It was no surprise that despite getting there early to secure a good spot in line, I found myself at the back of one that had already wrapped back on itself twice. I chatted with a guy dressed up as Superman, pausing when approached by passersby who wanted to know if this was indeed the line for the Watchmen panel. Their groans made me laugh and think, “Well, what did you expect?”
The panel, put together by Titan Books, consisted of Dave Gibbons and Clay Enos and was co-moderated by Steve Daly (senior writer for Entertainment Weekly magazine) and Sara Rosen (director of photography for Women’s Health). Daly opened the panel by making a crack about whether the audience was familiar with Watchmen, at which point Gibbons added that anyone among us who had not yet read the graphic novel would be thwacked with a copy of it at the end of the panel discussion.
Clay Enos was the unit photographer on the film; he had never worked on a feature film before, so he did not know what to expect. Since he is a portrait photographer, he began taking shots that lent themselves perfectly for the beautifully put together Watchmen: Portraits, which features stunning black-and-white shots he took while on the movie set. Titan Books took notice of these portrait shots, taken throughout the course of the entire film, serving as an excellent catalog, and approached Enos about publishing them in book form.
Dave Gibbons’s book is even more amazing still. Gibbons kept all the sketches he drew while he was working on the graphic novel and decided to put these together for his new book Watching the Watchmen. He wanted readers to have the sense that they were going through his filing cabinet. Chip Kidd photographed the sketches and indeed gave them that sense of tangibility, photographing them not as artwork but rather as if they were three-dimensional objects—complete with coffee stains, giving them the texture Gibbons wanted to capture.
The discussion turned to the violence in Watchmen and how Gibbons handled it when working with Moore on the graphic novel, as well as the manner in which he felt it translated onto the big screen. Gibbons explained that violence should be depicted realistically, without having to resort to sound effects. Adding sound effects to, say, the moment Rorschach breaks a man’s finger while questioning him would take away the “impact of the moment”. He added that another reason why the violence works so well in Watchmen is that there are few occurrences of it in the novel (as well as the movie, of course) but they are vivid enough to resonate with readers (and on March 6, 2009, viewers, too). The movie takes violence to the limit, and Gibbons asked us to consider “Dr. Manhattan’s ability to do blood-curdling things with his powers”—I cannot wait to see how this plays out in the movie. Gibbons ends this part of the discussion by stating his pleasure at receiving the R-rating, since keeping it PG-13 would have meant losing much of the novel’s essence.
The discussion switched back to Enos, who explained that he was on the set every single day of shooting, even though unit photographers are never expected nor required to be present for more than a couple days a week. He was expected to take about 15,000 shots and ended up taking closer to 45,000 during the more than 100 days of shooting. He explained, too, that he took all the photographs that will appear in the film, including the coveted photo of the Minutemen, which, according to Gibbons, captures so well the golden age of superheroes. A fun trivia bit: look for Enos’s likeness used in the advertisements for the Veidt Method (he also appears in the Vietnam flashback scene, and boyishly described how fun it was to smear mud on himself and shoot a machine gun).
Gibbons shared that he did experience a bit of a surreal moment when he first visited the set and found all the actors in costume waiting in one room. Here were the people he dreamed up (visually, of course), talking among themselves and all turning to him when he walked in. Gibbons felt like he was “Dad, coming for a visit”.
Inevitably, the subject of possible prequels and sequels came up, eliciting a few groans from the audience (I managed to suppress my own). Gibbons said that someone who no longer works at Time Warner suggested in a meeting that included Alan Moore and Gibbons the possibility of further movie projects featuring the Comedian and Rorschach’s journal. Gibbons, who normally is reserved, could not help himself but giving the person a dirty look, and adds that it was nothing compared with Moore’s look. I do not believe for one second that Gibbons exaggerated when he said the temperature in the room dropped considerably. No, the book thought un-filmable was not un-filmable after all, but that is it. If another Watchmen movie is made, Gibbons will have no association with it, nor will Moore, who has expressed clearly that to add more to Watchmen will serve only to dilute it.