Exclusive: Talking with the Producers of The Amazing Spider-Man

If there’s one man who can be credited for the great success of Marvel superheroes at the movies over the past 15 years, it’s Avi Arad, an Israeli businessman who became involved with Marvel Entertainment in the ’90s as part of their deal with toymaker Toy Biz, and whose formation of Marvel Studios led to Marvel’s characters being so prominent in the late ’90s, at a time when the entire comic industry was floundering.

After bringing the characters back to television with cartoons based on Spider-Man, Iron Man, the Fantastic Four and others, he had his first film successes with Blade in 1998 and X-Men in 2000, before tackling one of Marvel’s lynchpin characters with Spider-Man, which set a new opening record back in 2002, went onto gross over $400 million and led to two equally successful sequels.

It’s ten years on since Spider-Man and Arad and Sony Pictures have decided to relaunch The Amazing Spider-Man with Andrew Garfield in the role of Peter Parker and Spider-Man and (500) Days of Summer director Marc Webb at the helm, which is quite a daring move considering how many people loved the Raimi-Maguire-Dunst movies. Not only that, but they already greenlit and are developing a sequel with writers Alex Kurtzman and Bob Orci with a release date already set before even knowing whether the fans will accept Garfield or the new direction. (So far, all three of ComingSoon.net’s reviewers have given it positive grades, which you can read here.)

When the project was greenlit, Matt Tolmach was the co-President of Production at Sony Pictures, but in late 2010, he decided to leave the company to start his own production company with The Amazing Spider-Man being his first main project, producing alongside Arad.

ComingSoon.net/SuperHeroHype got on the phone with the two producers last week and besides addressing some of the questions many people have had about the reboot, a couple of other highlights to look out for is Avi hinting they may be building the Spider-Man universe up to a movie featuring the Sinister Six.

We also tried to find out the reality of whether we’ll ever see a movie based on the popular Sony PlayStation 3 video game, Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune, because the project has now been in development for many years with two different directors. Arad tried to evade the question by bringing things back to Spider-Man, but Tolmach, who was the President at Sony when that project’s development began, jumped in and talked about he realities of the project and why it’s still a viable movie franchise.

SuperHeroHype: Obviously, there was a bit of controversy about the decision to reboot the Spider-Man character so soon after Raimi’s trilogy. What was Marc Webb’s pitch that got him the gig? He’d done one well-regarded movie and a lot of music videos and tackling Spider-Man is a big gig.

Matt Tolmach:
Oh, it’s a big gig.

Avi Arad: It’s a big gig, but he’s a big boy. I think the position of the Marvel movies, especially Marvel movies, is that concentration is on character, storytelling, story development, and that’s the hard part. If you saw the movie and noticed the chemistry between Andrew and Emma, you saw all the actors really excelled. To get this relationship complex yet natural, we’re looking for a director who has the ability to deliver real world relationships. Relationships that we believe in, that make us feel like we know what he feels like and relating to it. These kinds of directors are harder to find.

Tolmach: He also was drawn to something that Avi and I were drawn to for a long time, which was the idea of telling the story of what happened to Peter Parker in the very beginning, shining the spotlight on the orphan myth and accentuating that in a way that we never had in any of these movies. Because he loves the character of Peter Parker and he felt that he wanted it to be a different Peter Parker in the sense that I want him to live in this world and the world that I live in and a world with emotional and physical gravity, and as Avi said, relationships that are very real and genuine. The best way to get there was to begin with this very authentic emotional event that happened to Peter Parker that he and we felt like we couldn’t overlook, which is what happens to a boy when his parents walk out the door and you’re six years old? It was those two things that put us in an immediate conversation with him and obviously Avi and I and the studio loved his movie.

Arad: If you look at his, I don’t know, 200 music videos, obviously he’s a great visualist, so we knew that we’d get camerawork anyhow, we knew that he’d step up to the action and the spectacle that is necessary with movies like this but none of it would have worked without the awkward moment in the hallway with Flash trying to tell Peter how sorry he is. The ending, it’s not a typical love story ending, it’s more complex, more real. That’s what got Marc (the job) plus him being a big Spider-Man geek, which is absolutely empirical, like Andrew, he wanted to be Spider-Man since he was a little boy and actually sent us a picture when he was three years old in a Spider-Man uniform, so you add it all together and after you see the movie, hopefully you’re satisfied that we made a good choice.

SHH: Was the Lizard part of what Sam and Tobey were planning for their movie and it just carried over or was that a villain that Marc said he wanted to have in the movie?

I think that for Marc and some of us, the Lizard was a favorite character.

Tolmach: Let me give you props. The Lizard, to answer your question, no, we were never doing the Lizard with Sam. Avi walked into my office how many years ago? Whenever we moved on…

Arad: When Matt was the President of the studio.

Tolmach: And it was clear that Sam was done with his trilogy and we were reckoning with moving forward and new, Avi walked into my office with a series of drawings that he had commissioned of the Lizard and literally just dropped them on my desk and stood there with a smile on his face. That’s how Avi works. He’s very visual and very convincing. That was the beginning of that idea and we never wavered from it, because what you saw in that Lizard and you know if you know the comics–and if you don’t, you see it in the movie–is this duality that’s classic Marvel that’s this duality of a villain who is generally scary and capable but also has a real humanity and a tragic humanity.

Arad: And a connection to Peter, and in this movie, the connection to Peter in my opinion is stronger than in the comics. The idea when you interpret a comic book, especially Spider-Man, you can never go wrong by pushing the envelope on the relationship between a villain and Peter, because that’s what works best. When Peter has the responsibility, his #1 goal is to not only save the city but save the villain and bring back the human.

Tolmach: Which makes it really complicated for him. You can’t just go out and kill the villain and it’s not just a one-dimensional bad guy, it’s a much more emotional thing. The villain is related to Peter and his past and he had a big part, as he says in the movie, in creating him, so it’s another responsibility that Peter has.

Arad: And Rhys (Ifans) was able to show the charming, super-intelligent (guy), probably the way Peter envisioned his father to be, a scientist with charm and knowledge. It’s the intellectual scientist and Rhys is this guy, and when he loses his mind, as he says it, “I gained an arm and I lost my mind.” When you put people together, I think we were able to heighten the relationships that Peter has to deal with in however many movies that are to come.

Tolmach: That was a big part of the idea for this movie: a Peter Parker who is the prime mover of everything that happens in the movie. He creates everything that happens in this movie, and all because of what happens to him at the beginning. There’s a mystery about where his parents went and in order to solve that mystery for himself, he goes on a quest and that quest takes him to Dr. Connors and takes him to many places. All his doing. It makes him a very, very active character with a real curiosity and tenacity that’s new.

SHH: You guys already have another movie planned and in the works. When you guys decided to reboot, was it always going to be two or three movies?

We knew that it was going to be more than one, and at the very least three. We’re going to let this movie tell us what the story is.

Arad: The moment you have Gwen in the movie, you know the story will continue, and not only that but one of the things we were able to really tie into our villain is also the relationship with Gwen, which makes the whole thing so real and complex, how they feel about this guy who has now lost it and Peter now has the responsibility to stop him and save the city. I think when you look at all these missions that we put out there, you need a director who is far more interested in the soul of the hero, because the first time you see Peter being the friendly neighborhood Peter Parker, if you will, before he becomes the friendly neighborhood Spider-Man, is right in the schoolyard. Many times, kids will ask the question, “Yeah, but he has all these powers,” but he took on someone without the powers. He took on someone because the main power he has is his heart.

SHH: One of the criticisms I’ve heard about the movie is the decision to do the origin story again. Was there any time when you were going to make this movie without telling Spider-Man’s origin again or was that important to this reboot?

Tolmach: When you’re starting anew with new actors and you’re starting with a new director, it doesn’t make sense to not introduce the character. The whole idea of Spider-Man and what makes him so beloved over so many years is people’s ability to relate and identify with him, and I think a lot of that has to do with understanding where he came from and who he was before this whole thing happened, before he got bitten by the spider. Our idea was to go further back and deal with the origin of Peter Parker, literally, and not just the origin of Spider-Man, so “No” is the answer. It was never a thought to eliminate that, because we needed to give people the full meal and get on the ride with this character and with Andrew Garfield.

Arad: When you’re dealing with an orphan or an adopted child or a child who has been separated from their parents, the Peter you meet in high school, the Peter that chooses to do things by himself is a direct relationship to the fact that he was looking for what’s missing and living with that terrible secret, loving his aunt and uncle because they’re wonderful and loving and therefore, you almost feel guilty asking questions about what happened to them. Until Pandora’s Box is opened and then obviously he can’t help himself, he has to find answers. We have a girl who fell in love with Peter, not with Spider-Man, which is the Gwen Stacy story, and we have an origin that says, “Who is Peter? Why did he become this child? Why is he feeling that he has to fend for himself?” which is very much the issue that kids like him go through in real life and that was highly relatable for children around the world and adults for that matter.

SHH: You guys are working on a sequel to this and developing a “Venom” movie, so is there more you’re doing with the Marvel characters, Avi? Over the years, you’ve talked about doing movies with different characters, so have many of them reverted back to Marvel?

One of the things that Matt and I are working on is the expansion of the universe. The Spider-Man Universe, as you know, has very interesting characters. We didn’t even get yet to Robbie (Robertson) and J. Jonah Jameson. We didn’t get to John Jameson, and we didn’t get yet to Mary Jane, so we are kind of peeling the onion and looking for what will be the most compelling and interesting relationships within the Spider-Man universe to continue and sometimes spin them off – that’s an opportunity.

SHH: Do you feel like you need to stay away from some of the villains that have appeared in the Sam Raimi movies? Or can you redefine them within the context of this new Spider-Man?

Well, not really. There are so many ways to paint these villains, all of them. As you know, one of the great sagas in the Spider-Man universe is of course the Sinister Six. I think “Avengers” did okay the last time I looked.

Tolmach: It’s going to be okay.

Arad: Yeah, it will survive.

SHH: So are you suggesting you’re going to do five Spider-Man movies introducing each villain and then the sixth movie will have the Sinister Six?

It seems like a good model.

Arad: It all depends on the stories that one wants to tell, because Spider-Man is really more a depth kind of a story, we have to be careful how many villains we can service, because a relationship with a villain has to be such that it’s a story on his own. We attempted to do multiple villains–you’ve been there–you just need screen time to do it.

SHH: Does Sony have the rights to Kingpin? That was a great Spider-Man villain until Frank Miller took him for his run on Daredevil and he became known more as a Daredevil villain, appearing in that movie.

Believe it or not, Kingpin was on loan to Daredevil, so again, anything that is part of the Spider-Man Universe or introduced in the Spider-Man Universe–without getting too legal beagle here–is an opportunity, and if we have a story that Kingpin is important, I’m sure we can handle that.

SHH: You’ve also been working on developing a number of video games, Avi, including “Uncharted” and “Mass Effect,” and as we’ve seen over the years, those have been very hard to adapt to a movie well, although both of those are popular and quite cinematic in themselves. How has it going on developing those two video games into movies?

You know, when we started bringing comics to film, it was harder than video game to film. In all fairness, most people didn’t know comics from a hole in the wall and the word “comics books” was a self-deprecating definition. You hear “comics” you think literally… I had an actor who I was talking to about making a movie and I said it was comic books and he said, “Comics? Like Bazooka Joe?” and it was cute. And I thought it could be a good idea. Bazooka Joe could be a movie, but the point of it is that we’ve been through these wars before, and what made comics compelling as a vehicle that can be entertainment above and beyond the books was awareness. In all fairness, in my opinion, I don’t think there has yet been a video game movie that’s been done correctly. Listen, “Edward Scissorhands” could have been an amazing movie about a guy with scissors for hands. It was because the movie worked and the fact he had scissors instead of his two hands almost was a feature that made him unusual, but his behavior and his emotions was what made the movie work. That’s how you have to look at comic books, that’s how you have to look at graphic novels or at video games or for that matter, all literature.

SHH: Realistically, how long do you think it will take before we see an “Uncharted” movie or “Mass Effect”? Do you think they’re a couple of years away?

Well, “Uncharted” is pretty far… thanks to Matt, because when he was sitting in the other chair…

Tolmach: Avi’s just being nice and trying to include me because I feel so left out.

Arad: No, that’s bullsh*t. When you were representing the evil empire… (Matt laughs at this and says something like “Oh, that’s right.”) Listen, it was not an easy sell because the process is simple. You present it to the studio and then the studio has to go through a soul searching when it comes to that much money and say that it never worked before. Frankly, I’ve been through that with Marvel and it takes one to work and at the end of the day, it doesn’t matter how good the game is, it has to make business sense. Our job is to interpret things in a way to make movies for the masses. We cannot just sell the movie to the kids who are playing “Uncharted” or any of the other video games out there. First, you have to find a game that tells a story. What makes Spider-Man such a crown jewel is that it’s an amazing personal story and if you start from there and as Matt was saying before, it’s about Peter and the fact he becomes Spider-Man, that’s great, but when he’s in a mask and a suit, if you didn’t know what he was made of as a human, then you wouldn’t make the leap of faith.

Tolmach: When you walked in the door with “Uncharted,” to me it’s similar. That was a game that always had at its heart a great character and that’s what we’re always drawn to, whether it’s Nathan Drake or Peter Parker, it’s about a great character. If it happens to be a beloved game that millions and millions of people play, that’s phenomenal, so for a studio, you can sleep at night because there’s a sense–there’s no guarantees–that you have a built-in audience that loves a character that lends itself to movie storytelling.

Arad: In all fairness, the early days of games, most of them were first-person shooters and therefore, there was no reason to develop the character, because you the player plays the main character. If you look at “Uncharted” or “Mass Effect” or many other things we’re developing, Nate Drake has a great story. It’s actually a compelling story, and it’s a search again. It’s all about fathers. I don’t know why there are such villains out there.

Tolmach: A great writer once told me one night at dinner that all great stories begin and end with fathers and sons, and I think you can make a compelling case that there are some pretty powerful daughter/mother stories as well, but there is something very interesting about that paradigm that keeps reliving itself in literature and storytelling.

SHH: Avi, you’ve been involved with comic book movies almost from the beginning, do you guys think there’s a breaking point with comic book movies? There are so many Marvel characters out there who are great in comics but may not necessarily works as movies. Is there a reason why these characters haven’t gotten movies off the ground yet or maybe should just stay in the comics? (Literally as we asked that question, it was announced there would be a movie based on Marvel Comics’ The Human Fly. Oh, the irony.)

Well, you can’t make them all just schedule-wise. You can release just so many comic characters, but Marvel has roughly 5,000 characters and in some ways, most of them could launch themselves into movies, but first you go for the low hanging fruit, because it’s a business decision. The thing that can interrupt this wonderful acceptance of this artform of comics, the greatest stories to have ever been drawn, is people starting to do it wrong and less compelling. That’s why for us, Spider-Man had to be emotional, had to stay with what made Spider-Man the most likeable, the most relatable character of all. It’s not even about the relationship of father and son but school, bullying, girls. He represents someone that tells so many of us that we’re not alone. “Look at him, he’s okay. He managed.” It’s not easy to do what he’s doing but thank God that Peter Parker was chosen to be this hero.

SHH: Just as I was asking you that question, there was news about a “Human Fly” movie.

Oh, really? Don’t forget, this is absolutely the city of announcements, so we always have to look at it and take it with a grain of salt.

SHH: Thanks, guys, and good luck with the sequel. I’m a big fan of what Bob and Alex have done as writers so far.

They’re great guys and we feel like we’re in great hands with that script.

The Amazing Spider-Man opens nationwide in 3D, 2D and IMAX 3D theaters on Tuesday, July 3. That’s it for our interviews, hope you enjoyed all of them, and stay tuned for more developments on the planned sequel right here on SuperHeroHype!