The following is an interview with filmmakers Bruce Nachsin and Richard Tatum on the the recent debut of their short film, Dark Specter 2, at the GeekFest Film Festival at Long Beach Comic Expo 2019. In this interview, Fanbase Press Editor-in-Chief Barbra Dillon chats with Nachsin and Tatum about the inspiration behind the short film, their shared creative process in bringing the project to life, the various other projects on which they are working, and more!
Barbra Dillon, Fanbase Press Editor-in-Chief: Your film, Dark Specter 2, recently made its debut at GeekFest during Long Beach Comic Expo 2019. For our readers who may be unfamiliar, what can you tell us about the premise of the film?
Richard Tatum: It’s about a supervillain who has this amazing and fearsome ability to manipulate fire; only he’s really just starting out and isn’t 100% in control of his talents yet. We follow him in what’s become an increasingly normal day for him: fighting the super-powered good guys, and then going to home to focus on his reason for acting against the law: taking care of his ailing mother, whose illness requires serious funding. However, lurking in the background is a shadowy figure who seems to have his own motives for working with the Dark Specter!
BD: What inspired you to bring this project to life, and what can you share with us about the original comedy short, Dark Specter?
RT: Bruce can really speak to the character’s origins, but for me – Bruce was an old friend from the theater. He liked my directing and knew I loved comics and Sci-Fi. He took me to lunch and pitched me this crazy idea of a dramatic (or serio-comic) follow-up to the comedy short, where we not only get into super-powered action, but dig into the character’s emotional life. All those things just made me squee. I had been getting more behind the camera for a few years (after decades in the theater) and really wanted to try my directorial chops on something like the shows I enjoy watching myself – Jessica Jones, Daredevil, Black Lightning, Legends of Tomorrow … all those Marvel and DC shows that have terrific action plus real, engaging, three-dimensional characters, plus a sense of humor. And lo, there was Bruce and Dark Specter!
Bruce Nachsin: The origin of the Dark Specter character has little to do with where the story is at now. Originally, it was just a comedy sketch born of a desire to impress and a love of comic books. I was a member of Fred Willard’s MoHos and I was tasked with writing something for an upcoming show and I just happened to be watching the Avengers on TV while thinking about it and lightning struck. As with most sketch comedy, the characters were more of a collection of tropes then they were real people and they were dealing with a silly sketch premise: “What if the villain’s mom were to turn up in the middle of the fight?” It’s very funny but it is also simple. The magic happened when someone asked me, “If these were real people and the answer isn’t the villain is a loser then why is the mother there?” That seemingly innocent question made me think deeply about the humanity behind the characters and put me along the path of telling a personal story about an aggrieved person with great power who has a lot of ambition but is hampered and restrained from taking what he wants by family obligation. Villains have been explored before but not as the true focal point character, and I discovered that I had a lot to say about it. I wanted to delve into being basically a real bad guy while at the same time still being a good and caring son. That’s where Dark Specter 2 came from.
BD: What can you tell us about your shared creative process in bringing this film to life, as well as your work with the cast and crew? Likewise, Bruce, what can you tell us about balancing your time behind and in front of the camera?
RT: Bruce, Manuel and I have what I feel is this ideal working relationship. More often than not, Bruce is the one with the big, crazy, or really poignant idea or scene. And I’m at my best when I can take someone’s idea and make it really play – make it more fun, more funny, more emotionally relevant; when I can explode the storytelling. So, Bruce will come up with The Big Idea ™, and I’ll say “Okay, but what’s the reasoning behind that? Why are we going to care about this? What if we spin it THIS way…”. Then, Bruce and I will wrestle over that, and just when we think we got it nailed, Manny will say (with the world’s most charming Columbian accent) “But guys, if we do that I think we take away what makes the story unique, and what’s the logic there?” or words to that effect. At which point Bruce and I will, stop, think, and usually go “Ah. Yup, he’s right.” And the three of us will then hash through something else until finally we’ll all get really excited about whatever the New Big Idea™ is and then start to pepper fun details. Bruce will usually then write a first draft and Manny and I will sit with him and tweak it after for style and/or substance. It’s incredibly easy and almost frighteningly devoid of ego. We often joke it’s a lot of really well-meaning arguing, where at the end we all feel we won.
Working with the cast was about as easy. I sat down with the cast and had a big, deep dive into finding who these people were, what their relationships were built on, what they needed, and so on; so that once cameras were rolling I could call action and we’d be off to the races. I brought in my pal Henry Layton to design the big fight, and – you’ll forgive the pun – he did just a bang-up job. He worked with Mark Iverson (Vibraboom) and Bruce and got the best out of them for a really fun and dramatic superhero fight with real stakes and emotions. Judy is the heart of everything on the planet, period. She just owned the mom from the moment she picked up the script. She was Mom in the original comedy short, and she was hilarious – but man, she just tears your heart out in this.
BN: Richard did a great job detailing our process, if only because we literally did exactly what he wrote two days ago. We have a lot of trust built into our working relationship and the three of us have sensibilities that overlap about 75% of the way so it works out that as a collective we tend to protect each other from our bad ideas while still being in tune enough to enhance our better ones.
As far as the idea of balance between working both sides of the camera… It’s hard, so much is on the line and there is so little time to get it right. I run on all cylinders when it comes to getting things done for a shoot so I sometimes need to be focused on what is most important for me to be doing right now. That’s where being surrounded with good people comes in. The idea is that on shoot days I’m supposed to arrive on set and give over all producing duties to others so that I can concentrate on performing. On Dark Specter 2’s fight day, our AD Ashaki Ayoka came over to me in the morning and told me that I am not allowed to try and be a producer, I’m only allowed to act. She took to yelling at me any time I tried to “produce.” This isn’t easy for me.
On Lunchtime is Over, it was far harder because it was only two producers, and I was the most experienced one so I couldn’t just leave it in others hands. I always had to be aware of the state of everything. I was directing, I was acting and I was performing stunts. There was no balance, too many decisions need to be made, and I was the only one who could make them at the time. Fortunately, I had good people on that set, too, which helped a lot.
BD: Given the film’s debut at GeekFest, what was your experience in showing the film in front of an audience?
RiT: Every audience is its own animal, and GeekFest was no exception. But there really is nothing like planting a moment as a filmmaker – funny or meaningful – and hear them laugh or gasp. And to hear people who love comics and genre material as much as we do respond just how we wanted? Gold.
BD: What do you hope that viewers will take away from Dark Specter 2?
RT: A deep wish to see Dark Specter 3, or better yet: the series we’re planning of Dark Specter. I know in my perfect world they’ll say, “I’ve never seen that spin before, and I think it’s just what the genre needed. Say, do you want some money?”
BN: I want people to relate to someone who is at best amoral. I want to make you laugh, and I want to hurt your heart a little. I want you to need to call your mother and tell her that you love her, and that you are really sorry you didn’t call sooner. I want you to feel a lot of things.
BD: Bruce, in addition to your work on Dark Specter, you also recently debuted the short film, Lunchtime Is Over, which you directed. What can you tell us about the film?
BN: Lunchtime is Over is my little love letter to Jackie Chan… written in my own blood. It is 6-and-a-half minutes of martial arts inspired goofiness. It’s about the struggle between the working class and middle management. You know how you just want to punch your boss in the face cause of that stupid revision request he just keeps making but you can’t because you like the fact that you don’t live in a cardboard box? Well, I’m doing it for you… Not really, not for real, just in a metaphorical cathartic way.
And as you pointed out it is my first time directing. In a lot of ways, when I wasn’t more worried about how I’m supposed to safely land a flip onto my back on concrete, I mostly channeled Richard’s directing methodology when guiding my actors. It helped me get precisely what I needed from everyone. I don’t think I could have had a more successful first outing in the director’s chair, it works as both an action flick and a comedy. I feel I hit my Jackie Chan goal.
BD: Richard, are there any other projects on which you are currently working that you are able to share with our readers?
RT: Well, other than diving deep into our Dark Specter series pitch materials, directing-wise I’m going to indulge my (usually) once-a-year theater-directing habit working on one of the one-act plays for the Blank Theater’s Young Playwrights Festival this Spring. Every year, the Blank gets hundreds of play submissions from teens (and younger) from all over the country, and we produce 12 of them with professional directors and actors. It’s incredible and I always get to work with great people on the super-imaginative, incredibly heartfelt material that these kids create; it’ll be my eighth year with them as a director. Otherwise, I’ll be appearing as an actor in two shows at the Impro Studio Theatre in Los Angeles – a one-hour improvised Aaron Sorkin show opening March 1, and an hour-long improvised Rom-Com opening soon after that. I work a lot as a voice-actor, too, but as so often is the case these days I have non-disclosure agreements that keep me from talking about those projects.
BD: Lastly, what would you like to tell fans who want to learn more about Dark Specter 2, Lunchtime Is Over, and your other work?
RT: Everything Dark Specter is at our new and improved DarkSpecter.com and on Instagram at @darkspectervillain, and Twitter at @theedarkspecter (all four Es). But you can find the most stuff about me at richardtatumvoiceover.com and richardtatumdirector.wordpress.com. Plus, you can keep up to date with me, my projects, and my wife and dog on Instagram at @richardtatum.
BN: Richard laid out our socials, but I got the real treats for everyone right here. While Dark Specter 2 is not just released to the public due to the various festivals we are in, you can catch the trailer right here:
Dark Specter 2 Trailer
Marvel at the humor of the original:
Dark Specter 1
And finally, find your zen place through violence here:
And please, leave us comments on the videos and give us your thoughts. We want to hear from you.