Interview with Michael Barnett
Can you explain how you selected which heroes were included in the movie?
That took awhile. There are hundreds of these real life superheroes (RLSH) all over the country. We pre-interviewed them over the phone to see who was legitimate. There are varying levels?some are just online personalities, some are cosplayers. Our criteria was they had to go out and do something. We didn?t care what that meant in terms of their personality, the more colorful the better.
Do they all have origin stories?
They do. Most of why these guys do this stems from something traumatic in their lives and it manifests itself in some way where they try to overcompensate for it. It's a really personal reason for a lot of them.
So are a lot of heroes just trying to cope with traumatic past experiences?
The superhero Life grew up in a great family. He's an Orthodox Jew; it's really ingrained in him to do good for his fellow man. And he found a great outlet to do it. He's a real rarity. For most of these guys, it stems from something violent happening to them, and by and large, it's quite sad.
It's interesting that Kitty Genovese was a motivating factor for so many of them.
A real commonality for these guys is apathy and they use her story as a catalyst. Kitty Genovese is a representation of why they do this. She became a symbol for the movement.
How did you get access to Stan Lee?
We found his number online and called him. He reacted with more skepticism than I thought. Like a lot of us, he thinks what they're doing is wonderful, but ultimately one of these guys is going to be hurt. I certainly have a deep concern for that and that's one of his immediate concerns as well.
Did any of them ever try to pursue careers in the system?either in law enforcement, social work, etc.?or give any thought to pursuing good in more traditional ways?
For the most part, these guys believe help isn't coming in a way they need or want from the top. So they're taking it upon themselves to make change from the bottom. If they become part of the system it becomes the opposite of why they're doing this.
The cops we see in the film do seem to be of little use.
That was a crazy moment because the Brooklyn RLSH were doing real good: They stopped a man who already hit one car and crashed into a hydrant. He certainly was going to hurt himself and most likely hurt somebody else. I didn't set out to do an indictment on the NYPD so that was a tough moment for me.
When the Brooklyn gang goes out on bait patrol, is their mission to draw out danger, or to stop it? You discuss the legality of entrapment in the movie.
I think we caught them at a real moment of evolution. I don't think they're entirely sure what was going to happen. If their intention which was to out criminality by baiting them, I don't think they knew what they were going to do. They were just going to react on the fly.
Besides Zimmer, do others have EMT certification?
A lot do. A lot of them have martial arts training too?some are terrible and some are black belts. But a lot of them have basic medical training.
Why did you blur faces when the superheroes weren't in costume?
They wanted us to. Any time someone's face was blurred, it was not the filmmakers' decision. It was the decision of the subject.
Having seen them unmasked, does it give you a different understanding or appreciation of who they are since you've seen them in ways the audience hasn't?
I guess the way the film plays, they become characters and I know them as people. I think with Mr. Xtreme we find out what he's like. He was the only guy who opened up to us in that way.
Is it because they're maintaining the boundary between their real and super lives?
I think they've been exploited and marginalized by media for years and they're really guarded. It takes a while for them to trust, but we couldn't shoot the film for years and years. We chose Mr. Xtreme because he has a fascinating story. I thought he was so pure and noble in his intentions. You only need to go on that journey with just one person, not multiple people. And they love the film. They couldn't be more pleased with the message of the film, which is to go do something?anything.