Up in the Sky! It's a True Fanboy!
The Director of the Definitive Superman Documentary
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.
as Kevin Burns,
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
took some time out of his busy schedule to talk to Fanboy
Planet the night before his documentary would have its official
What is it about Superman that appeals to you?
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.
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? I'm THERE!
As a kid, I
loved things that were visual anyway. I loved things that
were fantastical, and Superman certainly was that.
McCaw: How did Bryan Singer approach you
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
led to Bryan coming to my apartment at the time, along with
the producer, Anthony Miller.
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.
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.
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
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
for the one good Stephen Baldwin movie.
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
McCaw: (laughing) And film history was made
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
I can't take
credit for anything else but that.
McCaw: That's still pretty good.
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
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.
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.
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.
Two: In which Kevin Burns discusses the pitch and the point
of the documentary...