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I remember seeing the trailer for SPECIAL almost three years ago.
As you can see here, I was enamored with the premise and the promise for what it could be. Like many films with trailers that are seemingly on the horizon their release dates sometimes get pushed back and back until their very existence is only proved by a 2:29 preview.
Many times, films that don’t hit their suggested release, only to resurface in the time of year when you see films dropped like detritus on the street, are the kinds of turkeys that deserved a quiet and silent death. When I heard SPECIAL was actually getting its debut, premiering not only in theaters but on HDNet and video-on-demand I had to admit that I was more than interested. This film surely had a story to tell and when I was able to see the film I was taken aback by not only its fascinating execution but that you had this seemingly no budget movie that had the kind of special effects that are usually reserved for films larger in scope. And that’s what’s so endearing about this movie: the characters, the sets, the story is steeped in averageness but when the super powers plot line kicks in you are thrust into a world that meshes the supernatural within it.
I had the chance to talk to the film’s directorial/writing duo of Hal Haberman and Jeremy Passmore along with star Michael Rapaport.
CS: What has happened in 3 years?
HABERMAN/PASSMORE: What’s happened? Not so much. We got distribution coming out of Sundance and apparently there was some problems and it fell through and got lucky and Magnolia came along and now they are putting it out and in between I think we stopped hoping it would come out. We just gave up hope on it.
HABERMAN/PASSMORE: I didn’t. But it was heartbreaking. Tired of thinking of it all the time. It was hard.
HABERMAN/PASSMORE: That was the thing. We came out of Sundance with distribution and then to lose it, it was heartbreaking and it took a long time for that to even happen. It was like getting dumped by your girlfriend and you move on with your life and out of no where she comes back and says, “I changed my mind, I want to marry you.”
HABERMAN/PASSMORE: And then she leaves you again.
HABERMAN/PASSMORE: And then she comes back and says, “I won the lottery. This time it’s real.” It was weird. It was just sort of odd to be doing it now but it’s also very nice because as Hal was just saying, Magnolia, the way they are putting it out, is much better than the way it would have originally.
CS: Yeah, it’s being released through pay-per-view and then on Mark Cuban’s HDNet movies.
HABERMAN/PASSMORE: I know I’ve had friends call me up and say, “I just watched your commercial which is on pay per view.” It’s kinda unbelievable.
HABERMAN/PASSMORE: Secretly, there is this fear that it’s all going to fall apart.
CS: Michael, what brought you to the project in the first place? These guys are really first time filmmakers, how did the script get into your hands?
RAPAPORT: Oh, I got it from my manager who read it and liked it and he suggested I read it. So I read it and then met with the guys. It was pretty straight forward and pretty simple. There wasn’t any interesting, fun story, it was just casting when it worked in a good way.
CS: What really spoke to you when you read the script? What made this one stand out?
RAPAPORT: I loved the way it was written. I thought it was very elegantly written. I love the character and the arch that he had and I was just able to relate to him in a bunch of different ways and I love that the story had humor in it. I just liked the tone I imagined it would be.
CS: Hal and Jeremy, when you first came up with the idea of this, was it just one of you who came with it first and the other one helped develop it? How did the process come about?
HABERMAN/PASSMORE: We decided to make a low budget move together and bounced ideas around and when we came to this one, which was Jeremy’s, I just knew this is one we had to do.
HABERMAN/PASSMORE: And at first I thought he was nuts because my first thought was like special effects. I mean I’ve done stunts in my thesis film at film school and it was brutal. I mean it was really hard to do it. So my first thought was that it would be all stunts and special effects but then the second you have that thought you think, “Why not?” I’ve never seen a low budget movie with a bunch of stunts and special effects. Suddenly it was like, no body would be every crazy enough to make a super hero movie with no money, therefore, that is exactly what we should do. That was the feeling of it.
HABERMAN/PASSMORE: And we didn’t have to talk about it too long before we could imagine the character too and I think it was a character that we both related to and cared about on a lot of levels and that was the final nail in the coffin.
HABERMAN/PASSMORE: It was just very universal. This feeling of “Crap, my life isn’t what I thought it would be” and that desire for something more and like “When I was a little kid my mom said I could do anything” and I said, “What’s so special…and now I’m stuck in this job I don’t really like.” It’s just very universal. Especially these days. Those feelings are, often to take the edge off, a lot of people do turn to medication. So it just felt universal and unique at the same time.
CS: Michael, when you were developing who this guy was, what did you want to make sure came through in the performance?
RAPAPORT: I just wanted the character’s genuineness and his honesty and I wanted him – I knew the character was very emotional person, an emotional character, and I just wanted to just make every sort of beat he was going through make them clear and distinct and just very honest and relatable. I wanted to make him relatable and human. Which is really the thing we go for in every character but because of the way the script was written it was all kind of laid out there in my hands to just kind of bring it to life.
CS: Hal and Jeremy, the premise itself almost seems rather post modern considering the kind of year we’ve had this year with super heroes.
HABERMAN/PASSMORE: Yeah. Are you talking about reality or just movies?
CS: I think the superhero genre in general this year.
HABERMAN/PASSMORE: That’s what was funniest to us because the movie is really about a guy going crazy but within that we really tried to adhere structurally to the traditional super hero origin story which is not your normal three act structure. It’s like the discovery of powers ends with I’m going to fight crime and it’s not really until halfway through the movie that the main villain is usually introduced. So structurally we are in the drama genre but to us it was always about this guy we liked going crazy more than anything else.
And we were always breaking with the genre too at some points. Superheroes with dark undersides or superheroes with problems. There is something about the way we made this movie on such a low budget and in such a crazy direction that those movies feel like a whole different type of movie to me. That don’t feel like anything that what we were doing because what we were doing – it just has a level of danger.
As well, it’s a commentary on the superhero genre, the whole idea of a superhero, just that part of it, the genesis of the idea was just looking at the superheroes, the big ones, and realizing that you are reading Superman comic like it could just have easily been that he has a split personality. The very idea that I’m this normal guy with this normal boring day job and then when no one is around and when no one is looking, suddenly I am invincible is completely nuts. And so there was that aspect of deconstruction. What if we just took that metaphor out and suddenly that’s your guy?
He is crazy the way that psychosis manifests he thinks he has super powers.
CS: Was it always that intention to have him just devolve further and further into his own sense of what he thought this was?
HABERMAN/PASSMORE: I think so. I think once we realized we were making a movie about insanity, we realized that it was going to go as far as we could possibly take it.
And there were so many things working together to push it in that direction. Part of it was just the natural arc of the character. Like you want to see him go from one extreme to the other and that necessitates that he has got to be so high on the drugs that he’s completely insane which means we kind of wanted the audience to feel insane and also tying into it was that we had this philosophy that we really wanted to make the movie unpredictable.
All of that fused together to just make it to this point – we were half way, three quarters through the movie and it’s kind of like, it feels like, anything can happen.
CS: Right. Exactly. Michael, you – I don’t know if this is one of your most physical roles to date but there was obviously a lot of running, a lot of jumping, I can only assume that it wasn’t a huge budget, but how involved were you with everything that you were asked to do?
RAPAPORT: Well, first of all this was a No Budget movie. New category. Not low budget – it’s Not Budget.
I did as much as I could but I wasn’t going to try and hurt myself for bravery. We had a great stunt guy and it was in the best interest of the film to let him do his thing. He was the Rocky-ist stuntman. He just kept going and was really fantastic. His name was Brian Hite. I didn’t try to do anything that would jeopardize me walking away the same way I walked in. But there was a lot of running, some jumping, some wires and all this stuff but the real heavy stuff Brian did and it is a tribute to him and they way the guy shot the movie. The way the shots were set up lent itself to make the stunts look as real and natural and as violent as they wound up doing.
CS: And I absolutely agree with you. I think Hal and Jeremy did a wonderful job making it feel real. Can you gentleman talk about the “no budget” angle?
HABERMAN/PASSMORE: I think it worked in our favor a lot. One we got lucky finding the right people to do it. Brian is the only stuntman who would do the stunts with the authenticity that he did.
And Nelson the cameraman, who’s perfect to shoot the movie, he’s happy to make it look realistic and lit it with fluorescents and no highlights – so it was a mix of what we were going for and what everyone was able to bring to us.
There was a point where I worked with Brian on my student film and it was crazy. It just had these brutal stunts. We were talking to him and we’re like we were thinking we could do this with wires and kind of shoot the angles and he just looked at me like I let him down. He was so disappointed, he was like, “No, we’re not going to do that. If I want to get hit by a car, I want to get hit by a car.” It was just so funny. Of course, that’s what we wanted but didn’t want to injure the guy.
CS: Exactly. But it’s something you can’t compare to other films with 10 times the budget.
HABERMAN/PASSMORE: There was one night when we did a stunt…That he said it was the hardest stunt which was jumping off a roof and tackling someone. He missed the first time and landed…He said “Do you want me to do it again?” and I was very scared to. So I said, “Dude, if you can do it again we should do it again.” And he did it. It was amazing.
HABERMAN/PASSMORE: But it was harrowing. I was really kind of sick. It was like, “I don’t want to be the guy who puts him in the hospital.”
HABERMAN/PASSMORE: To a certain extent we had boxed ourselves into a corner because we felt like we wanted those stunts to play in a big static wide shot because it’s like you are looking at it and you know it’s real. We didn’t fake it in the editing. He really jumped off a roof and tackled that guy. So on the one way it’s really brutal like a skateboarding video on the other hand it’s getting into a bit of a Keystone Cops kind of feel.
HABERMAN/PASSMORE: On the third hand, that’s exactly how a superhero movie would not do it.
HABERMAN/PASSMORE: Exactly. It’s exactly what you wouldn’t do, so that’s exactly where we ended up going.
CS: I know my time is short but I definitely want to find out from all of you, now that it has taken years for this film to make the light of day, how do you look at this process and look at this film with regards to your faith in the process of making a movie?
RAPAPORT: Aside from the distribution delay, it couldn’t have been any better. It was a great experience. Great, great, great experience for me.
HABERMAN/PASSMORE: I’m in the same boat. To me it was empowering because we didn’t have any money and we just said we’re going to make a movie and go to Sundance and that’s exactly what we did. So in the back of my mind I feel like I really want to make a movie but can’t because the problem is I really want to do one with more money.
STIPP: Has this movie been able to allow you to do that now that it’s out there? Have those “in charge” taken notice?
HABERMAN/PASSMORE: Oh yeah. They are pounding on the doors.
HABERMAN/PASSMORE: It’s weird. We don’t expect that at this point. It’s just this movie is what it is and if people love it then that’s great and if they don’t, then oh well, but I don’t think we’re going to get to direct ROCKY VI.
HABERMAN/PASSMORE: What’s actually kind of cool with this delayed release - Coming out of Sundance I would have had my hopes so tied up into it, whereas now, I’m just really glad people are going to see it. It’s really weird. I’ll be in a meeting on something else and halfway through they’ll go “Wait a minute. You were one of the guys who did SPECIAL. I love that movie…” or something but they don’t even realize it because it’s been so long.
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