March 13, 2004

Sky Captain: Not Some Studio Kitsch After All

When I first saw the trailer for Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow, I was fascinated, then confused. It looked like Fritz Lang's Metropolis, but it had... Jude Law and Gwyneth Paltrow? It's some weird studio stunt, I figured. But I was wrong.

Turns out Sky Captain is the culmination of one man's nearly impossible-to-believe vision. Kerry Conran worked for four years, alone, to produce the six minutes of seamlessly melded CG and live action footage that ultimately led to his making a $70 million independent film:

Conran walked into [producer Jon] Avnet's office in a plain black T-shirt, looking a little apprehensive. He had agreed to watch the original six-minute short with me and Avnet, and it was clear he wasn't looking forward to it.

It opens with a black-and-white version of the film's signature shot, a zeppelin docking at the Empire State. I had seen this sequence in one form or another perhaps a dozen times in the last three days. I can't begin to guess how many times Conran has seen it: airship and skyscraper, two antique promises of progress meeting to announce our final liberation from earthly concerns. The short was rudimentary compared with what I'd seen, to be sure. And Conran grimaced throughout. But I was stunned when I considered the painstaking labor with no promise of reward, or even end, in sight. And I thought of all the computers in just this building, each one thousands of times as powerful as a Mac IIci, in the hands of eager, young, lettuce-munching dreamers, and I wondered what worlds they were constructing in their spare time between snowflakes. On the screen, Sky Captain flies to the rescue. I happen to know from Kevin that it's Kerry himself behind the goggles. Naturally, he's masked.

The short ended. Conran blinked a little and smiled. ''Wow,'' he said. ''That was embarrassing.''

Since 2001 here at greg.org, I've been blogging about the creative process—my own and those of people who interest me. That mostly involves filmmaking, art, writing, research, and the making thereof.

Many thanks to the Creative Capital | Warhol Foundation Arts Writers Program for supporting greg.org that time.

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first published: March 13, 2004.

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