It’s hard enough for Hollywood to put together a superhero movie that looks great and has a coherent story on a $200 million budget, so what do you think would happen if a San Antonio director wanted to pull it off locally? Although he wouldn’t reveal his budget, it’s safe to say Mark Cantu had less to work with for his feature than Joss Whedon did for “The Avengers.” Cantu’s “Now Hiring” boasts some nicely choreographed fight scenes, surprisingly effective special effects, and at its heart, a sweet husband and wife story.
Cantu, whose 2011 short film “Love, After” won first place at the San Antonio 48 Hour Film Experience, laid the groundwork for his superhero feature years ago, and was inspired by his love of the 1978 film “Superman: The Movie,” which he says is one of his favorite films of all time because of its classic look and great story. Plus, he adds with a grin, “I think everybody wants to fly, honestly.”
In “Now Hiring,” Jason Sedillo plays Joe, an average guy who’s hit a bit of a rough spot in his career. Out of work, he answers an ad in the paper for what he thinks is part-time gig donning a costume for kiddie parties. Instead, he finds himself part of a real-life team of superheroes, battling the evil Lord Menace, played by Camden Toy (TV’s “Buffy the Vampire Slayer”).
The original short film “Now Hiring” was released in 2009. At the time, America was still reeling from the 2008 financial crisis, and the story of an out-of-work guy determined to provide for his family resonated with Cantu.
“The more I thought about it, the more I wanted to say something about relationships and the human condition,” Cantu explains. “And the more I thought about the relationship between a man and his wife, [the more I thought about the idea of] wanting to be a hero for your wife, even in the everyday ordinary sense… It was a natural extension of that to say ‘now I’m going to defend the entire city with the love that I have for my wife.’”
Shooting “Now Hiring” in San Antonio was a no-brainer for Cantu, who says he made a “conscious decision to showcase the city in a way that hasn’t been done before.” Hence, there are no fight scenes in front of the Alamo. But there are chase sequences on highways, and shots of helicopters and heavy equipment that add an extra layer of realism to the modestly budgeted production.
“[I] literally had to chase the movie,” Cantu says, smiling, as he recalls spending many lonely days at city intersections, waiting for the right moment to get a shot of a police car, or pointing his camera at the sky to get a shot of a helicopter flying in just the right direction.
It was less of a struggle to find actors who fit the parts in the film. Cantu has been friends with his star, Jason Sedillo, since college. “He’s such a goofball… but extremely accessible,” Cantu says. “That’s what I felt we needed with ‘Average Joe’.” Cantu has known several of the other actors in the film for years as well. And for those fight scenes, he looked for actors who could fight, rather than martial artists that might have some acting experience. The payoff is onscreen, including a climatic duel between Nightwatchman (Jason Scarbrough) and M.A.X. (Keith Berry). There’s also comic relief from local media personality and comedian Roman Garcia.
“Now Hiring” premiered in San Antonio to a sold-out screening at the Santikos Palladium on May 18, 2014, and screened in Houston shortly after. You can see it at 8:45 p.m. on Wednesday, July 30 at the San Antonio Film Festival, at City Base Cinema. After that, Cantu hopes to show his film on the festival circuit, adding the “Third Coast Avengers” as fans of the film have dubbed Cantu’s crew, to the pantheon of superheroes ready to leap into action.