‘Kick-Ass’ way to make a movie

Helmer Vaughn worked around pic's modest budget

Director Matthew Vaughn on the set of ‘Kick-Ass’ with stars Aaron Johnson and Chloe Grace Moretz.

Helmer Matthew Vaughn fought an uphill battle to make “Kick-Ass.” Studio after studio rejected the project so he financed it outside the system and eventually sold it to Lionsgate.

There’s nothing like a modest budget — in this case $28 million — to force tough decisions. “We had to make sure our ambitions fit within that budget,” said producer Tarquin Pack.

Curtailed goals meant abandoning any hope of shooting the quirky superhero saga in Gotham, where it’s set, so “Kick-Ass” filmed mostly at the U.K.’s Elstree Studios, which qualified it for a budget-stretching tax rebate.

For a minute Vaughn even considered setting the film in Blighty, “but there’s no real U.K. superhero culture,” he said. “Batman, Superman, Iron Man are all in America, so we set it in America. Besides, with modern technology you can make anywhere seem like anything.”

In “Kick-Ass,” Vaughn pays homage to earlier superhero movies — but adds humor, irony and a unique visual touch. “I think ‘The Dark Knight’ and ‘Batman Begins’ are beautifully shot, and (d.p.) Wally Pfister is absolute genius,” he said. “In ‘Kick-Ass’ a lot of scenes are filmed in a very similar way to the movies we were inspired by, but we tried to put our own spin on it.”

This included a bright, colorful look instead of the darkness of the genre’s more brooding pictures.

“We had a few arguments at the beginning,” said Vaughn of his early conversations with d.p. Ben Davis. “He read the script and thought dark and edgy. I was like, ‘no, no, no, let’s create something like a comic book, bright and glossy. It should be shocking.’ ”

Pack also had to be convinced. “I hadn’t quite bought into Matt’s idea until an error caused one of the scenes to come back too dark,” he said. “Instead of allowing you to laugh it was foreboding and depressing. At that moment the penny dropped and (I realized) it makes a huge difference if it’s bright and fresh.”

Davis filmed on 35mm using widescreen anamorphic lenses. “Everything I’ve done was shot in anamorphic,” said Vaughn. “It says cinema rather than television (at a time) when the line between movies and TV series is blurring. I’m going to cling to anamorphic lenses until I get forced to use a digital camera, and even then I’ll figure out a way to use them.”

Production on “Kick-Ass” wasn’t without hiccups. Vaughn singles out production designer Russell De Rozario for a “brilliant job,” especially considering that he was hired a scant five days before filming started — replacing a departing Oscar winner. “I’m still learning,” said the helmer, adding it’s not the first time an Oscar winner has let him down.

Signings & Bookings:

Gersh Agency has booked d.p. Vanja Cernjul , production designer Rick Butler , editor Meg Reticker and costume designer Dan Lawson on HBO’s “Bored to Death”; line producer Sean Ryerson on USA’s “Covert Affairs”; production designer Lester Cohen and editor Sheri Bylander on FX’s “Lights Out”; production designer Stephen Beatrice on USA’s “White Collar”; and editor Chris Peppe on TNT’s “Dark Blue.”

GSK and Assoc. bookings: vfx supervisor Eric Durst on James Mangold’s “Knight & Day”; sound mixers Mark Ulano on Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck’s “The Tourist” and Steve Nelson on HBO pilot “Enlightened” and ABC pilot “No Ordinary Family”; costume designers Mary McLeod on Patrick Lussier’s “Drive Angry” and Amanda Friedland on ABCs “The Gates”; production designers Warren Alan Young on TNT’s “Hawthorne” and Mark Harrington on USA’s “Burn Notice.”

GSK also booked d.p.’s David Tattersall on AMC pilot “The Walking Dead” and Suki Medencevic on Disney Channel’s “Jonas”; editors Elena Maganini on ABC’s “Scoundrels,” Sabrina Plisco on Raja Gosnell’s “The Smurfs,” Michael Ornstein on ABC pilot “Matadors” and NBC’s “In My Shoes,” and Shannon Mitchell on Showtime’s “Californication”; upm Jim Behnke on James Mangold’s “Knight & Day” and Ed Tapia as co-producer on A&E’s “Sugarloaf” and ABC’s “187 Detroit”; and line producer Mel Efros on TBS’ “Franklin & Bash.”

Montana Artists bookings: first a.d.’s Max Day on FX’s “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia” and Pete Whyte on Rupert Wyatt’s “Caesar, Rise of the Apes”; d.p.’s Ben Kutchins on Gavin Wiesen’s “Homework” and Michael Trim on Showtime’s “Weeds”; production designers Kirk Petruccelli on Pierre Morel’s “Dune,” Jerry Wanek on CW’s “Supernatural,” Mark Hofeling on Disney Channel’s “Fabulous” and Ricardo Spinace on USA’s “Facing Kate.”

For more Signings & Bookings and previous columns, go to Variety.com/Caranicas

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