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ARLINGTON, Texas -- You couldn't blame Mark Steven Johnson if he's seeing little flaming skulls in his sleep days. As the writer and director of the Ghost Rider movie, he's been working on the film for months and months as he draws closer to the Feb. 16 release.

Johnson recently appeared at Wizard World Texas, where he showed a nearly nine-minute clip from the film and answered questions from fans. (To read highlights of that, CLICK HERE).

After the panel and a poster signing session, Johnson sat down with The Continuum for a one-on-one interview.

Below is part one of the interview; other parts will appear soon.

The Continuum: From the clip, it looked like Ghost Rider's pretty tough to beat. How is he vulnerable?

Johnson: The sun. I made him nocturnal. That was my big thing. In the comics, he can be Ghost Rider at any time. I really wanted it to be something like a classic monster movie. When the moon comes out and evil's around, he turns into Ghost Rider. But if that sun's rising, he'll change into Johnny. I thought that was a great, simple clock. Otherwise, it's no fun because he beats everybody.

That was always the problem I had with Superman. I could never get behind him because he's so powerful. He could do anything. You got Kryptonite, but so what? That's still boring. Bullets going off his eyeballs, no one can defeat him. He's always pulling his punches or he'll kill you. Which is a cool idea, but it's hard to really worry about Superman -- for me.

That's why I did this, I wanted to make sure he's dealing with the ticking clock. When the sun comes up, it's over for Ghost Rider and it's Johnny on his own. As you'll see in the movie, the final battle's happening as the sun is rising.

The Continuum: At one point, David Goyer was attached to the film. Did you ever talk to him? I noticed he's listed as an executive producer.

Johnson: He is, yeah, from the old script. No, but I'm a big fan of David's though, I think he's awesome. His version of Ghost Rider, I would be the first in line to see. It would have been great. Like any filmmaker, you come on to something and you want to do your version of it. His was a very dark, very hard R version of Ghost Rider. And I wanted my version to be much bigger, not family friendly by any means, but mine's more comical, more adventurous. It's got that vibe from the comic that I love.

Interestingly, this was a kind thing. Stephen Norrington, who was attached to direct Goyer's script, out of the blue one day sent me a letter, just saying how much he loved Daredevil and how happy he was I was doing Ghost Rider. He said he tried to make it for years and it never happened and said, "Good luck, wishing you the best."

I thought, "What a great thing to do." We had never met. So I gave him a shout and just said, "Hey, let's get together and have a beer." And we did. We traded horror stories of comic-book adaptations and drank the night away. So that was really nice of him.

The Continuum: Do you see this as a franchise?

Johnson: I do. I really do.

The Continuum: Did you plant seeds for a second movie?

Johnson: Always. Can't help it. It's the way I think anyway. It deserves it. It's such a great character and Nic (Cage) is so great in the movie. I'm really proud of it.

The big question, really, is is it too weird? Know what I mean? Is it going to be too weird for the general public? That's the question. You just don't know. I'm used to it. To me, it's like, "Yeah, that's Ghost Rider." When people see it for the first time, sometimes they go, "Oooh, that's so dark." Know what I mean? Or "I don't think that's for me."

No, no, no. There's comedy and there's a love story. It is scary, but it's not just a horror movie.

The Continuum: I think the last video blog you had, there was mention of "It's a love story, stupid."

Johnson: It's something I always wanted to remember. I always reminded everybody. At its core -- because it's going to have incredible action and it's going to be really scary and really groovy and have all kind of far-out stuff in it -- it always comes back to love. Love for his father is why he makes the deal with the devil in the first place. Love for his girl is what keeps him going to fight against impossible odds. And you've got to keep coming back to that. It's got to be the underlining thing to everything.

The Continuum: So that's part of the marketing? It sounds like a hard movie to market.

Johnson: It's a very tough movie to market. That's why when you saw the poster, it's a love story with that great image, that monster image I love of Frankenstein carrying the girl.

That's why it's not just a split down the middle Nic Cage/Ghost Rider. We're doing some of those lenticular posters as well, a limited run, and they're just beautiful. We wanted people to know it's not just the flaming skull, there's a lot going on around that.

The Continuum: Not necessarily taking the final product into consideration, how would you compare the process of making Ghost Rider to Daredevil?

Johnson: Very different. Also different because I'm more experienced. I went from a little, tiny movie that cost $18 million to Daredevil, which was $75 million. And it was a big jump and a lot of companies and a lot of pressure and all that. So, to be fair, I had things to learn, too.

Going into Ghost Rider, I know a lot more about visual effects, a lot more about action. And of course, the studio experience has been different, as well. It's been much easier for me to make Ghost Rider, even though it's a much bigger movie. It's still very, very difficult. These movies are very hard to make. But it's been a very good experience.

The Continuum: Bryan Singer told me that a movie's never really done, there just comes a time when you have to let it go.

Johnson: Yeah. Totally. It can always be better. Always. That's what's been so maddening about it. This has been one of the rare cases I literally have forever. I've been on this movie for so long. (laughs)

The Continuum: You've been to two Comic-Cons...

Johnson: Yeah, I know, two Comic-Cons. I've had two birthdays in post-production on this movie, that's how long it's been. But you can always change it. You can always find a better take of this or trim a frame here. But eventually you have to just go, "Here, take it." It's as good as it can be in a reasonable amount of time, that's what you have to come to.

The Continuum: Opening in February probably won't hurt you.

Johnson: February's been great for us.

The Continuum: I remember with Daredevil taking to Kevin Feige at Marvel and saying, "What if it snows?" And it did.

Johnson: A record snow. It was a heartbreaker. We still did so well that opening weekend, like $42 million.

Literally now, you can actually watch the figures come in. You can see money coming in. The computers show it.

So we're watching it and on Friday night it did like $15 million and Saturday was like $18 million, and we were like, "All right!" And then the holiday, President's Day weekend came, and it was like "zero, zero, zero, zero." It was unbelievable because everything was shut down. It was the worst snow storm in East Coast history.

We were like, "Oh, no..." And you never get that back. You never get opening weekend back. People say they're going to go, but you know how it is. We all do it, "Oh, I'll just wait for the DVD."

The Continuum: It's weird, because when FX showed Daredevil, they showed the director's cut.

Johnson: Is that right? I didn't know that.

The Continuum: So it might be a case now where more people are seeing that version.

Johnson: I hope so. It's a much better film. It's a shame that more people haven't seen it. That's encouraging to know. I didn't realize that.

The Continuum: I always felt bad for Coolio.

Johnson: How good is Coolio? He was so good in that movie.

The Continuum: I always laugh with that scene where he and...

Johnson: Jon Favreau...

The Continuum: ...when they hug other.

Johnson: It's a funny scene. (laughing) And Favreau, how funny is he? And a lot of his stuff got cut, so I'm so glad people got to see it.

The Continuum: You mentioned at the panel that you had dinner with Favreau and Avi Arad recently. How do you think he's approaching Iron Man and will him being in Daredevil be helpful?

Johnson: Not sure. They're so different, and he wasn't involved with any of the super-hero aspects of that movie. But Jon's so smart. And with Zathura he had so many effects that he worked with, he's going to be really prepared. And his casting choice (Robert Downey Jr.) was really brave and really inspired. I can't wait to see it.

The Continuum: Tell me what shooting in Australia was like.

Johnson: Melbourne's great. I didn't know anything about Melbourne. Most people go to Sydney and shoot. But when I looked around Melbourne, I just fell in love with it. And it doubles so well for other cities. It could be San Francisco, it could be Chicago, it could be New York. It's really amazing.

The Continuum: Did you get homesick?

Johnson: Yes. Yes. It's a long ways from home. My wife and kids would go back and forth. But the truth of the matter is, when you're shooting like that, it's your life anyway. You don't have down time. All you do is work. I could be in L.A. or I could be in Australia, all I'm doing is working.

The Continuum: What did the change in release dates do to you psychologically?

Johnson: I was moved up and then I was moved back. It's tough. At first I didn't want it. But I knew I needed it for these effects. Like I said, we're still not done and here we are in November and it's not going to be done until January. Once it's done, it's done forever. And you don't want to be looking at it and say, "Oh, we should have waited. We could have gotten that skull better." I think you can see the improvements already.

The Continuum: I noticed that you could see the top of his spine.

Johnson: Quite a lot, it gives you the shadow of his neck bone. It's all those little touches that I love the most, the things that the animators do.

The Continuum: There's such a little-kid thrill to seeing a character like that move around on his motorcycle. I imagine the toys will reflect that.

Johnson: The toys are going to be awesome. I've seen them.

The Continuum: They showed them at San Diego. The line include characters like Vengeance, but they're not in the movie, are they?

Johnson: No, they're not. Also, all the toys come with a big-ass gun, which is not in the movie, either. I don't what it is with action figures, they have to give them a cannon or gun to shoot. Ghost Rider's got a gun, Caretaker's got a gun and Blackheart's got a gun. Not sure what that's all about.

But the action figures are exceptional. And the game looks great. It looks fantastic.

The Continuum: Did you have much involvement in the video game?

Johnson: No, they show me things and get approvals or get my input, but not much really. I'm just excited to play it.

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