There’s nothing real about a guy who freezes his foes with a blue ray that shoots out of his hands – or at least as far as we know – but writer, director, producer Jordan Galland takes an exceedingly grounded approach to the life and world of superheroes in his latest feature, Alter Egos.
The film focuses on a guy named Fridge (Kris Lemche). Well, actually, his name is Brendan, but when his girlfriend becomes more drawn to Fridge, Brendan has a tough time shaking his alter-ego and ditching his costume for street clothes – not the greatest way to be walking around when the Superhero Corps no longer has the support of the government or the public. In the midst of his identity crisis and the Corps’ political meltdown, Fridge is assigned to complete a mission alongside C-Thru (Joey Kern) – one that becomes far more personal than Fridge could have ever imagined, forcing him to revaluate his place in society.
Alter Egos may be without crumbling buildings, epic battles and studio-sized visual effects, but that was never the superhero movie Galland intended to make. His budget may have increased from its original $50,000 plan, but Galland kept everything modest, working with good friends, affordable props, costumes and effects, and keeping his sights set on rewarding his cast and crew for their hard work by securing the film as wide a release as possible.
With Alter Egos due out on VOD November 20th, Galland recently took the time to run through the whole process of putting the movie together and seeing it through to the big release. Check out what he had to say about developing the idea for Alter Egos, dealing with costume mishaps, designing Fridge’s “freeze ray,” the possibility of an Alter Egos TV show and much more in the interview below.
Screen Rant: Can you start by telling me a little about your background? You started as a musician, right?
Jordan Galland: “I wanted to do a lot of things when I was a teenager, but I was very serious about two things. I was actually very serious about playwriting and about painting. I shared a studio with an artist and I’d go and spend hours painting, and I was also always writing one-act plays. And then in high school, I don’t know, it was weird. The film geeks didn’t accept me, [laughs] and the musicians did. And the musicians didn’t really either, but I made friends with Sean Lennon and a bunch of them, and they were older and they took me under their wing. I was very comfortable and really happy hanging out with them and making music, so I ended up taking that very seriously.
In 2004m, I ended up allowing myself to stop that and just make a short film. This was really what I wanted to do, and all my friends commented and said I was happier than they’d ever seen me, so it felt very natural. I think I didn’t like being in bars. I liked playing, performing and recording music, but I just didn’t like the lifestyle. I was more suited to waking up at six in the morning than going to sleep at six in the morning.”
Did you have any training or did you just jump into that first short feet first?
“I just jumped in feet first, but kind of hand-in-hand with the painting that I did and I went to RISD summer programs, and black and white photography, film photography, and it all just sort of came together. On the 10th floor of my parents’ building there was a photographer who gave me the keys to his dark room and he said, ‘Just bring your own chemicals and you can use it.’ So when I went to film the short, I wasn’t a pro, but I knew enough to get through it and do everything myself.”
And how about this one? Is there something specific that sparked the idea for Alter Egos?
“There were a few different things. There was the location itself, The Hampton Maid. I had this idea that, from a production standpoint, I could take over an off-season resort and it would be cheap, so I struck a deal with the owners before even writing the script. And then the other thing I wanted to do was work with Kris Lemche and Joey Kern, and put them in both scenes. They had both been in Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. Oddly enough, they were both playing Hamlet. Joey plays the real Hamlet and Kris plays an actor who’s playing Hamlet. They were so fun to work with, they were so sharp, so quick and I was like, ‘I wanna put these guys in a movie together, like a buddy film.’ And there is something inherently film noir about some superhero movies, like Batman, so I was thinking about it in terms of that as well.”
Are you into superhero movies? Is this somewhat a commentary on what we’re getting from the genre now?
“It was strange because the first time I thought about it, there was ‘Batman’ in 1989 and I was flipping out over that. I told you I wanted to be a painter; I was painting Batman. I didn’t think about it for a long time until ‘X-Men’ came out. ‘X-Men’ was my favorite comic when I was a kid. It didn’t stick with me through high school, but I saved them all. I still have them, a giant collection. But when ‘X-Men’ came out I was really surprised at how cool it was at the time. I was like 20 and I was like, ‘I could get into this again.’ And I also started to get jealous of kids that were young now because when I was a kid, I’d have dreams that there would be an ‘X-Men’ movie and it obviously couldn’t happen, and you wouldn’t even think of the kind of special effects that they have now. And after that it just clearly took off. Every comic book! I was not an ‘Iron Man’ fan really, I was more ‘X-Men.’ I liked the mutants. I liked Wolverine a lot. I liked the darker ones.”
How does that transition to the creation of Fridge and C-Thru? Were their looks or powers influenced by superheroes you were really into?
“There were a few people I talked to before I even wrote the script and one of them was the effects team that I was gonna work with just because it was so low budget. I was gonna try to make this for $50,000. We ended up shooting it on RED, I ended up getting the cinematographer that I had worked with for my first film, but I started out thinking I just have to take a 5D, shoot it myself, these actors are so good, the location looks so cool, it’ll look great. I’ll make a movie anyway. But we ended up having enough support. Danny Masterson got involved and when he accepted the role that interested a few more people.
So the powers, yeah, I think having a character that shoots ice out of his hands, it just all comes together. You imagine the blue and then I was thinking there are so many characters that have ice powers, that it was kind of funny to play with that idea, that there’s a lot of them. It’s one line in the movie now, but the psychological element goes along with it. And then C-Thru, just being able to see through somebody, and I guess there’s metaphors that inherently go along with any power. Those two things seem rife with metaphors.”
With something like Fridge’s freeze ray, or whatever you call it, you can give too much or not enough? Did you design the look of that before you shot it?
“I gave Gary Breslin at panOptic a lot of leeway partly because he’s older than me, he’s been doing it for 20 years and he was really excited to do it. He saw ‘Thor’ and he told me, ‘I made a mental note to not let you see that because the ice freezing is so good in it and we’ll never be able to do anything like that. I don’t want you to expect it.’ I was hoping we would get it as realistic as possible so it would be like, ‘Wow! How’d they do that?’ But in the back of my mind it was always this idea that the movie is a grounded, real version of a comic book, but it’s not ‘Dark Knight’ real or ‘Super’ real, which are just like, “Here’s a man and he has a purpose and this is what it would be if you or me became a superhero.’ This is like, ‘let’s take the comic and the aesthetic of the comic and shoot that,’ so that’s why they have these outfits that you wouldn’t really have, but it’s that heightened reality of the comic book, but filmed in a cinema vérité kind of style.”
How about those costumes? Were you working off anything you’d seen before?
“The costumes were tricky and really stressful up until the last minute. A friend of mine, Frank Sisti, he used to have a show on Public Access called ‘Kid America.’ It’s a really funny variety show that works from late 70s, early ’80s comic book kid show aesthetics and I approached him because I knew he had done wonky superhero comic-type stuff. I was like, ‘Look, read this script, let me know if you can help me with any of this. I don’t even know if it’s getting made,’ and he came back and he helped me, and we had a production designer that helped me design everything with the costumes for the superheroes. Then the costumes arrived a little late, like very late. The actors were coming and the costumes were coming from Germany. Just leotards though. There were elements that weren’t there. The mask, the boots weren’t there, the belt wasn’t there, so we started to think of backup ideas. Plus the blue for Fridge was too light, it was like a baby blue. It really didn’t look good.
[The costume designer], she didn’t sleep for the week of pre-production she had. She unsewed the white from the blue elements, dyed them blue and sewed it back together. And the costumes said that you could wash them, and C-Thru’s costume she washed and the black bled into the yellow and it was this green mess, and it was like the day before. We had gotten some other yellow fabric and she sewed, you can see, C-Thru’s costume is slightly different from Fridges costume because there are these yellow patches that we put along the black part. Anyway, she was going crazy and she did an amazing job. Fridge’s mask, Lemke, her and me designed the morning of the first day of filming because the mask that we had for him, you couldn’t really see his face and part of the acting is the eyes, so we wanted to be able to see his eyes. We wanted it to be believable on some level that you wouldn’t know if you were Claudel that it was him.”
The next question contains MILD SPOILERS for Alter Egos– if you don’t want to be spoiled, skip ahead past the designated break to Page 2:
Any other big mishaps like that? As a producer, that all might have given me a heart attack right before shooting.
“[Laughs] The scene where they dispose of the body, the first time we filmed that sequence, the body just floated. It was raining and it was awesome. It kind of felt like we were doing extreme nature photography. Like, the boat wasn’t supposed to go out. They weren’t gonna let us film. We were kind of there stealing the shots in the pouring rain, we’re filming the stuff and the body floats, and we’re like, ‘All right, maybe we can cut away from it.’ We had to leave anyway so a few days later we had to go back and create the corpse with rocks again and have it sink. And it still kind of floats. You can see a little bit if you look closely.”
End of SPOILERS for Alter Egos.
How is it for you dealing with things like that as writer, director and producer? In most situations you can just sit back and have someone else take care of issues like that, but here, it’s kind of your responsibility.
“There’s three other producers and when we’re filming, I definitely put sh*t on them. I’m just like, ‘I can’t, I don’t have time, you’re here for a reason,’ and they’re very supportive. They’re there and I have no complaints about that, but they definitely have to respect my boundaries as a writer-director and that I’m dealing with enough stuff. I’d say where it bleeds over is the fact that as a director I want the actors to be happy and as a producer I want the actors to be happy, and the conditions we were working in were very very stressful. I slept on a couch. I gave somebody my bed and they were like, ‘No! You’re the director. You should have the bed,’ and I was like, ‘I can handle it. I’d rather you wake up rested. I’m exhausted no matter what. A bed is not going to help me right now.’ I always tell myself I don’t want to produce, but I feel like when you write and direct, if it’s indie stuff, inherently you’re drawing in so much of your own resources, favors and friends that [you should] honor that and take the responsibility upon yourself. I don’t really wanna produce though. I play with the idea that it’d be fun to produce somebody else’s movie. Like, if I liked a script, but I couldn’t work on it, but I felt like I think the movie should get made anyway would be kind of cool.”
You mentioned you had two weeks for pre-production. How much time did you have to shoot?
“It was divided into two different things because I designed it, so we filmed the whole movie in Long Island and then you come back to New York to shoot the flashback stuff. We filmed all of the dialogue scenes in 12 days, wrapped sound, there was no sound for the rest of it so that we didn’t have to worry about it, so we could move through everything without worrying about sound and filmed everything. People were pissed off, too, because there were moments where maybe sound would have been cool, but I knew I was doing the sound design myself so I knew what I was gonna need.”
Did you edit yourself?
“I edited myself, too, although I didn’t mean to. I had arranged an editor, Dan Schechter, who’s also a writer and director, but he’s also an amazing editor and he’d done both of my trailers. Basically, he ended up filming a movie called ‘Supporting Characters’ as I was wrapping ‘Alter Egos,’ which was fine. He was like, ‘Look, I don’t know. I’ll edit what I can, but I’m gonna be editing my movie.’ And then he was like, ‘Well, actually I could edit more for you if we can work out an arrangement,’ so I scored his film for him. It evened out. He only gave me ten days of editing in the middle of a four-month period of editing, but it worked out because it was in the middle so I did an assembly, he came in, did his sh*t, we did a bunch of test screenings and then I came in and did a third edit. I learned a lot from him. He’s a great filmmaker.”
How does it feel that after all this, the film is finally hitting theaters, VOD and DVD?
“It’s wonderful. I’m really happy about that. When you work with people that you really respect and you feel like you’ve gotten this tremendous gift of their talent, and I feel that way about almost everybody that I worked with on ‘Alter Egos,’ there’s a sense of relief. I can turn back to them and be like, ‘Look, the movie that we worked so hard on that you sacrificed for, that you didn’t get paid for, is coming out,” and it’s moving to be able to say that to somebody.
There’s also that element of hopefully they like it. The actors saw an early early edit. Maybe that wasn’t a great idea, but I cared about it and I wanted their input. They had given me input on the script. I didn’t want to just let the whole process go by and be like, ‘Here, it’s finished. You can’t tell me anything.’ We had a three-hour discussion on the phone, they were in LA, and they gave me a lot of notes. It was tough, so to have it get distributed in a wide platform and they can be proud of it, they can share it with their family, friends, fan base, it feels really good. And then there’s the other level of like, I can’t watch it anymore. I can’t enjoy it. I am totally freaked out by it. [Laughs] I just can’t believe anyone would watch it and like it.”
How do you feel about where superhero movies are today? Obviously we’ve got all of these massive blockbuster ones coming out and then there’s the more indie average-person-becomes-a-superhero type.
“With ‘Alter Egos,’ it’s not that kind of movie. I don’t like the average person dressing up, trying to be a superhero because I’m more of ‘The Avengers’ type of a fan. I love the Batman stuff, too. I enjoyed when tThe Joker was the villain the most because it was the most imaginative to me. I have mixed feelings about the big-budget superhero stuff, though, because I feel kind of desensitized. There’s nothing they can show me that’s gonna wow me. When I think about ‘The Hobbit’ coming out for instance, I’m excited to see Ian McKellen and Martin Freeman. I love those actors. I’m not thinking, ‘Well, what kind of amazing, magical visual effects are they gonna show me now,’ because ‘The Lord of the Rings’ trilogy, how you gonna beat that? Maybe it’ll look a little more real now, but really, who cares? It’s the emotional impact and that comes from the actors and the writing, hopefully.
These days I get more excited when somebody I like, like Joss Whedon – I’m a ‘Buffy the Vampire Slayer’ fan, I love ‘Dollhouse,’ I love all the stuff Joss Whedon does – so I was excited about ‘The Avengers’ and I was impressed by the way his voice came across, but I still felt like there were boring action scenes where I was like, I want more snappy, fun dialogue and acting. I think a lot is lost with the green screen. It’d be cool for a movie to be made now in the style that ‘Star Wars’ was made or ‘Empire Strikes Back’ where they’re in the freezing cold and the actors clearly aren’t happy and that’s good because the characters aren’t happy.”
Now what are the odds they take that route with Episode VII?
“They’re not going to, but they should because how cool would it be? There’s a featurette going around now for ‘Les Misérables,’ the featurette where they talk about how they record live. I was like, ‘Yes!’ I was just like, finally they took a chance, they’re doing something in a kind of old-school way, or it feels like it is. I know it’s kind of cheesy, but I got really emotional about it. Because no matter what, ‘Les Misérables’ is gonna do as well as ‘Phantom of the Opera’. They don’t need to do it that way, but they made that choice and it’s definitely more difficult in post-production. Anyway, I feel like it would be cool to have somebody do that with ‘Star Wars.’ [Laughs] Not a musical, but just to make the smarter decision of let’s try something, let’s go back to an older way of doing it.”
What about the government element of your film? That felt like a really original concept, and an original concept that opens doors to a bigger world and made another Alter Egos movies.
“I would love that. I won’t lie, it’s not really a secret, but we are pitching a TV show to some TV producers. But yeah, part of making a small movie is implying the big stuff. And then I guess I was inspired because I was reading an interview with the guy that directed ‘Monsters’ and he was saying, ‘I wanted to make a movie where Spielberg’s monster movie is happening on the other side of the mountain and you’re in this very real world,’ and I was like, OK, I’ll make a superhero movie where the A-list superheroes are somewhere else fighting monsters and our guys are in this rinky-dink hotel and they’re not as cool, and they’re not as flashy, and they’re totally neurotic and f*cked up. And then from that idea grew the government aspect and at the time I was writing it, all those documentaries had just been completed. I’d just seen ‘Inside Job‘ so there’s all these feelings of like, god, the government’s totally corrupt, no one’s getting punished, there is no justice, the rich only get richer, and we’re all so aware of it, it’s not even a secret! How would superheroes play into this? And I got to vent some of my frustration and feelings about that with them.”
What else do you have in the works?
“I have two things in development. One’s my own take on an exorcist, demon possession film. It’s about a girl who’s recovering from demonic possession, so it starts where demon films end. It starts with an exorcism and she’s better. And I want it to be a throwback to that kind of Mia Farrow R-movie like Rosemary’s Baby or The Haunting. And the other one is also kind of a horror movie. I was very inspired by the idea of combining Psycho and Misery, and kind of have almost a reverse Misery where the writer takes the fans hostage. So I’ve been working on that. It’s in development as well, but I don’t know when they’re gonna get filmed. Hopefully 2013.”
Alter Egos is currently in theaters and will be available on VOD on November 20, 2012.
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