SXSW11 Panel Recap: James Gunn and Rainn Wilson Talk SUPER

Rainn Wilson stars in James Gunn's SUPER

The crowd of fans packed into room 18 of the Austin Convention Center was noticeably bummed at the announcement that Ellen Page had been delayed and wouldn’t be able to make her scheduled appearance at the Super panel Saturday afternoon.

It was rather fitting, then, when Rainn Wilson came to the rescue. He called Page from his perch atop a chair onstage and put her on speakerphone against his mic so she could share her experience of making the film as “bad as all hell, man.” Yep, she totally talks how I imagine her talking when you interview her in your daydreams. Or is that just me?

Anyway, writer/director James Gunn (who penned Slither, Dawn of the Dead, and Scooby-Doo) and star Wilson (of The Office fame) provided plenty of panel goodness for everyone’s entertainment.

The two began by talking about how heavily they were involved in the marketing of the film, a process that was made possible by going with IFC as distributor.

“We didn’t want to sell this movie as something other than what it is: it’s an extreme film, it’s a dark film. There’s lots of shifting tones… there’s also a lot of comedy and action and gore.” Gunn didn’t care to market the film to a mainstream audience when he considered it more of a niche, grindhouse-type experience.

It was clear that the marketing hurdle was one that Gunn was glad to finally get to. The process of getting the film financed had been a multi-year struggle. They were trying to make the film about two-and-a-half years ago when indies were all but dead. Even with Wilson and Page attached, no one was willing to pony up the much-needed cash.

“We went to Liv Tyler next, and she said yes, and in all honesty Liv is what got the movie made…. She’s somebody who’s an international star.” She and everyone involved with the film agreed to work for scale, which turned out to be wonderful and also very daunting for Gunn.

“I was so grateful for that, and it also can be a little terrifying,” admitted Gunn. “These people are all believing in you and your vision, and no one knows exactly what this movie is going to be inside my head until I put it out there and do it.”

Wilson was a stroke of casting genius by Office cast member (and Gunn’s ex-wife) Jenna Fischer. Wilson had the script emailed to him and read it at his Dwight desk on set of The Office.

“I was 22 pages in and I texted James and said, ‘I’m in,’” recalled Wilson. “There was humor and farce and action and heartbreak and weird special effects.”

Wilson loved working with a writer-director who “really knew what he wanted” and who was very involved in the production side of making the film. He was impressed with Gunn’s ability to tell the difference between “filmmaker shots and actor shots” – Gunn was good at technically moving through the action scenes while allowing his actors to work freely and comfortably for more emotional scenes.

Another point both men made was how important social networking has been to the marketing of this picture. They’re both very accessible, and each has a notable presence online.

“For us, Twitter and Facebook… are very useful tools, because we don’t have the types of budgets to be putting TV commercials on the air.” Gunn pointed out that most of the people who’d be in the theater at that night’s screening would have known about the film because he, Wilson, and Page tweeted about making it. And for a small-scale film like this, that could be enough to make the film a success.

To conclude the panel, an audience member pointed out the elephant in the room: the inevitable comparison to last year’s headlining film, Kick-Ass. Turns out Gunn is friends with Mark Millar, the writer of the comic book that film is based on. The two realized they were developing similar stories at the same time, but they figured there was room for both stories to be told.

“There’s 8,000 bank-heist movies,” said Gunn. “Why can’t there be four or five [self-made superhero] stories?”

Super opens April 1, 2011.

Trailer for Super:

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