The following is an interview with Jordon Foss (writer, director, producer) and Corey Landis (actor, “The Riddler”) from the recently released Batman fan film, Knigtmare: Part 1. In this interview, Fanbase Press Editor-in-Chief Barbra Dillon chats with Foss and Landis about their approach to creating a unique take on such well-known characters, the creative process of the cast and crew, how you can get involved in the making of Knightmare: Part 2, and more!
Barbra Dillon, Fanbase Press Editor-in-Chief: Part 1 of you film, Knightmare, recently released on YouTube. For our readers who may be unfamiliar, what can you tell us about the premise of the film?
Jordon Foss: Knightmare is a Batman story first and foremost. It’s a story told from within the dark knight’s psyche after the loss of his close sidekick, Robin/Jason Todd. So, expect a journey that touches on some classic stories in the Batman mythos as we force Bruce Wayne to confront his inner demons.
BD: As a film set within the Batman universe, what can you share about your approach to utilizing such well-know characters and to providing your own unique take on the mythos?
JF: I think actually utilizing these characters’ lore and design was the first step to setting us a part. It never occurred to me that we were making a unique spin on the mythos, just one with more accuracy to the pages. For example, Batman has worn blue for fifty years of his incarnation, specifically in the stories Knightmare directly references. So, my sensibility through out the process was to just keep representing the original intent of the creators (my favorites being Dennis O’Neil, Alex Ross, and Jeff Loeb). And I don’t know, after awhile it just turned into a big laugh on set, like, “Hey, look at us, we’re actually sticking to the source material. Isn’t that weird?” And funny enough, our viewers are acknowledging that very same fact. My worst fear was receiving non-stop Batfleck comparisons in the comments. But instead, it’s just random Bat fans out there picking up the direct comic references we’re putting down.
BD: What can you tell us about the process of working with the cast and crew of the film and the contributions of these individuals?
JF: For me, every film is collaborative. I stress this, but the words I write are not to be repeated. I really prefer my actors to chew them up and spit them out with their own taste. The same goes for my crew. I try to work with people I know want to see our film succeed. That seems like a given, but it ain’t. We had a minor crew mutiny our first week, because some people heard fan film and thought, oh easy pay. And that’s the truth of all artistry. Some people are just looking to get paid, while others are fighting to earn their name in every credit. I produced, wrote, and directed the film. My cinematographer was also my editor and VFX supervisor. My script supervisor doubled as my assistant a lot of the time. Our very opening scene of Knightmare when we’re swooping in over burning rubble as Batman first discovers Robin’s lifeless body… That scene wouldn’t exist without her. The first time she read the script, she loved it. But she had a really hard question for me: “So wait, Jason Todd is Robin?” At the time, it was a jarring realization. I thought it was a no-brainer. But for a first-time reader like she was, I knew I had to take the time to explain this… There is a Batman. There is a Robin. And there is a point in their story together where Robin dies. And what we ended up crafting together from that question is what I call Batman’s unofficial second origin story. His rebirth, if you will. We all know the story of the orphaned child who became a vigilante. But how many film narratives have focused on our vigilante after he’s responsible for the death of an orphan. I always thought Batman V Superman was going to go there but… well, it didn’t.
BD: Corey, what can you share about your approach to portraying the Riddler, and what intrigued you about taking on this role?
Corey Landis: I had worked with Jordon before, and we had talked about comics and Batman on set, a full year or more before I knew he was even doing this project. I had actually auditioned to play The Riddler a few years ago for another fan film (that he was not a part of). I didn’t get the part and have no idea what happened to it, but I remembered having a lot of fun in the audition and callback. I’ve always been a big comic book guy, and Batman was my childhood favorite. I used to watch the ’66 series all the time. So, when Jordon asked if I wanted to play The Riddler, it was a no-brainer for me; I was very excited. The challenge was striking the tone that Jordon was going for, as well as honoring the character while bringing my own spin to him without copying another performance. I didn’t want to be in my own movie—playing him too over the top or too subtly would bump the audience. And I didn’t want to do a Frank Gorshin imitation, but also wanted the audience to feel and know that I was definitely playing The Riddler—which was especially important with the lack of an identifying costume (no bowler, no question marks, etc.). Jordon described his version of The Riddler to me as a “hacker…so, disheveled, drinking energy drinks, eating junk food, jumpy, smart, but ultimately scared and weak.” And that’s what brought me into how I decided to play him.
BD: Do you find that many of the cast and crew were fans of the Batman universe prior to filming, and how to you feel that this impacts or enhances their experience in filming?
JF: Well, I wrote Knightmare alongside our Jason Todd (actor Tyler Burke). So, yes, we definitely had people on our production who were major fans beforehand. Corey, our Riddler, and I had discussed comic cons on multiple occasions. So, I honestly didn’t even bother asking him to audition. I just knew he could deliver the goods as an actor, as well as a fan. But I will say, our Joker, Dustyn, has never picked up an issue of Batman before. We shot his scene on the first day, and, somehow, he worked completely blind of the source material. Only going off of what I had described of the character in phone calls between the two of us.
BD: What do you hope that viewers will take away from Knightmare?
JF: Oh hi, viewers! Just take from Knightmare that you’re not alone. If you want a comic-accurate Batman movie, well we do, too. If you like the grim, dark, gritty style of the current era, well guess what, we do, too. And on a personal level, if you’re battling an internal struggle that you feel like you’re losing, it’s okay. We are, too. You are not alone.
CL: I hope that comic book fans will appreciate the attention to detail that a comic aficionado like Jordon can and does bring to this kind of project. The joke going around is that it’s better than Justice League. A joke because of the huge difference in scope and budget. But NOT a joke because, yeah…you get the right people involved who know what they’re doing and can hit the right notes, a simple fan film can feel more like a truer Batman film and more like that world. So, I guess I’m hoping that the casual fan, as well as the real comic geek, feels like this is the Batman film they deserve.
BD: You also recently launched a crowdfunding campaign for Knightmare: Part 2 on Kickstarter. What can viewers anticipate from the second part of the series, and what are some of the cool backer rewards available to supporters?
JF: Yes, we did! I highly recommend people check it out. Every dollar helps us make a better film. So, if you like Knightmare: Part I, donate to Part II as we intend to include even more spectacle and a whole lot more Joker. Maybe even some Dick and Babs. But some of the badass rewards we’re dishing out include our really snug Gotham City beanie hats; I know I’ve been wearing mine all winter. Our Arkham inmate sweaters; those get trippy under black lights. And our “Gothamite” T-shirts and long sleeves for all the classy, billionaire playboys out there. We also have a few top-tier rewards such as a major producer credit achievement, which yes is so going on your IMDb. As well as, but not limited to, a trip to our next film set, including a spoken role. All of these things can be yours at the low, low price of one thousand dollars. Preferably cash. But we also accept credit. Or check. Or PayPal. Or Patreon. And/or pizza.
BD: Are there any other projects on which you are currently working?
JF: Always! A Canadian TV pilot, a B-horror feature, and a sprinkling of indie music videos and short films over the next year. I’m a hungry twenty-four-year-old, so I’m taking every bone tossed my way.
BD: Lastly, what would you like to tell fans who want to learn more about Knightmare?
JF: If you want to learn more about the subject of Knightmare, please pick up some Batman: Long Halloween, Batman: Ego, A Death in the Family, Hush, Under the Red Hood, and Shadow of the Bat. All of these graphic novels directly influenced Knightmare’s story in some capacity, and in my honest opinion, there’s nothing better than the source material.
But if they’re interested more in the objective, like as to why we even did Knightmare… I made this movie for my older brother, Kyle. Growing up, we used to watch his Batman ’89 video tape religiously. And I mean religiously. I got into a phase where I thought I could really be a vigilante. Dressing up in all black, caped out, patrolling my neighbor’s yards for crime. I took it way too seriously for far too long. When I was seventeen, I was woken up in the middle of the night to the news my brother was killed. A hit and run accident. No one ever caught the perpetrator. Needless to say, I haven’t quite gotten over the experience. And suddenly… a fictional character that I had grown up always wanting to be, for the first time, I actually knew what it was to be him. Powerless. Mortal. Worried that the scales of justice would never tip back in balance. There’s a long story in here about my mother’s love during this time. And how it never fades for a child even when they aren’t present. So, without my knowledge, she fought a long court battle to hold someone responsible for his death. Literally, I don’t know how she pulled it off. But one day, she calls me and says my brother’s passing has left me a large settlement. Enough money… I didn’t want it. It still feels like blood money to me. But she refused to let his death be in vain, and somewhere deep inside me, I felt the same way. So, I accepted the settlement, with a caveat: I’d use it immediately to make something with it. Specifically something, no one would ever give me the money to make. And from that loss, I gained the ability to tell a story like Knightmare. So with this, I hope the fans can learn that this wasn’t just another fan film made for us, but as a love letter to someone I never properly thanked for sharing his Batman with me.