Keith Hartman asked if I had ever seen Mystery Men, the late 90's, Ben Stiller comedy about super heroes or crime fighters behaving like actors and dealing with agents. If you haven't seen it, Hartman says you didn't miss much. He said it had a wonderful premise that it never really played with. Hartman filed this premise to the back of his head and given the rise of reality TV in the 21st century, Hartman's latest movie, his second feature, Real Heroes, which spoofs both, seemed only inevitable.
For my review of Real Heroes, click here. After posting the review, Hartman talked to me about it by phone. This conversation also comes a few weeks after his movie's release on DVD and VOD via iTunes and Amazon. Over the phone, he reflected on the making of it, as well as his love of these hero stories in comics or otherwise.
In my review, I cited one of the accomplishments of the movie as being its writing and editing. When it comes to writing, Hartman has Joss Whedon as an idol and definite inspiration, certainly for his witty sense of humor, but particularly for his ability to switch gears tone-wise and narrative-wise.
I believed that Hartman when crafting his characters riffed on some of DC Comics' most iconic, but he clarified. This isn't a world where he's necessarily mocking Batman or Green Arrow per se. Hartman's world is one where Batman is real and he as his characters look up to the caped crusader. Batman is a role model.
His characters were designed, starting not with the intention that he was going to create a Batman or Aquaman-clone. Hartman simply thought about real people with real problems or issues, and then applied the crime-fighter-aesthetic on top of that. He instead wrote certain personalities and then worked outward ending on the super hero identity but not beginning with it.
Most of the characters' super hero identities are reminiscent of DC Comics characters, but Hartman says that's only because DC Comics are the more iconic, comic book house. Yet, he admits Spider-Man is his favorite, even though Spidey comes from Marvel Comics, the biggest rival to DC.
Earlier in the year, an entertainment story was published in which Andrew Garfield, the most recent actor to play Spider-Man in a major Hollywood production, speculated if Spider-Man could be gay. Hartman graduated from Princeton in 1988 with a degree in Economics and later went to grad school for finance. However, Hartman moved to Los Angeles to pursue writing and filmmaking based on the encouragement and guidance of his boyfriend.
Since his movie deals with same-sex relations too, I asked Hartman about LGBT representation in the media. He said television has made significant advancements. He points to a series like Torchwood, but major motion pictures are still very much behind, especially in the super hero genre, and it doesn't seem likely any improvements are in the near future.
Marvel Studios, the current purveyor of successful, comic book films, and Warner Bros., its key rival which owns the film rights to DC Comics, both revealed this month their slate of movies, specific to the super hero genre. None in their slates includes a major character who is gay or lesbian. This slate runs at least to the year 2020, which means at least another half decade or so of Hollywood sitting on its hands, even as gay rights in this country like marriage equality in so many states are rising.
Going back to the construction of Hartman's movie, the director who hails from Huntsville, Alabama, gives much credit to his editor Donna Mathewson. In one of the boldest job interviews Hartman has ever witnessed, Mathewson came into it liking Hartman's screenplay but immediately telling him how he should cut it by 30 minutes.
Hartman admits a lot of the movie succeeds because of actors like Hunter Smit who really interpreted his character in amazing and surprising ways as well as generated great relationships on screen. Yet, Mathewson was such a good editor of comedy that she bettered the film and ultimately its laughs through her building a momentum, snipping seconds here and there, cutting speaking lines and whole sequences, and allowing actors like Smit to be funny, even dialogue-free.
Hartman also gives credit to his costume designer, Andrea Davis. Hartman's next script will continue with Comic Con-inspired costumes. Tentatively titled Confessions of a Former Teen Superhero, the movie will potentially be a romantic-comedy involving two, gay sidekicks from Real Heroes and providing their back story.
Check out Real Heroes on VOD. Check out Hartman's first feature You Should Meet My Son also on VOD.