DIRECTOR OF HEIRS OF JUSTICE
Andrew, tell us a bit more about yourself. Where does your desire to be a director come from?
I’ve had a camera in my hand since I was ten years old and have been telling stories ever since.
I have been fortunate to be involved in several musical theater shows where I’ve been able to see how various directors ran their productions. Taking notes on what worked and what didn’t from them, I was able to implement things that helped things run as smoothly as I could when starting my film business. Heirs of Justice was the first major project that required me to be much more involved in things. Being in this role has taught me a lot about myself, both my strengths and weaknesses. Overall, I have enjoyed it very much.
What is your background?
The drive to do my best in everything I do was instilled in me by my parents, who came to the United States from Mexico with very little.
One thing my dad loves is watching movies. For myself, I was always so enamored at how visuals and music come together to draw an audience into the dream of a world. I would obsess over the details of what made things work so well. I think that’s why I have always been an editor and stronger in my post-production skills.
I want to make sure the audience is figuratively in the palm of my hand from the moment the opening credits roll until the closing credits roll. The magic of capturing an audience for however long you have them is what inspires me to create a compelling story.
What were your references for Heirs of Justice?
There was a substantial amount of research done for this series. Doing a fan film requires, at minimum, a basic understanding of the lore of what you’re trying to portray. I wanted to go deeper than that. Assistant Director Jeffrey Yarush, writer John Ratliff and Director of Story Development Jordan Beck were instrumental in both helping write the script and referring to the comics and the lore to keep our story as original as possible.
For the heroes, Terry McGinnis (Jeffrey Yarush) and Cassie Sandsmark (Holli Schwenk) were probably the best established heroes as they had multiple comics and TV shows around them. Clark Kent Jr. (Jordan Beck) and Bart Allen (Michael Yarush) had some information about them, but not a tremendous amount. There were several stories that revolved around our villains, Joel Kent (Will Buckwalter), Mercy Graves (Kristin Morales) and AMAZO (Manon Sullivan) in the comics, but none where they were all together.
We took several elements from stories that we found about all of these established characters and created our own story around them. This allowed us to keep things within the parameters of familiarity to those who know DC Comics and their lore.
You won Best Fanfilm at the RED Movie Awards, what does that mean to you?
It was an unexpected and incredible honor! It’s the first film award that I’ve ever won. I’m humbled to know that the panel of judges, members of the industry, reviewed our project and selected it as the best of the season. This award is dedicated to the determination, creativity and passion of the cast’s hard work.
This was filmed during the height of the COVID pandemic. Many obstacles were thrown in our way and shooting delays happened constantly. It would have been very easy to give up, but we didn’t. It’s validating to know that their hard work and perseverance paid off.
How do you manage to appropriate this universe, how do you manage to give your own originality and your vision in this world of superheroes?
Looking at DC Comics, the team knew there were endless stories about the main heroes (Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, etc.), their sidekicks and their direct descendants. When creating the story, we realized that even to this day, not much is known about the third generation of those main heroes.
I decided to start the script there, to grow our original storyline with second and third generation descendants. The characters of Rachel (Nicole Lenos), Bella (Megan Kolod), Arnie (Brendan Beck) and Kim (Manon Sullivan) were completely original characters for the story. The other characters had either been portrayed in some form of the comics, so there was more of a baseline to use when creating their characters.
The biggest thing we wanted to do was to make these characters grounded in their reality and to have them react as normal teenagers would.
This script had two major things in its favor. First, it helped that every actor was all well-trained in musical theater. They understood the basics of acting and what it meant to bring a script to life. Second, these actors wrote the dialogue that their characters are saying. The investment they made in the script was more personal and I felt it added another layer of realism to the performance.
Why did you choose to make a Fanfilm, it’s a more complicated genre to distribute?
In terms of distribution, I think we went into this knowing that the project was primarily a passion project. This cast of volunteers are all fans of the DC Comics brand as a whole. They are all friends of mine and have been involved in several projects before, but never one to this scale. The challenge of making this along with the subject matter was what fueled us to do this.
When scriptwriting began, there was only one film festival that we knew of that accepted fan films. My personal goal was to make Heirs as well as I could to submit it to that film festival here in the United States and be selected. Six years later, that goal was reached.
The undercurrent of this project for me was to show that there can be great stories made by people who are passionate about their craft and who don’t have a large Hollywood sized budget. I’m glad to know that there are more opportunities to showcase our work now than there were six years ago.
The film being a fanfilm and webseries with 9 episodes, how did you finance the film?
This film was financed largely by myself. The idea for the series came in late 2017, so that was the moment when I started saving working my current job while taking on various photography/cinematography work and putting it toward this project.
Overall, it cost 11,000 USD to create. Most of the cost went into costuming and purchasing filming equipment for the shoot.
Several of my very good friends were very generous with their space and their time. Some let us shoot in an office building, booking hotel rooms for us to stay in during a weekend long shoot. Others allowed us to stay in an Airbnb mountain cabin for two weekends while shooting our superhero fighting scenes. I’m truly grateful for their love and support of me and this project.
Can you tell us about your production method?
Scriptwriting began in late 2017. The script went through various versions over two years, but really started picking up steam when we brought both of our dialogue editors, John and Stephanie, on board. The script was finished in early 2020. By then, Manon and Nicole, our costumers, were well underway creating the costumes.
COVID threatened to shut everything down, but the cast decided as a collective to continue on with the planned production start date in June 2020. With the pandemic in our way, the original production schedule of three weeks turned into 11 months. Despite the setbacks, it was a great bonding experience for everyone, especially filming the scenes that took place up on the mountain when everyone was in their superhero outfits. We followed COVID guidelines at the time and rescheduled a lot to ensure no one was getting sick on set.
While production was happening, I edited as we went along, receiving some good feedback from test audience members as well as the cast. Once production wrapped in May 2021, the rest was up to myself to edit, color grade and add special effects to the project. I know I’m not an army of 300 digital effects artists, but I did what I was able to do to the best of my capability at the time. I’m proud of how the finished product looks.
Did your film reach a wider audience being a fan film?
We did a private screening for the cast, crew and their families in late July 2021. After the series launched on YouTube, it reached more of our family and friends and those who were interested in the content. We did manage to bring in some fans through our social media pages to see the series and they enjoyed it. Winning the RED Movie Awards has brought revitalized attention to people who may have not seen it during its initial release, which is exciting.
What is your next project?
I have two short films that are currently in pre-production using some of the same actors from Heirs of Justice. One is more dramatic while the other is tender and heartwarming. I am planning to film them in the next few months and submit them to film festivals at the end of 2023.