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A Different Kind of Superhero

Apr 14th, 2009
An Interview With SPECIAL Editor Mike Saenz











(Michael Rapaport in Special)


When asked about the inception of Special, the new superhero (or is it anti-superhero?) picture from directors Hal Haberman and Jeremy Passmore, film editor Mike Saenz tells a story that is decidedly and prototypically Indie Hollywood. According to Saenz, a number of years ago, Haberman and Passmore were discussing what type of film they wanted to begin production on when they came to a crossroads: “They basically said, ‘Let’s make a movie this summer,’ and they had two great ideas. One was easily marketable, commercial, easy to shoot for a small budget…and the other was Special.”

Careers (and pocketbooks, for that matter) have risen and fallen in Hollywood under such regards, but it’s this devil-may-care attitude toward chasing down the dragon of interesting ideas regardless of their monetary perils that makes Special so worthy of its eponymous moniker. In the film, Michael Rapaport plays Les Franken, a comic-freak with little in the way of social graces who enrolls in a risky clinical trial for some strangely powerful anti-depressants only to find himself newly reborn with ‘special’ powers (he can walk through walls, hover in thin air, read minds – you know the drill), but the movie is no mere superhero-redux : Special fuses a genuine appreciation for the superhero cinematic ethos with a DIY indie sensibility that ends up making the film both giddy fun and narratively fresh.












(Special directors (lt.-to-rt.) Jeremy Passmore and Hal Haberman)


Mike Saenz, a colleague and friend of Haberman’s and Passmore’s from their days at the USC School of Cinema-Television, came to Special when one of the film’s producers called to see if Saenz would be a good fit for the film’s editorial construction. “The producer had me come look at some footage,” Saenz said, “And I went through the process of interviewing with, I think, five different sets of people, which was bit intense, but most of the guys were friends of mine from film school, so either they were really particular or they were just giving me a hard time.”

Saenz signed on to spend two months editing the film, but he recognized at the end of that stint that Special wasn’t quite there: “It’s the oldest story in the book – I gave them a flat editor’s rate for two months, but when it just wasn’t right, we kept working on it. It was tough spending four months on it instead of two, but we recognized very early on in that extra time that the longer we worked on it, the better it came together. So we rode it out.”

The film was eventually accepted into and screened at the Colossus of the Indie Hollywood world: The 2006 Sundance Film Festival. “No one sees a film more often than the editor,” Saenz said, “But it was like watching it for the first time at Sundance. I hadn’t heard the final mix, I hadn’t seen the entire film in one sitting – there were hundreds of people in the audience, and the atmosphere was… Let’s just say there were a lot of fist-bumps and high-fives.”

As the cookie crumbles, though, Special was still a bit of a ways off from distribution. It turns out that a tiny picture called Little Miss Sunshine was also at the festival that year, and in the fickle land of indie Hollywood, the gravity-bending buzz afforded Sunshine didn’t exactly pave a path for Special to find a clear way to cinemas. But the film found success on the festival circuit – it played to acclaim at festivals in Austin, TX and London, among others – and eventually found itself in limited release in late 2008.











((lt.-to-rt.) Josh Peck, Michael Rapaport, Robert Baker in Special)


So as Saenz finds himself having moved on to new projects – his film Dodge has been optioned by two producers of Napoleon Dynamite (it will be Saenz’s first feature as writer/director) – he wanted to leave our interview with one of his favorite anecdotes from Special.

With all the challenge, twists and turns in the film’s production and eventual release, our interview concluded thusly: “This is how indie we were:  Michael Rapaport personally spent more money on coffee and lattes for Special’s cast and crew than he actually got paid. He was so committed and interested in the project that he went all the way with it. Supposedly he read the script, loved it, and when he first met with Hal and Jeremy, his first question was, ‘Who the fuck are you guys?’ That’s Special.”


Buy Special on DVD

Special Official Site

Mike Saenz on IMDB