It was Day 1 and we already had spoken with Chris Hemsworth and Tom Hiddleston, and then it was time to get the Big Kahuna, Marvel Studios’ President of Production Kevin Feige, because if anyone would be able to give us the skinny on the studios’ biggest movie to date, it would be the guy who had been building up to the release of this movie for over five years.
Unfortunately, some of the stuff we discussed with Feige (like last year’s Comic-Con) became outdated in the time since we did this group interview, but here’s some of Feige’s thoughts about the logic that went into making the Marvel movie everyone has been waiting for since Samuel L. Jackson’s Nick Fury showed up in that last scene in Iron Man.
Q: We’ve been waiting for someone to explain what the movie’s about…
Kevin Feige: Well, you see, there came a day… Well, what have people told you it’s about? Come on. You’ve had two intelligent actors in here.
Q: They’ve told us about their characters, but they don’t know what to say…
Feige: Well, you know, the movie as everyone knows, I think, is primarily about… An event occurs and we don’t want to get into too much what the event is, but an event occurs that causes problems for Nick Fury, who runs this organization S.H.I.E.L.D.. And I understand you’ve already been on the bridge set earlier today… If S.H.I.E.L.D. was this organization that just stepped out of the shadows occasionally in other movies to see what was going on, in this movie, we’re on the other side of that. In this movie, we’re through S.H.I.E.L.D.’s point of view, this organization who’s responsible for sorta taking care of the world and making sure everything runs smoothly and when a billionaire genius invents a suit of armor and blasts out of a cave, it’s gonna get on their attention. And when a hammer falls into the desert, it’s gonna get their attention. And when a green guy appears rampaging through Harlem, it’s gonna get their attention. And if and when a super-soldier were to be discovered frozen in the ice, that would also get their attention. So it is sorta about seeing what a day in the life of Nick Fury is like and of this organization. And when such an event occurs, he is forced to take these people, who he’s not really sure he can even handle individually and see if he can get them to come together and work together to stop this grave threat. So in a lot of ways, we’re looking at it as a disaster movie. You know, the meteor or the piece of the meteor hits at the beginning of the movie and they spend a good chunk of the movie seeing if they can organize a team to go fight it. It’s not my way of saying it’s “Armageddon” — things could be worse — but it’s my way of saying that’s kinda the paradigm that we’re looking at, is something horrible is going to happen if this team can’t get together and fight against it.
Q: How much time has passed from the last time we saw Nick Fury where he’s at the point where he can bring them together and try to create a team?
Feige: Well, again, that’s sorta what the movie’s about. It takes a while over the course of the movie for that to happen. If you’re asking how much time happened, it’s not definitive how much time has elapsed since “Iron Man 2” or since “Thor” or since “Cap,” but we’re saying it’s probably six months to a year.
Q: So at the beginning of the movie, it’s not like Nick Fury has a problem and he calls The Avengers and they’re already together in a room?
Feige: Absolutely not.
Q: So it’s going to be showing them assemble?
Q: Will the events of “The Avengers” have a trickle down effect for any future stand-alone movies? Or do you view this as just like in the comics, where there was just an issue that could happen on its own and not really affect larger comic series?
Feige: It’s definitely the latter. We’re looking to replicate that experience that a comic reader had, who loved reading his “Thor” issues and loved reading his “Cap” issues and loved reading his “Iron Man” issues and they always had their favorites and would argue about who’s better and who would win in a fight and occasionally they would get together for an uber-event and then after that uber-event would go back into their own comic stories. So the story that Shane is developing now on “Iron Man 3,” while it does not avoid any references to “The Avengers,” is very much Tony is back in his world with his players dealing with his issues and is not going to pick up the phone and call Thor or Captain America or anything like that, necessarily. It’s not that won’t happen down the line. It could. But particularly with “Iron Man 3,” year after “The Avengers,” it’s more about getting Tony back into his world.
Q: After “Avengers” is out and you get to something like “Iron Man 3” or “Thor 2,” does this mean we’ll be seeing S.H.I.E.L.D. more, since the general public is going to know what S.H.I.E.L.D. is and you’re not going to have to set it up as much?
Feige: Well, I think that the good news is that it’s a tool in the toolbox. If screenwriters want it to have a purpose to serve… Frankly, I think S.H.I.E.L.D. would be most relevant in a Cap sequel, because Thor has nine worlds to traverse and many, many supporting players and Iron Man has his supporting cast and many villains and plotlines to go through and Steve in the modern world sorta doesn’t have an anchor and the anchor we’re establishing in this one is S.H.I.E.L.D.. It’s early days on “Cap 2,” nobody’s counting those chickens yet, but maybe there’s some connection there.
Q: Is there something you were able to do on this film that you haven’t been able to do on any of the solo films that you’re really excited about?
Feige: The first day that cameras started rolling, I kinda felt like it had actually happened. I was at Comic-Con in 2006 and somebody said, “Hey, I noticed that you have Captain America and Thor and Hulk and Iron Man within Marvel Studios. Do you think one day you could do an Avengers movie?” And I said, “Maybe someday. You know, it does make sense with all of those characters coming together.” And the first day of production at the end of April, I thought, “Holy mackerel. It’s actually here.” And being on-set with all of them in costume is pretty astounding.
Q: I feel like they’ve never really attempted this in a live-action film before. Do you feel a lot of pressure on the future of these kinds of films and the history that’s being made with this film.
Feige: Yes, but I feel pressure with every movie we make, every single one. Frankly, even not-Marvel movies I feel pressure on. Look at the movie that just came out recently and didn’t perform the way people thought it would perform and all of the headlines are, “Oh, are people tired of the comic book genre? Is this the beginning of the end of the superhero genre?” So when there’s a “Dark Knight,” I go, “Oh, thank God. That’s great.” I want everybody to do well and continue to get people interested. So there’s pressure on every one, even ones that aren’t ours.
Q: Would you consider this a disaster movie? Roland Emmerich and Michael Bay have cornered the market on insanely, crazy disaster movies. Are you trying to do setpieces on that scale?
Feige: I don’t want to give you the wrong idea that like it’s on that scale necessarily from a natural disaster sense, but I would watch the trailers for those movies and go, boy, that spectacle was really cool. You know what would be cooler? If there were five of those guys right in the frame and got rid of that tidal wave. You know, we’re not doing that, but I always thought that’s the purpose of the “Avengers” is to be able to, you know, push back a force of that scale.
Q: We’ve already had three superhero movies this summer with more coming. We’re obviously not there yet, but does somebody need to consider the possibility of a short-term saturation at any point?
Feige: You can until you look at next summer. Nobody’s pulled the plug on movies that are in the works for that. My goal is that people judge all of them as individual movies, no just our movies as individual movies, which is very important, that they don’t just feel like episodes in some grand “Avengers” saga, but frankly every movie. And some of the smarter articles, and maybe somebody in this room wrote it, but I read something that said that claiming that people are tired of comic book movies is like claiming that people are tired of movies based on novels or movies based on TV shows or movies based on any existing property. It’s too broad a statement, it’s impossible to really say.
Q: If a romantic comedy tanks, they don’t say it’s the end of romantic comedies, or buddy cop dramas…
Feige: To be fair, they do. To a certain extent, that’s what Hollywood is all about and what Hollywood trades are about is that kind of Monday morning quarterbacking. That’s the way a lot of studio executives work. “Who had the No. 1 movie? Look. We’ve gotta get this person.” And if it didn’t work, “Ew, that person’s horrible, don’t go near them.” But I also think it’s because it’s so high profile. Look at the buzz and marketing leading up to “Thor,” leading up to “X-Men,” leading up to “Green Lantern.” So it’s just a big target. That’s a high profile.
Q: Going back to “Avengers,” how are you dealing with the Bruce Banner situation? You’ve had two movies with two Bruce Banners, and now you have a third actor. Are you hoping “Avengers” might lead to Mark playing Bruce Banner is a new “Hulk” movie? Or do you feel like that’s been done?
Feige: Well, it’s certainly been done already, but you wouldn’t rule anything out and the deal we have with Mark certainly takes that into consideration. Joss’ goal in this movie is to make the most beloved Bruce Banner since Bill Bixby and sort of unabashedly trying to achieve that. He’s shot a number of scenes in this movie, including the scene that is his introduction into the movie, and we’ve seen it cut together and damned if it doesn’t come close to doing that. You really feel for this guy. I don’t know if you guys are going to see him while you’re here, but he’s just a tremendous guy, an great guy, and when you see the design of the character and how it relates to his facial structure and, for the first time, his performance, I think we’re going to find a Banner and a Hulk combination that we haven’t seen before. And, frankly, even more than Bixby and Ferrigno, because hopefully we’re utilizing the technology as such that you can still see and feel Ruffalo in the creature.
Q: Speaking of technology, can you talk about how you’re approach 3D on “The Avengers” and you feel about it on future Marvel films?
Feige: It’s a film-by-film decision. 3D gets a bad rap for various reasons. It’s a hard thing. If when surround sound came out however many years ago, they charged you two or three bucks extra, well, when the speaker’s buzzing, people are gonna get annoyed and, frankly, I’ve been in theaters were the speakers were buzzing and nobody even gets up to complain about it and I go, “Am I really gonna have to be the one to get up and complain about this?” But that dark issue, which varies from theater to theater and varies from movie to movie and varies from projector bulb to projector bulb, people have paid extra money for that, so it’s gonna get annoying if it’s not done well, so I sorta understand that. I think “Thor” looked great in 3D. “Captain America,” which is almost finished, looks great in 3D. I think “Transformers,” which I’ve not seen yet, but my guess is it’s gonna be awesome in 3D. And there are others that aren’t worth it.
Q: Was the decision by Joss to convert into 3D because he didn’t want to mess with the technology?
Feige: On “Cap” on “Thor” and on “Avengers,” it was all filmmaker decision. It’s an expensive proposition either way and it’s an expensive proposition to mount the testing that we mounted on both, in particular, “Cap” and “Avengers.” We brought in the cameras and shot a whole day on it. As a matter of fact, the scene at the end credits of “Thor” with Selvig and Nick Fury and the Cube and the suitcase, Joss directed that and that was our 3D test. We shot that with 3D cameras and after that day, Joss said, “No thanks.”
Q: Can we talk about Hawkeye? If you talk to anybody who’s read the comic books, Hawkeye is really the core and the heart of the team. In this case, he’s coming into it off of one scene in “Thor.” He doesn’t have any powers, he can just shoot an arrow, so how does he play into this situation where he’s with all these characters who have powers (and been in previous movies)?
Feige: Well, everyone gets an introduction into this movie as if they’ve never been in any other movie before. That is the way the movie is. This is a “Part 1.” This has been a rallying cry and one of the reasons we wanted Joss to come on board, is because he understood the characters and he understood the importance of the fact that… And frankly, he was not interested in doing a half-“Iron Man 3,” half-“Thor 2,” half-“Captain America 2,” half-“Hulk Whatever.” He was interested in doing “The Avengers: Part 1.” So from the very first frame of the movie, this is “Avengers: Part 1,” so all of the characters are introduced to the audience as if you’ve never seen them before. I guess we have the most leeway with Tony Stark who enters the movie, you could argue, like the celebrity that he is within that world, but also like the celebrity that he is to the moviegoing public as well. Other than that, they’re all new characters coming into the story at certain points, and Hawkeye in the same way, right from the very open.
Q: And how do the Skrulls factor into the film?
Feige: The Skrulls are not in the film.
Q: Are there any characters you guys go after in the film who maybe don’t want to be part of the Avengers, who are there as Easter Eggs for the fans?
Feige: You mean are there characters you don’t know about?
Q: Well, S.H.I.E.L.D. goes after certain people to be in the group. Perhaps they go after certain people and they’re rebuffed?
Feige: Uh… It’s not really like that. “X-Men: First Class” had that great sorta recruitment scene. We don’t. It’s not like that, partially because there’s so many characters anyway. There are already so many characters to play with that I didn’t want people just popping up for Easter Egg purposes.
Q: Can we talk about the action set pieces in this film and comparing them to the previous films you’ve done? Do you feel that with this being the “Avengers” you need to have set pieces that are just “holy sh*t”?
Feige: I think this being the “Avengers,” we need to have three or four set pieces that are like that frankly. So that’s what we are working on. It is by far the biggest budgeted film we’ve ever done. And, which is not to say – you know, which is still frankly less than what a lot of big movies like this cost, but it was a requirement. If you’re going to have all these characters who have these giant spectacular sequences in their own movie, and need to get together for some reason, well it’s got to be even bigger. It’s got to be even more spectacular. In planning the action scenes of the movie, we did the pre-vis and frankly, Joss has done more pre-vis on this than any movie we’ve ever done. This is born in pre-vis – not every frame of course, but certainly all the action scenes, and you watch them and you go, “Wow, that’s giant.” But how do you top that? You go, “We better top that because that’s the third action scene of the movie. That’s the middle action scene.”
Q: I’m sure everyone’s excited to see the interaction between Captain America and Tony Stark, so how much time was spent making sure the dialogue and these scenes was just right?
Feige: Well, it is important, and it’s good because there are a lot of scenes with people talking in this movie, and because that’s what we were most interested in. You’ve got to have a spectacle on it, you need to have an epic event big enough to require all of them to come together, but the real interesting thing when they come together is their interactions. And frankly, the whole first half of the schedule has been nearly that. Had you been here the whole time for up to this point in the schedule, you’d think the whole movie is about people standing around talking. The great news is Joss was overseeing the people that were doing the boards and the pre-vis, but he wasn’t drawing them, he was writing all those words and all those interactions and all of that great dialogue. It’s why the harshest critics around, like Robert Downey, he comes in every morning and goes, “Okay, now how am I going to tear this apart… It’s pretty good. Pretty good.”
Q: I’m curious about the casting over the years. Because obviously, when you’ve got Robert Downey it was a huge coup. It took a long time to find Chris Hemsworth, but Chris Evans was a natural. I’m curious how you cast them knowing you’d want to put them together eventually. Had you done screen tests with them all together over the whole process?
Feige: We didn’t. We did when we were doing auditions for the Maria Hill character, we had four or five actresses that came in and Sam Jackson was cool enough to come in that day and do all the scenes with that actress because Maria Hill’s going to be standing next to him the whole movie or much of the movie. But other than that, we didn’t. When we cast Hemsworth, we were shooting “Iron Man 2” and soon after we cast him I brought him on the set of “Iron Man 2” and introduced him to Robert and they started a sort of friendship and camaraderie there, which I wanted to do early on, but we didn’t have Cap until, you know, a year or so later and we didn’t have Ruffalo until a few months after that. Look, the pressure of finding the guy for his own movie is bigger than anything else, anyway, so if you found a guy that fits for that movie and fits for that character, you’re not going to hire somebody if you don’t think they’re strong enough to then also go toe-to-toe with the other actors in “The Avengers.” So it was always in the back of our heads, but other than the Maria Hill instance, there wasn’t sort of a mix and match screen test.
Q: Is Maria Hill above Coulson and is there a lot of interplay between them?
Feige: There is interplay between them, yeah. Yeah, it’s not an insignificant part. She’s got a lot of screen time.
Q: On a visual level, when you’re defining the look of Iron Man, the look of Thor, the look of Captain America for their own movies, that’s really all you’re concerned about. So when you’re bringing them all together were there any sort of challenges in tweaking any of their individual outfits, so that on a visual level, the seven of them standing side-by-side looked like they are part of the same team or world?
Feige: Yeah, it’s a good question. James Chinlund, who’s our Production Designer in this movie, we brought on because he has a very unique style and a very unique vision and we wanted somebody who would do something completely different than in any of the other movies. When you have the aesthetic that you’ve already seen walking around the bridge of the helicarrier, you haven’t seen anything like that in any of the other movies. So right away, the aesthetic of the film is its own. Obviously, Captain America is going to have an updated costume for this movie. Tony’s always tinkering with his suits so you can imagine that there’ll be a few incarnations of the suit. Hulk, we’re designing to the actor, so that’ll be Hulk, but it will be slightly different designed Hulk than you’ve seen before. And with Thor and Loki, it’s essentially their outfits from the previous movie, but we did want to rough and scuff it up a little bit in Loki’s case. He’s dropped off into the abyss and who knows what nether worlds he’s been in, in between movies? And with Thor, we wanted to give him a few different looks. The one thing we actively avoided to that extent was saying we should probably take off his cape when he’s walking around the helicarrier. So when he’s in his Asgardian casual wear on earth and interacting with other characters, he doesn’t have the metal sleeves, he doesn’t have the cape and he doesn’t have the disc over the armor piece. But again, we want all the characters to look cool on their own and Ryan Meinerding, who you’ve heard me talk about before, is our great concept artist and sort of our lead visual designer for all the movies, did his first rendering of, “Okay, here’s what they all look like in a frame.” And it was awesome. Thank God.
Q: Was it equally awesome the first day everyone was in a scene together?
Feige: Yeah, I wasn’t that nervous. I mean, they’re all great. They’re all such good actors and Joss had delivered such great words for them to say that you’re always nervous on the day before you begin, but they weren’t all together on the first day. It was sort of mixing and matching leading up to the time when they were all together for the first time. It was great, and it was frankly what you wanted because the first time that the characters are interacting was also the first time the actors were interacting. To a certain extent, we didn’t want to do a boot camp where they all become chums and get to know each other and become a perfect well-oiled machine ‘cause that’s not what they are for a good chunk of this movie.
Q: Is there a romance in this film or is it just all bromance?
Feige: Well there’s a lot of bromance going on, but Scarlett is in there, Maria’s in there. There is less of a love story in this movie than there have been in any of our other movies, yeah.
Q: Are there any casualties in the movie?
Feige: Even if there were I certainly wouldn’t tell you. Frankly, it’s something I felt is important in movies, to get those kinds of stakes and consequences whether it’s death or injury or whatever it is. There will be long-term consequences as a result of this movie, so it feels real. So it feels, like you know, I think that is – that’s important. You know we’ve come close in a few of the movies to doing things like that and haven’t necessarily and I think it’s important to.
Q: Have you been more involved with some of the other movies like “X-Men”? Fox and Sony must be seeing what a great job you’re doing on your own, so are they coming to you more for help with getting their properties into shape?
Feige: It varies – I wouldn’t say for help. I mean there’s certain approvals or contractual agreements. And then I know a lot of the people there for many, many years. So there’s that thing. It’s more on the Sony side, on the “Spider-Man” side with the new “Spider-Man” film.
Q: How much of a gameplan do you have in place beyond “Avengers?” I know you probably can’t tell us, but everything starting with “Iron Man” has led up to “Avengers” and we’ve all known about the plan. We know “Avengers” is coming, but beyond that we don’t know anything.
Feige: Well, “Iron Man 3,” which you know – which has been announced. And then we haven’t announced things yet, but we are thinking and plotting out towards 2015, which anybody in their right mind thinks it’s a million years away and everybody in my company thinks it’s, we’re late! That’s right around the corner! What are we gonna do?
Q: How do you top something like this?
Feige: You know, it’s again — it’s the same thing after how do we top “Spider-Man 1”? After three years with the company I had the biggest weekend of all time and it’s like I went, “Is this it? Where do you go from here?” We found a place to go and I think we’ll continue to find places to go. Certainly now that the characters are established, like the comics continuing to tell those stories and then every few years bring them together again I think would be cool. And whatever happens there alters their dynamic as they go back into their own worlds and keep that going.
Q: So “Avengers 2” is 2015? If we’re piecing together the last five minutes of this conversation. I mean, is there a framework, you call it “Avengers, Part I” is there a framework you feel that you guys want to turn it to maybe a trilogy or…?
Feige: It’s like managing any franchise. Two to three years usually is what makes the most sense. Depending what happens, it can be four years, but two to three years.
Q: But you want to launch “The Avengers” as another franchise from Marvel, not just a one off kind of special thing.
Feige: Yes. Yes.
Q: This is your first film with Disney, can you talk about how that has changed things at all, working for that big company?
Feige: Well, it’s actually the fourth movie with Disney, because we were just finishing “Iron Man 2” when this all happened, so we were officially part of Disney for the prep period and casting on “Thor” and prep and shooting and casting on “Cap.” But it is the first one that they are marketing and distributing, so is true, which is sort of my way of saying that nothing has changed from “Iron Man 1” to now in terms of any sort of executive overlords mandating content on our movies. Paramount has done a spectacular job for us marketing and distributing “Iron Man,” “Iron Man 2,” “Thor” coming up on “Captain America” and Disney will have to rise to that challenge on “The Avengers.” I think they can do it. I think they’ve done a tremendous job in the past on, you know, the “Pirates” movies and they know that it’s a big responsibility to market it. I think there is a language that has been been developed on the Marvel Studios pictures through Paramount that I don’t know how far we’ll stray from. So it really comes down to, when you’re talking about the poster, I’m meeting with different people now, when you’re talking about the trailer and TV spots, you’re meeting with different people. That’s really all that’s changed.
Q: Do they have any sort of control? How do you decide on movies that get made? Is it on you? Or are they just distributing?
Feige: The slate had been pretty well defined over the last few years. As we get into 2013 and 2014, they’ll be part of that discussion. It’s their money. So they’ll be a part of that discussion on movies, but we haven’t really had any of those discussions yet.
Q: So that hedge fund that you guys started, that’s out of the equation?
Feige: That’s been gone since two months after “Iron Man 1” came out.
Q: Where does this movie leave a space for a Nick Fury movie or Black Widow movie, even if it’s a smaller budget movie? Obviously, you’ve got this huge scale movie, so can Marvel do a smaller scale movie without people going, “It’s not like ‘Iron Man’ or ‘The Avengers'”?
Feige: Well, I think so. I mean, you don’t want to do something that seems like the “Avengers” movie without the Avengers. When you have Jeremy Renner and Scarlett Johansson – I mean, these characters own franchises at every studio. Certainly you know there is Jeremy Renner’s “Hawkeye” movie that could be cool. There’s a Scarlett Johansson “Black Widow” movie that could be cool. If S.H.I.E.L.D. is an organization, it could easily be its own movie or TV show.
Q: There’s a lot of stuff we don’t know about Nick Fury before S.H.I.E.L.D.
Feige: Sure, so all of that is on the table. Some of those things are more active than others.
Q: The TV projects that you guys are tossing around, I don’t know what stage they’re at, but would that be part of the shared universe?
Feige: I don’t think so.
Q: So the ABC Hulk would be a different thing? What’s the thinking behind that?
Feige: The thinking behind it is there’s enough going on with all the movies that we’re developing. That “Hulk” series is sort of designed to be focusing on a different part of Banner’s life and Banner’s sort of journey. I don’t want to call Sam everyday and go, “And so Mr. Jackson, would you mind going down …?” I got to do this in movies.
Q: You guys are partnering now with Disney/Pixar. Is there a desire on your end to work with Pixar to make a movie together?
Feige: Well, I think the notion of an animated movie based off of a Marvel property is a no-brainer and it’s something that we’ve been talking about. You know, Lasseter is now in charge of both Pixar and Disney Animation, so I don’t know whatever project would fall where necessarily. Frankly, Pixar is all about original properties and original ideas, but an animated version of one of our 8,000-plus characters would seem to be something that could happen at some point.
Q: Where is Ant-Man? Wasn’t that announced like way back, the very first …
Feige: I sat at Comic-Con 2006 with Louis Letterier, Jon Favreau and Edgar. Yeah, he’s delivering a second draft in a few weeks, which I think has been my answer for five years.