Rick DeMott chats with director Lauren Montgomery about bringing the Green Lantern Corps to life in Green Lantern: Emerald Knights.
Coming in conjunction with the theatrical release of the live-action Green Lantern feature, Warner Bros. Animation has created Green Lantern: Emerald Knights, which highlights Hal Jordan's fellow members in the Green Lantern Corps. Along with co-directors Chris Berkeley and Jay Oliva, Lauren Montgomery talks about how they shaped this anthology release, which features a framing story to connect the five individual tales of GLC members. In the film Hal Jordan (voiced by "Geek God" Nathan Fillion) mentors new recruit Arisia Rrab (voiced by Mad Men star Elisabeth Moss) as she learns the ropes of the Corps. In the process we learn the stories of the first lanterns, Kilowog, Laira, Mogo and Abin Sur. Montgomery has some experience with the universe having directed the wonderful Green Lantern: First Flight.
Rick DeMott: What drew you to this project?
Lauren Montgomery: Working with the Arisia character seemed like it would be really fun. I really liked her. She's cute. And she had a pretty big role in it, which was kind of exciting to me. And it's also a Green Lantern story that is based on the Corps members and not just Hal. It was fun to look deeper into the lesser known characters.
RD: After having done First Flight, was the Green Lantern world something you wanted to revisit?
Yeah. The Green Lantern world is really great, because it's different than all the other superhero worlds. There are a lot more possibilities, because you can come up with any story and put it on an alien world. With the other characters you have put them in their worlds. Like if you're working with Batman then it's going to be a Gotham story. It's more difficult to send Batman out into space and have it be plausible. The possibilities are endless.
RD: As you said this film highlights the Corps as its main character. Was that the intention with it?
Yes. What they wanted to do going into it was to show some of the more popular or fun stories from the Green Lantern world. They wanted to use the publicity for the live-action film to sell the lesser known characters to the audience. If they didn't have a Green Lantern film already then they might not have taken a chance on a story that wasn't one of the main characters.
RD: Did your production work closely with the live-action production?
LM: There was originally an effort to do so, but because our schedules are so different, it ended up not really able to happen. They wanted us to use a similar [character] design as one of theirs, but they never got it to us. We waited to the last possible minute. We needed that design, because it needed to be animated and it wasn't going to get done on time.
RD: How were the directing duties divvied up between you and your co-directors?
LM: Because the movie wasn't one long continuous story, it was pretty easy to section it off between three different people. When it came to who would do what we figured that out between us.
I wanted to do the overarching story, which has Arisia in it. Jay really wanted to do the Laira story, because it had a lot of Asian influences and martial arts that he could use. Chris wanted to do the first lanterns story, because he really liked the story. The other three we just divvied them up between the three of us. We took the one that we really wanted to do and then split the other three.
RD: What were the challenges of doing an anthology with an overarching story like this one?
The biggest challenge of doing it was just getting the time right. We have six different stories happening in this movie. Each story has its own build up and climax, and each of us as directors wanted to do embellishments and flesh out our stories, which led to scenes being so long. We ended up having to cut things way down. The biggest challenge was keeping each story small and not an epic in and of itself.
RD: Did you find that you had to tweak a lot once the pieces were put together?
LM: Not terribly. I did find that some of the smaller stories had better climactic endings than the actual main story. So we had to go in and pump up the ending of the main story.
RD: How much was based on preexisting comics and what was original content?
I believe that the majority of it was based on comics. "The First Lantern" [sequence] was original. Avra character was original. He didn't originate in the comics. And the overall arching story was made up to tie everything together. The Kilowog, Mogo and Laira stories were taken from the comics.
RD: One part that I found interesting was how it highlighted the individual members' personals reasons to why they serve the team. Was how individuals come together for a common goal a theme that you wanted to explore?
LM: Yeah. I think that any time you have a character show up, you want to know what is their motivation, what is their personality, what got them where they are. This adds a whole new level of depth and appreciation for a character when you do know that. You can kind of figure out where they are coming from. So when you have that in the background, you appreciate them that much more when they're doing the group work. Whereas if you just have all these characters, and yeah there is all this cool stuff, but I don't know any of them and I don't care about any of them, it becomes a less compelling experience.
RD: What did you like about the characters you dealt with?
LM: It's just with the whole Green Lantern universe that all the characters are so different, good or bad. Some of them are just ridiculous looking. To some degree I really appreciate that because there is no other time that you can do that. If you put a ridiculous looking thing in Superman's place people aren't going to accept it. But you go out in the Green Lantern universe and you got these [characters with] abnormal features, but he's an alien, so people accept it. A lot of the fun is figuring out how to use each of those characters' differences. If a certain character has a certain anatomy what can he do that others can't? So that's the fun of it.
RD: Yeah, I don't think that you could put a squirrel in a Batman costume.
LM: [laughs] I wish we could though.
RD: Was there any specific influences that affected how you wanted Arisia to be portrayed?
Nothing specific. We didn't want her to be super tough. She really wasn't a tomboy. She was really just your every girl that ends up thrown into this situation. She's not terribly confident at the beginning. And even at the end she's not super confident because she's still learning. We really wanted her to seem like your typical teenage girl. She really doesn't know what is going on and she has to deal with it. So she has a strength inside of her just for the fact that she can deal with it. If I were her I'd probably end up sitting in a corner crying. She goes out there and thinks on her feet. She's not the strongest member of the Corps just yet, but she can go out there and hold her own.
RD: Did Elisabeth Moss' voice performance guide the development?
A little bit. I think Elisabeth Moss' voice work added more naiveté to the character. She made the character sound so young. We actually had her redo some lines where she came off too much like an airhead. But she does give her that newcomer, seeing things for the first time, attitude.
RD: How was it working with some of the other voice actors?
LM: I was excited to work with Henry Rollins. He was awesome. He came into the role of Kilowog fully researched. He had that character figured out. He knew who he wanted him to be.
Nathan Fillion is always awesome to work with. I've worked with him on a few occasions before. He's just a super nice guy and he's always excited to do it. So I really enjoy working with him.
RD: Is there any future plans for any more Green Lantern animated features?
I think they're waiting for the film to come out. If it does well, I think you can pretty much count on more Green Lantern animation. If they can add him to the Batman and Superman level then we'll see more, but at this time I don't know for sure.
RD: What are you working on next?
The next one is Batman: Year One.
RD: Where are you in that production?
It's pretty much done and waiting for release.
RD: Anything else.
I think the other one they announced was Justice League: Doom, [which is based on Mark Waid's "The Tower of Babel" storyline].
RD: Is there any characters within the Green Lantern universe that you'd like to see get their own animated story?
I'd love to do Ch'p, because I think he is awesome. But he's dead now. I enjoy the ridiculous ones. You can't do that anywhere else. That's what's so great about them, because you can bring a little humor into it.
RD: I see a Ch'p and Krypto team up in the future. It would be great.
Rick DeMott is the director of content for Animation World Network, VFXWorld and AWNtv. Additionally, he's the creator of the movie review site, Rick's Flicks Picks, which was recently named one of the 100 best movie blogs by The Daily Reviewer. He has written for TV series, such as Discovery Kids' Growing Up Creepie and Cartoon Network's Pet Alien, the animation history book Animation Art, and the humor, absurdist and surrealist website Unloosen. Previously, he held various production and management positions in the entertainment industry.