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Fund This Film: ‘The Death of “Superman Lives”: What Happened?’

By  · Published on January 26th, 2013

Thanks to Kickstarter, there continues to be an increase in documentaries being made about movies. On top of that, there also seems to be a trend lately for filmmakers to look at failed movie projects, as if inspired by the heartbreaking 2002 release Lost in La Mancha. Currently on the festival circuit is the must-see doc Persistence of Vision, which is about the decades-long disaster of The Thief and the Cobbler (see my thoughts on that and some clips here), and recently funded and now in the works is Science Fiction Land about the canceled movie that wound up at the center of Argo. Now, we may get to learn the full story on another collapsed production, Tim Burton’s Superman Lives, via the proposed new project of director Jon Schnepp (The ABCs of Death; Cartoon Network’s Metalocalypse). It’s another “unmaking of” doc titled The Death of “Superman Lives”: What Happened?

And yes, Schnepp is attempting to finance this movie through Kickstarter, where he formerly had a hand in one of the most successful crowd-funding campaigns for film ever (for the animated Grimm Fairy Tales series, which he’s directing). He’s already amassed a lot of background material and concept art for the failed Superman movie, since he’s been collecting the stuff passionately over the years, and now he just needs to conduct interviews and put it all together to tell the story of what went wrong. He hopes to talk to attached stars Nicolas Cage and Sandra Bullock, as well as Kevin Smith, who wrote a draft of the script, and Burton, who was all set to direct when Warner Bros. put the thing on hold in April 1998.

Schnepp hopes this will be a quick endeavor in order to premiere the doc at the San Diego Comic-Con this summer and then put it out on video. I could see it taking longer, however, if he manages to raise more than his minimum production goal of $98,000. On top of that amount necessary for just the documentary, he’d like to get another $50,000 for his “stretch goal,” which would go to sequences where he films scenes based on Smith’s script and Burton’s notes. Whether Warner Bros. would even allow that to happen seems iffy to me, but it’s certainly something a lot of movie and comic geeks would love to see.

Watch the campaign video below and let Schnepp passionately explain it all to you:

Of course, there are some great incentives to donors here, including original production artwork (by Schnepp, not Burton) and model props (for the doc, not Superman Lives). For $1,000 you can even appear on the DVD/Blu-ray giving an interview about your personal opinions of Superman Lives and the Superman character in general. I don’t have that kind of money, but I will share my own short, first-hand anecdote:

In December ’96 (or it might have been in January ‘97), I was working in the box office of the Angelika Film Center in NYC when Smith (and I think Scott Mosier) came in to see Citizen Ruth. The teenage fanboy that I was at the time went up and met him and quickly asked about Superman Lives. He told me that it was a lot of fun, because he didn’t have to worry about any of the directorial execution. I’m paraphrasing here, but basically he said, “I can write ‘Superman moves a mountain,’ and say, ‘Okay, now you figure that out.’” Jokes aside, though, he did seem really excited about the gig.

Yeah, it’s not a very interesting story, but it’s one that I’ll never forget because the film never happened and neither Smith nor I got to see how Burton or anyone else might have shown Superman moving a mountain. While I doubt that idea is even in the script, I’d like to now see Schnepp make it a reality. Hopefully he reaches his goal and then some in the next 43 days, and we get to see The Death of Superman Lives: What Happened?

Do you want to see this film? Enough to help fund it?

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Christopher Campbell began writing film criticism and covering film festivals for a zine called Read, back when a zine could actually get you Sundance press credentials. He's now a Senior Editor at FSR and the founding editor of our sister site Nonfics. He also regularly contributes to Fandango and Rotten Tomatoes and is the President of the Critics Choice Association's Documentary Branch.