November 26, 2006 in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. Online press day and set visit for Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer, hosted by Fox public relations.
The cast and crew were roughly 13 weeks into a 16 week shoot. The city of Vancouver had just been through 12 days of a “boil water advisory” to avoid unsafe drinking water in the aftermath of a major rain storm. Fresh on its heals, a massive snowfall on the weekend just blanketed the greater Vancouver area with several feet of snow. An unseasonal cold front was also settling in, putting the temperature around -10 degrees Celsius (14 degrees Fahrenheit).
None of this fatigue or the battering from Mother Nature appeared to have dampened the spirits of the enthusiastic folks of Fox or Fantastic Four. It did, however, make my two hour flight arrive two hours late.
As my cab pulled up to the Vancouver Marriott Pinnacle Downtown, my fellow online journalists were already enjoying lunch in “The Loft” with screenwriter Don Payne. Payne’s only other big-screen writing credit is My Super Ex-Girlfriend, released earlier that summer. However, as a staff writer at “The Simpsons” for seven years, I knew I would like him.
As I found a place, Payne was already in midst of regaling a captive audience huddled around him in a questionably tight circle. The current question, it appeared, was regarding any changes that had happened in the Fantastic Four’s universe since the last film.
A year or year-and-a-half has passed, according to Payne. “It’s a long engagement,” he laughed.
While the circumstances of the first film were built upon Reed’s business failings, the pressures of his successes came up throughout the day as a theme for the second film. “If you’re the smartest man in the world,” explained Payne, “you can make money that way — by inventing things. You can also do commercials. The Baxter Building, because they’re more successful and making more money, has been refurbished. So it’s not as grungy, more high tech.”
“When you’re a super hero and you don’t have a secret identity, you run into the problem of celebrity and lack of privacy. You can’t go outside to a restaurant or shop at a store. And some of the kind of things we’re talking about — a long term relationship and ultimately raising a family or bringing someone into the world when you have monsters coming from the Negative Zone.”
“That’s not in this film!” Payne was quick to interject as pencils started scribbling faster. “Maybe in the future.”
I came to learn that the earlier discussion I had missed was dominated by Payne carefully avoiding the initial barrage of spoiler questions. “Galactus who?”, he had answered. A sympathetic Payne later shared with me that while we can expect to see Galactus in the film toward the end, one reason the world-devouring being is being downplayed so strongly is that “this is Silver Surfer’s story, he’s the focal point”. Fans should expect the Surfer’s storyline in the film to closely follow his original comic appearance in “Fantastic Four” #48 – #50 (“The Coming of Galactus”), and the subsequent stealing of Surfer’s powers by Dr. Doom in “Fantastic Four” #58.
“I grew up as a Marvel kid,” Payne admitted to the lunch crowd. “I really didn’t know DC that well, except occasionally Spider-Man vs. Superman or something like that. And of course I know Batman and Green Lantern, but I haven’t been following or reading them that much, other than big events like ‘Identity Crisis’ or ‘Dark Knight Returns.'”
“There’s something about the Marvel universe that really appeals to me. It seemed more real than the DC universe, partly because it’s Los Angeles and the characters seemed more flawed. I mean, Bruce Wayne had his problems, but he’s also a millionaire. Peter Parker is someone I could identify with, nerdy.”
Which are his favorite Marvel characters? “I love them all. I love the ‘Spider-Man’ franchise, I love the ‘X-Men’ franchise, obviously. I love the Avengers, Captain America. Who do I not like? That’s the question. The Dazzler, I dunno? Well, no, the Dazzler’s cool.”
Payne is on-set these days re-working some scenes and dialogue to accommodate changes in production plans. He pulled out the familiar phrase, “A movie is never finished, it’s abandoned.”
“There’s never been a movie where I said, here’s the script, let’s shoot it! You’re always futzing with it, or you get calls from the set saying, ‘You know, this line… what do you think? Can you give me a couple of options here? We don’t have this location today, so could we do this there?'”
From here, Payne anticipated some time with his family, working on two spec scripts (one an action/comedy, and the other a Men in Black / Ghostbusters-type) and continuing his work on “The Simpsons” TV show. While Payne isn’t involved in The Simpsons Movie, he “know[s] all the guys working on it. I haven’t seen it, but I hope it’s going to be great.”