How Filmmaker Marah Strauch Made Sunshine Superman
Sunshine Superman is the most exhilarating documentary that you will see this summer. Released domestically by Magnolia Pictures, the movie focuses on Carl Boenish, the father of the BASE jumping movement. The film is a cinematic blend of interviews, dramatic recreations and archival action sports footage shot by Boenish himself.
The result is breathtaking. Sunshine Superman is an adrenaline pumping thrill ride that captures the beauty of somersaulting off of a jagged cliff face, while also unraveling a tragic love story. It is in an incredible fusion that highlights the duality of man.
The woman behind the story is first-time filmmaker Marah Strauch. After Sunshine Superman’s Los Angeles premiere at the Landmark Theater at the end of May, I caught up with Marah and asked her to share her unique filmmaking journey.
Rory Owen Delaney: Where did you get the idea to do the documentary?
Marah Strauch: My uncle was a BASE jumper and an aerial cinematographer and I basically discovered some footage he had of Carl Boenish and the Guinness Book of World Records jump. I started interviewing a lot of different BASE jumpers and eventually I came to Jean Boenish. I found an amazing archive of footage and I said, “This is amazing. It has to be a film.” We had to find out what the story was behind all this footage because it was just 16mm, mostly not sync sound and it really hadn’t been written, so it was about unraveling this story and trying to figure out what the most interesting parts would be.
Rory Owen Delaney: What fascinated you about Carl Boenish?
Marah Strauch: What fascinated me about Carl was endless. He was an excellent filmmaker and really did whatever it would take to get a shot. I was inspired and interested by his personal philosophies on life. I loved the idea of attempting to construct a very theatrical film from all of the bits and pieces he left behind. It was a puzzle. He was a puzzle.
Rory Owen Delaney: And how was Jean Boenish?
Marah Strauch: Jean is very watchable. I loved Jean’s giant eyeglasses and her style. She is kind of nerd core in the best way possible. She is smart, a bookish BASE jumper…what’s not to love?
Rory Owen Delaney: How many hours of film did you acquire from Carl’s archives and how many hours did you shoot?
Marah Strauch: There were 1000’s of feet in the archive. I am not sure how many hours maybe around 30 total. We shot about 20 hours of footage total. I am not sure what the actual ratio in the film is maybe half and half.
Rory Owen Delaney: At what point did you pin down a narrative structure?
Marah Strauch: I think we were pinning down the narrative structure as were were writing and rewriting treatments. We learned a lot by pitching the film and finding holes in the narrative. We discovered a lot in the editing room.
Rory Owen Delaney: What was the toughest part about making the documentary and what was the most rewarding?
Marah Strauch: Financing is always hard. I was a first time filmmaker and getting anyone to trust me with a budget was a challenge. I think it is rewarding to see images I showed my cinematographer translated correctly to the screen. I loved sharing the film with the BASE jumpers. I loved that non-BASE jumpers could be inspired by the film.
Rory Owen Delaney: How did you finance Sunshine Superman?
Marah Strauch: Kickstarter, pre-sales, equity investors, European funding, credit cards, sweat equity, deals with the devil.
Rory Owen Delaney: How did you secure distribution?
Marah Strauch: Universal International came on the project when we had shot a 30 minute teaser, Salt International brokered the deal. They bought World minus North America and Norway. We sold North America at Toronto. Josh Braun of Submarine Brokered the deal. Norway was sold by our co-producers.
Rory Owen Delaney: Why is Norway so captivated by the story of Carl Boenish?
Marah Strauch: I would guess the same reason he captivates me or you or anyone. He broke a world record there and it was a big event.
Sunshine Superman released with great critical acclaim. Make sure you add Sunshine Superman to your list of “must see” documentaries.