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spencer f. lee, nichelle Nichols

SDCC Interview: Spencer F. Lee Talks About ‘From the Bridge’

Spencer F. Lee’s homage to the geekdom of pop cultural creators fans From the Bridge is a feature-length documentary coming out at the end of the summer. Lee, along with George Takei, Nichelle Nichols and others tease the new film in a special preview at this year’s Comic-Con International (AKA SDCC) in San Diego in the massive Ballroom 20 auditorium (Thursday morning at 10:00 a.m.!

I had the opportunity to speak to Lee by phone just before SDCC to hear his thoughts on putting together what is undoubtedly a labor of love. Lee describes the heart of From the Bridge as “being about our humanity—a celebration of ourselves and our diversity and our uniqueness and what it is that makes us human beings” through the comics, the fandom and pop culture. spencer f. lee, nichelle Nichols

So tell me a little bit about the movie and how it came together.

I’ve been a[n SFF] fan since I just a kid. The original Star Wars was the first movie I ever saw in my life. At the Big Screen, which was a drive-in theater in Northeast Louisiana at the time.

One of my dear friends, actor Chad Allen, who was in Dr. Quinn Medicine Woman, My Two Dads, and multiple other shows, introduced me to his friend Kerry O’Quinn, co-creator of [the genre magazines] Starlog and Fangoria. So as my friendship with Kerry began to grow, Kerry would share with me stories from the magazines and from his life. And I really loved the rich history that he had to share with me.

And I really wanted to tell his story and I wanted to tell the stories of all the other iconic writers and creators and visionaries. I knew, being a fan, I knew the impact that they’d had on my life, as well as a positive impact that they had had on the lives of multiple other people.

So I wanted to tell their story and I wanted to tell the fan’s story about how the work impacted them in their lives. You know, I think a lot of non-fans might have the common misconception that the fan movement or fandoms all about flashy costumes and going to conventions and dressing up; but it’s really not. It’s really about the celebration of humanity and the celebration of these great, iconic stories and historic stories that these authors have written that tell the story of us, people.

It’s really about that. It’s about love and sacrifice and peace and it’s all about … it’s not tragedy. It’s about the themes that define us and make us who we are as humans. And that’s what they’re celebrating. And they’re celebrating the artist’s work. They’re celebrating humanity, the story of us. And that’s what the fandom, the fan movement’s about.

I think that’s right and I think … I give, in fact, I’m giving a lecture this weekend at the National Mensa Convention on what science fiction, the history of science … on the history of science fiction. And what makes it so powerful is that it, more than almost any other genre of literature, really can tell the story of us and be … make social commentary without being preachy. And it’s a unique genre. Multiple genres; but yes, and that’s really the fandom. There are a lot of people in the “fandom” that if you say, “Are you a part of the fandom?” They would say, “What? I’m not part of … what fandom are you talking about?” And they are, but they don’t think of it that way. So, I totally hear where you’re coming from.

So the movie celebrates all of us geeks, right? The grand diversity. The Vulcan IDIC. Infinite Diversity and Infinite Combinations, yeah?

Yes. Absolutely.

How did you get started in filmmaking—creating in general?

I began writing short stories … first off, obviously being a fan of Star Wars at a very early age and then branching out from there and discovering Lost In Space and the original Star Wars … I’m sorry Star Trek. As well as, I really like the Ultraman series, that they made in Japan. So as cable began to become a greater source of diversity and entertainment in the late ’70s and early ’80s, I began discovering these other shows. Then I fell into comic books and I just kind of … I was a fan of all of it. I just kind of soaked it all up and absorbed it.

So I began writing short stories when I was about 11 years old. Poor shorts. I was very much inspired by Tales From The Darkside and the Twilight Zone, as well. As well as the great … my favorite movie of all time is The Shining. So I’m definitely … it’s an epic horror-fantasy film. So from my draw, it … most of it is science fantasy, as well as horror fantasy.

A lot of people like to talk about comic book movies and refer to them as comic book movies; but, in my opinion, they’re really science fantasy movies. I think that’s a much better description of the genre, would be science fantasy. In my opinion. So, I began writing when I was 11 and I began doing photography. And when I went to college in Northeast Louisiana, I studied black and white photography. I studied creative writing. I studied advanced fictional writing and I began writing my first script when I was in college. And it was optioned off.

That’s pretty impressive for a student’s work.

At that time, back in those days, the film industry was little different in that you would option off a script and the movie might be made and it might not be made; but you were paid up front for the option. So I did that and that kind of got my foot in the door a little bit.

Then after my second script,d I immediately turned around and wrote my third script, which is a film called Moon Lake. And Lionsgate did a deal with me on that film. Unfortunately, it hasn’t been made yet; but having a deal with Lionsgate in my mid-twenties … optioning off a piece of my work was another huge, strong push forward. And as my education in how making films works, as well as my education in college and my knowledge that I’ve accumulated from being a fan of horror, science fiction, and science fantasy comics and whatnot kind of developed me as an artist. And eventually my friendship with Kerry O’Quinn.

I had lunch with Kerry my favorite restaurant in Los Angeles, which is called Bossanova on Sunset and I pitched the idea to Kerry. I said, “Kerry,” I said, “I would like to make a movie about you and your lives, about all the other iconic artists that have helped inspired and create the movement of fandom. And I’d like to tell this story, you know?” And I said, “Can I? And would you come onboard and help me, you know, make these interviews happen so that I can create this movie?” And he said, “Yeah, let me think about it and get back to you.” I was like, “Okay.”

So then we had lunch the next day and he said, “I talked to a couple of my friends about it and they think it’s a great idea so, yeah, let’s do it.” And that’s how it … that’s how I created From The Bridge, the film. Kerry obviously created the article “From The Bridge,” in Starlog magazine. That was his monthly column.

Aha! I knew the title of your film sounded familiar. I remember that column! I was a huge X-Files fan and I would read Starlog habitually. But it’s no longer published right?

Right, but it’s my understanding is all the Starlogs have been scanned and they’re all online, also. So you can always catch up reading them online.

So you’ve gotten all these incredibly well-known, but geeky, folks involved in this project. Tell me who they are and how you convinced them to be involved in the project.

Well, let’s see. Of course, George Takei is hosting and narrating it on screen. And Stan Lee. I had a wonderful interview with Stan Lee at MegaCon in Orlando and I also directed the filming of his handprint ceremony last summer at the Chinese Theater. So that gave me the opportunity to capture on film. Chadwick Boseman and Kevin Feige and … I apologize if I said his, pronounced his name wrong, sometimes my Southern accent kind of does sound, makes pronunciations sound a little off … but, so Tenner Smith was there. So then, of course, I interviewed Gene Simmons which was a great and amazing interview. Gene has an encyclopedic memory of the most … so many things … Who wrote the movies, who scored the movies, who was in the movies, who directed the movies, who produced the movies. All the way down to B-films that I think the average person has never even heard of. And Gene has such an encyclopedic memory of those things, as well as comic books and other stuff.

I would never have thought of the connection between KISS and comics, but of course…

Gene’s great. So I had my interview with Gene. It was supposed to be 15 minutes, but I think it ended up being like an hour and a half or more. I had a wonderful interview with Tom Santos. Who was the producer of the first two X-Men movies, as well as one of the writers on those films. And Tom also created the live-action Transformers franchise. So Tom is a super smart guy. And of course, I interviewed Bryan Fuller, the creator of Dead Like Me and Pushing Daisies.

And American Gods, Hannibal, Star Trek Discovery

Bryan had a strong hand in that series. I love Bryan to death. He’s a creative genius. Super smart guy.

Speaking of Trek

I interviewed Nichelle Nichols. Which was a wonderful interview, and I’ve gotten to be really good friends with Nichelle in the last few years. She’s such a wonderful person. And of course, Norman Jacobs who was the co-creator of Fangoria with Kerry O’Quinn. He’s in the film too. I had a great interview with Doug Jones just recently. And of course, his film The Shape of Water. He and Guillermo del Toro won the Oscar for it, of course. Doug got to play the fish man—the aquatic god from South America. And that was a really great interview.

I got to interview Douglas Tait, as well. And Doug, he is … I’m not sure what I can say and can’t say, because I know you’ve got a lot of projects that are coming up and I don’t know what’s been announced and what hasn’t. But I do know that he’s playing one of the leads in the new Hellboy movie. And he played Jason Voorhees in Freddy vs. Jason. He’s kind of like the modern day Bela Lugosi. So Doug was involved in it, Douglas Tait.

And … Neil Adams. Neil was a really, really good interview. Neil, he basically, he likes to say he mothered Superman and Batman. It was Neil Adams who made Batman into the Dark Knight. It was Neil who basically made Batman’s rogue gallery of villains and made the Joker from being a comic book clown into a homicidal maniac. A darker character. So yeah, Neil had such … such an amazing. Gosh, even to use the word amazing is probably not a good description, enough for what Neil has done for comic books and the evolution of comic books. Neil basically re-invented a lot of it. And a lot of the characters we know today, have been directly impacted by Neil. His influence is just gargantuan.

So, yeah. Those were some of the really great interviews I had. Joe Dante was a really nice interview as well. One of my favorite movies was The Howling and of course, Joe directed that. As well as, Joe directed The Gremlins films which are wonderful science fantasy. I’d love to see those come back. I don’t know what the plans are for them, but I think a new Gremlins movie is way past due.

I think it’s time.

Yes, that’s it. And every time I think of that movie, there are so many iconic moments in it. But I love the one where there they played the Christmas song. She’s got a mic over there … it’s a Christmas movie. It’s crazy to think that right? But it’s true. It takes place during Christmas. So it is a Christmas film. And I love it when they start playing the Christmas carols after all this carnage and destruction.

Now I have to go back and watch it again. I haven’t seen it for ages. So is From the Bridge constructed with clips of their work? Or is it straight-on interviews, you know, talking heads? I’m curious especially because it’s feature-length.

I’m still in the editing process, but I’m very close to having it complete. But right now, it’s looking like it’s about two hours. Maybe two hours and 10 minutes. I know seems like a long running time for a documentary, but it really, it keeps the pace and it keeps it moving. And there are so many great stories by so many great people that it’s kind of like … it’s almost impossible to cut some of the stuff out because it’s so good. But, yeah. Well, my approach to making this particular movie was I didn’t want it to be a talking head type film.

That’s what I was getting at, yeah.

Yeah, and it’s not. Obviously, there are interviews, but I’ve also created a lot of art for it, and I’ve taken a lot of art from films and from comics and from all kinds of stuff. And I’ve made a lot of really new, unique things as well. I wanted the audience to have a cinematic experience when they see the film. I wanted it to be fun, for the audience, when they see this movie and they’re done, they walk out of the door or they turn their TV off or their laptop or however they watch it, I want them to feel like they just went to a big, blockbuster, cinematic film. That’s what I want the audience to be left with the impression.

But I also want them to be inspired, as well. I definitely hope that this film inspires people to reach out to one another and to be loving and respectful of one another. And, to me, I know From The Bridge was the title in Kerry’s article … in the magazine, the Starlog; but for me, “From The Bridge” means building a bridge between people and bringing people together. That’s my take on the title, is that it’s a bridge to bring people together.

Oh, I really like that and that’s a fabulous, a fabulous way to use that title. I really like that. So when do you anticipate the release date? I know you guys are teasing it during San Diego Comic-Con.

Yeah, yeah. We’re looking at a full release at the end of summer. I’m not sure exactly when that’s gonna be just yet. Unfortunately, until the movie is actually edited and completely done … there’s a whole process of theaters looking at it, other people before they determine how big of a release something gets. So I, obviously, as the filmmaker, I would love to have it in as many screens as possible; but I know we will at least have a limited theatrical release. But hey, you know if we get the fans involved and they tell their local theater chains, “We want this movie here.” Even if it’s for a week or two weeks or whatever.

Sure.

I’d love to have it in as many places as possible. And I think that’s gonna come down to the reaction of the fans and the demand for the film will eventually dictate that.

Speaking of which, who do you see as your audience for From the Bridge?

Everyone. I’d like this movie to have … first off, I want to be able to celebrate with my fellow fans the movie and our love for these genres and these artists and these stories and each other. That’s a giant chunk of who my audience is. And secondly, I want my audience … I would like my audience to be the average person who is a non-fan; but who might not know the history of these genres and the history and the movement of fandom.

Anything else you want fans or potential viewers to know about the movie?

That it’s made with love for them and it was … it’s made for my love for the artist, the visionary, and the icons who created the genres. And it’s for the love of the fans, my fellow fans as well. This movie is completely made for my love of them and I’m hoping to be able to share and I’m hoping they’ll be able to share our love for each other for the fandom and the artists.

From The Bridge features original interviews with Stan Lee, Nichelle Nichols, Gene Simmons, Joe Dante, Tom DeSanto, Adam Nimoy, Bryan Fuller, Neal Adams, Doug Jones, Rod Roddenberry, Howard Roffman and many more including Super Fans. This groundbreaking documentary feature is set for a theatrical run in late summer 2018 and will be released on VOD, DVD, and Blu-ray in November.

About Barbara Barnett

Barbara Barnett is Publisher/Executive Editor of Blogcritics, (blogcritics.org). Her Bram Stoker Award-nominated novel, called "Anne Rice meets Michael Crichton," The Apothecary's Curse The Apothecary's Curse is now out from Pyr, an imprint of Prometheus Books. Her book on the TV series House, M.D., Chasing Zebras is a quintessential guide to the themes, characters and episodes of the hit show. Barnett is an accomplished speaker, an annual favorite at MENSA's HalloWEEM convention, where she has spoken to standing room crowds on subjects as diverse as "The Byronic Hero in Pop Culture," "The Many Faces of Sherlock Holmes," "The Hidden History of Science Fiction," and "Our Passion for Disaster (Movies)."

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