Smallville

You mentioned your time working in television, and I’d love it if you could tell me about your experience with Smallville. I was a big fan of that show when it was on.

Smallville was great. I was coming off of working on Buffy and Angel, and my friend Jeph Loeb, who went on to be the head of Marvel Television, was over there and said, ‘Hey, come on over. We’ll have fun.’ I’d watched the show and I liked the show, so I said, ‘Sure, why not?’ Al Gough and Miles Millar, who ran the show, were just fantastic to me. I got a chance to write and direct and produce. It was great because I love Superman. I thought the take that Al and Miles had on doing Clark Kent before he became Superman as a teenager was fantastic. It was a lot of fun. It was grueling. I think that was the last time I did 22 episodes a year, and I don’t think I could ever do it again. It’s so much work. I’ve gotten spoiled by cable and streaming by doing eight to thirteen episodes a year. That seems a lot to me now.

What’s the fondest memory you have from that series?

Oh, man. I was just tweeting back and forth with Lesley-Ann Brandt, who’s on Lucifer. Apparently [Smallville star] Tom Welling is guest-starring, and she’s like, ‘Hey, I’m here with Tom!’ One of my fondest memories is just working with the cast. Tom Welling was fantastic, Michael Rosenbaum just kept me in stitches non-stop. Every single member of the cast was so fun and so lovely. And I got to do a proto-Justice League episode, which was really a high point.

You have pretty extensive experience with Superman. What do you think about the Henry Cavill version of Superman in the DC movies?

I think he’s fantastic, and I’m a huge Zack Snyder fan. Superman is one of the hardest characters, I think, because he’s so powerful and so good. Batman, I think, is a lot easier to tackle, because he’s a human guy that’s messed up. Through his own wits, he goes out and fights the bad guys. Superman is a massively powerful alien from another world – much, much harder story. So you have Zack Snyder’s take, which is a little grittier, and then you go back to Richard Donner, which was much more ‘Gee whiz’ kind of feel. Which I also love. But he is a hard, hard character, so I applaud anyone that tries to tackle Superman.

Pacific Rim Uprising TV spot Jaegers

One of the things I liked about Uprising was the way it felt like a Looney Tunes cartoon at certain points. There’s a moment when a jaeger welds a rocket to its arm, and the rocket whisks it around like Wile E. Coyote. Was Looney Tunes an influence for you? What kinds of things did you draw from for this?

(laughs) Actually, no. I drew on my influences growing up, which were very much Ultraman, Space Giants, Johnny Sokko and His Flying Robot. A lot of ‘man in suit’ Japanese monster movies: Godzilla, Rodan, Gamera. Those were really my inspirations, and also a touch of the movies I grew up loving in the ‘70s and ‘80s. Star Wars, Raiders of the Lost Ark – that kind of adventurous, fun kind of feeling, were really my biggest influences.

There are a handful of scenes in the movie where the characters are piloting jaegers and essentially getting their asses kicked. What did you do to dictate and differentiate the intensity of those scenes for your actors so it doesn’t all become a blur?

Thankfully, unlike TV, we get to use pre-vis, which is the rough computer animation of what the scene will look like. Very, very early, usually before the visual effects company start the actual effects, we have this really rough pre-vis. So I’d always have my iPad with me, and when we were inside the com pod, before we would do any shot, I would say, ‘OK, here’s where we are, here’s what happening,’ so the actors were very aware. It’s not like the old days where there’d be a green tennis ball and you’d say, ‘Imagine a monster.’ Now they get to see roughly what it’s going to look like.

You’ve never worked with CG on this scale before. Was that a nerve-wracking process? I’ve heard stories about vendors turning in completed shots at the very last minute and the movie barely crossing the finish line in time. Was that your experience here?

There’s always such a time crunch. Yes, there were definitely some minor shots that needed adjustment right up to the eleventh hour and even a little bit beyond that. (laughs) But it was really one of the best parts of the experience for me, working with Peter Chang and [effects vendor] Double Negative. I love visual effects. Every time I read somebody complaining online about, ‘CGI’s ruining the movies!’ it drives me bananas. It’s like, you don’t understand how much CGI has helped push movies forward. Most people, when they think CGI, they think monsters, robots. They don’t think the sheep in the background of Brokeback Mountain. They don’t see the invisible CGI that allows you to create this stuff. The Marvel Cinematic Universe would not exist without CGI where it is. I’m a huge fan of that, and to get to work on this scale with giant jaegers and giant kaiju – and other simple things, like when Jake and Amara land at the Shatterdome and the ship’s coming in. I love shit like that. That just excites me. One of my favorite processes was the review process for visual effects. Late in the post-production process, it becomes basically that’s all you do every day. It’s like five or six hours of sitting in a room with a laser pointer saying, ‘This could be better. Can we do this? A little more atmosphere over here.’ That, to me, was such a thrilling part of this.

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