Two years after his death, the indefatigable Stan Lee is still appearing in films. Here he is in Sessions with Stan, the new short from director-producer Aron Fromm, in which the comics titan addresses us from beyond the grave on the subject of “the most useful word in the English language.” (Hint: it ain’t “excelsior.”)
Fromm worked with Lee, on and off, for almost a decade. In that time, he amassed a trove of recordings of conversations with the great man, from which he plucked the juicy clip heard in this film. In the recording, which has never been made public before, Lee waxes about the multi-faceted power of said word. Fromm’s team has set the monologue to animation that captures the artist’s energy. Cartoon Brew is exclusively premiering the film below:
Fromm has directed the independent short Ovarian Cyst!, a gleeful superhero send-up; his industry experience includes editorial and production work on the animated documentary series Mike Judge Presents: Tales from the Tour Bus. But Sessions with Stan marks the first time he’s drawn on his archive of Lee recordings in his work. Below, he speaks to us about his relationship with the artist, and tells us how he went about translating the monologue into visuals…
Cartoon Brew: In what capacity did you work with Stan Lee?
Aron Fromm: I did a lot of freelance work for him and his company on and off for eight or nine years. It was a non-exclusive long-standing relationship. We’d call each other late nights and whisper sweet nothings, then not talk for a couple months. You know, one of those … Mostly they just called me in whenever he needed to do voice-over junk and promos. Shot a lot of signings. Later on, I did some producing on a couple things for him.
Do you recall the circumstances in which this recording was made?
The year was 2013: Vine stars ruled the earth, Harlem shook us all, and fidget spinning was just a niche subgenre of hardcore German pornography.
What prompted you to turn it into a film now? Did you choose this clip from among many recordings, and if so, why this one?
I have a ton of old recordings of Stan, but this one always cracked me up. It’s so likable and candid. It’s the way I like to remember him: a sharp-as-a-tack goofy old man who would do anything for a laugh. I was going through some old folders on my computer, came across it, and was like, “Shit, I gotta do something with this…”
I think a lot of people wonder what their heroes are like behind closed doors, and I personally find it reassuring when they’re 100% as advertised. Stan was.
How difficult was it to create an animated character true to your memory of the man? What were your directions to character designer Kosperry and animator Richard Plata?
Kosperry is a killer. I looked for years for someone who could nail that style — the look of a movie you fell asleep to when you were home sick from school as a kid, that you’re not quite sure actually exists outside your imagination. So when I found Kosperry, I was happier than Bruce Vilanch in an avalanche of Hidden Valley Ranch. I sent over a bunch of reference photos and Kosperry nailed it on the first try. Always does. My next project will be featuring their designs as well. For the animation, I start with a stage direction pass. Just text over the audio, sometimes with some pictures and video peppered in there, writing in specific motions and expressions I want to see at certain times. I sent that over to Richard, who did his own thing with it. He’s amazing with acting, and has a way of really making the character come through in every damn frame.
How did you come up with the main background — how much is based in memory and how much is invented?
I recorded this in Stan’s old office in Beverly Hills, so it’s loosely based on that. I sent over some reference photos and a layout, and Guillaume Arantes (my favorite background artist on Earth) filled in the blanks and made the place feel a bit more cinematic. Stan really did have that exact painting of him facing off with Spider-Man hanging behind his desk, so I had Kosperry recreate it and Guillaume paint over it. That little Captain America statue is God’s honest truth as well. He kept it on his desk at all times.
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