The Losers & Blue Beetle director talks about the shorts
ComingSoon spoke with director Milo Neuman ahead of the release of DC Showcase – Constantine: The House of Mystery on Blu-ray May 3, 2022. Neuman directed both the blue beetle and Losers shorts found in the collection.
Alongside the brand new short film Constantine, DC Showcase – Constantine: The House of Mystery also presents three other short films in the form of Kamandi: The Last Boy on Earth!, Losersand blue beetle. All three have appeared in previous DC Universe Movies collections as special features, so they’re not exactly new to fans who may be big fans of the world of DC’s animated features.
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Milo, I know you’ve done a lot of work on movies and TV series in the past as an artist. So what was the biggest challenge of directing, and do you feel like your past work as an artist really helped you as a director?
Milo Neumann: Yeah. I think I kind of described the making because you’re sort of the king storyboard artist. [laughs], you kind of walk all the storyboard artists through the process. And usually, in animation specifically, they usually grab directors from storyboard artists. This is typically the trajectory. Because, on the other hand, as a storyboard artist, you’re kind of an assistant director, really. For example, you’re going through the storyline to the beat and you’re like, “This is how it’s going to play out, these are the shots we’re going to use, this is how the characters are going to act.” I mean, as a storyboard artist, you make all those decisions anyway, just under the genre, the director’s guide.
So yes, being a screenwriter was definitely essential to being a director. The reason I got the director job was because I was working on the mortal combat movies with Rick Morales, who was my producer on the shorts. He just saw that every time I put my footage back in, it wouldn’t have to change too much. Usually the storytelling worked, sometimes they were like, ‘Oh, we need to cut some things out,’ but usually I was doing well. Because of that, they were like, “You could probably trust this guy to lead something because he’s got the sensibility for it.”
You have to show some real range here with these two shorts, and Blue Beetle has that real throwback feel. What led to this choice and this style?
So the styles for the shorts were kind of decided before I arrived. So that was kind of my memory when I started Blue Beetle was like, “Hey, you’re gonna make this short, and it’s gonna be in the style of those old sixties superhero cartoons.” And specifically, I think Spider-Man, we were watching, I think we watched a lot of the old Spider-Man cartoons, the Ralph Bakshi ones, you know? [laughs] So we were really trying to capture that vibe.
You’re very loose with humor in Blue Beetle, but it’s as much a tribute as a parody of that era. How do you draw this line? So it’s not like you’re making fun of those classic cartoons.
Yeah. I mean, I think you rely to some extent on people’s affection for these cartoons. I think people love these cartoons, people have a lot of affection for them. So I think if you go in there and make a little animation mistake, it’s something so specific to a specific era, I don’t think people see it as a mockery. I think people will generally see this as a loving tribute and they’ll laugh because yeah, it’s nostalgic, but it’s also kind of funny. Some of those mistakes are funny and I think for us, I think we had a lot of respect that the things that we made fun of in Blue Beetle were really like, it was people trying their best in the sixties because there were limits to the technology they had.
It was also hard when you were animating something in the 60s. It was like… you had to film it and then it would have to trigger and be developed and you wouldn’t even see if it looked good for a week later. So it was all guesswork about these old cartoons and they were under such pressure. The reason they reused animation so much was because they didn’t have the time. They had to launch these episodes so quickly. So all these little mistakes and mishaps and weird stylistic decisions would happen out of necessity, and it sort of created a style. Maybe partially, accidentally [laughs] and that kind of accidental style is kind of what we were trying to do deliberately. It was an interesting challenge. But I think people can see that effort. This effort to try to recreate that and I think people will resonate with that.
Yeah. It’s awesome. I like little mistakes, like the Blue Beetle talking a bit while the other person is talking. You see his mouth move, it’s really fun.
All of this had to be done very deliberately.
This features the Ted Kord version of Blue Beetle. He’s definitely like a Silver Age character and perfect for the time period you’re aiming for, but what did you find most interesting about him?
I think in the context of our short, I think it was good to have him as this kind of ordinary hero to contrast with The Question which is, again, this kind of cold, intellectual [Ayn] Weird Rand-ian, you know? I think part of the fun was playing those two against each other, honestly. For me anyway, that’s what I found very appealing.
Yeah. I love how you took it objectivist.
Yeah, I like that we looked into that. [laughs]
Then you have the losers here. How familiar were you with this franchise before working on it?
Really just Darwin Cook’s comic, The new frontier, because they appear in the prologue of that one. And I think that’s how most people know them these days. But yes, I love this comic. It’s like, it’s one of my favorite superhero comics of all time, so I was excited to get to play with them and I was excited that we could do some sort of adventure on a dinosaur island with them, because that’s actually not traditionally what losers did in their comics.
They were more like some sort of WWII team-based adventure comic. So they were fighting the Nazis, they were in the Pacific or whatever. They were doing WWII adventures [laughs]. But there were other comics from a similar era where it was, sort of, generic WWII soldiers fighting dinosaurs on weird islands and the like. I think Darwin Cook kind of took those two concepts and mixed them together, and we ended up doing the same thing because of, of course, that’s how people know them now. Few people still know these old comics.
You mentioned Dinosaur Island, I thought that was such a cool place for it because that DC location has such a long history in its own right. You can explore much of DC’s rich history in these two shorts here. How awesome is it to dig into that back catalog and maybe introduce some people to these characters that they might not be very familiar with?
I think it’s really fun. I think that’s part of, it’s really the fun of the shorts. Because I think with the [direct-to-video films], I think it’s a bit more considered what we’re going to do, because they take longer to do and they have a bit bigger budget. But I think with shorts, because they’re so small, we can just take a character and have fun with it, you know? It’s awesome. It’s very freeing, and I think that’s part of the reason we’ve been able to be so stylistically diverse with all of these shorts. We really tried to make sure that each matched the style of the old comics in some way. I know that was one of Rick’s main concerns when we started doing all of this. So yes, no, it was great.
Specifically with The Losers, 13 minutes isn’t a ton of time to tell a truly meaningful story and to somehow introduce these characters. So what were the challenges of fitting into an entire story arc in such a short time?
Yeah, that was tough. I mean, I remember, Blue Beetle was pretty fully formed. I think we didn’t deviate much from the script, I think with The Losers it was one where we kind of worked to get the script, from the second I was in the door we we were talking about, especially the third act of the short, just trying to put it all together in a satisfying way, it was pretty tough on that one.
We actually had more… the cast was a little bigger originally. I think there was a character, and I can’t remember her name, but she… I can’t remember her name, but she was on the team, and we ended up cutting her just because that she didn’t do much, and she didn’t really contribute. She didn’t have her own rhythm in the script. She just had a lot of different lines of dialogue [laughs] and so we were like, ‘We could just take her out and give her some dialogue with some of the other characters and it could all look and flow a little better and be a little simpler.’ So it was a decision that was made quite early. But then, at the end of the movie, we struggled with that until the very end, trying to get it right.
We found ourselves at some point, kind of off-script and kind of onboarding something that wasn’t entirely off-script, we kept most of the dialogue, but we kind of really messed up with this last element to get the action of it working. Just to make it tense and exciting, this whole thing with the characters being stuck by the T-Rex, it wasn’t really how it was, how it was staged in the script. So we had to take a few liberties to work well. But that’s just how it does these [direct-to-video films] and these shorts are usually for everyone… the writers make their best guess. And then we get to our part of the thing, and kind of, we do our best to guess what’s going to make a good movie, and it kind of passes around, person to person, until get the thing done.
Are there any dream DC characters, especially obscure ones, that you would like to work with in the future?
Oh, uh, man, let me think. Not obscure… I mean, I’d love to do a Superman thing at some point, but that’s the least obscure thing you can say. But, I’m not sure obscure, I should think about it more [laughs]. But yeah, no, I mean, I’d love to do one of those shorts again, though. Any character they want to throw at me, that would be fun.