On May 3, Warner Bros. Animation will release DC Showcase: Constantine - The House of Mystery, a new collection of short movies that also includes Kamandi: The Last Boy on Earth!, Blue Beetle, and The Losers. Produced by Rick Morales (Mortal Kombat Legends, Injustice), these shorts boast an incredible array of talent both in terms of the creatives and phenomenal A-List cast members.
A couple of days ago, we caught up with director Milo Neuman to talk about taking the helm of The Losers and Blue Beetle. The two shorts couldn't be any different in terms of tone, with the latter essentially a cross between Scooby-Doo and the 1960s Spider-Man series. The Losers, on the other hand, delivers a gritty take on the World War II team...with dinosaurs thrown in for good measure!
Neuman has a lot of experience as a storyboard artist, but makes his directorial debut with these shorts. In this interview, he shares some insights into that, his approach to telling these stories, and casting Matt Lanter (The Clone Wars) and Ming-Na Wen (The Mandalorian) in lead roles.
We also hear from the filmmaker about the uniqueness of The Losers and Blue Beetle, and shares his thoughts on the possibility of returning to continue telling stories with these characters down the line.
You’ve worked as a storyboard artist on a vast array of DC projects, but what was the transition like from that role to a director on these shorts?
You know, it was interesting as this was my first directing experience. I think I was working on one of the Mortal Kombat Legends movies, and our producer Rick Morales came into the office one day and said, ‘Hey, can I talk to you for a second?’ He then pulled me aside and told me they were looking for a director for these shorts and figured I might want to give it a try. I was like, ‘Okay, yeah, I’ve never done that before!’ [Laughs] It was great, though. It was a chill experience and I had a lot of time to sit and perfect things. I also had a couple of really talented storyboard artists. It was a lot of fun.
I loved Blue Beetle’s retro opening credits and animation style, and even the way that stretched to the voice performances - what led to you deciding to have this story play out that way and what were some of your main inspirations?
That definitely wasn’t my creative call as a lot of the decisions like what the style of the shorts was going to be was all decided before I was brought on. If I remember right, that was Jim Krieg, one of our producers. He was really excited about doing it in that style. Rick as well. So, Jim way back in the day had done a student film that was basically like a live-action episode of the old Spider-Man cartoon. He just matched the editing style and weird, stiff performances, with live-action actors. It was very funny. He was very passionate about the idea of recreating the style of these old cartoons. It felt like a natural choice to us to try to do this like the old Spider-Man cartoons. I watched a tonne of them while I was directing to try and figure out the style we were going for.
This is such a unique story you’re telling here, but what about Blue Beetle’s dynamic with The Question did you most enjoy exploring?
I think it’s just fun because they seem to get on each other’s nerves [Laughs]. The Question irritates Blue Beetle throughout the movie because Ted Kord is such a gung-ho hero and The Question is this strange, neurotic, hyper-intellectual, emotionless character. I thought that was really fun. Any time we can have Blue Beetle just be vaguely irritated by The Question’s whole persona was a lot of fun [Laughs].
Matt Lanter is just phenomenal as Ted, but what made him the right choice for this role in your eyes?
I was there in the recording sessions, but not in charge of any casting so can’t really speak to the creative decisions in that respect. But, I thought he was great. I think everybody in the short really seemed to have a lot of fun with the fact they could come in and do these classic cartoon voices. I think in a lot of our DC Animated stuff, we do these modern, more adult stories, and the performances tend to be a little more realistic. Every voice actor at some point wants to just come in and do a crazy cartoon hero or villain voice as they’re the voices they heard growing up on TV [Laughs]. Matt did an awesome job. He really leaned into it when he came in and so did everyone else.
When some fans think of The Losers, their minds might go to the Vertigo reimagining that eventually became a movie with Chris Evans, but what was it about the classic take on the team that most appealed to you as a filmmaker?
I think I always thought they were cool characters. My first time seeing them was reading The New Frontier by Darwyn Cooke. I always remember being really intrigued by that opening sequence with the four or five characters when they go to the dinosaur island and get chased around. That one is cool because they’re getting picked off one by one throughout the storyline, and we tried to do something similar with the short. Way back in the day, The Losers weren’t in fantasy comics; they were just war comics. They were almost like The Avengers of World War II with a bunch of different characters from different things they brought together and made a little team out of it. They were World War II adventure comics, but then there were other comics, like the world that time forgot, which featured World War II soldiers fighting dinosaurs on some weird island. Darwyn Cooke mashed those two ideas together and added a more recognisable cast of heroes. That’s what we do with the short which was really fun.
That period setting mixed in with dinosaurs and sci-fi is so much fun, but what about throwing those two worlds together was most challenging for you in terms of finding the right tone and feel?
I definitely turned to the comic books for inspiration, but I think any kind of old pulp adventure story helped. I was thinking a lot about Steven Spielberg’s work while I was working on The Losers. Not just because I like Jurassic Park, as that’s obviously the quintessential dinosaur movie, but also Indiana Jones and those period adventure movies that were coming out in the 70s and 80s. Those are so fundamental to how we view adventure cinema today, but when you think about it, they’re also rooted in those pulp serials from back in the day. There’s a real creative throughline that I was really trying to tap into. I was looking for a big, fun adventure vibe.
Ming-Na Wen is so great in The Losers and a fantastic casting addition to this DC Animated Universe; what impressed you most about what she brought to the table here?
She brought a lot to it. In the script, I don’t think that character was particularly sympathetic. What she brought to it was some pathos. I wasn’t expecting to feel conflicted about her when I read the script. But, when I saw Ming-Na’s work, my reaction was, ‘Oh, okay, she’s just trying to do what she thinks is right even though she really is the villain of the piece.’ She brought that to the table with her performance because it wasn’t in the script as much as in the way she delivered the lines and that was very cool. Ming-Na was also great to work with. She was very energetic and gracious. I remember there was a line in Chinese in the script that she looked at and said, ‘I don’t know what this means.’ She corrected it and gave us a better line because I don’t know what was going on there. It was really helpful to have her bring her cultural perspective to the short too.
There is a Blue Beetle live-action movie on the way, of course, but The Losers is a very underutilised property, so are you hoping this short could open the door to telling more stories with these characters? If so, would you want to be involved in that or even a Blue Beetle project?
[Laughs] Who knows! I think it would be awesome. I obviously have no control over that, but the dream for me would be to come back and do a Blue Beetle series in the style that we did. That’s not something that’s actually happening, but is something I think would be cool [Laughs].
Finally, given your history as a storyboard artist, did you find yourself working a little closer with the Art Department than some other directors might?
In animation, and definitely at Warner Bros., you mainly work with the storyboard artists, voice actors, and editors more than anything. I talked to the background artists, but I wasn’t as much in charge of the design of the shorts. I think Rick, our producer, handled that side of things a little bit more. He’s an amazingly talented guy and is a producer, supervising director, and art director of everything he works on [Laughs] because he’s amazing and can do all of that. Rick really shepherds all of these shorts and everything he works on very closely. Mostly, I worked with the storyboard artists, making sure they understood what we were going for, and giving them notes and reboarding bits of their boards where needed to make them as good as possible. I did that on some parts of The Losers, but not as much on Blue Beetle. You get your hands in a little bit of everything as a director.
ALSO READ: Interview With Constantine - The House Of Mystery And Kamandi Director Matt Peters
DC Showcase: Constantine - The House of Mystery arrives on Digital & Blu-ray on May 3.