Inside Marvel Studios, from “Ragnarok” Casting News to Comic-Con and Everything Fit to Print In Between

Inside Marvel Studios

Hours before proudly presented Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 to a theater packed full of press on Monday night, the company held an open house for select journalists that included a candid chat with head honcho and a tour of the company’s decked-out offices on the Disney lot.

The Tracking Board was invited to join the four Hollywood trades, as well as leading publications such as CNN, Forbes, Reuters, the Wall Street Journal, the Los Angeles Times and the New York Times.

Wearing a Baby Groot hat, Feige subjected himself to a no-stone-left-unturned Q&A that was as impressive for everything he said as much everything he didn’t say. Since he covered so much ground, I decided to break up the conversation, topic by topic. Read closely… and enjoy!

Black Panther (Feb. 16, 2018)

Ryan Coogler wraps production “in two days,” said Feige, who gushed that the Creed director “has done an awesome job in a way that no other filmmaker could do with that character.” Feige introduced a video that saw Black Panther actress Danai Gurira describe the film as an origin story for Wakanda and its society, explaining that the film is about the battle between tradition and progress. “It’s a powerful, universal story that feels really on the pulse of where we are right now as a global society,” said Gurira.

And about that society! Wakanda is a technologically-advanced nation, and their tech is based on vibranium, the same indestructible metal that Captain America’s trusty shield is made out of. In Black Panther, Chadwick Boseman’s T’Challa is not just a soldier, he’s also “a politician.” To that end, we were shown dailies in which T’Challa’s dancing people (oh yes, there will be dancing!) give him a royal greeting, and all I could think about was how costume designer Ruth E. Carter could be a serious awards contender next fall thanks to her vibrant creations.

When we visited the art department, I noticed that Michael B. Jordan’s character sports some cool dreadlocks that are swept up, and his weapon of choice is a spear knife. We also lots of tribal masks, including one that looked like it was surrounded by porcupine-like quills, and an ape mask replete with terrifying teeth.

Later, we were treated to dailies from Black Panther, which is being filmed under the fake title of Motherland, whereas Spider-Man: Homecoming filmed as Summer of George. We saw T’Challa enter Warrior Falls as well as the Wakanda Design Center. We also saw a jacked-up Andy Serkis as Ulysses Klaw, who crosses paths with Martin Freeman’s Everett Ross in an underground casino in South Korea. We also saw a cool car-flip stunt and a fight scene featuring Lupita Nyong’o kicking ass.

Captain Marvel (March 8, 2019)

Feige said that Brie Larson’s superhero movie will begin filming in February 2018, and that a director announcement will come soon. When we visited the art department, and specifically the office of artist Ryan Meinerding (whose gorgeous art decorates Marvel’s hallways), it was clear that Larson would have short blonde hair — not a pixie cut, but not quite shoulder-length either. You know you were curious!

Avengers: Infinity War (May 4, 2018)

We didn’t see much from this superhero extravaganza, but we did feast our eyes upon Josh Brolin’s Thanos in all his lavender glory. I have no strong attachment to the character, but the comic book fans in the room seemed enthused by his design.

Ant-Man and the Wasp (July 6, 2018)

We ran into director Peyton Reed in the art department, and there were plenty of storyboards on the wall, including those depicting Hope’s new Wasp suit and Scott’s Giant Man suit. I also saw what appeared to be a fight featuring a Coke bottle, in which the carbonated beverage is used as a firehose of sorts, and another scene in which a dog carries a car full of tiny people in its mouth… unless the dog itself has become gigantic, since it’s all about your sense of scale.

Thor: Ragnarok (Nov. 3, 2017)

We were granted entry into a post-production room where director Taika Waititi was waiting for us. “Success. What is it, and how do I get it?” The director pretended to launch into a motivational seminar before he showed us some cool footage from Thor: Ragnarok, which features an exciting new cast member — none other than Waititi himself!

Waititi is performing the motion-capture and lending his voice to Korg, a Kronan who’s made of stone and serves as a warm-up fighter in Ragnarok, as well as an ally to Thor. Given his rocky exterior, Waititi joked that he would’ve loved to cast Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson in the part, but there’s not enough chicken and salmon in Australia to feed him and Chris Hemsworth.

We also met a silent new character named Miek as Waititi said how Ragnarok is borrowing elements from Planet Hulk.

In the middle of Waititi’s presentation, Ant-Man director Peyton Reed popped his head in to look for his jacket… though it was in his hand the whole time. It was a cute moment that threw Waititi off his game and prompted one staffer to remark that it “feels like the old-school Marvel bullpen around here,” though Waititi was quick to note that as collaborative as Marvel filmmakers are, they’re all so busy, it’s not like everyone is giving each other notes. No, Marvel’s directors tend to keep their eyes on their own paper and respect each other’s vision.

Feige said Marvel always shares materials with its filmmakers and that while the MCU is a shared universe, it’s never dictatorial. Jon Favreau, Joss Whedon, James Gunn and Waititi have all brought their particular ideas and shaped the material to fit their personal visions. Any differences in opinion would be a high-class problem to have.

Spider-Man: Homecoming (July 7. 2017)

While visiting the art department, I saw many of the same storyboards I saw during an August set visit in Atlanta. This time around, however, Marvel showed us a VFX review, in which the post-production team led by Victoria Alonso adds a scurrying rat to a New York City trashcan and more definition to some thrusters. Oh, and the presentation ended at the worst possible time — just as we caught our first glimpse of Donald Glover standing next to Logan Marshall-Green, the latter of whom plays one of Michael Keaton’s henchmen.

Going forward, Spider-Man will appear in the untitled sequel to Avengers: Infinity War as well as the untitled sequel to Spider-Man: Homecoming due in July 2019. As far as Sony’s involvement in Spider-Man goes, Feige said he’s working with that studio’s marketing and distribution teams and that while Marvel is running creative point on the project, “we don’t want to be the kinds of filmmakers who don’t listen to anybody. We want the input from Sony.”

Oh, and since I didn’t know where to include this little tidbit in this report, I will say that in the art department there was one dry erase board with writing left on it, and it read “New Request – Serpent Society – ASAP.” Make of that what you will…

On Marvel, in general

This is Feige’s 17th year at Marvel, which had just done Blade and X-Men when he was starting out. Feige has been with his current team for a decade or longer, and they’re in the middle of an extremely busy period, with Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 just wrapping post-production, Thor: Ragnarok in the midst of editing, and Black Panther about to wrap production.

The company maintains stages in London, Atlanta and Australia, but it’s in a screening room in the Frank G. Wells building on the Disney lot where Marvel execs gather to evaluate the past work of future filmmakers. It’s where they first screened films like Ryan Coogler’s Creed, Taika Waititi’s Boy and Jon Watts’ Cop Car.

Yes, Marvel executives pay attention to what’s going on with the rival DCEU since they grew up on those comic books too, but “we don’t do a lot of Monday morning quarterbacking over here,” said Feige, and if there was one topic that he deflected from when reporters tried to bait him with questions, it was Marvel’s crosstown rival.

Meanwhile, Feige said there inevitably will be an end game for the MCU because “no one’s more cynical about these things than we are.” After all, all good things must come to an end and that includes the MCU as currently constituted, since these actors can’t go on playing these characters forever (at least according to their contracts). For example, Chris Evans will have played Captain America every year from 2011-2019, when you count brief appearances in films like Thor: The Dark World and Spider-Man: Homecoming. Feige actually said it’s important to Marvel that its marquee characters aren’t out of the public view for more than 2-3 years. Speaking of numbers, Feige repeated Marvel’s plans to release two or three films each year — because one just isn’t enough, but four is too many.

Elsewhere, Feige stated that “diversity is a priority” for Marvel, as it is for the entire Walt Disney Company, and that he hopes to boost local production by making some movies in Los Angeles “in the not too distant future,” especially since many Marvel execs (and actors) would prefer to work close to home.

On whether Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is the riskiest movie Marvel has made so far

Expectations are high for James Gunn’s sequel, but clearly Marvel is confident enough in Vol. 2 to show it to journalists this far out. Asked whether Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is the riskiest movie Marvel has made, Feige said absolutely not, explaining that Iron Man was the riskiest “because the rights to a whole lot of characters were on the line.” Fortunately, that film was a huge success, and so the MCU was born. Feige also said that Captain America was also considered risky because many thought the character was “a boring boy scout,” and that Thor was risky because it was about “an alien Norse God with long hair and a hammer.” Meanwhile, The Avengers was a huge risk because it started shooting before Thor or Captain America were released, so Marvel didn’t know for certain that audiences would embrace the characters. Finally, Doctor Strange was also a risk because there were no other pre-existing characters in the film, and it introduced sorcery to the MCU.

On riffing on different genres within the MCU

Captain America: The Winter Soldier was billed as being in the vein of paranoia-soaked thrillers like Three Days in the Condor and The Day of the Jackal, while Thor: Ragnarok gives off a buddy comedy vibe at times. So what sub-genres could be in the MCU’s future? Well, Feige is playing coy on that one, and it’s the only time the word “spoiler” was uttered all day. Feige said some MCU films will continue to play with genre and there are a couple of news ones that Marvel wasn’t to get into, but that would be a — gasp! — spoiler. Though Feige did remind us of the musical sequence from Alan Menken in the first Captain America movie.

On a more serious note, Feige said that comedy is “second nature” to Marvel, which places special value on laughter in test screenings, because you can’t cheat it. Unlike visual effects, you can’t say, well, that joke isn’t finished quite yet. “Laughter is how you hook the audience,” said Feige, noting how it then allows a filmmaker to scare the audience, or make them feel emotion. At the end of the day, Feige said that the MCU is driven by characters as much as the genre.

On the rare occasion a piece of talent like an actor or director turns Marvel down

When it comes to talent relations, Marvel almost always hits its target. The company often lands its first choice in terms of star or director, but what about those times when a piece of talent dares to turn them down? I asked Feige what he hears on those rare occasions, and whether agents cite a reluctance to lock their clients into multi-picture deals or filmmakers are hesitant to work within the confined parameters of a shared universe. Feige explained that the reasons he’s given aren’t always so specific, but it almost always either comes down to a scheduling issue, or a fear of the time commitment. After all, these big-budget, effects-driven movies take many months to shoot, and that’s a long time for many actors to be away from their families.

On continuing to shoot Marvel movies in IMAX

While the Russo brothers are said to be filming most of Avengers: Infinity War on IMAX cameras, Feige said that won’t be the status quo for Marvel, though he pointed out that they’re much more contained these days, not to mention quieter. Feige said IMAX cameras aren’t much larger than a regular camera and he loves the large-screen format, so you can safely expect that partnership to continue for years to come… but on a case-by-case basis.

On the upcoming TV adaptation of Inhumans

Inhumans was originally on ’ release calendar until Feige made the decision to pull the plug on the project. Over a year later, Marvel’s first family is coming together for an ambitious small-screen project. So, does Feige consider the property the one that got away? Not exactly. “It fits better in their world than ours… at least for the immediate future.” Perhaps that was Feige’s way of keeping the door open… but perhaps not.

On Joss Whedon’s move to the DCEU to direct Batgirl for Warner Bros.

Feige said that Whedon gave him a head’s up well before last month’s big announcement that Whedon would spearhead a Batgirl movie for Warner Bros. “He called a couple months ago, which he didn’t have to do. It was super cool and super nice of him, said Feige, who added that “a Joss Whedon Batgirl film will be awesome.”

On Josh Brolin’s casting as Cable in Deadpool 2

Feige was asked for his thoughts on actors taking on multiple comic book roles, and the Marvel chief didn’t seem to have a problem with it. He said there’s nothing written into Marvel contracts regarding other roles its actors can or can’t do, and that Brolin playing Cable doesn’t bother him because that character is so different from Thanos. After all, “just look at Indiana Jones and Han Solo,” Feige said with a smile.

On the resurgence of the R-rating

Citing both the critical and commercial success of Deadpool and Logan, I asked Feige whether Marvel would ever experiment with its own content and make a film with an edgier, R-rated tone — though I already kind of knew his answer in advance. I mean, why mess with a good thing in Marvel’s preferred PG-13 rating? Feige said he never likes to say “never,” but explained that his take on why those films were successful had little to do with their R-ratings, and more to do with the creative risks they took and boundaries they pushed. “Breaking the fourth wall in Deadpool was very unique,” said Feige.

On the current windowing conversation taking place throughout Hollywood

Feige doesn’t really have to sweat this issue since it’s understood that Disney has no plans to offer its films day-and-date at home, but he made sure to reiterate that he prefers to see movies in a theater. “The loss of that experience would be pretty sad,” said Feige, adding that Marvel’s movies are best enjoyed on a big screen with a crowd.

On looking up to Pixar

Pixar came up at several points in our conversation, with Feige praising the animation company for being the best at what they do. He relayed an anecdote in which John Lasseter once said that “at some point, every film we’ve made was the worst film ever made.” Feige and Marvel seem to have adopted that mindset, saying that Pixar “doesn’t rest on their laurels,” so why should we?

On Comic-Con

With Disney throwing its annual D23 confab, there had been some question whether Marvel would be presenting at Comic-Con this year, but fear not, for Feige promised the company would have a presence in Hall H come July. The Tracking Board will be there to cover all the fun, so come back and join us this summer!

Captain American Mural

Dormamu Mural

Iron Men

Nova Corps

Marvel Library

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One Response to Inside Marvel Studios, from “Ragnarok” Casting News to Comic-Con and Everything Fit to Print In Between

  1. Hi Jeff,

    Just want to let you know Taika Waititi is a New Zealander, not Australian as you suggested in the article above. New Zealand is an independent nation 3 hours flight time from Australia. Lorde is another New Zealander, as well as Peter Jackson. Just so you know when you next write about Taika (it’s a maori name by the way)

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