Jon Mikl Thor always wanted to be a superhero. At school he would wear a Superman outfit underneath his clothes and at recess have kids throw bricks at his head. Shortly after the wounds healed he got into bodybuilding and went on to win numerous titles including Mr. Canada and Mr. USA all before his 21st birthday. John combined his love of music, strength, and superheroes and created one of the first theatrical rock bands, Thor (based off the Norse legend).
Voted one of the best front men of all time, John bends steel bars in his teeth, blows up hot water bottles with his lungs until they explode, and has bricks smashed on his chest. The band enjoyed modest success in the 80’s, mostly in Europe, but never quite made it big. After suffering a severe nervous breakdown in 1987 John retired from show business and moved to North Carolina with his wife to become a normal mortal human being. Ten years after retirement he attempts a comeback to finally achieve the success that had eluded him throughout his career.
‘I Am Thor‘ film follows Thor on his comeback for over a decade as he searches for success in the rock and roll business. With John’s reluctance to hire a manager, he tries to manage himself, which leads to another nervous breakdown that nearly kills him.
Anticipating the WORLD PREMIERE of ‘I Am Thor‘ at the 2015 Slamdance Film Festival we profile the film’s multi-tasking Director/Editor/Co-Producer/Cinematographer Ryan Wise. ‘I Am Thor‘ screens on Sunday, January 25 & Wednesday, January 28, 2015 in Park City, Utah.
Find More Information & Tickets to ‘I Am Thor’ – HERE
From a directing perspective, I Am Thor marks a transition for you from scripted television to an unscripted feature documentary. What are some of the major differences in directing scripted content in relation to unscripted content? Which do you prefer?
Ironically since I Am Thor took so long to finish, my scripted career really started during the making of this documentary. In scripted content everything is pretty much written beforehand, you have your actors and you know your shooting locations. With the documentary, I Am Thor, we didn’t know where we were going a lot of times. There was no script. We would follow him on tours and sometimes Thor didn’t even know where he was going. It’s a lot of fun – it’s an adventure. You never know where the documentary is going to take you. We didn’t know the ending until years later. One time Thor told us that he was going to perform a marriage ceremony for a couple of fans inside a huge laser dome in Canada. So we shot him in dressed up in his Thor costume and hammer performing the ceremony for two lucky fans. We never saw that coming and it ended up in the movie.
Jon Mikl Thor’s story is fascinating. He embodies such a larger than life persona. As a storyteller, what was it in particular about Jon that inspired you to tell his story? Were there any specific themes you were interested in exploring?
When my producing partner, Alan Higbee, and I first met Jon Mikl Thor he was working at a pizza restaurant in Seattle. He was just starting his comeback. He was very quiet and unassuming – a really nice guy. Thor mentioned that he was in a band called THOR and that he had a show the next night. We thought that was kind of weird but interesting so we went to the show at this little dive bar and I have to tell you we were blown away. Our jaws were on the floor. It was one of the greatest performances I had ever seen. He was rocking some heavy metal while running around changing into different costumes, bending steel bars in his teeth, blowing up hot water bottles, and having bricks smashed on his chest – and this was a dive bar that had maybe twenty people in the crowd. Everyone was having fun. He’s a great entertainer. After the show he told us he was about to go on a west coast tour from Vancouver, Canada to Los Angeles. I turned to Alan and said, ‘we have to film this.’ It was like a real life Superman and Clark Kent scenario. That really fascinated me. I wanted to explore both sides of Thor in this documentary. I wanted to show the man behind the hammer, the part that not many people know about.
I read that you were filming I Am Thor since 2001. Did you ever find it difficult to keep the momentum going on the project over the span of so many years of shooting? At what point did you realize that you had what you needed, in terms of footage, to complete the film?
It was difficult to keep the momentum going. Right after we filmed that first west coast tour in 2001 I moved to Los Angeles to start my career. I struggled a lot at first and Thor was also struggling with his comeback but he never gave up which helped me through some dark times. If he wasn’t giving up how could I give up? We filmed him whenever we could afford to and made sure we were there for all the big events. In 2013 I realized we had our ending and basically had all the footage we needed except for a few interviews. It’s difficult to stop filming him when he keeps on going and keeps working on interesting projects. He’s a very fascinating person.
Beyond directing, you also write, produce and edit, Is it important for you to retain a certain level of creative control over your work? Which discipline do you personally find to be the most rewarding?
I do like to retain creative control. I like editing and writing but I find directing to be the most rewarding. I like to start with the project and see it through to the end.
With so many festivals available to filmmakers today, what led to your decision to premiere I Am Thor at the Slamdance Film Festival? Was it a matter of timing or strategy?
I’ve always loved Slamdance and thought it was a really cool festival. I’ve never been there but I always followed it and read about it over the years and dreamed of having a film there. Since we didn’t really have a deadline to finish the film I set the Slamdance submission deadline as our deadline. They’ve been so great to us and we’re very honored to be able to be a part of the Slamdance family.
– Interview conducted by Stephen Reilly
About the Director
Ryan Wise is a director/producer/writer/editor who co-created Emmy-nominated web series Sam Has 7 Friends and Prom Queen. While working with the likes of Michael Eisner and McG, he is also an award winning editor on such documentaries as The Green Rush and Why We Ride.