Scene from "Altitude," directed by Kaare Andrews © Alliance Films Media
Tom Ue: I have seen a lot of your work on Spider-Man and The X-Men. You are probably best known for the cover drawing of the upside-down Spider-Man kissing Mary Jane. How did your comic book career begin?
Kaare Andrews: It began when I was about four years old, my earliest memory of actually buying a comic book. My Dad took my brother and me to a 7-11 and my brother bought a chocolate bar and I bought a comic book. I have vivid memories of trying to read without knowing how and being mesmerized by the images of the X-Men and Fantastic Four. It totally fascinated me. That’s really how my comic book career began, you know. That one early touchstone. It took a while longer to actually break in. After high school, I went to art school in Calgary for a couple years and I had started drawing sample pages and sending them off to the publishers. But with trying to keep up with mindless art school assignments and work almost full time to pay for school I felt frustrated and distracted. So I moved back home, into my Mom’s laundry room, and drew sample pages until I started getting work. At first, for no real money. Then, one job led to another and within a year or so I had broken into Marvel.
T.U.: What is your favourite piece to date?
K.A.: I am most proud of my first Spider-Man cover that I ever digitally painted because it kind of changed and defined me as an artist, opened up a lot of doors for me. I took a chance really, no one had asked me to paint it and digital painting wasn’t common back then. The truth is that I had become fascinated with oil paints but didn’t have the money to buy any. Digital painting seemed like the next best thing. And it paid off. It isn’t the best thing I ever painted but it is one of those turning points in an artistic career.
T.U.: Let’s talk more about Altitude. How is filming the feature similar or different from producing comics?
K.A.: Well, when you’re a kid there is literally no difference between comics, toys and movies. They are just the same thing. It isn’t until we grow older that people try to tell you they are different and that you can’t do everything. But let me tell you, as obsessed as I was with comics, I was also obsessed with film. What’s interesting is that I wasn’t particularly obsessed with films. I was obsessed with filmmaking. Again, I have vivid memories of renting books from the library about filmmaking at a very young age and not being able to grasp the concepts of the book but feeling a certain magic about it all. I soon found Cinemagic magazine and had always had an interest in animation, etc. My Dad bought me a Super-8 camera and I would make little stop motion films. So, I feel like going to films was returning to childhood for me. To more directly answer your question, creating comicbooks is about the most isolating artistic experience imaginable. I work all day, alone in my studio. Filmmaking, on the other hand, is about the most collaborative art form. You work with hundreds of people on the same project, leading them to a singular vision.
T.U.: In your view, is it more difficult for an aspiring artist to start a career in comics or filmmaking?
K.A.: This is an easy question. There may be more people out there that are trying to break into filmmaking but it is so much harder to start a career in comicbooks for one reason—There are fewer jobs out there. Every city has a public TV station and there are literally hundreds of production companies, studios etc… but in comics there are maybe three or four major players. That’s really what led to me to comics first. I knew it was harder to break into. And I am a very competitive person. I like terrible odds and I like to “win”. The great thing about filmmaking is that I feel exactly where I am in film as where I was in comics when I was first breaking in. There is a lot of opportunity out there and I am excited to fight for it, to see where it goes. I have big plans!
T.U.: What was the best tip anyone gave you about working in the comic book or film industry?
K.A.: The best quote I ever heard about filmmaking is from Zach Snyder. “Filmmaking is a war of perseverance”. It’s a quote I read while in preproduction on Altitude and it turned out to be the gospel truth. The way you win fights is to be the last man standing. You watch people crumble around you, give up, make bad decisions, etc… but at the end of the day if you just hang in there, you will succeed.
T.U.: Altitude is not your first film. You have previously directed and written a number of shorts. What made you decide to try for a long feature?
K.A.: I’ve always had feature filmmaking as a goal. The shorts were practice. They also opened up some doors for me, got me into TIFF, the Canadian Film Centre, grants, etc…
T.U.: What is it like shooting in BC?
K.A.: It’s the only place I’ve ever shot in so I can’t really compare it with any place else. The interesting thing about BC is we have a lot of very high level studio films shooting here so we have a good crew. But we have almost no indigenous productions! I love shooting here. There is a very strong community of young, guerrilla filmmakers.
T.U.: Tell us about the casting.
K.A.: Well, we cast Jessica Lowndes first. We were looking for up and coming actors with an ‘it’ factor and she was someone we found on 90210. I met her in LA and it all just seemed to click. Only after we cast her did I discover she is from Vancouver! Weird, huh? So she was happy to come home and do a movie close to her family. We built the cast around Jessica and she was invaluable in the casting process. She read with our other actors and brought some friends to the auditions. I feel like we have a very strong cast. One of the things I’m most proud of.
TU.: Visually, your film looks stunning. I can just imagine you storyboarding the film frame by frame. Tell us about the art-direction.
KA.: Yeah, I storyboarded almost every shot. And I did extensive pre-viz on about three VFX heavy sequences. I love that part of the process. I can’t wait to have more of a budget and more time to really flex those muscles.
T.U.: Paul A. Birkett wrote the screenplay for the film. Was there improvisation or did the film evolve in the making?
K.A.: There was a little bit. For the most part, what you see is what was written, except for two small things. There is a kiss that was an improvisation and there is a moment with our two leads arguing about his past that utilized some improvisation. I tried to empower the actors to try things but the only other improvised moments were a few quips and jokes. This was the first real project in film where I was working from a previously existing script. Usually, I write my own projects, and so this was a challenge. I was trying to honor and respect Paul’s work but keep things moving and truthful.
T.U.: You are now working on your second film, The Hunted. Can you give us a sneak peak?
K.A.: Imagine if Blade Runner was a ninja movie… set in modern day… with no ninjas. That’s the pitch! J
T.U.: What’s next for you as a comic book artist?
K.A.: I am currently drawing a Warren Ellis scribed arch on Astonishing X-Men… speaking of which, I need to get back to the boards! I am running out of time to get this thing drawn.
T.U.: Thank-you so much for your time, and best wishes in your future endeavours!
K.A.: Thank you!
Tom Ue is a doctoral student at the Department of English Language and Literature at University College, London, where he researches on Shakespeare’s influence on the writing of Henry James, George Gissing, and Oscar Wilde.
Nostalgia is vicious; at least, it’s vice.
Its hours come contaminated with Loss,
And liquor—a killer (like Rilke)—kicks
The mind into coma—perverse preserve.
MAY, wife, speaks Cantonese (big city – Sang Wai) and English with a Chinese accent, originally from Hong Kong
I was soon to start work on my thesis. I had a job meanwhile, in a small hotel. It was summer. We had five empty rooms, it was a slow season. I suppose that's why the owner gave her the room for forty euros a night. The German couple was paying sixty, they'd also just walked in off the street.
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