The Death of “Superman Lives”: What Happened? – Interview With Jon Schnepp & Holly Payne


The Death of “Superman Lives”: What Happened? has been making noise on the internet since director Jon Schnepp first announced he was working on a documentary about what happened to the 90s Superman movie that never was. At last October’s MCM London Comic Con, Schnepp and producer Holly Payne spoke about their research and revealed some exclusive preview clips from their movie. This May, the pair returned to London’s ExCel Centre for the European premiere of TDOSLWH, and MCM Buzz was lucky enough to catch an interview.

On a scale of 0 – Sweaty Nerd, how have you been?

JS: I’d say extreme sweaty nerd.

HP:  Yeah full sweaty.

JS: Never go half-sweat.

For those who don’t know, can you explain what The Death of ‘Superman Lives’: What Happened? is?

JS: It’s a documentary about a film called Superman Lives which never actually got made. So basically it’s a story about the process of the creative road to make a film, because even if it gets shut down, a lot of work always goes in to it.

Can you both explain your roles?

HP: Well Jon is the director, it was his brainchild. He was fascinated with the subject matter for many years. I initially came on board to help with the crowd-funding campaign on Kickstarter, but as the production developed, I became much more involved in the creative process. I was there for the interviews and was involved in culling the best part of them to construct a narrative that would be both emotionally effective and entertaining. So yeah, I’m the producer, he’s the director. We’ve got an editor called Marie Jamora, and our compositor and technical producer Christopher Graybill who did all the after effects shots for the concept art, and our executive producer Rob Pierce, but we’re a small team.

How did the documentary come to be?

JS: Basically I was interested in the artwork of Superman. The plug had already been pulled on the film, but in the early 2000’s some of the artwork was leaked online, and it just really struck me as interesting, unique and different. Then Superman Returns came out, and I was not into it. I actually fell asleep during that film, and it kind of made me think, “Boy, I wish we’d seen a different kind of Superman movie. I don’t want to see a Richard Donner version of Superman – I’d like to see anything else other than that.” So it made me think about the artwork I saw from Tim Burton’s Superman movie, which was at least different. Often that’s the most exciting thing about characters like Superman or Batman: in the comics, they are constantly being rebooted for new generations, but for some reason when it comes to film or television, people don’t like changes to the characters.

HP: He’s also precious, too.

JS: Precious too, but for example, they introduced Red Kryptonite in the 70s. There’s loads of these changes that the populists don’t know about, because most people don’t read comic books and that’s the truth of it. We live in a superhero movie world now, but it’s not a superhero comic-book world.

Do you feel the organic way the movie was created allowed for it to become a much smoother movie?

HP: I would say yes, absolutely. It’s only when watching it in the past two months that we felt like we had something really good here. After we got Jon Peters, the producer of Superman Lives, on board, that we found ourselves thinking, “Wow, this isn’t where we started, but boy are we happy with where we ended.”

What part of the documentary did you find most interesting to shoot?

JS: For me it was talking with the artists. After talking with Tim [Burton], he let us in to his Wizard of Oz, Raiders of the Lost Ark playground of art and everything he has ever worked on. Of course we could only look at the Superman Lives stuff, but you know, after having been interested in the artwork after all these years, and thinking I must have about 95% of it, it turned out I had only seen about 3%. There was so much amazing, new and exciting artwork created by all these different artists and concept designers, that we spent like two full 14-hour days photographing art non-stop. I think about 70% is in the film. We couldn’t put all of it in, there was so much! Being a kind of fly on the wall to that creative process made me feel like this was something special.

Do you feel like the support from the fans on Twitter and YouTube helped you achieve your goals with the film?

HP: Well the support was palpable, and it was wide. They had no idea – still nobody has any idea – of what this film is going to be, but they all have their own thoughts and preconceptions about what Superman Lives could’ve been. What I’m most proud of about this documentary is that even people who go in thinking it would have been terrible end up leaving with their eyes opened to what could have been done. But yeah, the fans have been very supportive and very vocal. That’s why we’re here.

JS: I think one of the interesting things is that because my career has mainly been in animation, comedy, and some horror, lots of people thought I was going to make a farce out of it, but then when they see it, they find out that it’s actually a very serious take on the process of making a Hollywood film.

HP: But, but, this is a hilarious film! One thing we have been hearing from everyone is that it’s very funny. There are a lot of reasons for that, but it is very entertaining throughout, so you do get the seriousness of all the different graphic styles of all the different artists, and the sort of lamentations of it not working out, but you also get the high points of all these different interviews, and people’s ideas.

JS: There are always moments of levity.

Would you like to see a superhero movie directed by Tim Burton in this day and age?

JS: I think Tim would be great at doing something that had a magical, fairy-tale aspect to it. The superhero character is usually someone who is an outsider, or shunned, or someone who is on their own. It’s only recently that we’ve seen the celebrity superhero emerge, and it’s come out of the change in culture over the last twenty years. Before that, they always had secret identities and were always hiding. Batman was obviously perfect for Tim Burton, but I think he’s a talented visionary, so he could tackle any of these characters. But I think with a lighter touch, it would work really well with him, because he’s got a great sarcastic edge, he’s very funny and I think that’s important.

HP: There are other comics that have nothing to do with superheroes that I would love to see Tim Burton work with. From Hell has already been made into a film, but I would have loved to have seen Tim Burton tackling that.

How would you sum up the movie in one word? 

HP: What Happened? Well that’s two words.

JS: You say ‘what’, I’ll say ‘Happened’.

HP: What…

JS:  Happened.

HP: There you go.

For those eager to see the film, how would they go about doing so?

HP: It will be out on VoD, DVD and Blu-Ray on our website, which is, from July 9th.

More information about The Death of “Superman Lives”: What Happened? can be found on the official website, or by following the team on Twitter @TDOSLWH.

Photo by Kay Ibrahim.

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