Posted on Wednesday, March 9th, 2016 by Blake Harris
In 1993, at only 19 years old, an aspiring comic book artist named Gabriel Hardman got what appeared to be a big break: the chance to pencil Marvel’s War Machine. But not long after completing the assignment, Hardman chose to ditch comics, move to Hollywood and try to make it as a storyboard artist.
By any measure of success, there’s no doubt that Hardman “made it.” Over the next two decades, he worked on a variety of beloved and/or critically acclaimed projects; ranging from Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery (1997) to Interstellar (2014). But at the same time, while on that upward trajectory, he storyboarded a handful famous flops. Including three films which have been the focus of How Did This Get Made? episodes: Wild Wild West, Spider-Man 3 and Green Lantern.
Interestingly enough, it took a frustrating experience on one of those three films to lead Hardman back to the career he had previously left. And, since then, he has regularly toggled between working in comics (such as Invisible Republic and Heathentown) and working on films (such as Inception and The Dark Knight Rises). To learn more about this unexpected journey, we spoke with Gabriel Hardman about some of the ups and downs in his career.
Gabriel Hardman Interview: From Mr. Magoo to Mr. Christopher Nolan
How Did This Get Made is a companion to the podcast How Did This Get Made with Paul Scheer, Jason Mantzoukas and June Diane Raphael which focuses on movies. This regular feature is written by Blake J. Harris, who you might know as the writer of the book Console Wars, soon to be a motion picture produced by Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg. You can listen to the new edition of the HDTGM podcast here.
For eBook week, HarperCollins has kindle version of Console Wars on sale for just $1.99. So if anybody had an interest in reading the book, this is a good week to get it.
HDTGM Bonus Feature!
Part 1: How Did These Get Made?
Blake Harris: Although most of this conversation will focus on movies that you have worked on, let’s start off by talking about one that you didn’t work on: Kazaam.
Gabriel Hardman: Right, so I didn’t actually work on Kazaam. Early in my career, before I’d ever worked on films, I had an agent who—unbeknownst to me—was telling people I interviewed with that I was the storyboard artist on Kazaam. In an attempt, you know, pad my resume.
Blake Harris: That’s quite the resume builder…
Gabriel Hardman: Exactly, right? So anyway, a few months go by and I have this meeting with a production designer. He looks down at the resume my agent had sent him and says, “Wait, you didn’t work on Kazaam.” I had no idea what he was talking about. And so what ensued was basically the most uncomfortable conversation imaginable: not only am I being accused of lying, but I’m being called on the carpet for a movie like that.
Blake Harris: That’s hilarious. But while Kazaam wasn’t a movie that you actually worked on, you have worked on a couple that Paul, Jason and June have tackled on the podcast. One of those was Wild Wild West. Can you tell me a bit about how you got that job and what the experience was like?
Gabriel Hardman: I got hired by recommendation, that’s usually how it works. On a personal level, I should mention that working on this movie got me a big raise and introduced me to a bunch of people that I’d work again with later on. So it was very good for me in that respect. I should also mention that, at the time, everybody involved was coming off Men In Black, so there was this assumption that Wild Wild West would be something really good.
Blake Harris: So could you tell, as you were working on the film, that maybe this one wasn’t going to turn out quite so great?
Gabriel Hardman: Well, things like legless Kenneth Branagh were obviously not going to work. There were a lot of not-so-good elements to this. But, even so, you can’t always tell how things are going to play until it all comes together. So I don’t think it was clear how “eh” the movie was going to be until, really, I saw a full cut of the film. Until it was clear how the stuff wasn’t playing. Because it’s such a big, dopey mess—like with the giant mechanical spider, that sort of thing—but what I think really kills the movie is just how it doesn’t play at all. How tepid all that stuff is. There’s a world where that awful stuff could actually be funny, but you can’t always tell when you’re working on it.
Blake Harris: I remember expecting Wild Wild West to be more like Maverick, but to your point it just fell flat. It lacked the same fun, adventure and excitement. But the point you make is very interesting because I suspect that gaging those qualities– fun, adventure and excitement—are probably very tough to determine during the process.
Gabriel Hardman: It can be. Especially when you’re not directly seeing how all these things connect. My biggest memory of Wild Wild West though was dealing with Barry Sonnenfeld, the director. You know, he had been the DP of the Coen Brothers’ first couple of movies and then he went on to direct stuff. He wears a big cowboy hat and cowboy boots, but he’s also a very neurotic guy. And my main memory was that I went to show him some boards right before they did the cast table read. At a Century City Hotel. And he’s, like, trying to describe how the action in a scene will happen—a fight, with one guy on top of another—so he makes me lay down on the floor and he straddles me in front of everyone. It was humiliating.
Blake Harris: That’s a great first impression.
Gabriel Hardman: Yeah, exactly. I mean, Barry is an eccentric character. I liked working with him though. I did the second Men in Black as well.
Blake Harris: Another HDTGM movie you worked on was Green Lantern. But I was curious why you weren’t credited on the film. Was that somehow intentional?
Gabriel Hardman: No, not really. That kind of thing happens a lot. It’s mostly probably because I worked on it for a few months when a different director was attached to direct it [Greg Berlanti]. It was more or less the same script as what was later shot. So I worked on it for a while, but it was kind of clear that the situation wasn’t working out and they ended up shutting down the movie for a while and I went off and I did Inception. And when the movie came back up, it was with a different director and a whole bunch of different people working on it. There are a lot of things like that. And, you know, I’m not gonna go out of my way to get credit on that movie.
Blake Harris: That makes sense. Speaking of superhero movies, you also worked on Spider-Man 3. Which just so happens to be the only movie I’ve ever walked out on mid-film
Gabriel Hardman: Oh, man. I spent about a year-and-a-half working on Spider-Man 3. Yeah, I mean, I think that it’s tough to talk about that just because I spent so much time on it and there was such an immense amount of effort poured into it. I think Sam Raimi’s a great guy and I really liked working with him—in addition to being a fan of Evil Dead and his earlier movies—but it was a very problematic movie and I believe Sam has said as much interviews since.
Blake Harris: You obviously admire and respect Sam Raimi, but what’s it like to enter a situation like there, where he’s directed the previous two movies in the franchise, and you’re kind of joining the party midstream?
Gabriel Hardman: I was personally never a huge fan of the other Spider-Man movies. Just from personal taste, they didn’t really work for me. But as I said, I respected Sam and admired his work. So even though the script was never finished and there were always many problems with it, my mindset was that whatever this thing is I’ll just try to do my best for Sam. Maybe this will come together in a way that won’t personally work for me, but will work for the people who were fans of the previous movies. But I’m not going to pretend that the movie seemed like it was anything other than a mess. It seemed like a mess. There were always big lingering questions about parts of the movie.
Blake Harris: Like Peter Parker breaking into dance?
Gabriel Hardman: It’s interesting you say that. Because the notorious things that people don’t like about it—like the dance sequence and stuff like that—that stuff was basically there the whole time. That’s the stuff Sam was into. And I don’t really begrudge him that. It might be perverse or too eccentric, but I liked the weirder stuff about it better than the bland superhero stuff. At least it’s something different. I’m more forgiving of that than I am the really terrible melodrama and the weird amnesia subplot or whatever.
Blake Harris: Although you weren’t involved with Spider-Man or Spider-Man 2 did you get a sense working with those who had that this movie was coming out a bit different? Like was it all business as usual, or did they seem like problems in this instance?
Gabriel Hardman: I would say they seemed like problems. In this instance, it very much felt like there were too many things—too many characters, too many plots—that didn’t go anywhere. But I think in a lot of ways it was not…I mean, there are many factors that go into making a movie and it also has to do with being pushed, presumably, by the studio to make a thing that wasn’t ready. It was meant to be two movies at one point and then got kind of kluged together into one. I also know there were bigger ideas about it when they started that just kind of didn’t work their way into the thing. And, you know, they tried to do a 4th one, but just couldn’t quite come to terms with the studio.
Blake Harris: Were you asked to do the 4th one?
Gabriel Hardman: They did, but I felt like I’d already done my time for Spider-Man.
Blake Harris: Spending over a year on a film like that, I can’t imagine how frustrating that must have been. Was there a single moment that stands out as the most frustrating of all?
Gabriel Hardman: I don’t think I can tell you the real one.
Blake Harris: Ha.
Gabriel Hardman: But let me tell you about the best experience I had on that film because it came about by accident. I went on a scout to New York with Sam Raimi, the 1st AD, the DP and a couple other people. And coming back, trying to get to the airport, for some reason we ended up late. We ended up not making the plane. Our flight was the last one out of Newark on a Sunday night, so the three of us—me and Sam and the 1st AD—wound up staying at, like, the Newark Airport Marriot. But the good thing about it was we just fucking went to the terrible restaurant at the Marriot and then hung out at the bar, and I ended up just sitting there talking to Sam; asking all these questions I had about those earlier movies he made. And just talking to this director that I liked when I was younger, for hours about The Evil Dead, that was wonderful. For all the terribleness and frustration of that movie, that was an awesome experience.