Batman: Mask Of The Phantasm, Interviewing The Guys At Spartan Digital

We’ve recently had an opportunity to catch up with Josh & Zach from Spartan Digital, of course the topic of discussion was their Batman: Mask of the Phantasm fan film. From the moment that I heard about the project on Kickstarter, I knew I wanted to get them talking…

Whether you’re a fan of Batman, DC Comics, Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight Trilogy, or the animated Mask of the Phantasm feature, you’ll want to check out our interview… Of course if you’re not familiar with the project, check out our original coverage. 

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You’ve said it yourselves, about the original Batman: Mask of the Phantasm, it’s “quite possibly the best Batman movie ever…” What inspired you to take on the monumental task of re-imagining this classic Batman story?

Z: We grew up with the Kevin Conroy 90’s “Batman Animated Series” and I even went through two copies of the Phantasm VHS because I watched it so much. Since then, that film and storyline has stayed dormant for a very long. Our goal was to bring this story back for those who remember it so well like we do and even introduce it to a new generation who might have no idea about this storyline but have enjoyed the recent Nolan films.

J: For me, it’s very close to what Zach described. I always loved the phantasm as a villain. It really struck me as a kid. I wanted to see if I could do the same now that I’ve grown. Could I make people feel the same way I did the first time the Phantasm stepped I mean floated on the screen.

Were there elements of the original Mask of the Phantasm that you felt would lend themselves perfectly to the Nolanverse? Is this what prompted the inspiration to merge the worlds for the fan film?

Z: Well we ended up be able to get the Nolan suit so that was a big thing right there for us. After that, we altered Phantasm’s story and part of the special effects we need money for – thus the Kickstarter – we are using the blue flower that the League of Shadows uses throughout the films. With all of these elements and the fact that we can’t draw for shit to make an animated film, all of this lent perfectly to merging the worlds.

J: The nolan verse defiantly prompted the merger. The Phantasm always used smoke in the movie so I thought right away, “what if that smoke was just a version of the scarecrows blue flower poison”. Then that led into more elements. Like why the Phantasm exists in this universe. How is it all connected. It helped us explain why the Phantasm knows martial arts and why she is so skilled in the art of theatricality and deception.

How long had you been kicking around the idea for the fan film, before actually deciding to start writing it? Was there ever a question as to whether or not you’d be taking on the challenge?

Z: We’ve been kicking this idea around for a while and just had other projects in front of it. I don’t ever think there was a question of doing it, the question was just when.

J: The only thing I could add to what Zach said is that it came together very quickly because we wanted to stay as true to film as possible. So we had a lot of the groundwork already laid out for us.

For the purists within the community that aren’t fans of remakes, will there be enough of a departure from the original movie to keep them interested? Do you have anything up your sleeve that’s going to catch us all off guard?

Z: Departure, we are taking an animated film into the live action realm. Don’t know how much more departed you can get haha!?! Seriously though, besides that, seeing the story in the Nolan universe, it will have some twists to the hinted backstories but stick close to the original.

J: We realize that some people won’t like how we have decided to mix the universe. That’s cool. I understand. The movie is more of a what if? What if they made for nolan films? What if the nolan films had been the jump start to the shared DC Universe. I can say there is an end credit scene where we connect current DC TV properties. The Phantasm isn’t the only fun and games.

From short film to feature length film, where will Batman: Mask of the Phantasm fall on the spectrum? Will you be able to tell your whole story in that time?

Z: Phantasm will run around the 7 minute mark. This is really Batman’s first encounter with the Phantasm. We are almost able to tell the first 15 minutes of the original film in this time. We are able to tell a tight concise story while leaving the audience wanting more and that was our overall goal.

J: It’s a short. We knew most people would know the nolan universe. And we knew the Mask of the Phantasm might need a little explaining but rather than get bogged down in trying to tell the entire Phantasm story, because it’s a really deep story, we just went with filming the opening sequence the animated film. This is the first time Batman meets the Phantasm. If we were able, we would definitely make a web series out of it so we could tell it all.

There are always going to be limitations and road blocks that we encounter during indie film making, was there anything you would’ve loved to accomplish but couldn’t as a result? Was there anything that was unexpectedly accomplished despite the limitations?

Z: Of course we would have loved to go bigger and longer but money is always a limitation thus we are trying to finish the post with Kickstarter and everyone’s help. I will say I almost pissed myself silly with some of the epic shots with the Phantasm and the smoke. While you can direct smoke, you never know how the shot will turn out and man do they look slick.

J: The entire sequence is in a parking garage. That in itself was very limiting. If we would have had more money we might have tried filming in multiple locations but we kept it compact to save money. Filming nights are always hard. We called at 5pm and didn’t leave set until 6AM. Andrew Ortoski, our Gaffer, is extremely talented. I had worked with him several times before and we couldn’t have lit that scene without him.

Sure, he’s got legions of fans and is a DC Comics fanboy, but… How in the world did Greg Miller come to be involved as being the voice of the Phantasm? Have you ever thought about using a far lesser known Internet personality somewhere in the film?

Z: I have been following Greg Miller since the early 2000s during his days at IGN and he has been an industry hero to me. I actually just sent him a few e-mails through the Kinda Funny website. After showing him an assembly edit and being as professional as possible and not geeking out, he agreed. As far as other Internet personalities, since the film had already been shot, voicing was the way we could get someone involved. Greg was our first and really only choice.

J: What Zach said. I will add that more another Internet personality will be added to the cast in the coming days which we will announce over the kickstarter and twitter pages.

If you had to choose…

Favorite Batman storyline?

J: Knightfall

Z: Phantasm or The Killing Joke

Favorite DCU animated feature?

J: Mask of the Phantasm

Z: Justice League: Doom

Favorite DC Comics cartoon series?

J: Young Justice

Z: Batman Beyond or Young Justice

Favorite DC Comics live action series?

J: Arrow

Z: Hard to pick between Arrow and The Flash

Favorite current comic book series?

J: Court of Owls – New 52

Z: Saga and Spider-Gwen

Favorite videogame of all time?

J: Mass Effect

Z: Mass Effect or NHL

What’s next for Spartan Digital? Do you have any other Batman or DC Comics ideas in the works?

Z: Currently we are kicking around ideas in the comic/video game universe while we work on original feature scripts.

J: We’re working a bunch of feature ideas for our agent. But we have several ideas to keep the internet videos rolling including a possible batman series if this one goes well.

What advice would you give anyone in pursuing their dream of indie film making? Better yet, what would you tell someone that has been putting off their dreams because of one concern or another?

Z: Josh and I, while alike are very different in how we approach film. But with that friend to bounce ideas off of, we work great as a team. I would say find your team. We work with a close tight group on almost everything we do and we feed off of each other. It’s hard to go it alone so I would say find your team or at least put yourself out there. As for their dreams, Josh and I both have day jobs. We get together at night, call each other on breaks at work, give up weekend, and so on. We all have baggage and hold ups in life but to do this stuff, you might have to sacrifice your free time. If you love this shit as much as we do, it ends up not feeling like a sacrifice but more like play time.

J: Oh man. That’s serious. We both went to film school. It was useful because I wanted to Produce and Direct but if you want to work on the crew side of things like design, wardrobe, effects, or camera then I would say just start interning or freelance as a Production Assistant. Work your Ass off. Make your own shit on your free time. Don’t expect to have a life and go for it. If it’s a dream everything else is expendable until you obtain it. I’m extremely lucky that my day job is working as a Producer for a production company called WhiteLine Creative. But I have had to miss a lot of family trips or give up weekends off. I’ve had to spend a lot of my own money to make things happen. Finally, and this is the most important thing. DON’T HAVE AN EGO. Don’t burn bridges. Everyone you meet is a potential customer or partner. The industry is smaller than you think and word travels fast. So be the first person to take out the trash. Be the first on set for call and the last to leave.

Do you have any burning questions that I may not have asked? Let me know, I’ll see if I can’t get them answered for you… Please take a moment to stop by their Kickstarter page and help them bring their Batman fan film to life.