Frank Miller Has ‘The Spirit’
by Paul Fischer
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On a near brand new soundstage not too far from Albuquerque, writer/director Frank Miller is shooting his solo directorial debut, The Spirit. With his trademark hat, the often droll, but secretive artist and director, was shooting a scene with the film’s star, Gabriel Macht, on Stage 7 as he took a break to discuss The Spirit, not due out for over a year.
PAUL FISCHER: How does it feel being the sole director of this movie, and making your way up from the echelons of being a dual director?
FRANK MILLER: It’s a real privilege. I’m in love with the material, and doing my best to be fair to it.
PF: What challenges are you facing with the technology, and the improvements in the technology?
FM: Well, this isn’t a time really where I feel it’s appropriate to refer to challenges of technology, so much as opportunities. Right now, it’s almost frightening what is possible. One of the challenges for the director of a movie that uses this much digital technology is what not to do. Is to tell yourself, “I could do this, but should I?”
PF: Give us an example of something that you were like, “I’ll never be able to do that,” and then how you were able to figure out how to do it.
FM: Oh, I knew from working with Robert Rodriguez that virtually anything was possible and certainly with Stu Mashovitz I’ve learned some brand new things that I’ve never dreamt of.
PF: What were you just filming over there with Gabriel?
FM: That’s—that was Spirit hunting down The Octopus, and going through some of his snipers on the way.
PF: Can you talk about when you first discovered Spirit and Eisner’s work, and the effect that it had on you?
FM: I was just probably about 13 years old. And I came across Will Eisner’s Spirit as published by Jim Warren and was blown away. I thought it was somebody new to comics, because it was so far ahead of anything else coming out. Followed it religiously. There was one when—night, when I—I picked up the latest issue of The Spirit, and I was so excited, I had to stop by a lamppost in Vermont, where I lived, and read it on the spot. It’s the Sand Saref story, which is the basis of this movie.
PF: Can you talk about the casting of this, and why Eva in that particular role, yes?
FM: I know you wear glasses, but you’ve got eyes.
PF: There are some beautiful women in Hollywood. So, why this particular beautiful woman?
FM: Eva has a wonderful exquisite anger to her. Her talent aside, her beauty aside, she has an edge that the character really needs.
PF: And the rest of the casting? Sam was the only person you wanted as I understand.
FM: You know, from the start I wanted Sam Jackson to play The Octopus, because I’ve always wanted to work with Sam Jackson. The Octopus was always a cipher in the old comics, and I knew we couldn’t go away with two hours of a guy whose face you never see. And so I thought, who would be the perfect nemesis for the Spirit? And Sam Jackson came to mind. It seems to me he’s always had a part like this inside him waiting to get out.
PF: And he changes his look in every single movie. What’s his look gonna be this time around?
FM: He’s The Octopus.
PF: Do you play around with that unseen quality of The Octopus before you unveil him being Sam?
FM:Oh, if I started telling you—if I started answering questions like that, you could keep asking them. [laughter]
PF: Talk about the reasons for doing a second movie green screen. As an artist, do you feel that’s the only way to really recreate the art and bring the art to life?
FM: I don’t know. I’m a kid in a candy store. This is the only way I’ve been trained to direct. And I love it because it brings you closer to the art of the page.
PF: There’s something to be said about having some sets or something for the actors to work out of, because obviously you have to look at the pictures and kind of imagine everything’s there.
FM: Sure. There’s something to be said for every approach.
PF: How do you deal with the passion for the project, and the fact that you have to use technology, it’s not only art, it’s also science.
FM: I guess that’s like asking a blacksmith why he uses a hammer.
PF: Are you reveling in the technology? I mean, how has the technology developed the most since your mind?
FM: It’s exploding all around us. It’s so alive. I see a grand and beautiful collision between anime, live action, comic books—and I feel like I’m witnessing these forces all come together and borrow from each other. So it’s a very exciting time. Fusion.
PF: How is this movie going to look like Will Eisner?
FM: Well, Will Eisner was a little shorter than I was, and balding. But it’s going to be quite faithful, I think, to Will’s vision as an artist. I’ve often laid out storyboards my way, and then Eisner’s way. And each case, I’ve gone Eisner’s way.
PF: And tonally, are you mixing a lot of comedy with the darkness of the comic? There is a lot of humor in this piece.
FM:It wouldn’t be Will Eisner’s Spirit if it wasn’t.
PF: What aspect of Will Eisner’s Spirit is the thing that you most wanted to get right in the film? The translation?
FM: The passion that Will and I always shared for New York City. And you’ll see some very familiar touches that come from Will Eisner, and come from the city we both love.
PF: Did you learn anything from your day spent on the 300 set, as far from watching that? Did you watch anything from being on the 300 set, and watching Zac work?
FM: I was only briefly on the 300 set. All I saw—you know, when I first arrived to see it I had come in wondering if I might just knock him unconscious and take his job over. And I saw what he was doing, and realized that I wasn’t ready.
The Spirit will be unveiled in theatres in January 2009.
Paul Fischer is originally from Australia. Now he is an interviewer and film critic living in Hollywood.
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