60 Things to Know About MAN OF STEEL From Our Set Visit; Plus a Recap of What We Saw Being Filmed

     May 30, 2013

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The streets are filled with plane debris and overturned cars.  Shards of glass and the wreckage of an epic battle cover the sidewalks.  Near one corner, a 7/11 has been destroyed.  On another end of the street, a bank vault has been ripped open and the pristine lobby is covered with dirt, glass and broken counter tops.  Almost every business along main street has been damaged.  As I turn to see another area of Main Street, two USA military helicopters fly in formation, like they’re about to go into battle.  As I peer a bit further down the road, I can see Superman (Henry Cavill) fighting for his life against two Kryptonians and I’m not sure if the helicopters are going to help or hurt him.  I then hear Zack Snyder call cut.  A second later, I’m smiling ear to ear, because I can’t believe I’m in Smallville, getting to watch Superman kick some ass.

But let me back up a second.

As I type these words, it’s August 30, 2011 and I’m flying back to Los Angeles.  The reason I’m up in the air is that I got to spend all day yesterday on the set of director Zack Snyder’s Man of Steel (along with some other online journalists).  While there, I got to visit a number of sets, interview some of the cast and the filmmakers, and observe some filming in the heart of Smallville.  As a lifelong Superman fan, I can tell you that after visiting the set, I’m 100% sure that Man of Steel is going to be something special, and a lot different than any version of Superman you’ve seen before.  So much more after the jump.

Like I usually do for set visits, I’ve complied a list of things to know about the movie.  In addition, I also wrote about what we watched being filmed.  It’s further down the page.

60 Things to Know About MAN OF STEEL

Man of Steel poster SupermanSince the filmmakers want to keep a lot of the plot under wraps until closer to release, whenever we’d ask a question they didn’t want to answer they’d say, “I invoke the Nolan clause.”  This was said a lot during the interviews.

  • We will see Superman kick a lot of ass and get his ass kicked in Man of Steel.  Everyone knows Superman Returns didn’t have enough action.  This will be rectified in Man of Steel.  He’s also not going to be a stalker and he won’t have a son.
  • The group of filmmakers bringing Man of Steel to life is an all-star team.  Directing is Zack Snyder (Watchmen, Man of Steel), producing is Deborah Snyder (his producing partner and wife), David S. Goyer (who is getting sole credit on the screenplay), Christopher Nolan (The Dark Knight, Inception), Emma Thomas (Nolan’s wife and producing partner) and producer Charles Roven (The Dark Knight, Twelve Monkeys).
  • While many might think Warner Bros. asked Nolan and company to help Superman get made, the truth is, it was during a writing session on The Dark Knight Rises that the idea for Man of Steel was born.  Goyer told us that while struggling with the third act of The Dark Knight Rises, Nolan suggested they take a week off to clear their heads.  During the hiatus, Goyer happened to read a bunch of Superman comics and came up with an idea for a Superman movie and he wrote it down.  When he met up with Nolan, he asked him if he had solved the third act problem.  Goyer said he didn’t, but he thought he had come up with an interesting idea for a Superman movie.  Nolan asked what it was, and as soon as Goyer finished explaining his idea, Nolan said he wanted to produce it and immediately got on the phone with the heads of WB, after which Nolan and Goyer went in and formally pitched the film.  Needless to say, the studio immediately said yes, and they decided to scrap what they had been working on previously for a new Superman movie and Goyer started writing the screenplay for Man of Steel.
  • Unlike previous versions of Superman on TV and in the movies, Man of Steel is trying to make everything as realistic as possible.  But that doesn’t mean it’s going to be dark like the Batman films.  Man of Steel is definitely a Superman movie, but they’re going to try and explain everything with science and logic.  It’s not another comic book movie.  An example of this realistic vision is how weapons will interact with the various characters.  Snyder and his team broke down, scientifically, how strong a human is in comparison to a Kryptonian, and then how strong Superman is in relation to the two.  Each person getting hit with a specific weapon (like an M40) would movie backwards a specific distance depending on their species and what planet they’re on.  They tried to factor everything in so nothing is being played like a cartoon.  Since Superman is the most powerful, he will react accordingly.  In addition, Superman can’t fly through space for an endless amount of time.  He has limits.  It’s like the way Nolan did Batman, but not as dark.
  • man-of-steel-zack-snyder-henry-cavillMan of Steel is being shot using handheld cameras.  Snyder has completely changed his visual style for this film.  And before you think he’ll still have his trademark slow motion action shots, I specifically asked him about it and he told me he would not have any in Man of Steel.
  • As I type these words, they will be post converting Man of Steel for a 3D release.  However, since the entire movie is being shot handheld, I have no idea how they’re going to make this work.
  • The Department of Defense is involved in Man of Steel with regards to the military’s presence in the film.  The production went to them and they approved the script.
  • The movie is not being shot digitally (they’re using 35mm and no IMAX).  It’s also being shot using anamorphic (widescreen) lenses.
  • There is no second unit on Man of Steel.  Snyder is shooting everything himself.
  • A huge part of the story is the world finding out that Superman exists.  Goyer explained that almost every version of Superman goes from Clark being a teenager to Clark being Superman, and the world accepts it with little fanfare.  He thinks (and I agree) that if Superman really showed up on Earth, it would be one of the biggest moments in human history and his existence would cause people to question religion and everything they have ever thought about our universe.  This is one of the big plot points of Man of Steel.
  • The longer Superman is on Earth, the more powers he’ll develop.  As most of you know, the yellow Sun gives Superman his powers.  However, what has never been done before is amping them up the longer he’s on the planet.  Man of Steel will do this.  Goyer also promises that we will see a power or two that has never been shown before in any previous version of Superman.  One of the powers he develops from being on Earth for so long is his heat vision.  I’m pretty sure the other Kryptonians don’t have that power.
  • man-of-steel-russell-croweThe production has created a huge backstory for Krypton.  According to Goyer, Krypton has been civilized for 100,000 years and they have been traveling in space for over 25,000 years.  In addition, the gravity on Krypton is 4 to 10 times that of Earth and humans can’t breathe on the planet.  This is all going to be used to explain why Superman can fly, how he gets his powers, and the science behind everything.  Krypton is a true alien world and the production created a full Kryptonian language.  When we see some of the buildings on Krypton and they have writing on the side, you will be able to translate it as they will have meaning.
  • Another interesting thing about Krypton is the way the society functions.  Imagine if Japan had never met the west in the 1800’s.  Krypton has a caste system and their own Gods and Guilds.  Also, their moral code is radically different from the way humans treat one another.  When Superman starts to get exposed to his Kryptonian roots, he has to decide which set of moral guidelines to follow.
  • Another important aspect of Man of Steel is how it’s the story of two fathers.  As the film progresses, Superman must figure out which father to follow.  Does he want to be Clark, or Kal-El?
  • While many Hollywood movies might shoot from 40 to maybe 70 days, Man of Steel is shooting for 121 days.  Some weeks they are shooting 6-day weeks.  This is a huge shoot and one that should lead to some incredible action scenes.  I was on set on day 24.
  • Superman will fly using a mix of wire work and CGI.  While on set, I got to see Henry Cavill take flight for about a second while connected to wires and I felt like a kid again.  Once computers take out the wires, I think kids are once again going to believe a man can fly.
  • man-of-steel-henry-cavillThe S on Superman’s chest is actually a Kryptonian symbol and not the letter S.  The symbol was on the front of the ship that took the Man of Steel to Earth.
  • The suit’s backstory is going to be explained and there is a reason he isn’t wearing underwear.  We will also learn why he wears the suit and what it can do and why.
  • According to Goyer, Superman is given horrible choices where there is no good or safe answer.  Basically, no matter what he does, it will end badly for certain people.
  • It is not love at first sight when Clark Kent/Superman first sees Lois Lane.  I say Clark and Superman because I’m not sure who sees her first.
  • Jor-El is still a part of the upper echelon of Kryptonian society.
  • The town of Smallville and the movie have a few Easter Eggs for the fans.  One that we noticed on set was Ezra’s Mail Depot.  Ezra stands for Ezra Small (I think), who was the founder of Smallville.
  • As I type this, Snyder wants Hans Zimmer to do the score.
  • Snyder had to pick out exactly where Smallville is located.  He wanted to leave it a mystery, but the lawyers at Warner Bros. made him decide on a specific place so they couldn’t get sued.  He decided to create the District of Metropolis and it’s located on the east coast.
  • Zod is not a crazy villain.  He also isn’t a mustache twirling psychopath.  He has a point of view and it is not crazy.  I believe it stems from the way Krypton has a different set of morals and he probably believes in them absolutely.

man-of-steel-poster-michael shannonBelow are a few more odds and ends gleaned from the set visit:

  • Russell Crowe’s role in the film as Jor-El is “significant” and is much more than a cameo.
  • Goyer says we’ll see more of Krypton than we’ve seen in the other movies.
  • The film will deal with “truth, justice and the American way,” but Goyer says not as much as you would think.
  • Christopher Nolan kept in touch with Goyer and everyone even while he was shooting The Dark Knight Rises. He would call Goyer sometimes a couple of times a week to be involved in the Man of Steel process.
  • The film deals with the question of, “Why was Kal-El sent to Earth?”
  • Kal-El is referred to as Superman in the movie.
  • They settled on the title Man of Steel because the movie is about him, the man, and not necessarily the superhero Superman.
  • Superman “cuts loose” in the movie and gets to fight.
  • The team was really focused on making Superman someone the audience can identify with.
  • They get into Zod’s backstory in the film.
  • The biggest influence on the film other than the comics was the Old Testament and New Testament.
  • Snyder approached the film’s visual style from a realistic standpoint and shot almost all of the film handheld, which was a decision he made very early on.
  • Snyder felt it was important to show Clark growing up in Kansas because to understand him you have to understand the why of him.
  • The first scene that Christopher Nolan pitched to Snyder was a scene about Clark Kenth’s childhood, not an action sequence or a Superman scene.
  • Their version of Clark Kent is not the mocky, nerdy Clark that was seen in the previous films. It’s a different take on who Clark is.
  • Snyder says they went through every possible version of the suit imaginable before settling on the final design.
  • Ultimately, they decided not to depict the underwear on the outside of the suit because they couldn’t come up with a practical reason for that to exist.
  • They decided to post convert the film to 3D because Snyder wasn’t going to change his handheld style to accommodate the 3D cameras. Shooting handheld and in native 3D would’ve been too difficult.
  • man-of-steel-henry-cavill-supermanCavill got up early every morning to train before 12 hours of filming.
  • Cavill was attracted to the idea of approaching Superman as a realistic, relatable character.
  • Some of Cavill’s favorite Superman comics include the New Krypton saga, Death of Superman, Return, and Red Son.
  • It took Cavill 15-25 minutes to get the costume on each time.
  • Cavill only knew he had won the role a few hours before it was announced publicly.
  • Cavill worked extensively on his American accent (Midwestern, to be exact), but he has to warm up to it; he can’t just go into it on the spot.
  • Cavill endured a rigorous physical training process that involved a high calorie diet and lifting very, very heavy weights.
  • Cavill signed a standard three-film option deal, which means contractually he is signed for three Superman films should Warner Bros. decide to make them and bring him back.
  • From a producing standpoint, Christopher Nolan focused on story and script issues, and Emma Thomas and Charles Roven were involved more with production issues since Nolan was busy filming The Dark Knight Rises.
  • They chose to film in Plano and Chicago, Illinois for Smallville and Metropolis, respectively, with some additional filming in Vancouver.
  • When doing their search for the lead actor, Cavill was always on the shortlist and once he screen tested they knew he was the right choice.
  • Superman Returns confused younger Superman fans because the film assumed the audience had seen Richard Donner’s films. With Man of Steel, they wanted to make sure they were reeducating the audience on Superman’s origins and history.
  • They came up with the film’s themes and story before deciding on the villain.  The initial work informed who the right villain for the film should be.
  • Goyer said Man of Steel is the hardest script he’s ever written.
  • Snyder shot more on physical locations on Man of Steel than any of his previous films.
  • Humor plays a role in the film, but not a big one. There’s not a comic relief character.

The Filming

If you’re trying to avoid spoilers, you might want to skip this section.

man-of-steel-henry-cavill-diane-laneAs you probably put together in the opening paragraph of this set report, there is a big action set piece that takes place in Clark Kent’s hometown of Smallville.  While no one on set would tell us where in the film the scene takes place, my first guess was that it was part of the finale.  However, when we were watching filming, we managed to see a lot of the pre-viz, and the way the scene ends, tells me it’s probably near the middle of the movie, or about 2/3rds of the way in.

Since I’m sure Snyder, Nolan, and the rest of the team would rather me not describe the entire sequence (I saw most of the pre-viz), I’ll just say that the scene is loaded with action, and I believe it’s the first time we see one of Superman’s powers.  It might be the first time Superman realizes he has it.  But I can’t be sure.

During the set visit, we watched two parts of the same scene get filmed.

In the first part, we watched Superman fight Faora and a motion-capture stunt man.  While everyone was extremely guarded about who the motion-capture person was (we guessed it could be anyone from Lex Luthor to Brianiac), after watching the pre-viz, I think I figured it out…it’s a Kryptoian robot.  However, that is definitely not confirmed, and it also could have been to hide who the person really is.  However, if the pre-viz is completely accurate, the robot looked like a shiny, tall, silver robot.

Anyway, during the first part of the sequence, we watched as Superman was on the ground and was being held down and attacked by Faora and MCM (short for Motion-Capture Man).  As they fought, he was definitely losing, and at one point he started to scream and that’s when he used his heat vision.  The way it unfolds, I could see that both Faora and MCM had no idea he could use his eyes to burn them, and they were clearly hurt.  They also didn’t use the power on him.

man-of-steel-superman-henry-cavillThen, as Superman stood up, we saw two USA military attack helicopters arrive to fight the Kryptoians and while I can’t confirm it, I believe they fire on all of them…including Superman.   Going back to what I said earlier about how every person has been graphed against every weapon, I believe MCM moved the furthest back, followed by Faora, and Superman barely moved.   This may be a point in the movie where the Kryptoians have attacked Earth and the governments of the world feel that they all have to be eliminated, including Superman.  But it’s just a guess.

Shortly after firing on the Kryptoians, MCM grabs a U-Haul van that’s nearby and he throws it at one of the helicopters.  The first one avoids it, but it hits the second.  I believe some of the wreckage on the ground on Main Street is the wreckage from this helicopter.

Later in the day we watched another part of the same scene.

The part of the sequence took place further down Main Street.  In this sequence, the same three people are fighting.  However, while the previous filming was towards the beginning of the scene, what we watched here was the very end.  Again, skip ahead to avoid spoilers.  As we watched, we saw Superman again on the ground, and he was trying to get away from MCM and Faora.  In the first part, we watched as Superman tried to sort of kick the two of them away.  As he gains a bit of space, he tried to fly away.  Unfortunately, MCM grabs his leg and throws him down.

What was cool about watching this sequence in person was Henry Cavill was wearing a few wires, and as he gained a bit of space, we saw him take off like he was flying.  He had his hand in front of him like Christopher Reeve and it just looked incredible in person.  Once the wires come off in post-production, it’s going to look real.  Kids are going to freak out.

man-of-steel-antje-traueAnother part of the scene that we got to watch was, I believe, the very end of the sequence.  At some point in the fight, Superman realizes that he can’t win.  So to escape, he slams Faora into the ground next to him and it looks like she might have passed out.  He then punches or does something to MCM that causes him to be startled.  As MCM is a bit dazzled, he grabs Faora and throws her body into MCM to gain a bit more space while still holding onto her.   Once he gets a bit more space, he holds onto Faora, and takes off into the horizon.   While we didn’t get to see him take off, I saw the pre-viz, and know that’s what happens.

As you might imagine, everything I just described took most of the day to film.  What you’ve got to keep in mind is that while Snyder is shooting everything handheld, he still had to get coverage of every actor and the entire sequence.  Also, the entire scene uses a ton of visual effects mixed with practical explosions, so things had to be carefully prepared to make sure it was safe for the actors.  While I’m not exactly sure how it’s going to cut together, I am sure that Man of Steel is loaded with action and all the folks that complained that Superman Returns had too much moping and not enough fighting will be very happy.

Final Thoughts

One of the jokes about set visits is that almost every person leaves excited for the movie.  You never read a set visit that says, “God, that’s going to suck.”   And even though you probably think I might have been corrupted by visiting the set, I’m a lifelong Superman fan.  I watched 10 years of Smallville.  I’ve seen all the Superman films many times.  I read the comics.  Trust me, the Superman movie that Zack Snyder is making is going to be a lot different than any version that has come before.  It’s loaded with action, a realistic story, and a team of filmmakers that have an incredible track record.  In addition, they will have almost a year of post-production to edit, so they’ll have plenty of time to tweak and change anything that doesn’t quite work.

With The Dark Knight Rises closing the doors on Batman for a little while, WB is clearly hoping for Superman to take over as their next billion-dollar property.  Based on what I saw and learned on set, I really think Supes is going to be able to do it.  The Man of Steel returns to theaters on June 14th, 2013, and I couldn’t be more excited.

Here’s more coverage from our set visit:

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