It was a crisp spring day outside a pizza place in Burbank, California. Every so often, planes passed overhead as they entered final approach to the nearby Bob Hope Airport. Below them, the cast and crew of “Pizza Man” assembled to film an exterior shot. CBR News watched as the scene unfolded, finding some time to talk with actor Frank Muniz, director Joe Eckart, writer Marco Mannone and producer Foz McDermott.
“Pizza Man” tells the story of a kid – played by “Malcom in the Middle’s” Frankie Muniz – suddenly confronted with having superpowers. While it’s a familiar concept, the film is not based on a pre-existing character. “I think this is the first ‘grassroots’ superhero film,” said writer Marco Mannone. For him, the story began in August of last year when executive producer John Kapoor gave him a short story idea: “A pizza delivery boy who ends up eating a genetically engineered tomato that gives him superpowers that he uses to fight crime,” which the writer looked upon as a creative challenge. “It’s hardly ever done where people make a movie with a brand new superhero that has absolutely no established [fan base]. Some people might see that as a disadvantage, but I look at it as an advantage that we’re embracing.”
“He’s the world most unknown superhero. He’s a complete underdog,” the writer continued. “He gets no respect, from the people he’s trying, to save to the people he’s trying to fight. I think there’s a lot of fun to be had with that.”
On the set, director Joe Eckart readied the shot. “We have a shot of Pizza Man outside in his costume, trying to get customers into the restaurant, and the red mustang pulls up driven by Ashley Park Angel, and they make fun of him in his silly little costume.” It turns out the costume is the logo of the pizza place owned by Pizza Man’s mother, played by Shelly Long of “Cheers” fame. The costume is part of a promotion/punishment for the main character, as Matt (Muniz) lost some pizzas on a delivery run the night before and must drum up business in the suit.
“His mom comes out and embarrasses him, [saying], ‘You’re not doing it right! You’re not holding the sign right!’ She does this crazy dance and just humiliates him and they drive off.” Eckart went on to say. The shot will be tight on Muniz and Long; the camera taking the place of the Mustang out on the street. “We shot some of this yesterday, but lost some of the sun, so we have to finish the second half today. Shot looks great. Now we just need our actors to shoot it.”
For Muniz, “Pizza Man” marks a return to acting after a hiatus of nearly half a decade. “Over the last four or five years, I’ve taken off from acting. I’ve been off racing cars professionally and I’m in a band now,” the actor said of his time away from the business. “[I’ve] been just kind of focusing on all that, and maybe a month ago, I called my mangers for the first time in three years and said ‘Y’know, I’m really missing the acting world. I’m missing doing all that.’ Within the next week, I got the call about this, read the script, really liked it and thought it would be fun. I got lucky with the timing.”
While he would not call himself the most avid of comic book fans, Muniz explained that playing a superhero appealed to him. “I think everybody wants to be the superhero. Everyone wants to be the good guy that everyone looks up to.” Of course, playing the hero might not be as much of a rush as racing cars – “Racing is pretty extreme,” said the actor – but Muniz is enjoying portraying Pizza Man just the same. “I hate to say that they’re both jobs, but they’re both so much fun. I’m really enjoying this.”
While the finished film will be aimed towards a family audience, producer Foz McDermott told CBR, “There’s a lot of tongue in cheek stuff that’s geared toward the adults, kind of like ‘winking’ at the audience.” He hopes to strike the same kind of chord the best family films hit. “I want to reach the [group] I think exists, which is people my age, in their early-to-mid 30s who, if I had a kid, would be a huge comic book nerd because I’m a huge comic book nerd. I want to reach those people who can go see a comic book movie with their kids.”
Eckhart recently became a father himself and agrees with the “family friendly” tone. “Now that I have a child, I have to make some better content,” he joked. “The movies I’ve made in the past, my kid can’t see – my niece and nephew can’t see. So now I’m making something they can watch.”
“It’s not an all-out, slapstick comedy, it’s not a cynical satire, but it definitely has fun with itself,” revealed writer Mannone.” I think that’s really refreshing, because a lot of superhero movies these days are pretty jaded and cynical.”
The film is scheduled to feature several cameos from the worlds of comics and professional wrestling, including Stan Lee, Adam West, Diamond Dallas Page and Rowdy Roddy Pipper. “He is psyched to do it! He was writing his own lines for this, which is great,” said McDermott of West’s cameo. While Piper’s appearance was schedule for the next day, the exact nature of his appearance is being kept under wraps. “It’s a surprise for everybody, but the idea is to play homage to the iconic heroes we all grew up on,” Eckart explained.
Both McDermott and Mannone label themselves as life-long fans of comic books, and McDermott can clearly recall when he first fell in love with the medium. “I was at a YMCA summer camp [at age eight]. We took a field trip and we went to a comic book store. I picked up an X-Men comic -I want to say it was #269; Rogue was on the cover. The next week, I went back and I bought a ‘What If …?’ comic – ‘What If Wolverine Had Been the Lord of Vampires During Inferno?'” It has remained a passion for the producer ever since, leading him to work on “Smallville,” “Heroes” and the “Aquaman” pilot.
While Mannone could not recall a specific issue or moment when he became a fan, he talked about going to “the flea market every Sunday with my parents back in Western New York. I would just buy as many comics as I could.” He remembered loving the Hulk as a child and is currently reading Garth Ennis and Darrick Robertson’s “The Boys.”
“Pizza Man on set!” someone shouts. Muniz is decked out in a red-and-black superhero costume, complete with a mask and the letter “P” attached to his cape. Long is dressed in a more traditional “pizza chef” costume, sharing the color scheme of the main character. As Eckart described, she entered into the scene – sauntering in some takes – and showed Muniz’s character how to properly dance around with the sign advertising their pizza shop. Every so often, a car would slow down and sound their horn. Seven or eight takes later, Eckhart was satisfied and lunch was called.
All told, the shoot was a much easier situation than the Los Angeles area machine factory the production found itself in a few days earlier. “It was built in 1912 and probably cleaned out for the last time in 1913,” McDermott joked. “It was a six-story factory with a basement [that was] perfect for a zombie film or a ‘Saw’ torture film.” Eckart loved the look of the location, despite the sinus problems it caused. “For my breathing, not too good. For the movie, it looked freaking phenomenal,” he said of the location. Muniz also talked about the factory. “[I] went home feeling a little clogged up, but nobody’s died yet, so we’ll see in the next couple of months if we all start losing our hair,” he joked. “It’s part of the hazard of being an actor.”