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Behind The Cape of SuperGuy:
An Interview with Director Bill Lae

Turn-ons: Halloween
Turn-offs: Kryptonite jokes.
A few years ago, two guys laboring in the trenches of television got together to make themselves a movie. Both had writing backgrounds, but had drifted into different areas of the business. Together they created a mockumentary that garnered critical praise and more importantly, a loyal following.

That film, SuperGuy: Behind The Cape, got tangled up in stops and starts involving development deals, flattering phone calls from the big boys and even at one point a television pilot. But eventually, what those two guys, Mark Teague and Bill Lae, wanted was just to have people see their work.

Next week, on June 22nd, the masses finally have a chance. Creative Light Video (an advertiser on this site) will be releasing the DVD of this surprisingly moving comedy that captures why those of us who love comics love them, but still acknowledges there's a reason they're best left to fantasy.

We'll be speaking with SuperGuy himself, Mark Teague (also co-writer and co-director), later in the week. Today, writer/director Bill Lae talks about his participation in the project, and the perils of being true to yourself in the Hollywood machine.

Fanboy Planet: From your perspective, how did the SuperGuy project start?

Bill Lae: Basically, it was a true co-creation. Mark and I were sitting down one night. And he's a big superhero fan, as you of course must know. I wasn't quite that kind of a fanatic growing up, but Mark came to me with this thought about what if we do a short about an aging superhero, someone that's past his prime, or a bunch of superheroes who are out of it?

I thought that's kind of funny, but it seemed more like a Saturday Night Live type, where you can get maybe five or ten minutes out of it. I took that idea from there and said, why bother going to that extreme? Why not play this as straight as possible? What if there really was a superhero? I was thinking that would probably be just as funny, and we could get a heck of a lot more out of it.

From there, it pretty much springboarded into SuperGuy, just playing it really straight.

Fanboy Planet: So regardless of subject matter, you two were determined to make a film?

Bill Lae: Pretty much. We were doing a TV pilot on our own called The Couch Critics, which was a movie review / comedic sketch show. So we had been working already together. And we thought it would be a great idea to do a short film. We were talking about it.

Mark was pretty much always wanting to do a superhero sort of thing, and I'm a big visual effects guy as well, so that certainly fit right into the realm of something I wanted to do. But I also really, really love comedy.

My flavor of comedy, though, is a little bit more than just the one-liner. I'm into the sarcastic, sort of introspective, social commentary type of comedy.

A superhero in the real world.
It just sort of clicked. Once he started talking about a superhero not fitting into society, I was thinking, hell, if there really was a superhero, there would be no way he really could fit into society.

We took it from there. Right away I could see it would be a great vehicle to do what he wanted to do, what I wanted to do with effects, and what I wanted to do as far as sort of taking society to task.

Fanboy Planet: Let's back up for a second to talk about your visual effects background. From the Internet Movie Database, I see that you worked on The Outer Limits, and…well, that's all it has.

Bill Lae: The thing that most everybody knows is that I did Buffy The Vampire Slayer for years.

Fanboy Planet: No. I didn't know that.

Bill Lae: I didn't do the initial six months of production, but right when it came into its own, I pretty much designed the vampire disintegration. I was doing that for about three years. I used to joke around that I was Billy the Vampire Slayer, because I was really the one killing them off.

Fanboy Planet: The man behind the disintegration.

Bill Lae: That's probably the more popular thing that I've done. I did some of The X-Files and a few things on TV, but the most consistent thing I've done is Buffy.

Fanboy Planet: So you move onto your first-time directing job.

Bill Lae: Well, first time directing a feature. I'd directed a lot of short films and little TV project stuff. But this was our first big undertaking.

Fanboy Planet: Was it everything you thought it would be?

Bill Lae: It definitely had its moments where it was harder than I thought. It was a pretty enjoyable process, as well.

Friend to dogs.
I think that the hardest part, like with any project that you're doing that is a non-funded weekend endeavor, is that it just seemed to go on forever. We spent about two years doing it, and absolutely about a year in, you're in the middle of the tunnel. And you can't see the light at either end and you're thinking, oh, my god, are we ever going to get through this?

That was the hardest thing. We amassed such an amount of material, because we started shooting it just as if it were a documentary. Before you know it, we had eighty hours of footage. Now you're talking about a serious amount of stuff to get through.

Fanboy Planet: What kept you going?

Bill Lae: I think the sheer investment, number one. And number two, just knowing that we had something really good on our hands. I always believed in the project, and I still think it's an awesome vehicle that I hadn't seen anybody do anything like it before. I really want to see it get out there.

Fanboy Planet: When did you know you had something? Mark (Teague) has mentioned, I think, a great reaction at Slamdance.

Bill Lae: Dances With Films, maybe? There's so many Dances out there.

Fanboy Planet: Maybe. I've lost track of them all. (It was Dances With Films.)

Bill Lae: To tell you the truth, I thought that we had something maybe a quarter of the way into the project. It sounds kind of funny to say it. But it just struck the heart so…it was clear this was good. You could tell this is funny, this has a message, this is something, and if we can manage to get this sutured together, it's going to be something great.

Even if we did it to our liking, and even if it wasn't critically acclaimed in the end, we wouldn't have felt bad about it. Because it was one of those things where we really didn't sell out. We did what we wanted. And then, of course, the great news was that once we started getting it out there, we haven't gotten any bad commentary. Everything has been pretty high on the praise end. That's like frosting on the cake. It's nice.

But I guess it just firms up our own confidence. We didn't sell out and people like it. After that, we really knew it was going to be good.

Our first screening, when we finished it, had over 300 people. And it was just non-stop. People were laughing every fifteen, twenty seconds at the whole thing, and we were high for a week. It was verification, or validation, whatever you want to call it. Sometimes you wonder, is it funny, or is it just in your own head?

It proved, yeah, it really is funny, too.

Some people don't really get everything, but they can still enjoy it for entertainment's sake. That's saying a lot, I think. My favorite kind of movie, I think, has a good message but is still entertaining. So if you miss either one, you still get something out of it.

Bringing in more than Fanboys...
Fanboy Planet: Have you dived into fandom yet? I guess the better question is, are we going to see you in San Diego? Are you steeped in fandom?

Bill Lae: Not really, not yet. Of course, we will be at ComicCon. We did have a little appearance there a couple of years ago, which is how we got involved in Creative Light. But it's not my arena so much. It will be interesting.

To some degree we're making fun of the fanboys, and I was a little nervous about that. Can these people really enjoy this? The odd thing is that they seem to embrace it. They seem the most willing to laugh at themselves.

Fanboy Planet: Comics fandom is a very self-deprecating lot.

Bill Lae: They're willing to take it, and just laugh.

Fanboy Planet: We got beat up a lot in junior high. We're used to it.

Bill Lae: Exactly. It's been really well received. It definitely fits a niche, where everybody loves it in the Fanboy world.

But from my perspective, it's odd. Mark's a Fanboy; I wouldn't consider myself a Fanboy. I came at it from the perspective of this is a great comedy, it's fun with special effects and all that, but it's great social commentary. One niche that it fills is the Fanboy thing, but I'm looking at it from a much broader spectrum. So when we've had great exposure with the fanboys, I'm just thrilled with it. Wow. Amazing.

Fanboy Planet: You finished shooting this three years ago. So what's next for Bill?

Bill Lae: Right now, I'm feverishly, torturedly, working on two scripts. I've got one that's a comedy, which I really want to get done. Because, obviously, we're going to be releasing SuperGuy, and it's good to have something else ready to go. When we had the great Variety review a couple of years ago, we had a couple of things to pitch, but nothing in hand. So that's what I'm working on right now.

It's a comedy with respect to Aliens. I like to think of it as Ghostbusters meets Aliens, but Evolution sort of killed off that whole pitch. So I don't know how to describe it now. What's next is getting that off the ground.

But I also have another product, oddly enough, that's Halloween themed. It's going to be distributed nationally this year, called Big Scream TV.

It's pretty much the first ever Halloween themed novelty video to be used as a decoration. You know how they have sound effect loops and things like that? Well, no one has ever done a visual one, and so we have this thing.

There's three different volumes. They have different monster heads talking on the screen, telling corny jokes and stuff like that. You can take the TV and stick it in your window, or have it at a party. There's different tricks you can do with it, to take plexiglass and make it look like the head is floating in air, stuff like that.

Fanboy Planet: It has instructions on how to do that trick?

Bill Lae: Yeah. We've got a little how to section. We've got a tamer version, and a less tame version. I used to do this at home, because I'm a big Halloween fanatic. Since I did visual effects on TV, I would always try to see what I could pull off live.

It's one of the oldest tricks in the book, using a piece of glass. But this puts a bit of a new twist on it. You can lay the TV screen horizontally, with the monster head playing on it, then take a piece of plexiglass at a 45 degree angle. Angle it towards your window so it looks like the head is floating in the middle of the air, and everybody's totally amazed by it.

One of my friends says I'm selling water to the masses, because it's such an easy, old, odd trick, but…

Fanboy Planet: But nobody knows they can do it themselves.

Bill Lae: Nobody. It's funny. It really is. People are baffled by it, until they can get close enough to look into the window and see the TV there.

Last Halloween, we sold it at about six stores locally, and they sold everyone of them out. A couple of thousand, gone. This year we've got a national distributor, and they're going gangbusters. You should be able to find them at party stores.

It's definitely a fun little thing. And it can be as easy or as complicated as you want it to be. You can just stick the DVD in and play if that's all you want. But most people that are into Halloween are really into it, as you probably know. They get carried away and do all sorts of kooky stuff. You can really go nuts with this.

And perhaps we will. It sounds like fun, and if we can get our hands on Big Scream TV, we'll tell you where to get it, too. In the meantime, you can order SuperGuy: Behind The Cape from Creative Light's outlet, The Pulp Shop, at a price cheaper than Amazon. Would we steer you wrong? 

Derek McCaw

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