Get ready for a shocker. Comic book legend Stan Lee is in the new movie love letter to fans, The Concessionaires Must Die!
That's not the surprising part. No, the shocker is that the beloved Lee, who also executive produces the film, has his first REAL acting role after playing himself or doing a cameo in over 100 films and TV shows, and it's in a movie that loves movies, said Concessionaires director America Young in an interview with SYFY WIRE.
The film follows a group of movie and TV show loving misfits who must join forces save their beloved single-screen movie theater from being shut down forever by the owner of an evil corporate movie chain and his even more evil son. The valiant but geeky Scott Frakes (David Blue) leads the movie-loving oddballs against the villainous Derek (David A. Cooper) and his minions, all the while embracing pretty much every imaginable fan trope from Braveheart to The Wrath of Khan to The Princess Bride to Magnum P.I. to Batman Begins. Well, that and facing possible unemployment and having to decide what they want to be when and if they ever grow up. Stan Lee plays Scott’s comic book-collecting grandfather.
The film, which was written by John M. Keating and Sam McCoy, also stars Keating, Talia Tabin, Cosby Siringi, Zakareth Ruben, and Sarah Sweet. The Concessionaires Must Die! was just released by Dauntless Studios on digital and cable VOD platforms and on DVD later this spring.
Young, a director and actress (Damsels and Dragons), chatted with SYFY WIRE about working with Stan Lee, about the making of The Concessionaires Must Die!, and why she believes loving sci-fi is something you should never outgrow.
Why did you want to do this movie?
My friends were involved. They had half the movie written and they had approached me about it and I wanted to work with them. And then I got to read the script. I love stories that are pop culture. I'm in love with movies... I need to share that with other people. It's the power of a story to change a life.
But the other thing, I've seen so many people, not just fans and fanatics, but I've seen so many people who are struggling to find out who they are. Or they know who they are deep down, but they're just terrified to go after it.
I love those vignettes in the film where several of the characters see themselves as a superhero or supervillain or in some movie role for a flash.
Yes! That's how they see themselves. We use that in two regards. One, "I just met you. Let me tell you who I am. I'm Lex Luthor." Sometimes you have that conversation based on who someone is based on whether they believe [Magnum P.I.'s] Higgins was Robin Masters or not. Instantly it's, "I know who you are now."
So I think the power of story and culture, I think that's so important. But also there's so many people who don't go after their dreams and don't live a full life, so they live vicariously through films. They never had an experience so they might try and experience it through the movies. There was just so much too it that I thought we could add layers to it that could reach people on multiple levels.
You're only in your 30s and yet you've got this incredibly long resume as an actress and as a director. It's so interesting to see you involved in what's really a love letter to movie and TV fans.
It's what I love. Most of the references, we would be on set and I'd be like, "Quote this line instead." It was just coming from a place of love. There's this whole speech where Jon's talking with Gabby about how movies relate to his father in the projectionist booth and that she hasn't sold the theater because movies are how she connected with her father. And through [my childhood] I wasn't allowed television but I watched all the old classics and that was my first bonding moments with my dad, that and singing songs in the car. And it meant so much to me.
I also wanted to try something different. All my experience, especially coming from stunts, has been action stuff, so I wanted to go for heartfelt, I wanted to go for comedy and just stretch myself a little. Try something different. It ended up working out so perfectly and I got to make it with people who I just love.
Stan Lee's role was bigger than I've seen in the past. What was it like working with him?
I wasn't expecting to have this amazing time with Stan Lee as an actor. He's a pleasure to work with in general, but he actually hit some great emotional depths. I'd only seen his work in cameos, which are little kind of fun, quick, teasey things. But he really went there, and I wasn't expecting it. I was so thrilled.
I was talking to him right before his scene and I said to him, "You're really worried about your grandson. He's not getting out. He's not experiencing life. You need to find a way to use these comics to inspire him to go out and live life." And he just looked at me and nodded and went, "Okay." And then we shot it and really there's this whole conflicted moment that happens in him before hand.
The other thing that surprised me was the fact that this is his first acting role. When we were filming it he told me that. He said, "This is my first role." And I said, "But you've been in a hundred movies at this point." And he said, "No. They've all been cameos. I've never had a character with a name that was integral to the plot."
Wow! That's shocking.
Isn't that incredible? ... And he was so good. He was really excellent in it. It made me want to write additional scenes for him. That was surprising.
Him being a grandfather who gives his grandson comic books, it was really the perfect role for him.
Except for the fact that he's handing over Batman comics, yeah. I do love the irony. Stan Lee is Marvel handing over Batman comics. But, you know, it is the perfect role for him. Comics have been his life. But he's also lived a full life and he's also experienced a bunch of different things. When you talk to him he's so encouraging about, "Go and do stuff and create!" It was the perfect role. He was great.
What was the biggest challenge that you faced?
The theater that we were shooting in was this fantastic theater but they were still open for business while we were filming there. So we had to work around their schedule and start shooting. In fact, one of the days everyone worked concessions... They had a movie, The Phantom of the Opera with Lon Chaney, we all worked concessions just to get everyone into character, but also to thank them for letting us film there. We were working around wedding rehearsals and Halloween parties and everything that they were doing at the theater. But it was fun and it adds so many layers to it.
I would say the other one would be post. When you're on set and you're working out problems and you're with people that you adore and respect, the challenges don't seem so scary because everyone's putting their minds together to come up with a solution. But when you get into post and it's just a couple people in a dark room, to finish is always a challenge on these projects. To get it out the door. I'll say that's my biggest challenge.
Your film is almost a love letter to fans in a way. I know I'm surrounded by people who still talk passionately about Spider-Man and Batman and have been all my life.
Me too. My family's visiting this week and we just had this huge debate about Philip K. Dick. We just jump into these debates without even thinking about it. I hope I do for the rest of my life. I hope I never outgrow it. Comic books and sci-fi and genre, I don't think that's something you should outgrow. It's a phenomenal way of telling morality tales, and it's a phenomenal way of connecting with people. I don't think it's something you outgrow. It's part of who you are and it's a wonderful thing.
Here's a look at The Concessionaires Must Die!: