out with the Red Primes and everything was just crystal clear, and I was like I didn’t want that. We found these old anamorphic Clairmont lenses out in California, they were like 15-20 years old and they were beautiful. I was like, that’s it, that’s mine.
BS: I was wondering about that, because when you said last night you shot on the Red. I’ve been on shoots with the Red before and I shoot in digital, you have to do so much in post to try and make it look like film, I thought you had filmed it on film. It had that wonderful film quality. It’s the reason I don’t own a blu-ray player as I like it a little uglier, a little softer. So it was the lenses?!
MM: Yep it was definitely the lenses. The lenses were beautiful. We spent money there. We rented them and it was just a world of difference. If I shot the film on the new primes, where they are trying to get you the best picture possible, I think if you look at something that is shot in video it could look HD crystal clear. If you try to tell a story through that though, it suspends your belief. You realize that it’s too real, hyper real almost. It’s like looking at someone’s wedding. So, you need some of that little dirtiness to softly bring you into the story. That’s why everyone is trying to recreate that 70s look in film.
BS: A high depth-of-field.
MM: Right, and I attribute that to Chris he was brilliant in how he got that done. Christopher LaVasseur, who is now the director of photography for Nurse Jackie.
BS: And one of your actors came from that show.
MM: Bill Sage, yeah, Bill was amazing.
BS: The acting in Boy Wonder really worked, especially Sean.
MM: He did a really great job.
BS: He really helped hold the film. Whenever you are with him, he’s completely believable as the nerdy kid. That introvert. I think this is more your editing, but in the fight scenes, you really believe he can kill these guys. Just the way it’s cut, the way it slams in, it’s very violent, very nasty. It ain’t pretty.
MM: No, it ain’t pretty. They’re brutal fight scenes. That’s how street fights are. They don’t last ten minutes. You grab someone and you beat someone until someone falls down. You are done in two or three moves. I wanted it to be that way. I wanted it to feel really ugly. Caleb trained for it too. He had never thrown a punch before this thing. He came to train with us for eight weeks when he came to Brooklyn. I put him in this situation, but that is Caleb, that is why he worked so well. We flew him in to do a test, because he obviously had the acting chops, we just didn’t know if you could do the physical part of it. So we had this test at a boxing gym I work out at. We had him work with my trainer and we had five kids there. This one kid, this athlete, I forget his name, but he obviously had the physical build, but he was a football player. He couldn’t understand that he needed to relax. To do any type of martial arts you can’t be locked up, and it would have been a mess. The next kid, he was fast he was a basketball player and he couldn’t do it. Caleb just listened and he was just really relaxed and I found out he wrestled in high school. He got it, and we were like, “I can work with him.” That was the last test, he worked really hard, he worked in the gym five days a week. He did boxing in the morning and weight training in the afternoon. All he did was eat meat all day long. He gained weight, if you look at his arms in the movie, he is ripped and he was a twig before. Because he was eating so much meat and working out, his testosterone got so high all he was doing was hitting on girls and being very aggressive all the time. He turned, slightly into Sean Donovan because we made him live by himself, in an apartment in Brooklyn where he didn’t know anyone. So he would go back and forth to the gym and would go workout in Sunset Park which is a park in a rough neighborhood where my gym is and that is actually the gym that is in the movie. And he got a little edge to him. He went home after the movie, and he used to be this little nerdy, intellectual kid and his friends were like, “what the fuck is wrong with you?”
BS: “Let’s go grab some Pabst, hit on some girls and go get into fights!” [LAUGHS]
MM: Yeah, and they’re not like that, they are just these laid back Californian’s. But he did a great job, put his whole heart into it and never looked back.
BS: Talking about the fight scenes though, you get him in these do or die situations. He starts off very meek. The first time he stands up he says, [In a wimpy voice] ‘you killed that little boy’. It’s very meek; there is nothing behind it, no bravado. He gets in those situations where he gets beaten up but he also gives as good as he gets. But then he also ends his fights with the simple act of a firearm, a single bullet. Was that a conscious choice on your part? If he ended it with the fight you would have thought, “Look, he’s bested someone with his strength and tenacity”, but instead he ends it with a bullet.
MM: There was no way he was getting out of the park with those two drug dealers. They would have ended up getting on top and beating him if he didn’t grab that gun. The first one, he gets lucky. The second one with Joe, he makes a decision, he is going to go upstairs and beat that girl and I’ve made things worse. I cannot beat him physically. Being a superhero isn’t working this way so he just shoots him. He is taunting him and Sean is thinking to himself, no fucking way and just shoots him. After that he starts to realize he isn’t big enough, he isn’t strong enough to do it that way. He wants to punish them with physicality, but if it isn’t going to get done that way, he’ll take any way to it get done.
BS: So it was more of a practical choice for Sean in the fact that, “alright I have gone as far as I can here and I still want my end result.”
BS: The biggest event for Sean is the death of his mother. We get into it at the very beginning as a tension builder. You use it as a great way of reminding the audience, don’t get too comfortable, I’m going to go back to this memory. It’s even a moment of solace in the movie, in the one moment of the movie where Sean could possibly turn it all around when his father takes him back to the site of the murder. Yet, you never show the moment of her death. The other detectives talk about the fact that his mother was shot, yet you never show the actual action of Sean’s mother being shot right in front of him. Was that a conscious choice?
MM: Yeah, I think that, I am a big believer in what you imagine is worse than what it really was. I think that is a part of it. For Sean, if he was back there and saw her on film, it wouldn’t be as graphic as he remembered. His memory is probably much worse. The memory got amped and amped over the years in his head. I didn’t want to show it, I didn’t think it was necessary. Even with a limited budget, I didn’t think it would be as devastating as the whole feel of what was going on, and what you think happened to this kid. I didn’t want to show, I didn’t want to do that. I thought it would take the power away from it.
BS: I think it was a good choice. I was sitting in the film and I was waiting for that moment. I was imagining the moment with this innocent kid with blood on his face and I thought, “how is that going to be pulled off?” And I was really kind of happy when it didn’t.
MM: Well let me tell you, we did try to get the blood on his face. That was an interesting choice. Young Jake, who plays young Sean; we looked at all these kids that auditioned to play Sean. All these kids were very happy. I needed this kid who kind of lived in this fucked up world. I met Jake, he is this really backwards kids I thought, “wow this kid is perfect.” When he walked in the kitchen he had this stare that was hollow in the eyes he wasn’t really emotional like Sean was. He was keeping everything and internalizing it. That worked against me in the car because I had to make it look like, he just watched his mother get shot in the head and what’s that reaction supposed to look like. So we had an air horn in the car. Now I am in the front seat, the cameraman is there with the camera shooting this way and I’m lying down and about to blow an air horn at an eight year-old kid and I’m like, “I’m going to hell.” We had the rain machine going and his reaction… nothing. I shot the horn and he didn’t make a move. So then we had this fake blood and I was just flinging it off of a paint brush. He was like, what’s that. I just wanted to tell him, “look, this is fake blood, there is nothing here”, and he was like, “what are you doing with that?” I said I’m just throwing it at you and he was like, “don’t throw that at me.” He was terrified of the fake blood. So, what I had to do was throw the fake blood at him, but you couldn’t see it on camera. So when he turns, that is him being afraid of the fake blood. That’s what he is doing, he is not acting. That’s his shot.
BS: So you end up with a better shot than you were looking for in a way?
MM: Yeah, exactly. That was one of the most difficult nights, trying to get that scene right. It was crazy too, because we had to blow the window out. The window had to break, she had to be grabbed through the window really violently. She was amazing, Tracy Middendorf, she did a great, great, job. That night, you could only film that once, the window had to blow, we had to grab her by the hair and try to pull her out of the car. It was an exciting evening.
BS: And you used it the right way too. That scream, it kind of breaks everyone in, right at the very beginning. It shatters you. I found that the audience, it took them a long time to feel okay laughing at the comic relief moments. You notice that the laughing kind of spreads and it just goes away at the end of the film. But the fact that we were allowed to laugh was great, it just took us awhile to realize we were allowed because you had put us in such a messed up place. Because Sean doesn’t really find any moment to be happy.
MM: No, no and the only time he is ever close to happy and thinking he was a regular kid was in the kitchen, the girl was like come back and he was like, yeah I’m done, I’m better now and I have forgotten about that. He figures he’s kinda like a man now. The girl likes him, but he saw this twisted thing that starts gnawing at his head. He is putting this little story together in his head about this killer and his father kills his mother. He goes to the kid with the piece of paper and the kid is like, “what are you talking about?” He replies, “Here this is yours”, and you can tell Sean has made this story up in his head that it’s a picture of this kid’s mother. The kid is like, “this is someone’s paper, I don’t know what this is man.” It kind of freaks Sean out a bit. He goes and sits down and starts losing his mind. Seeing everything he wants to see. He sees his mother when the kid pulls the girls hair, and he is like, “I know what he is going to do.”
BS: We all know that bully. It’s an archetype used a lot, but whereas in say Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man the bully really gets it, but in a really heroic way. Whereas in real life, if you’ve ever stood up to that bully and you beat them senseless, everyone around you is like, “what an asshole.” But Sean really obliterates this poor kid.
MM: Yeah, he has no idea what’s coming. It’s like, did you really want him to get beat up because he was a bully, because that is not what Sean was thinking in that state of mind. He was out for blood.
BS: That point where he punches him in the throat, you are like, “oh this just got real.” Same with the scene on the train, Sean takes something that the audience is initially behind, and takes it way too far. It shows that his goal is total destruction.
MM: Yeah, he is not there to help someone, he is there for him. That’s his outlet. Because everybody is his father at that point, everybody is who murdered his mother. That’s how he expresses himself, through rage. To me, he doesn’t have any other way. It’s the only outpouring of emotion you see from the poor kid, when he is angry. He is a twisted individual. If you watch it, he is this fucked up kid the whole time. But we as moviegoers, we prescribe this hero to him and we like him, but he doesn’t really do anything that is really likeable.
BS: Right, you made him the protagonist although really if anything, he is the antagonist. You just show him, like let’s say Dexter, when Dexter nearly gets caught every time, we are like “oh wait no!” But, hang on, this is a serial killer. We should really like to see this guy get caught and put in jail. But because of the way that storytelling happens, you are attached to them. You want Sean to make it the whole way through.
MM: You want his father to be guilty you want Sean to be perfect. You want him to be this cool, calculating killer who has figured everything out.
BS: So you wrote, directed and produced the film. When you wrote it, did you always see yourself directing it or did you think you would sell it like you have done with other scripts?
MM: With Boy Wonder I always knew I was going to direct. That was like the one I held on to. Not that anyone else could take it away from me, but that was the one I wanted to direct. I wrote a couple other scripts too, but that was the one I was closest to. We just talked about comic books for twenty minutes, so you can see that this is something I’m close to. It was so cool to see Sean Donovan on the train with his makeup on. It was great, it was awesome! That’s my goal. I hope that someday some kid puts on his Halloween costume, to be Boy Wonder. It’s a cheap, ghetto Halloween costume.
BS: And with that scene where he smears his face with the face-paint, it’s just so eerie; so calm. It’s not like a superhero thing where you show quick, bravado cuts of him putting on a mask. It might as well be Hannibal Lector spreading his victim’s blood on his face.
MM: Right, he is going off the deep end at that point.
BS: Where can people see Boy wonder now?
MM: It’s just doing festivals and then we are going to do a theatrical at some point in maybe New York and L.A. Maybe a one week thing and let it get into theaters and let people get a chance to see it. And hopefully the theatrical release will coincide with the DVD release and with Netflix all at the same time. That’s really my idea because you can only get so much buzz especially for a small movie because if you have a little write up somewhere you want people to go see it then before they forget about it. I don’t want them to remember, “What was that movie?” and have it be gone. It takes a while to get it done. I am just hopeful for people like yourself to see it and respond to it. To me, I get you and I say you’re the guy I made the movie for. To have people say, “this is the way it should be.” This is like an indie super hero movie. And I have never seen one before. You look at Kick-Ass and Defendor and all those, and I get the idea with Kick-Ass. It is very tongue and cheek and the book is suppose to be funny, but it wasn’t like that was some kid who really dressed up as a superhero. My goal was to have Sean exist in reality. Everything that happened in my movie, could happen. And that’s a fucked up kid, because, truth be told I started taking karate when I was thirteen because I thought I was going to be a superhero. That was like my goal. It didn’t work out that way, but that’s what I took it for at the beginning. It was just to have that idea of being a teenager and to think those things are possible.
BS: I’m glad you said Kick-Ass because Boy Wonder has some similarities, but where Mark Millar, in the comic book did show us what would happen if you take on the coke dealers, you are going to get stabbed and beaten the hell out of. But what I think you did was take it to the point where this really can happen exactly the way it happened in the film and that’s scary that that’s the world that I live in instead of the one where Peter Parker could be around. You know what I mean? Peter Parker has a tough time, but I would still pick to live in that world than the world where Sean could exist and if I am putting on a suit that could happen.
MM: And you would think that you would have to have the circumstances to really let that go. You really need that background to let your mind go there. That kid was so mentally fucked from his father beating him, thinking that violence was the answer for everything. His father taught him that. His father related to him through violence and his mother’s tragedy. Then going from ten years-old to eighteen, and to go to a police station and see guys who are killers all day long. What does that do to somebody? It makes that kid that gets dressed up and goes out on the streets. You know? So I was so excited about being able to do that, and find people like yourself who say, “that’s awesome!” Other people are like, “He’s not a superhero. He doesn’t fly. He doesn’t have a cape. He doesn’t want to kill those people.” And that just isn’t the truth.
As a reward for making it all the way to the end, here’s a link to the trailer for Boy Wonder: