Under The Hood: Eric Matthies

Published on March 20th, 2009

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The fun doesn’t end for Watchmen fans as Warner Premiere’s Watchmen: Tales of the Black Freighter arrives on Blu-ray and DVD on Tuesday, March 24.  Included in the release is co-producer/director Eric Matthies’ all-new take on Under the Hood, the Hollis Mason/Nite Owl autobiography from the original Watchmen graphic novel.

hollismasonunderthehoodOne of the more cutting-edge creators of DVD content in the industry, Matthies, along with partners Tricia Todd and Josh Oreck, has been responsible for acclaimed ancillary materials for such landmark DVD releases as The Matrix, 300 and Spider-Man. He has helped elevate DVD extra content to a new art form, and Under The Hood is a prime
example.

Along with co-producer Wesley Coller and writer Hans Rodionoff, Matthies created the perfect vehicle for bringing Hollis Mason’s tell-all autobiography, Under the Hood, to life. As the subject of a story revisited 10 years later in the fictional “The Culpepper Minute” TV news magazine, Under the Hood expands beyond what was originally limited to words on a page and a few single-frame images. The chronicle of the events in Mason’s life that led to him to become the masked avenger Nite Owl – including the formation of the Minutemen – now plays as a feature that allows the characters (Mason, the original Sally Spectre, the Comedian, Moloch the Mystic) to add even greater depth to the tale.

Carla Gugino, Matt Frewer, Stephen McHattie and Jeffrey Dean Morgan appear as their characters from the theatrical Watchmen film in this live-action documentary-style special. Produced in association with Legendary Pictures, Under the Hood is executive produced by Watchmen director Zack Snyder, Lawrence Gordon, Lloyd Levin, Deborah Snyder,
Thomas Tull and Wesley Coller.

Matthies took a few moments this week to discuss the origins, direction and incidentals of Under the Hood. The following is a transcript of the Q&A.

QUESTION: What made the news magazine format work for Under the Hood?

sallyjupiterunderthehoodERIC MATTHIES: We needed a concept that would not require a leap of faith, and that would not just be a book on tape. The news magazine format really allowed us to expand in so many ways. First, we were able to incorporate Larry Culpeper, and have him represent an outside voice speaking about both the memoir and the world in which it was taking place. And by having Culpeper revisit the story 10 years later, we were able to cover two different time periods and give the original piece greater perspective within the Watchmen movie. It also gave us the chance to explore more of the characters through interviews – like Wally Weaver and  Laurence Schexnayder– and delve more into the background of their characters. This was an idea that worked on so many levels.

As Zack said to Hans, “When in doubt, go back to the source material and you really can’t go wrong.” And he’s right.

QUESTION: Did changing the format from first-person narrative to a new magazine perspective work for or against the original content?

ERIC MATTHIES: One of the ways we stayed true to Under The Hood was simply to have Stephen McHattie answer the interview questions pretty much the way Hollis had written them, combined with some of his own improv on what Hollis would say.  And then we were able to fill in the gaps with other interviews.

QUESTION: How did the cast react to these in-character interviews – especially Stephen McHattie as Hollis Mason?

ERIC MATTHIES:Stephen McHattie was great – he really got it and was able to really bring something special to that material. It was obvious that he had read Under the Hood, and I think it was fun for him to be able to put some life behind those lines.

It’s a testament to each individual – they’re all fantastic actors with a great understanding of their character, regardless of the size of the role – and to Zack (Snyder), who gave them a three-ring binder of resource material and back story. So when we came along and gave these actors the opportunity to bring even more depth to these characters through this ancillary content, they all jumped in andreally embraced what we were trying to do. And they all had their different approaches, which made it even better. Carla (Gugino) was amazing – she and I probably had the most dialogue about the project.Rob LaBelle and Matt Frewer were great, too. We even got to introduce Malcolm Long and he alludes to how he’d love to interview one of these masked heroes. They seemed to really appreciate the opportunity to play with these characters.

QUESTION: Do you have a favorite scene within Under the Hood?

ERIC MATTHIES: I really had a lot of fun going back to recreate thefootage from the 1930s of Mothman and Silhouette and those characters, having them in costume on the New York streets fighting crime – and shooting it on 16mm with an old Bolex hand-crank camera. We mixed that footage with interviews we shot on high-def, which we treated in
post-production. It gave the film a nice texture.

QUESTION: Do you believe you achieved your initial goals with the final result of Under the Hood?

silhouetteunderthehoodERIC MATTHIES: The goal was to make ancillary material that complemented the film, and I think we achieved that. The wonderful thing in the graphic novel is that UTH gives you all the background and psychology and philosophy of the masked adventurers and the impact they had prior to Dr. Manhattan. But there was no way Zack could include every bit of that information. It was a great responsibility to make something that they didn’t have to shoe-horn into the movie.

The production team on the feature was so fantastic – especially because I don’t think they completely understood what we were up to at first. It took a little convincing. But they all did amazing work on our behalf. When we first shot with Hooded Justice, that was a thrill to walk out onto the New York Street set. I’d shot on that set before, but now it was my set. To have Michael Wilkinson’s team doing their costume magic to help our production, and to have prop master Jimmy Chow making things like holsters for us – it was amazing to have all the resources of this giant movie afforded our little 40-min piece. I want to thank them all – they were very gracious about everything, they were so attentive to details, and I appreciate that they wanted to elevate our production value so it would fit into this amazing
world they had already created.

And then there was Zack and Debbie Snyder and Wes Coller, Lloyd (Levin) and Larry (Gordon) – they all gave me the confidence to run with it and do what we did as well as we did. It was a huge responsibility and a tremendous honor, and I’m proud of what we achieved with Under the Hood.

Stay tune to  ComicImpact as we will have a special podcast review of Under The Hood and Tales of the Black Freighter sometime next week.

Simon Daoudi
Simon@comicimpact.com