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Look! Up in the Sky! It's a True Fanboy!
The Director of the Definitive Superman Documentary ...Kevin Burns

Who disguised as Kevin Burns,
mild-mannered producer/director...
Last summer, I had the chance to hang out with one of the ultimate Fanboys. Kevin Burns has been a collegiate film teacher, worked in studio marketing, then moved on to producing and directing a variety of films for television, including the excellent attempts to wrap up the Alien Nation franchise going on Fox with two-hour movies.

He also spearheaded many of A&E's Biographies, in particular those of genre stars like Jonathan Harris from Lost In Space. (Burns is such a fan, he has a full-sized replica of the Robot in his home.) Burns and Harris became fast friends, and the avuncular filmmaker does a killer impersonation of the actor, as well as many other recognizable personalities. It's actually a little eerie how good he is, but so far, no one's convinced him to do a one-man show.

Burns also specializes in making documentaries about film history, focusing on but not limited to some science fiction greats. Among his credits are Behind the Planet of the Apes and the definitive Star Wars documentary, Empire of Dreams, which was released in conjunction with the original trilogy on DVD.

This past year, Burns has been more eclectic. In addition to creating and executive producing E!'s The Girls Next Door, he executive produced Poseidon, the remake of Irwin Allen's The Poseidon Adventure. He has made it a personal crusade to revive all of Allen's properties, and even now is working with the SCI FI Channel on a new version of The Time Tunnel. The recent home video release of The Time Tunnel includes a revision of a pilot he produced a few years ago, the rough cut of which he showed me last summer and it rocked.

Why talk about him now? Because Kevin Burns also has had a long-standing friendship with a director very important to Fanboys everywhere this summer: Bryan Singer. And Singer tapped Burns to create the definitive documentary of the character that lies at the center of comics fandom, the first and greatest of them all -- Superman.

Look! Up in the Sky! The Amazing Adventures of Superman airs in shortened form on Monday, June 12 on A&E, but on June 20 Warner Brothers will release the full version of the documentary as part of their Superman Day in which we all go broke buying DVDs related to the Man of Steel.

Kevin took some time out of his busy schedule to talk to Fanboy Planet the night before his documentary would have its official Hollywood premiere.

Derek McCaw: What is it about Superman that appeals to you?

Kevin Burns: Well, I loved Superman when I was a kid. I used to read the comics and I loved the George Reeves television show, along with Batman and The Munsters and Lost in Space. Those were my favorite things.

Palisades Park? I'm THERE!
I loved the George Reeves show but I was really into the comics, you know, the late fifties and early sixties. The late fifties comics I was more familiar with because my cousins, who were older than I was, had passed me their copies. I thought (those) were really cool. All the ones with the Palisades Park tickets…

As a kid, I loved things that were visual anyway. I loved things that were fantastical, and Superman certainly was that.

Derek McCaw: How did Bryan Singer approach you for this?

Kevin Burns: Something most people don't know is that I've known Bryan for a long time. It's kind of an interesting relationship, I would say. I met Bryan back in, I think it was 1990.

I was going to say when he looked sixteen, and now he looks seventeen.

I was invited by a friend to go to the Director's Guild Theater, to a student film showcase. They were running three short student films. One was from USC, one was from Cal State Northridge and one was from UCLA. The one that stood out was Bryan's film, and it was called The Lion's Den.

Actually, Bryan was in it, and so was Ethan Hawke. He wasn't a star then, but he was a familiar face; he had been in movies. I was intrigued. Who was this ringer? Who made this film with Ethan Hawke in it?

The next day - it was very, very shrewd - the producer called me because they had everybody sign in and put their address and phone number and where you worked. And of course, it was a way to get a phone list, to find out who in the industry had come. They got a phone list.

Batman - Holy Batmania --
one of Kevin's earlier looks
at a well-known superhero...
At that time I was doing promotion. I was doing marketing videos and sales tapes at Fox. I had just started working there, working on shows like Batman and Lost in Space but also A Current Affair and Mr. Belvedere and Studs.

Anyway, I raved about the film when they called. I said yes, I worked at Fox, but I used to be a film teacher (at Boston University). I think that impressed this guy even more. He said, would you like to meet the director? I said yes.

It led to Bryan coming to my apartment at the time, along with the producer, Anthony Miller.

He impressed me in a couple of ways. One, that he looked so young. He was about twenty-four or twenty-five at the time, but he looked sixteen. And the second thing was that he was so exceptionally bright, very intense and very very driven. He was very knowledgeable about film and film history.

We hit it off. I think he was somewhat impressed that I was a guy with a job at a studio, and that I was a little older and had been a film teacher. We struck up a friendship. We'd have breakfast on occasion and dinner on occasion. I'd invite him to the studio for lunch. It was probably the first time he was ever on the Fox lot.

He was a fan of (Forrest J) Ackerman, and he used to hang out with Dr. Donald A. Reed, the former president of the Count Dracula Society and the Academy of Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror. I just thought that was kind of fun, because I knew Forry.

It was nice to see this guy who was a film fan, and very knowledgeable about film, who also was a talented filmmaker.

Bryan would kind of bounce things off me. I became a little bit of a mentor to him. I mean, I'm sure he had a lot of other professional friends, but he would call me and say "what do you think of this?" or "I want you to read my script." "Somebody offered me a deal and can I have lunch with you and talk to you about it?"

Thanks for the one good Stephen Baldwin movie.
He actually gave me a script called Public Access and he wanted to know if I would produce it for him. I couldn't, because of the job I had. But I did help him get some people, a cameraman and some other stuff. I gave him some notes on the script. He asked me for some advice on the investors that were putting money into it and the contract that he had.

That went on to win Sundance. The same writer, Chris McQuarrie, also wrote a script that Bryan gave me called Usual Suspects. I said, first of all it's the wrong title. It should be THE Usual Suspects.

Derek McCaw: (laughing) And film history was made by you…

Kevin Burns: (laughing) And film history was made by me. I said it's a knock-off of Casablanca, right? "Round up the usual suspects." The article makes them special. Usual suspects just means they're usual suspects; they're not extraordinary.

I can't take credit for anything else but that.

Derek McCaw: That's still pretty good.

Kevin Burns: I was watching this kid emerge as this incredibly intense talented, very focused, guy. Of course, he went on and did The Usual Suspects. In fact, I would go out to dinner with him while he was casting it. He'd be on the phone. Was he going to get Robert DeNiro? Was he going to get Al Pacino?

And then, of course, the movie came out. At that point, to his credit, Bryan never became "fabulous." It was certain that he was becoming, in a sense, a superstar director, especially when he went on to do X-Men and X-Men 2.

Now I would see him on the Fox lot. He'd have his own building. He was in the cart and he'd get out, come over and give me a big hug.

We were always fond of each other. And I was proud of the fact that I knew this guy whose success I could kind of track over all these years. He knew, kind of without saying it, that I could say I knew him when.

Part Two: In which Kevin Burns discusses the pitch and the point of the documentary...

Derek McCaw

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