Art World Thriller Velvet Buzzsaw Owes its Existence, Improbably, to Superman Lives

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The failure of Tim Burton’s Superman Lives is one of the most legendary flops in the film industry. It’s so big, its failure is still inspiring movies.

Among his early projects, Dan Gilroy, the writer and director of Velvet Buzzsaw, the striking Jake Gyllenhall thriller that will absolutely change how you see the art world, worked on Superman Lives with director Tim Burton and producer Jon Peters. After slaving over the film for over a year, it was, unceremoniously, cancelled. And in a recent interview with Polygon, Gilroy reveals what a profound effect that had on him and his career:

So in the ’90s, a million years ago, I spent a year and a half working on Superman Lives, the most epic debacle of all time. I worked on it for a year and a half, and one day, a day before shooting, Tim and I and the producer Jon Peters, walked into Warner Bros. offices, and they announced they were pulling the plug for economic reasons and other reasons. I remember just being devastated. I’d worked for a year and a half. This was going to be a massive film for me. I was so excited. So I drove down to Santa Monica, and I sat on the beach, and I was just trying to process this year and a half and I thought, Wow, I could have written all of those words on the beach in the sand, and the waves could have just washed them away. That’s pretty much the relevance of what I just went through.

Then I started to ponder, and I thought, ‘You know what, it doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter for me right now, because I worked as a writer and I grew as a writer, and it particularly does not matter for me moving forward, because I have to assume that this could happen again, and I have to make peace with the idea that, at a certain level, I’m working as a creative slash artist for myself. I have to find work that’s relevant to me, so that it transcends what the world thinks of it or if it ever gets seen, if ever.’


That experience, then, set Gilroy on the career path that led him to making Nightcrawler and, now, Velvet Buzzsaw. He also reveals the more literal impact that experience had on his new film’s ending:

It certainly led me to Velvet Buzzsaw. The last image of the film, the credit sequence, is John Malkovich drawing on the beach as the waves are washing away the images. And those images are just as relevant, even though they’re about to be washed away. That sells at Sotheby’s for hundreds of millions of dollars.


Velvet Buzzsaw is now streaming on Netflix.