Because the Future is Fun

Sparks Week: A Conversation with William Katt

Matanza

It’s not every day you get the chance to chat with William Katt, so we were prepared to grasp any opportunity that came along. All the same, eccentric as we know Hollywood icons can be, we were a little surprised to find Katt playing with himself at the beginning of our interview.

“Ack, I’m sorry, give me a minute here – I just need to get these puppets off my hands” are his first words, demonstrating the playful sense of humour that has made him such an engaging icon over the years. “Superman is fighting the Greatest American Hero, and let it be known that the Greatest American Hero is winning. Now my hands are free, and I’m good to go.”

It’s these kind of swashbuckling shenanigans that define a lifelong passion for the Californian, arguably best known for his early 80s role as the aforementioned idol. “I’m too ADD to focus on any one thing for too long but I’ve always had a love for comic books and superheroes, ever since I was very young. I was a keen reader of all kinds of books until I got my own superhero costume; naturally at that time The Greatest American Hero became my favourite!” Despite the costume being a famous – and literal – pain in the butt? “Yeah, it wasn’t the most comfortable to wear – it sagged in all the wrong places” is the response, delivered with the kind of amused nostalgia that can only apply after decades of safe distance. “Let’s just say it was hot in the summer and cold in the winter”. There has also long been talk about a remake of Greatest American Hero for a contemporary audience – an idea that William Katt embraces whole-heartedly. “I guess it’s more likely now that Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D has been such a success. I know there was a wonderful script that I still have on my shelf, written by the late, great Stephen J. Cannell, which I hoped to make into a film some three or four years ago. With his unfortunate passing I think that’s less and less likely to happen, but last I heard Fox still have the rights. Hopefully somebody else will have a go – I think it deserves to be made.”

Despite staying spandex-free for several years, Katt has never fully turned his back on comic books. These days he runs the imprint Catastrophic (“it was going to be Kattastrophic, but I put the nix on that – I thought it was far too obvious”) alongside Christopher Folino – who he also worked with on Gamers. “I’m not sure the mockumentary style of Gamers was really understood. I guess the closest thing to that in the public consciousness would be This is Spinal Tap, and by and large they had more marketability – I think rock ’n roll is an easier sell than Dungeons and Dragons!”

We live in an era where The Big Two comic publishers are the ones making the cinematic splashes, but Katt is excited by the healthy future of the industry. “There’s been a kind of renaissance of entrepreneurial spirit in the comic book world lately. I really like how far things have come in the last few years, especially since 2008” he muses. “Back then the publishing world – like the rest of the economy – seemed to implode. I think we were all worried about the future of the industry then. But I’m happy to see that it seems stronger than ever.” A move that is potentially due, at least in the part, to the digital revolution. “I think that certainly opens the comic book path to people who ordinarily wouldn’t walk it. Personally I’m more old-school though – I like to feel the book in my hands, to browse in a comic book store or library. I try to smell the ink on a Kindle or iPad, but it’s just not the same!”

Despite these preferences, Katt could never be mistaken for a technophobe. “Sparks was right there at the forefront of the of the motion comic movement; we did two episodes with voice actors, moving mouths, the lot. People didn’t even need to read the book if they preferred to just listen. Unfortunately the whole motion comic thing never really took off, but ours was met with a lot of acceptance. That’s what made us decide to make a live action movie using the same characters.”

Oh yes, Sparks; the very subject that has brought us together. “Sparks was an entirely independent venture, which meant that we had to find the capital ourselves. Sideshow Productions is Chris’ company, and we shoot a lot of toy commercials – we’ve worked with Toys ’r Us, Konami, Spin Masters … we’ve done a lot of stuff over the years, so we really know how to shoot CG on a limited budget – we’re used to thinking outside the box, being the kind of the company that we have been. Because of that experience we used the same guys that we shot those commercials with – they’re a real tip-top lighting and grip crew – as well as some of the same Directors of Photography. Everyone was keen to make the move from short-form to long-form storytelling, so that’s exactly what we did.”

It hasn’t been a speedy experience, though. “While the movie was shot in 12 days, we spent a long time in post-production – it has over 400 effects shots, and every one of them was handled by just two guys. Every single scene behind those people was ugly buildings that we had to rotoscope out using a combination of blue screen and green screen, but I think that all added to the movie – it had that real Dial M for Murder noir thing doing on. We were working on a budget that most Hollywood films would use for their craft service bill!”

Casting and costume – and the question of authenticity – was also a key element of the production. “We really tried to stay true to the style of the 40s noir. Chase Williamson is a great actor, but he’s not that traditional square-jawed, musclebound chiselled actor you usually associate with superhero roles. That said, most of the guys back in the 40s were the same – Buster Crabbe, George Reeves, they weren’t what we’d consider ‘buff’ today.”

Williamson was one of the few cast members that Katt hasn’t worked with before. “Clint Howard and I have been friends for years. I’ve not only worked with him as an actor, but I directed him in a feature called River’s End back in 2005. I’ve known Jake Busey since he was three years old, as I worked with his dad Gary on Kung Fu all those years ago, and Big Wednesday. I basically just called on all my friends! We also had the great Ashley Bell, who is so wonderful in the movie – she has a real Susan Hayward, Veronica Lake quality, she reminded me of the way Barbara Stanwick played some of the noir stuff that she did back in the day. Clancy Brown was also a real pleasure to have on-set, he lends a lot of weight and credibility to a film. Just his presence brings pedigree.”

Katt has also been associated with the horror genre since the earliest days of his career, enjoying his first speaking role on the silver screen as Tommy Ross in Brian de Palma’s Carrie. “I haven’t seen the remake yet, but I hear good things. I’m a big fan of Julianne Moore, Chloe Moritz is wonderful, and Kimberley Peirce is a great filmmaker. I’ve no doubt I’ll get around to seeing it sometime”. Despite the impact of the classic King adap, it’s a different slice of vintage scare cinema that really sparks the flames of reminiscence within William Katt. “Making House is absolutely one of my favourite memories. George Wendt was so great in that movie, and the director Steve Miner was such a visionary. It was one of the first real post-MTV horror movies, so it had that wonderful scare quality matched with a whimsical sense of winking at the camera” he sighs, before coming to a realisation. “Actually, surely that’s due a remake now? They’re slowly but surely getting around to remaking all the horror movies of the 70s and 80s, and now they’ve done Carrie. I’m starting to feel like a fossil!”

We prefer the term legend here at DragonDark, especially for a man still making such vibrant and entertaining work. That’s all from William for now though – return to the site tomorrow for the next instalment of Sparks Week, a chat with the delectable Ashley Bell.

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