Interview With Jon Mefford
(September 2003)

If you've had a chance to go through all the extras on the 2-disc Daredevil DVD, you've no doubt watched the documentaries produced by Sparkhill Productions. I recently had a chance to ask Sparkhill producer Jon Mefford about working on the DVD and meeting many past and present Daredevil greats. Rather than a question and answer format, I just suggested topics and let Mr. Mefford comment as he saw fit. Hope you guys enjoy it! Thanks to everyone at Sparkhill, especially Colleen Rice, for her help with the interview.

Jon Mefford bio

I have worked in various capacities on numerous film and television shows such as assistant cameraman in film and post-production supervisor in television. I was a judge at an independent film festival called Valleyfest in 2001 when I met Eric Young. Eric is the owner and Executive Producer of Sparkhill Productions, a full-service production facility.

Sparkhill Productions

Sparkhill mainly creates bonus material for DVDs though we have just produced our first music video for the rap group, BOO YAA TRIBE. Directed, incidentally by the cinematographer of Daredevil, Ericson Core. Since 2000, Sparkhill has created bonus features for over 68 feature films and television shows. Daredevil is our latest.

Fox and Sparkhill

Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment contacted Sparkhill about the Daredevil DVD while the film was still in production. Eric and I went to set to meet with Director Mark Steven Johnson, Producer Gary Foster and Marvel.s Avi Arad and Kevin Feige. The filmmakers. mandate was that they wanted a kick-ass DVD. No fluff. Then we got to work.

Comics

My passion for Daredevil goes back to 1979 when Frank Miller took over the book. I was introduced to the comic when I went to my first comic specialty store, The Great Escape, in Louisville, KY (where I grew up). Up till that time, Curt Swan's Superman and Jim Aparo's Batman were about all I was interested in. Then Mr. Miller showed all of us little tots what sophisticated storylines and harder-edged artwork was like. Around this time I also discovered Chris Claremont and John Byrne's insanely brilliant X-men book. I swear, that Hellfire Club storyline is still one of the best things you will EVER find.

Anyway, Miller's Daredevil was the first time I ever cared about what happened to the characters in a book. I will never forget where I was when Bullseye took Elektra from us. That was serious. She died. I was too young for Gwen Stacy so Elektra's death hit home. Things were never the same after that. You couldn't take for granted everyone would live.

Favorite creators

Wow. I'll try.
Burne Hogarth (If you don't know who this is, please seek his work out)
Jack Kirby
Neal Adams
Frank Miller
John Byrne
Alan Moore
Berni Wrightson
Gil Kane
Will Eisner
Steve Ditko
Barry Windsor-Smith
John Buscema
John Romita
Al Williamson
Terry Austin
Lynne Varley

Of the younger guys
David Mack
Brian Bendis
Alex Maleev
Alex Ross
Paul Dini
Bruce Timm
Jim Lee
Matt Hollingsworth

Plans for DVD

Our initial ideas for the DVD are really what ended up on the disc. This was one of the few times when the planets aligned and everything we came up with ended up there. All credit to Fox, Mark, Gary and everyone at Marvel for giving us unlimited access. A DVD can only be really good if the filmmakers support you. They have to provide source material and allow interviews. Marc Ostrick shot a lot of material for the DVD and was also the editor. He is an accomplished documentary filmmaker and brought his unique style to the project. I had to school him in the world of Daredevil, though.

Men Without Fear

Regarding the "Men Without Fear" documentary, we went into it with a plan. Come up with a shortlist of creators that would represent each different era in Daredevil history in chronological order. Now, I'm sure some people take exception to who is or is not in the doc, but we did our best. I do have some regrets, namely Klaus Janson and Ann Nocenti. We also shot an interview with Alex Maleev but were unable to use it. We only had so much bit space on the DVD. Frank Miller represented Klaus's era and Ann's by John Romita Jr. I apologize to anyone who felt short-changed. I really do. We included a thank you credit at the end of the doc, trying to acknowledge everyone.

Interviewing the creators

STAN LEE - interviewed Dec. 2002 in Santa Monica, CA.
Stan is everything you would imagine; charming, warm and an incredible storyteller. He was the most camera savvy of any of our interviewees (and probably the only one with a SAG card). Stan seemed genuinely amazed that all these 40 year-old characters were getting the lavish movie treatment now. Remember, it wasn.t so long ago we got the low-budget versions (Captain America, Fantastic Four and the Punisher). I left feeling like I had met Zeus. .Nuff said.

JOHN ROMITA - interviewed Nov. 2002 in New York.
John and Virginia Romita welcomed us into their home. Incredibly gracious people. John gave us a rare treat by hauling out ALL of his original Daredevil pencils. We included them in the documentary for everyone to enjoy. In talking about his work, I got the sense that Mr. Romita was a true professional. Don't bitch, just get the pages done. And done right.

GENE COLAN - interviewed Nov. 2002 in Vermont.
It was very, very cold and snowy in Vermont. All worth it when Gene Colan himself opened the front door and said "Let's get to it". Gene and his lovely wife, Adrienne, played host to Marc and I for several hours and even fed us! Now, Gene Colan is a HUGE movie buff with a giant television and great DVD collection. He was fascinated with our lighting and camera equipment. Stan Lee said Gene would have made a great film director. Gene's interview was very moving as he talked about the toll his professional life had taken on the personal. It has always made me really happy that Gene and Marv Wolfman got screen credit on Stephen Norrington's fantastic "BLADE".

FRANK MILLER - interviewed Nov. 2002 in Manhattan.
Interviewing Miller was the most scared I have ever been. Not because of anything Frank did, but because I felt like a little kid again. I WAS MEETING FRANK MILLER! Well, I'm not gonna lie. Frank was not an easy interview. He was a bit challenging and I appreciate that. He wasn't going to let me throw any softballs. But when it was over, Frank hung out for an hour, just shooting the bull (I pray that someday his Batman: Year One gets made by Darren Aronofsky). Frank Miller did not disappoint. Fierce intelligence and PASSION for his work.

JOHN ROMITA JR. - interviewed Sep., 2002 in San Diego.
John was the funniest guy we interviewed and I think one of the reasons he has been so successful is that he doesn't take himself too seriously. He approaches his work as a storyteller and has labored over many years at his craft. We discussed his "blocky" style and its evolution over the years. It was really fun to interview both John Sr. and Jr. They love each other a lot and take great pride in one another's work.

JOE QUESADA - interviewed Nov. 2002 in the Marvel offices, New York.
Now that Joe is the editor-in-chief at Marvel, I think he enjoyed looking back on his run as one of the most noted Daredevil artists. He went into great detail about his collaboration with Kevin Smith. I must say that I wanted to steal everything in Joe's corner office. That guy has the best swag you can imagine. Guess that's a perk of being a head honcho at Marvel.

DAVID MACK - interviewed Nov. 2002 in his home studio.
David Mack makes me sick. The guy is younger than I am and is disgustingly talented as both a writer and artist. David gave us a privileged look at his creative process including his impressive collages and innovative use of type in his stories. Being a Daredevil fan, I am very excited that David is taking over for a little while and we will see more ECHO.

BRIAN MICHAEL BENDIS - interviewed Oct. 2002 in Oregon.
Brian made a point of saying that Frank Miller is the gold standard. But, Brian doesn.t copy Miller; he has made Daredevil his own. In a time when a lot of people still buy comics just to look at the pretty pictures, Bendis gives us stories and words to revel in. I just hope that Marvel keep Bendis and Maleev on this book for a long time.

KEVIN SMITH - interviewed Feb. 2003 in Los Angeles.
I really want to thank Kevin and Gail Stanley for making this interview happen. Kevin was editing Jersey Girl and was very generous to give us some of his time. I have to say, Kevin's interview was. colorful. For those of you who have seen it, you know what I mean. All credit to Fox for not censoring the content. If anyone thinks Kevin should have been omitted to make room for someone else, well, this guy loves Daredevil. We talked comics forever and he knows his sh!t.

Meeting Tom Sullivan

The Tom Sullivan segment in a lot of ways is my favorite thing on the Daredevil DVD. We spent two days with Tom and his wife Patricia that were very special. I saw "If you could see what I hear" starring Marc Singer as Tom Sullivan when I was a kid and I always remembered it. Tom Sullivan has been blind since birth and has done more with his life than anybody. Do some research on Tom. We only scratched the surface with the 8 minutes we had for the DVD.

Text commentary

The text commentary was sourced from interviews, research from Marvel and my own familiarity with the character.

Making of Daredevil

The behind the scenes documentary was a LOT of work. Seven months of it. We culled from over 70 hours of footage from production and post. Mark's journey was a difficult one. It was just his second film and he was under incredible pressure. This was an expensive picture. To his credit, Mark wanted the making of to be warts and all and it was honest. You can see it; James Acheson's frustrations with the costume design, Mark's struggle just to get the job when it made no sense to give it to him.

The actors

I was won over by Affleck as Daredevil. I really was. This guy has been turning in some really good work (Changing Lanes, The Sum of All Fears). He wasn't coasting on charm here and I bought it. I think all the supporting cast was excellent as well. Jen Garner worked like a dog on her sai and acrobatic training. Colin and Michael Clarke I liked too. Favreau was damn funny (check him out in the GAG reel if you haven't already).

Problems with Fox about content?

Fox did not censor us at all regarding content. They are committed to putting out quality DVDs. The proof is there. The Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid disc from Fox is stellar. One of my favorites.

Final words

I have to say Daredevil was a real passion project for me, Marc Ostrick and everyone who worked on it at Sparkhill. You have to understand, I love comic books and am thrilled that the characters we love so much are getting their due. I also think they deserve great DVDs so the fans have something special. Mark Steven Johnson and Gary Foster are tackling Ghost Rider next and I cannot wait to see what they come up with.

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(c) Kuljit Mithra 2003
Daredevil:The Man Without Fear
http://www.manwithoutfear.com
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