“So-Called Superheroes” combat petty crime

Aspiring University of Minnesota filmmakers release “So-Called Superheroes,” a seven-episode web series

Super Ryan Gosling, Furie, Thundercloud and Plague Doctor hard at work.

Nathan Hastings

Super Ryan Gosling, Furie, Thundercloud and Plague Doctor hard at work.

Emily Eveland

What do you do when you want to make films but your school lacks a cohesive program? For Nathan Hastings, Jacob Fritz and Jacob Johnson, the answer was simple: You pool your resources and do it anyway.

“If you’re serious about studying film at the [University of Minnesota], you sort of have to do your own thing,” Fritz said.

Last summer, Hastings, Fritz and Johnson directed and filmed a seven-episode web series called “So-Called Superheroes” on a $600 budget. They released one episode on YouTube per week throughout the fall semester.

Throughout the process, the boys consulted communications professor Mark Neuman-Scott for writing and filming advice, rented their cameras from the Rarig Center and used the series to apply and refine the skills they picked up in the University’s scattered assortment of film classes.

“We had a handful of months to write out 25 pages of script, which is a real luxury, because we didn’t have to do it for a class,” said Hastings, a communications senior.

 “So-Called Superheroes” centers on a group of four wannabe heroes with less-than-stellar powers who set out to fight crime in the fictional neighborhood of Glasstown, an amalgamation of familiar Minnesota locations like Pillsbury A Mill and Minnehaha Falls.

Hastings, who plays Super Ryan Gosling, and Johnson, who plays Plague Doctor, found the remaining two lead actors to play Furie and Thundercloud through the Minnesota Film and TV Board.

“[The characters] each approach crime-fighting and patrolling in a different way,” Hastings said.

Plague Doctor threatens enemies with a syringe filled with an unknown substance, Super Ryan Gosling terrifies with his looks, Furie occasionally kicks things, and, well, it’s unclear what Thundercloud does.

Instead of fighting crime, the group gets involved in a turf war with a gang called Contenders, fronted by a switchblade-wielding character called Eddie Griffin.

“Oh, you’re a band!” Thundercloud says upon hearing their name. The contested turf is actually the Pillsbury Tower near St. Anthony Falls.

“The idea is that this is a Lake Nokomis-type neighborhood,” Johnson said. “The superheroes want to hang out there because there are not a lot of hardened criminals around there and they’re not very tough.”

The Contenders challenge the heroes to a rumble. Whoever wins the rumble gets to stay.

Hastings, Fritz and Johnson took a hands-on approach to choreographing the fight sequence.

“We broke out the toys and the action figures and blocked out how we were gonna do this stuff,” Fritz said. “Nathan and I were kicking chairs over and jumping over things.”

The rumble is similar to the fight scene in “Anchorman.” At one point, Plague Doctor forces a Contender to slap himself with his own hands and, at another, simply flaps his arms and makes bird sounds while standing over a different gang member.

“What are you doing?” the Contender says in response. “That doesn’t even hurt.”

 Mustard Bus, an indie-funk hybrid from St. Paul, provided the score for the fight scene and is featured throughout the series. Minneapolis-based Strange Names, which is fronted by University theater graduate Liam Benzvi, also provides the soundtrack for the series.

In the end, “So-Called Superheroes” is about the people underneath the masks.

“If you take that superhero and strip off the mask and the costume and everything, you have an interesting story regardless,” Fritz said.