Exclusive: Marvel Studios Production Head Kevin Feige

When it comes to comic book movies, there are probably four or five key players who have elevated what can be done with them. Zack Snyder is one, Christopher Nolan is another, but when it comes to the Big Daddy of comic book movies, the keeper of the keys to one of the castles that provides so much potential source material, there’s Kevin Feige, President of Production at Marvel Studios. Marvel’s film production branch really changed the game in 2008 when Jon Favreau’s Iron Man launched out of the gate making $585 million worldwide over the summer. Its follow-up The Incredible Hulk didn’t perform as well, but it did give hope that a solid movie could be made with the character while helping to launch the career of director Louis Letterier to another level.

Two years later, the sequel Iron Man 2 is about to hit theaters and Marvel is working hard on their next two movies, being almost done filming Kenneth Branagh’s Thor and getting ready to shoot Joe Johnston’s Captain America: The First Avenger.

SuperHeroHype has had a few chances to talk to Feige over the years, briefly at a press line for The Incredible Hulk at the New York Comic-Con, and on various set visits in the past year – interviews which unfortunately we weren’t allowed because they revealed too many secrets! Finally, here’s SuperHeroHype’s first full interview with Feige where we asked him a bunch of questions about how the Marvel gameplan has been progressing in the two years since the first Iron Man. Considering how Marvel’s big plan is moving full steam ahead with director Joss Whedon on board The Avengers, we figured now would be a good time to learn a little more about the inner workings that’s going into some of the decisions. Unfortunately, Feige still remains mum about what might happen post-The Avengers and frankly, we weren’t interested in spoiling any of the movies in production for ourselves.

SuperHeroHype: I met you at the New York Comic-Con and obviously, a lot has happened since then. As far as “Iron Man” goes, I know that Jon had a lot of ideas for the sequel back when he did press for the first movie and a lot of that’s changed. What was involved as far as deciding who would be in this movie and how things have changed since that first movie?

Kevin Feige: Well, I’m not sure it changed. What do you remember hearing during PR of the first one?

SHH: I know War Machine was definitely involved, but I don’t think Whiplash or Black Widow were in the equation at that point.

Feige: Well, the two things that we were pretty confident we wanted to continue to explore going into the sequel was of course Rhodey and the way he becomes War Machine, and how Tony Stark now deals with the fact that he’s told the world that he is this super hero. Those two elements we knew for sure. Then all the locations weren’t exact, but the storyline would be how long it would take place after the first movie and who the villains would be. That basically is what we spent the summer after the first film opened trying to figure out. We’re at a conference table in the Marvel office with Justin Theroux, our co-producer Jeremy Latcham, with Jon Favreau of course and Downey would pop in and out – really coming up with the journey of Tony Stark. Listen, we’re all film nerds and looked to movies like the revenge story in “Wrath of Khan,” the relative simplicity of the storyline of “Empire Strikes Back” and the way that within that simple story, or simple plot I should say, they were able to expand the mythology of the Force and of Luke’s training. So those two movies were really the inspiration. We said, “Listen, let’s go with a simple plot and come up with a good revenge story like ‘Wrath of Khan’ which will allow us the time to have Tony go on a journey and discover more about his past, discover more about himself, and really continue to open up sort of the broader Marvel mythology.”

SHH: Favreau and Downey definitely got a lot of creative freedom on set with developing the character in the first movie, so were they given even more creative freedom this time since that movie worked so well?

Feige: I mean, listen, the only way I know how to make movies at Marvel Studios is extremely collaborative. That’s how we made the first one, that’s how we made the second one, its how we’re making “Thor” now and “Cap.” There are always going to be boundaries, boundaries of what has come before in the comics, boundaries of what ultimately we believe the character would or wouldn’t do, but the boundaries are far and few between which allows the actors to really bring something to not only to their performance, but to the story as a whole.

SHH: One thing that’s different between your movies and the ones done by Fox and Sony is that you have the Marvel creators involved a little more including Editor-in-Chief Joe Quesada. How much back and forth is there between Marvel Studios and the comics division while developing each movie?

Feige: Well, there are a bunch of key markers in the development process, in the scripting process and then again, in post. The way I look at it is there’s a lot of smart people at the studio who think and live and breathe these characters, and on the East coast, there’s a lot of smart guys who live and breathe the characters in publishing. We really decided there doesn’t have to be a wall between us. It really is one company now, and taking advantage of all of the smartest creative minds within the company.

SHH: Right after “Iron Man” came out, Marvel announced a game plan where you set a schedule for the next few movies to come out and how they’d come together in “The Avengers.” Has that changed at all or has that pretty much gone as planned? Did anything come up you didn’t expect along the way?

Feige: We discover things all the time in terms of the actual storyline, and it’s a tough task, because every movie has to stand on it’s own. That’s kind of the Golden Rule is every movie has to stand on its own, it can’t be full of so many interweaving elements that connect to other films that a casual viewer can’t make sense of it. That’s the thing we always want to be on alert for, is just making entertaining movies from start to finish and for people who want to look deeper and for people who want to follow us on a more complex journey, put markers in there as well for them, but make sure it works from a surface level I think. So we’re always constantly saying, “Okay, we’ve got this great idea of how this could connect to that,” but if it doesn’t work for the movie that we’re making at the time, then we won’t do it or we’ll change it, or something will come up during the filming of a movie that we just think is great and are blown away and we think will become a key element to the movie and then we figure out a way to tie it in to a later film.

SHH: How difficult has it been casting Cap and Thor? Obviously “Iron Man” set a high watershed that would make it tougher for these other movies, so are you approaching those movies very differently with a very different tone?

Feige: Well, it’s a high bar, but it’s the same thought process and the same creative process that we used when casting “Iron Man,” we used when casting “Thor” and as we continue to cast “Captain America” is find the best people for the part, find the best actors for the role, whether they’re famous or not, whether they have marquee value or not. Everyone in “Iron Man 2″ has marquee value because they were also in “Iron Man 1.” But before “Iron Man 1,” they didn’t necessarily, and we cast them not because of any perceived box office value, but because we believed they would be the best incarnation of these characters.

SHH: One thing that has made “Iron Man” so popular is the humor in the movie, which is a combination of Jon and Robert and Justin on this one. Should we expect that same level of humor to carry over into “Thor” and “Cap” or do you feel that those need to have different tones for their respective environments?

Feige: You know, I think we’ve established a tone in the Marvel films that we like very much, which is to say there can be moments that are extremely sincere and extremely emotional and at the same time can have a lightness of touch. They’re not always going to be the same and sometimes it’s appropriate and sometimes it’s not, but certainly, we’re not afraid to… listen, I believe an audience connects with the characters if you make them laugh, if you bring them inside the joke they’re more likely to be affected when you decide to turn it 180 degrees and make something more emotional and make something more touching. I think that worked extremely well in “Iron Man,” I think it works very well in “Iron Man 2.” In “Thor” and “Cap” we’re going with that – not necessarily because that’s what we’ve done in “Iron Man,” but because that’s what we like most about movies. Those are the kind of movies that we like to see, are the ones that aren’t just dark to be dark or aren’t just self-serious for the sake of having some sort of false sense of gravitas or something. We think our stories are sweeping, we think our stories are epic and we think they’re important. At the same time, we know that they’re popcorn entertainment and need to appeal to the broadest audience, and we want to keep them light and fun and frankly that’s how you connect with a billionaire weapons industrialist that most of us have nothing in common with. I believe that’s how we’re gonna connect with the God of Thunder and that’s how we’re gonna connect with a scrawny kid in 1941 who wants to join the Army.

SHH: A lot of people have been wondering about “Ant-Man” especially now that Edgar Wright’s almost done with “Scott Pilgrim.” Are you guys going to try to work him into “The Avengers” as you get that movie going or are you going to wait and finish “The Avengers,” then do that afterwards?”

Feige: “Ant-Man” will definitely not come out prior to “The Avengers,” but Edgar was in LA last week. We sat down. We started working on a calendar of when to get him back into it once he finishes “Scott Pilgrim” and promoting “Scott Pilgrim.” So I would think towards the end of this year, early next year we’d start looking at early prep for that, but certainly for a release date after “The Avengers.”

SHH: I remember he was at the Marvel Comic-Con panel with Louis and with Jon Favreau back when you guys made the first announcements.

Feige: You remember that, exactly.

SHH: Of course I did. That was a really exciting year for SuperHeroHype. Where are you guys at with 3D at this point? Every day, there’s another announcement about some new movie is either being done in 3D or being converted to 3D. Are you guys not too worried about that because you have strong enough material that you don’t need to do 3D?

Feige: We’re only gonna do it if we can do it extremely well. We’re not gonna do it just as a overlay or just to do it. Certainly, it’s something we’re looking at for all of our movies and we’re looking at very seriously for all of our movies, but we’re not going to make a decision or an announcement until we know that they’ll improve and enhance the film and not just be an added gadget.

SHH: One of the things about Pixar and DreamWorks is they started out making one movie every two years, then they got it down to one a year. Where is Marvel in terms of having multiple projects in production at once?

Feige: About two years is what we’re looking at now. In 2011, we’ll have “Thor” at the beginning of May and “Cap” at the end of July. That seems to be a comfort zone, as in 2008 we had “Iron Man” and “The Incredible Hulk.”

SHH: So basically two years will be a comfortable place?

Feige: Yeah, yeah.

SHH: You’ve done such a good job with “Iron Man” and “Incredible Hulk” by handling them yourselves, so what happens with the Marvel properties at Fox and Sony? Are you going to get more involved with those or try to get those characters into the Marvel Studios fold? I know they have a few more years for their deal.

Feige: We’ll see. I mean, those movies are at the studio partners, and they’re working away at them and certainly everything with Marc Webb on “Spider Man” which we’re looking forward to and that’s just getting underway. We’ll see how Fox wants to proceed on the next films.

SHH: It seems logical that they would try to get you guys more involved like Universal did with “The Incredible Hulk” if only to maintain consistency with the Marvel Universe eventually. Do you think so, too?

Feige: Listen, I never say never. Anything’s possible. If you asked me five years ago, I wouldn’t have thought we’d be talking about “The Avengers” now. For the time being, there’s only one place for connective tissue within the Marvel Universe and within this new MCU, Marvel Cinematic Universe that we’re building and those are in the Marvel Studios movies.

SHH: I like that, “Marvel Cinematic Universe.” That’s pretty cool. There have been recent rumors about Marvel doing movies based on other characters, lower budget with new filmmakers. I was curious about that because I’m not sure how many characters are left that aren’t taken by some of these other deals. Is that something which you might be approaching?

Feige: Absolutely. I saw that story the other day, and I was pleased with it. It is something that we’re looking at the ongoing cinematic universe and where it could go after “The Avengers” which we look at as a beginning and not an ending. Listen, the truth is, there’s thousands and thousands of characters. Could they all be movies? No. But when you go and look again at the first two movies that have started sort of this new Marvel era. The first one was “Blade” which nobody knew was a Marvel character and never had his own title. It was just an interesting character in “Tomb of Dracula,” and then there was “X-Men” which was the top selling comic – not anymore, but at the time for many, many years – and that was done well. So certainly we are making a conscious effort of looking at the characters, at whether they have marquee value or not, (that they) are just interesting stories, engaging stories and continue to define, which is what I’ve been trying to do almost coming up on 10 years at Marvel, continue to push the boundaries of what a comic book movie is and the definition of a comic book movie.

Iron Man 2 opens in some countries on Thursday, April 29th, followed by more countries on the 30th and then in North America on May 7th.

Source: Edward Douglas