Mania Exclusive Interview: Superhero Movie Writer-Director Craig Mazin - Mania.com



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Mania Exclusive Interview: Superhero Movie Writer-Director Craig Mazin

Mania's spotlight on the director of the new Superhero movie.

By Joe Crosby     March 28, 2008


The Dragonfly (Drake Bell) must thwart The Hourglass (Christopher McDonald) in SUPERHERO MOVIE(2008).
© Dimension Films

Writer-director Craig Mazin had a burgeoning career as a comedy screenwriter in the late ‘90s when he found himself in a room with David Zucker (Airplane!, Naked Gun!), bandying about ideas. Their collaboration led to series redeemers Scary Movie 3 and Scary Movie 4, and sufficiently reared Mazin in the school of parody. This go ‘round, Mazin targets glory instead of gore, poking fun at a different kind of sixth sense. Superhero Movie (written and directed by) is Mazin's latest foray into the world of spoof—puns, farts, fools and all. Hitting theaters March 28, the movie tackles eager film superheroes and legendary comic-book figures. But Mazin's own superhero fandom is a bit more obscure. He talked with Mania this week about the forthcoming Superhero Movie, Lego haiku, telekinetic badasses and the incredible lameness of water. 
 
Mania.com: How did you get involved with parodies?

Craig Mazin: When the Wayans opted not to continue with the Scary Movie series, Bob Weinstein (who runs Dimension) sort of put together his dream team to make the next film. In the course of no more than a day or so, I found myself in a room with David Zucker, Bob Weiss and Pat Proft. Ten months later, we were at the premiere. It was quite a ride.

 
Mania: You collaborated with parody icon David Zucker on Scary Movie 3 and 4. How did that relationship inform your comedy writing and directing, particularly with Superhero Movie where you pulled double duty as writer-director?

CM: It's a rare thing to learn a genre from the master, but that's the opportunity I had with David. The great thing about David is that he's sort of an eternal student; he's always trying to figure out how to avoid mistakes. I sat with him during Scary Movie 3 and 4, and in addition to the experience of writing the films, I also watched the film actually get made. David's a very generous guy about that. He wants someone sitting there with him, and it was a terrific apprenticeship for me.

 
Mania: What's the filmmaking process like, trying to mold dozens of superhero themes, characteristics and pop culture references into a coherent, palatable story line?

CM: Frustrating at times. To be honest, the five-movies-into-one mold isn't really my favorite form of the genre. I'm more of a traditionalist. I like Airplane! the best. Oddly, a lot of people on the internet seem to feel that Airplane! is a jumble of dozens of airplane disaster films all rolled into one, but in fact, it's an incredibly specific parody of one film—a movie called Zero Hour!. Other than a couple of brief spoofs of other films (like Saturday Night Fever), Airplane! stays incredibly true to Zero Hour!, even to the point where chunks of dialogue are directly lifted.

So while it was an interesting brain teaser for me as a writer to combine, say, War of the Worlds with The Grudge with Million Dollar Baby with The Village with Saw (let's see...Cindy accidentally gets the Grudge boy killed during a Million Dollar Baby sequence, and the boy turns out to be the stepson of the elder of the Village and the biological son of the Saw Villain who happens to be the alien behind the War of the Worlds invasion...how ‘bout that?), it's not exactly conducive to the kind of parody I enjoy the most. That's why I was happier working on Superhero! (now Superhero Movie)—I was allowed to stick, for the most part, to one coherent storyline.

 
Mania: Why spoof Superhero movies? In your opinion, what's the easy target there? What's interesting?

CM: I think there are two criteria you need when determining whether or not to spoof a film. Did audiences enjoy the film, and is the film earnest? People want to see spoofs of films they enjoyed. If you spoof a film no one liked, then you're just piling on, and it's mean spirited. More importantly, you can only deflate that which is serious, earnest and perhaps a bit pompous. There's no comic counterpoint if you're spoofing a silly film.

Some superhero films are too absurd to provide that counterpoint. Some aren't. Spider-Man seemed like a perfect choice to us. It's a good film that people love, and it's very, very earnest and sweet and, at times, incredibly serious. Batman Begins gave us another opportunity, as did X-Men.

Mania: How do you balance writing jokes and punch-lines versus timing physical comedy on camera when filming? 

CM: There's no balance per se. Everything is about timing. We're always adjusting the timing on the page and on the day of shooting and in the editing room until we seem to get it right...and those early test audiences tell us if we need to readjust or not. Half the battle is figuring out the right setup, and then determining if we have too little or too much setup for any given joke. We've gone from crickets to huge laughs with the slightest adjustment in timing and setup. It's nerve-wracking, to be honest.

 
Mania: As a first-time director on a film this size how was production different? 

CM: Budgets and schedules are tied to the amount and scale of the work you must complete. The truth is that there's probably never enough time or money. The one thing that I did have to get used to was the physical aspect of the job. It's a real marathon, and you're concentrating anywhere from 12 to 17 hours a day, five days a week, week after week.

Mania: You did direct before—The Specials—which, coincidentally, was also a Superhero comedy. How was that different? Did that experience play a part in how you approached Superhero Movie?

CM: Completely different, to the point where the subject matter is almost irrelevant. The Specials was practically a parlor drama. It was entirely about the characters and their relationships, and the comedy was far more satirical and ironic. Superhero Movie is a parody with almost no irony and certainly no true sentiment or larger point. A good parody ought to be like Airplane!—a serious, dramatic story re-imagined with characters who are confused or moronic. That may sound simplistic, but only a confused moron would say “Don't call me Shirley” and be serious about it.

Mania: How was the cast to work with? Any standouts we should keep an eye out for?

CM: Man, was I lucky. Everyone was a joy, and I don't think that always works out that way. Much of the cast is well-known and deservedly so: Leslie Nielsen, Tracy Morgan, Marion Ross, Regina Hall, Christopher McDonald, Brent Spiner, Bob Hayes and others. I'm quite sure we'll be seeing more of our younger cast, including Ryan Hansen, Sara Paxton and, of course, Drake Bell. He's in almost every scene, and he did a fantastic job.

Mania: You're of the Star Wars generation, a movie heralded for its art of storytelling...any storytelling influences there?

CM: I guess. I suppose I'm more influenced by the stories that influenced Star Wars. I'm a big Joseph Campbell nut.

Mania: I heard you built a giant model Star Destroyer by hand...any truth to that?

CM: True! The Lego version! Aaaaand then the desk it was on collapsed and the whole thing was smashed to bits. It’s now a million pieces in a bucket that my son uses as a Lego scrap heap. There's a sad poetry of mortality to it all.

Mania: Favorite superhero and why?

CM: Not sure if you could call him a “hero” per se, but Dr. Manhattan from Watchmen has to be the coolest damned character ever put in a graphic novel...with a nod to Captain Atom, upon whom he's based.

 
Mania: Great...now more importantly, lamest superhero and why so incredibly lame?

CM: An impossible question. There are literally thousands of miserably pathetic superheroes who never deserved to be inked in the first place. I suppose my vote would have to go to Zan of The Wonder Twins. His sister Jayna could turn into any animal, which is marginally useful. Zan could only metamorphose into some form of water. Steam, ice, or just...water. But not a lot of water. A Zan-sized amount. And while steam sounds kind of cool for a moment, all steam really does is dissipate. Zan was useless, and I'm pretty sure he shot himself in the head in '85. No one misses him. Not even Jayna.

COMMENTS AND RESPONSES

Showing items 1 - 10 of 14
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StarlightGuard 3/27/2008 5:01:51 AM
You know, these movies used to be funny. And original. And creative. No more though. "Airplane!," "Hot Shots," and "The Naked Gun" movies are comedy gold. But after "Hot Shots" had its run, all the genius went out of this genre. "Mafia!" and "Spy Hard" really was the beginning of the end. "Repossessed" wasn't much better. "Scary Movie" was great, the first go around, and that's about it. And Leslie Nielson should know better by now.
kaybar 3/27/2008 5:57:35 AM
I agree Starlight, but a few clips from Superhero's preview did actually make me laugh out loud. But I did catch some of EPIC MOVIE on HBO the other day, and my god was that atrocious.
gauleyboy420 3/27/2008 11:02:56 AM
Scary Movie Series REDEEMERS??? Scary Movie 3 & Scary Movie 4?????? ARE YOU SERIOUS???!!! Those were the WORST of the Scary Movies. The Wayans Bros. made two ridiculously funny, not watered down movies. Stuff that was waaaaaay more original, and not afraid to offend than 3&4. For christ sakes The Exorcist skit at the beginning of 2 was perfect, beyond perfect. Who's D*ck was Crosby trying to swallow with a line like that?
miko34 3/27/2008 2:44:24 PM
I think if they have Zan and Jayna in a movie someday, they could make Zan the coolest character in the film. It is possible. They messed him up in the Superfriends cartoon, but they could make him cool like they made Aquaman cool for in the latest Batman Superman cartoon series. If in the right hands, he could become any ice creature the writer could imagine, shooting ice spears... jump out of airplanes by turning to rain... sneak into facilities by changing into vapor. The stupidest thing about the Wonder Twins was that they had to touch each other to "Activate Deactivate" although that is their weakness, I suppose. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Image:Wondertwinsross.jpg Colbert / Zan '08
Jaysaw 3/27/2008 2:54:36 PM
Well, technically speaking gauleyboy, Scary Movie 3 and 4 did "redeem" the series. I mean, they grossed a combined $333 million worldwide. That sure as hell counts as redemption where I come from. Show me another series where the Part 3 and Part 4 are that successful.
AzuLTaLoN 3/27/2008 2:57:56 PM
just because it makes money jaysaw doesn't mean it's good.
audioslave69 3/27/2008 3:50:02 PM
Gauley i agree100% with u 3 and 4 were the worst. Jaysaw the only reason 3 and 4 made more money its cuz they were pg-13 so alot of more ppl could go see it. So it did alot of money but i rather have a good R comedy that a watered down pg-13 horrible one.
JarrodSarafin 3/27/2008 4:06:30 PM
It's a Zucker film. I'm there. And yes, I was just as disgusted when Meet the Effing Spartans beat out Rambo. Or when Epic Movie beat out the box office last year. But in a Zucker produced spoof, I trust.
gauleyboy420 3/27/2008 4:15:29 PM
Not to mention Jaysaw, what exactly did they re-deem? The First 2 Scary Movies grossed a combined 419 million worldwide. here is the definition from American Heritage Dictionary; redeem:To restore the honor, worth, or reputation of. So Scary Movie 3&4 both sucked BIG donkey Balls, neither was as funny as the first two. Both SM 3&4 were tame, i.e. afraid to offend, and much more predictable than their predecessors. AND combined they didn't gross as much as the first two combined. So tell me again HOW were they redeeming the series?
Jaysaw 3/27/2008 4:47:52 PM
I didnt say they were good. I havent even seen them. But Scary Movie 3 and 4 both made more money than part 2. Both got far better ratings, consensus wise, than part 2. Also, $419 million is misleading on the first film because $277 mil of that came from part 1, which was widely considered a "hit." Then, after Scary Movie 2 bombed, most people probably expected that a third either wouldnt get made or would just plain flop. Well, considering that both 3 and 4 did remarkably well, i would call that a redemption, semantically speaking. Btw, Gauley, nice spin job. You cited the AHD's 9th definition of redeem. Well, i would submit definition 4, "to fulfill" which in dictionary terms is the more popular use. In any case, all I'm saying is go easy on the guy. When was the last time you wrote, produced and directed a movie?
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