Tuesday, April 12, 2011
Anyone who has ever gone to Comic-Con knows that comic book fans are obsessive and passionate. One of the things that stems from this are fan videos like the current "X-Men: First Class" opening credits created by fan Joe D!
I have been at Comic-Con panels where fans have called out filmmakers for destroying a comic. Poor Mark Steven Johnson was taken to task for what he did to "Daredevil" at a panel for his subsequent comic book adaptation, "Ghost Rider." And fans even criticized Bryan Singer for casting Kate Bosworth as Lois Lane for his "Superman Returns." Fans have strong opinions because they know the material probably as well if not better than the filmmakers bringing it to the screen. These fans want to make their opinions known any way they can and sometimes that entails making a fan video to show the people adapting their beloved comic book to the screen some things they might want to consider before proceeding. Fans are adamant that they know best and the studios better pay attention or risk offending the devoted fan base for a particular comic. ANd based on some of the recent comic book movies, I'd say the fans are right and studios might want to pay more attention.
Joseph Francis Xavier DiLeonardo is a fanboy and a 24-year-old artist from Jersey who goes by the moniker Joe D! (he says, "the exclamation point is silent"). He claims to dislike the label "artist" because "I've always thought actually referring to one's self as an artist was entirely too snooty, but nothing else quite sum it up since I do animation, web development, branding, print work, video, SFX editing, app development, illustration, media, copywriting and graphic design. I work at Stunt Double Industries (StuntDouble.com), a branding and design firm in Trenton while I'm wrapping up my two last courses at Rutgers majoring in both Graphic Design and Animation."
Recently, Joe D! has been getting attention for a kickass piece of animation he created in anticipation of the soon to be released "X-Men First Class." Joe D! created an opening title sequence that blends elements of those sexy James Bond spy thrillers with the jazzy appeal of old Saul Bass graphics (Bass did the opening credits for "Man with a Golden Arm" and "Anatomy of a Murder" among others.) In his description for his video Joe D! explains; "This sequence was designed to give a very brief primer on the time period, the setting, as well as show the relationships of the characters in this film, as they are very different from the previous movies and audiences shouldn't be confused as to why Professor X and Magneto, enemies in the original trilogy, are the best of friends in this prequel."
The sequence does all that and is great. It's as good as anything Hollywood has created. It reveals a knowledge and love of the material and the time period. It also made me wonder about the fans that put so much painstaking time and loving effort into creating these videos. So I contacted Joe D! for an interview.
So how did this fan video for "X-Men" come about?
Joe D!: A site called SuperPunch periodically holds art contests, and I'm always happy to participate since John Struan (the author) is such a great guy and I've been following him since he first posted a previous project of mine, "Refacing Government Tender" (which has since been all over the internet with over eight million hits so far) about two years ago. This latest contest came about after the first trailers and posters for the upcoming "X-Men: First Class" movie were released. The movie is set in the midst of the Cuban Missile Crisis, the Civil Rights Movement, McCarthyism, and sixties fashion. The trailer reflects that time, from Emma Frost's (January Jones) hairspraytastic hairdo to a speech from JFK and tapping into the tension of the times. This is a great idea on the part of the filmmakers since not only were the "X-Men" first published in the sixties, but the comics have since used the relationship between normal humans and mutants as an allegory for racism, prejudice, the red scare, homophobia, and a slew of other social issues. However, the posters for the new film didn't tap into this at all. So John Struan sought to rectify this, and started a poster contest, seeking to replace the generic official posters with much cooler fan-made versions. I initially was going to do a Saul Bass style poster, but noticed a few other people had already beaten me to the punch, and I didn't think a fifth rendition was going to be worthwhile for anyone. So instead I made this title sequence.
Why do fans like you make videos like this?
Joe D!: First and foremost because the fans want to do whatever they can to make the project better. They want to push the creators as much as possible. There's this idea nowadays that even though the fans aren't directly working on the project, we are so connected to the studios and artists that are actually making the material that we can almost call them out and force them to do a great job. A few months ago Daniel M. Kanemoto did an amazing title sequence for AMC's "The Walking Dead" series.
Joe D!: Fans do remixes, covers, illustrations and other works of how they feel something should be done. When a project that has such great fan-made material coming out, like "The Walking Dead," the creators need to be damn sure that what they have is on par, if not better than the fan stuff. I half did this as a project that I just wanted to get out of my brain and down on paper (err, screen?) and half as a threat to the official title artists, "Here's the bar, this is what you have to beat." I made this during my free time and for no money over the course of about a week as part of an online contest. I know mine isn't perfect, I know the actual crew can do better but if they play it safe like the posters and don't do something great the internet won't let them get away with it. I don't know if I actually expect them to care, I just hope they might.
I'm not even immune to this concept, there are already remixes of my video on YouTube done by people who thought they can do a better job than me. I'm not upset by this, that isn't their point, instead this drives me to do better next time.
Are these kinds of videos a sign of your frustration with what Hollywood has been doing with certain properties or is it just a show of affection?
Joe D!: This sounds like a loaded question, and as such, I'm going to give you a loaded answer. This particular project was just to make a fun mod title sequence that we'll probably never see in theaters. My best guess is that the poster design was decided by a studio suit, not a designer. It's excellently rendered, just kind of a dull concept. It seems like some higher-up executive wanted to link this movie with the original X-Men trilogy, afraid that people would get confused if it looks too different and ordered the designer to play it safe instead of doing the best job they can do. They seem to be afraid to let this movie stand too far out on its own. Instead they shackle it to the other films. I am not looking forward to some Bank Gothic titles and a score ripped off from "Requiem for a Dream." Or worse yet, Papyrus font and special effects instead of a story (I'm looking at you, "Avatar"). I don't get upset when a movie plays it safe, I know that when someone pays for a movie, they want the best return on their investment. I understand the machine behind making a movie, I just feel slighted when a film's potential is cut because someone with a business background is making artistic decisions to the detriment of what the film could be. This is a show of affection because I want to watch the best movie I can, and if one producer sees this and decides to make their film they're working on more interesting than it raises the art form as a whole.
Do you hope anything will come from it?
Joe D!: I've already got a few offers for doing title sequences in a few indie films; I'm even more firmly rooted at the top of Google; and I made the front page of a dozen of my favorite websites. By the time I go to bed tonight the number of people who played this video would have surpassed the total population of Guam. I'm considering this a pretty good week, I'm not looking for much more.
Have you done other things like this?
Joe D!: You can check out SecretUndergroundHeadquarters.com for any projects I do. I haven't done anything else specifically like this, but after the popularity of this project and the offers by other filmmakers to work with them I'd be happy to get the chance to do it again.
Have you gotten any response from anyone associated with the film about it?
Joe D!: No. And I'm not surprised at all. That's just not how things work. The people behind the actual film are working hard getting everything just right for release and probably don't have time to chat with some fan from Jersey. The best I could hope for is that they noticed and subsequently upped their game to blow me out of the water (which I fully hope they do). It's interesting though, there's a small percent of people who've seen this that are convinced I'm some sort of studio plant from Fox. That no fan could possibly have done this by themselves and this is all a big viral marketing campaign to drum up interest for the movie. I can assure you though, I'm not affiliated with Fox or any other studio. Though if anyone is listening, I have tons of student debt, and would love to get paid to do more of this. I'm not saying what I did is anything special. I'm just happy I have the chance to do it and that people seemed to get a kick out of it.