Interviews,  Movies/Entertainment

Interview…’Supercon’ Director Zak Knutson on Celebrity and the Limits of Comedy

Fil​​mmaker, documentarian, and pop-culture aficionado, Zak Knutson’s newest endeavor is the convention-based comedy, Supercon. It’s a movie featuring four less-than-famous personalities who, so fed up with the titular convention’s greedy promoters, attempt to emulate a robbery perpetrated (successfully) by other geekcentric convention goers. Let’s just hope lighting can strike twice, for their sake.

Knutsen co-wrote and directs the feature, and easily draws on his deep knowledge of fan culture (and can claim being good friends with Kevin Smith for more than a decade). As such, this was right up his alley.

Enjoy the highlights of our time with Zak.

GoSeeTalk: The film starts off with the text, “based on a true story.” So, the million dollar question, and I’m sure everyone else has asked you this, how much of this was truth, and how much was fiction?

Zak Knutson: Well, this film is based on what happened in Dragoncon. The story in the movie is completely true. Really, it’s an urban legend, but I thought that it was such an interesting idea, and we hadn’t seen that before, so I thought would be cool to see in a movie.

The way it goes is that there were four guys, who, dressed as old-school stormtroopers, walked into the count room swiped bunch of cash. How they got away was that during a big parade where they blended right in with the 501st of marching stormtroopers. And the best part is that nobody knew anything because they blended right in with this huge mob of stromtroopets marching down the street in downtown Atlanta. They got away, and I still don’t know if it’s real or not, [laughs] but it’s a great story. [laughs]

I’m a big fan of what you did with your Milius documentary, so I have to ask: what is harder a comedy/parody or assembling documentary footage?

I would say that doing comedies is way harder. [laughs] There’s 20 different ways to tell a joke, sothe difficulty is trying to figure out which is the best one for particular situation. In the documentary, you’re letting everyone else tell the story. It’s your job to figure out what you want, then get them to start telling their story, and usually other stories will pop out of that. That’s easy. Now I am very comfortable doing documentaries, but this was a whole new thing for me.

You tend to see more than one writer credited with a comedy. I guess it’s because it’s better that you bounce ideas off people, and not just yourself. Like you said, you find out what works best. How did you break down responsibilities between you Andy Sipes and Dana Snyder?

Dana and I worked out what the general story was going to be. Then we brought in Andy because he’s super good at structure, and he’s really funny. And things went a lot faster with three of us working off each other. We’d really just beat each other up with humor and go back-and-forth. Dana’s thing would be that he always went too far, and Andy will try to rein it back in, and I would say “OK, I think we can go a little bit further here.” It was really good trio thing we had going there.

I like Russell Peters because he doesn’t pull his punches. So what did you write for him, and what did he just make up on set?

Actually, Russell said every word in the script, and it wasn’t a problem for him. He would go off when he wanted to go off, but the nice thing about comedians is that they know there’s a structure to a joke. They know when not to jump in or change things too much because it disrupts everything else that’s been set up before, or following the joke. Russell knew exactly when he could come in and say something or just pop off and do his own thing.

There’s a sequence in the movie where Russell Peters, Ryan Kwanten, Maggie Grace, and everyone meet in the bar for the first time and right there is just classic Russell, he just went on a riff and gave us one great thing after another. He gave us a lot thinking one would be used, but we used a whole bunch of those jokes.

On the idea of “going too far”, I think, for me, the line was the literal use of toilet humor in the movie. How did you even put that together, or think it would’ve worked in the story?

[Laughs] I have a twisted sense of humor. [Laughs] The actor who plays Brooks in the movie is Brock Hutchinson. He is a very good friend of Dana, Andy, and myself, and that friendship goes back about 25 years. We had the character Brooks written and we pretty much wrote it for Brock because we thought it would be perfect for him.

But because we’ve known them for so long, Dana’s goal was to constantly terrorize him. Every day, Dana had a new pain for Brock. [Laughs] And that was actually the last shot in the movie. Brooks steals the movie, but I think Dana one in the fact that he totally succeeded and tormenting his friend. [Laughs]

There’s a point in the movie where Clancy Brown’s character has a public meltdown; the entire convention watches his career implode in the parking lot. It feels very current especially considering how you show different bloggers and anyone with a cell phone recording, sharing, and reacting to it.

The whole frenzy that surrounds internet outrage is something that’s oddly amazing. For the first time in our history, we can have an opinion about something, get completely involved, and yet not get off your ass at all to do it. You can literally just move your thumbs around and respond to and engage in what you’re seeing.

There rise and fall of celebrity can happen at any moment, but now we can actually witness it. A lot of celebrities will put on face A, and face B will be something else.  With cell phones, you can capture who people really are sometimes.

So who was Clancy’s ‘Adam King’ based on? I assume everyone thinks it’s William Shatner or someone like him, right?

[Laughs] Yeah, that’s who everyone thinks it is, but he’s based on multiple people and we actually tired to stay away from Shatner because it was so obvious. But I’m glad you got what we were doing with that. We wanted it to feel relevant because there was no internet when we were kids. Closest thing we had was Entertainment Tonight, but that doesn’t even compare with what’s the content out there now.

Something like Entertainment Tonight could easily be toned down or censored so that you don’t get the gravity of an event, or the whole story on someone. But YouTube has less of a filter. Clancy had some great lines at the end. Were lines like “I made it to second base with Carrie Fisher” improvised or scripted?

Oh, that was all Clancy. [Laughs] I literally just said, “Clancy, do me a favor, and just go nuts here.” He said, “I’m not an improv guy”, but I told him, “you’ve been to enough of these things, you know enough of these guys, just play with it.” So all of a sudden he just came up with these great lines.

He had friends who worked on the Dukes of Hazzard, and he and John Malkovich worked on a TV show in the ‘70s in Chicago – that’s where they first met – and all this great stuff started coming out about LOST, and David Hasselhoff, and that’s all him trying to be funny, and it worked!

Now as far as you asking who he’s based on, Clancy’s ‘Adam King’ is not based on one person but on what people think about certain people like Adam West, and even Donald Trump.

For the wardrobe, Clancy wears a lot of turquoise jewelry in the movie and that was because I love this movie called Hooper, with Burt Reynolds, and in the beginning of the movie he’s putting on all this turquoise jewelry, and it’s very late ‘70s. Clancy came in with the hairdo, he wanted to look like a ‘57 T-Bird, and it just grew and morphed out of public perception of some of those celebrities. But the whole ripping the autograph out of someone’s hand and asking for $25 is totally true, I saw that happen in Florida. I can’t say who, because I’m going back in July, but that happened for real. [Laughs]

Creating caricatures of people is one thing, but is there anything/anyone real that you can point to, or someone you want to plug in the movie?

Scott Mosier is Kevin Smith’s producer and he and some artists worked on an animated property. They let us use all of those characters for the movie, and so you see all of Jim Mahfood’s artwork. All the artwork you see on the convention floor is from local artists, except for Jim’s who does 40 Oz. Comics. It was great to get all those characters from the cartoon and put them all over the movie.

Thanks to Zak for his time. Supercon will be released in theaters and available on VOD and Digital HD on April 27, 2018. It will hit home video on June 5, 2018.

Another weekend, another comic convention for former TV actor Keith Mahar. Most people don’t recognize Keith. His only claim to fame was as a child star in an 80’s television show. Keith reluctantly joins his close friends, cartoon voice-over actor Matt, comic book artist Allison, and ’80s TV star Brock, who are also working the convention, but things take a turn for the worst when Keith’s former co-star and Supercon’s big ticket draw for the weekend — Adam King — decides to have this group fired and banned from the convention with the help of the convention promoter. This launches the friends on a crusade to bring down King and the promoter in the most epic way imaginable.