By Max Landis
The idea seemed unbelievably simple; a sequel to Death and Return of Superman.
Two years had passed since Bryan Basham’s production company helped me coordinate Death and Return. The initial intent had been for him to help me make a short of my choosing; he leaned towards one I mentioned called “Jane LA,” but I knew I could do that on my own, and my heart was elsewhere.
In college, I’d made a trilogy of narrated videos describing characters, events and story lines from comics. I’d done it in my spare time, with a cast of entirely my friends (very few of whom were actors), and edited it myself on Windows Movie-Maker. The costumes were terrible. The audio and picture quality, questionable. But it had been a damn good time.
Out in Los Angeles, I’d slowly found myself having less fun. Despite having sold several scripts, and my film Chronicle in production in South Africa, I was starting to feel creatively unfulfilled via my inability to just “go do it,” the way I had in college. I wanted to make something fun, funny, and focus on something I was passionate about, hoping it would eventually find an audience.
With the mechanism of Bryan’s small production company in place, Death and Return of Superman was shot and edited over the course of three months, released on the same day as Chronicle.
So I did it once, why not do it again?
I’m sorry if this sounds a bit melodramatic; this intro is certainly some Hans Zimmer, drumming violins, trouble is coming type writing. But to me, this is important. The fact that we were able to pull this off is fucking insane. It’s a twenty three minute long short with a cast of a dozen featured actors and something like 100 extras, spread across nearly thirty locations, themselves located ALL OVER Los Angeles. And we shot it in 3 weeks, on people’s off hours, working around schedules and actual day jobs, with literally everyone working for free, and the nearly the entire project funded by my own terrifyingly reckless binge spending at goodwills, halloween stores and sex shops.
The fact that Wrestling Isn’t Wrestling exists at all, is fucking insane. So I thought I’d write this, to let the people involved know that I’ve basically been thinking about a lot of them every day as we’ve been going through editing, effects, everything.
So. Thanks are in order.
To Shyam Sengupta, who signed on as line producer without ever meeting me, and proceeded to work tirelessly to make the clumsy taped together pirate ship of people he had never met before in his life into a competent and extremely lean film crew. “Ana? Anna? Anna? Why do you have two pronounced the same but spelled differently, and two written the same but pronounced differently!?”
Dave Holton, moments after moving into Los Angeles and expressing only the mildest interest in film production to me, was hijacked into being another producer, functioning as a second line, as well, and more importantly as AD, without whom we would’ve been hopelessly disorganized, and who was able to shuffle people and times with a dexterity that felt almost supernatural.
Matt Cohen, who, despite having never acted as a producer before, helped not only to maintain moral on set, but also contribute creatively wherever possible, and keep us on track. His home serving as a homebase (and location) was invaluable, and his swiss army knife commitment to getting shit done on set was just flat out impressive.
Andy Holton, who worked tirelessly (actually very tired, occasionally) to sort together the incredible mishmash of ideas and concepts and characters that constitute the short itself, and always brought new perspective into the editing of the piece, as well as serving as an impromptu post supervisor the moment he realized that that role needed to be filled, neglecting his actual job to edit what was essentially a short form feature film.
Stephen Sorace, who, despite not having seen me nearly since college in Miami, volunteered his time, equipment and expertise as a second camera man.
Ryan Aylsworth, for making the initial rant possible and offering a second camera on a big shoot day.
Chloe Dykstra, who, unprompted, dyed her hair blonde to “Look more like Hunter,” a character she’d been introduced to only a week prior, and slid comfortably into a role so cartoony most people would blanche at the thought.
Ana Walczak, who’s response to being asked to play Shawn Michaels was “Of course. Who’s Shawn Michaels?”
Lola Blanc, who struggled through painful contacts, all black in hot weather, and spending nearly five hours making goofy faces in a dusty basement, and ended up being one of the more visually accurate avatars in the piece.
Andi Layne, who, with no knowledge of her character and no even real concept of what she was going to be functionally doing, threw on a baseball cap and acted real goofy on a scalding hot roof for two and a half hours.
Nicole Stark, someone I’d never met before the shooting of the film, who instantly and fully committed to the Viper Randy Orton character, bringing unexpected life and comedy to a bizarre portrayal of a niche entity.
Anna Akana, who’s incredibly elastic facial expressions, freakishly perfect lip sinking, and frankly enviable bicep muscle tone took Batista to the next level.
Sideara St. Claire who, more so than anyone else on the cast, I regret not giving more to do, as you’ll see her appearances as Ric Flair are fairly scene stealing; the role she was born to play.
Christina Scherrer, who was nice enough not to google Chris Benoit before playing him in a short film, and assumed the role on very short notice, bringing to it a verve and adorability that Chris Benoit, conceptually, sorely lacks.
Kandiss Lewis, yet another professional model and dancer who devoted time to being the only Female Playing Female role in my entire short movie.
Anna Lore, who’s portrayal of the Hipster Gnome Hero To The People Daniel Bryan is one of the cleanest home-run pieces of casting in the entire short.
Sam Witwer, for instantly agreeing to play Chyna. That’s really it. The balls on this guy; understandably huge.
Kat Alter, Alita LaShae, Jenny Becerra and Hannah Landberg, for playing their tiny roles as the wrestlers of the Attitude Era to the hilt. Melodie Gore, Brittany Furlan and Shelby Steel, for giving their blink and you’ll miss ’em cameos life and zest.
Nick Nemeth, for introducing me to Ryan Nemeth, for introducing me to Joey Ryan and John Hennigan, for very quickly comprehending and getting excited enough about this very weird concept to play the American and Russian wrestlers, lending credibility to a project that would’ve had none, and via them introducing me to the wonderful Christopher Daniels, Frankie Kazarian, Katie Lea, Becky Bayless, Shad Gaspard, JTG, Justin Roberts, and Chris Hero.
Milana Vayntrub, Rose Chirillo, and Charley Feldman for throwing on face paint and going apeshit in a driveway as the wrestlers of the 1990s.
Andrew Schwartz for going above and beyond the call to get this thing colored, saving entire shots single handedly.
Lindsey Alvarez for, sight unseen, doing the sound mix, an integral element in a short defined by voice-over.
Mike Diva, a frequent collaborator who made Brittany Furlan’s flight into space easily the highest production value element of the entire project, for free.
Evan Goldman for attending orchestral style to the score, Chris Ranier for making some goddamn impeccable sound-a-likes for WWE themes, and Calvin Markus for covering everything else.
Chrissy Lynn Kyle and Elsie Patterson for killing it on hair and make up, much of which in this case was unique to making beautiful women look ridiculous.
Paul Yurick who let us shoot on his roof as two under qualified workers set off fire next to propane.
Jason Weiss, Jeff Cancinos, Steve Levy, Brad Gage, and Rebecca Rowley for tirelessly working as PAs, filling in blanks whenever blanks needed filling.
Jody steel, for her assistance in art design, and excellent art, and also frighteningly effective hiccup cures.
David Leventhal, for allowing a billion scantily clad burning man looking women to run all over his house in the desert. Actually, maybe he should be thanking me.
Marisa Gerardin for being relentlessly hardworking in production design, and doing a lion’s share of other random tasks whenever we needed her to.
Ricardo Orta and Michelle Kruze for managing props, creating a fixing shit, and basically every random thing in between.
Jade Thompson, for staying calm and collected on a production that hinged on literally dozens of costumes staying organized, efficient and ready to wear, and Michelle Rose, for helping to coordinate a ridiculous amount of material.
Steve Wilder for helping to coordinate the usage of Shane Black’s house, and Shane Black, who essentially let us set up A FULL ON FORTY SOMETHING PERSON FILM PRODUCTION in his house for TWO WEEKENDS.
Karen Sachs for letting us do very weird things in and around her beach house.
And to Grace Holley, Darren Criss, Emilie O’Hara, Tybee Diskin, Izzy Pendleton, Krystal Khali, Graham Denman, Dani Manning, Raquel Strange, Brittany Sheets, Shelby Young, Josh Peck, DC Pierson, Haley Osment, David Arquette, Taliesin Jaffe, Seth Green, Macauly Culkin, Matthew Mercer, Yuri Lowenthal, Adam Savage, Nicholas Braun, Olga Kay, Amalia Levari, Gil Kenan, Arvind David, Alex Montilla, Jamie Hyneman, and Vincent Spano, who rounded out a ridiculously huge cast.
If I forgot you, please just pretty please know it’s cause I’ve been so mentally scrambled trying to finish this today.
Thank you so much, everyone. I hope you love it and I’ll see a lot of you tomorrow.
And if you can’t make it tomorrow, share the video Monday. It’s gonna be a weird one.
All Notes are Property of Max Landis. Site run and operated by Oliver Judge.