Quint: Do you think there’s a danger of jumping too digital too early? Because I think one of the things that a lot of at least movie fans kind of grabbed onto was the fact that you blended Stan Winston’s suit with CGI, that the suit had weight to it...
Jon Favreau: It’s amazing how much of the stuff was replaced. And I think that the attention to detail can never be… you can never bypass that stage. Part of why I want to do it this way is because if we could dial into the action early enough it will give us a lot more time to refine things and a lot more time to integrate it well. But having seen Iron Man flying in the dogfight sequence in daylight, the way ILM delivered it, it really made me… if you get the animation right, and you’re dealing with non-organic characters, it really has hit a level where if you don’t ask too much of the camera and too much of the actual choreography and you keep that within the realm of reality it’s actually very, very difficult to tell.
I found myself giving notes on shots that weren’t digital to the vendors. I know we talked about that last time. What I don’t want to do is tie myself to too much practical stuff that it makes the action not dynamic enough and the difficulty with IRON MAN isn’t he’s not ROBOCOP he doesn’t just walk on the ground. He’s also in the air and you have to find the right animators and tune that in right so that you believe it. But we are going to seek to incorporate elements that are practical in there as well and I think that sleight of hand was what helped sell the reality of IRON MAN.
Quint: Yeah well that’s the trick. If you’re not sure what the effect is, practical or not, if you can’t really tell... You wouldn’t have had people go “Oh, that looks great, that’s a great practical” and be fooled if they hadn’t seen so much actual practical beforehand.
Jon Favreau: Yeah, so that’s the game. That’s the magic trick. And I think people think there’s a lot more practical in it than there is. And a lot of times…we shot a lot of it practically, we ended up replacing much of it. Because the digital suit actually looked better at times than the real one, and moved more naturally, but you don’t ever want to get to the point where you’re so confident in the digital realm that he begins to move and act in ways he couldn’t in a practical realm, you do want to keep them guessing.
And there are certain moments where you’re just going to cut loose and you just know there’s no other way to do it. You don’t want to be too much of a luddite. I think I was a little too conservative, at times, with the action. I played it too safe. Now I’m confident in my vendors, I’m confident in my level of understanding of CGI and a level of technology.
There are things where it’s extremely convincing and there are areas where I want to try and incorporate practical aspects that normally aren’t. But the stuff in DARK KNIGHT, many of those buildings when he was hang gliding weren’t real. I’m hard pressed to tell. There’s certain things like set extension, that will help us open the movie up and allow us to shoot in various places but I have to complete all the work and be much more ambitious as far as our locations go and open this up.
And I think that there’s a real James Bond quality to Tony Stark that James Bond seems to have left behind and nobody’s doing it. There’s definitely a sense of humor…that the Roger Moore James Bonds or the Sean Connery James Bonds had when I was growing up. There was a tonal swagger to it and there was a sense of really having a window into the way the other half lives, in an over-the-top way. And I think as James Bond, as that series has reinvigorated itself by moving closer to the… almost to the BOURNE IDENTITY approach, it’s leaving behind this really fun world that seems anachronistic for Bond now. But for Tony Stark I say we have to go for it…
Quint: Oh, it’s perfect, and you know if you didn’t have somebody like Downey in the role then I would be a little hesitant. But I mean Downey has that ability, he has that likeability, that comic timing, that sense of humor. He’s just so likeable. Just like the Connery Bond. It’s like people just like liking the guy.
Jon Favreau: But you also got the sense that the Connery Bond could get his head blown off if he did the wrong thing. So there’s either GOLDFINGER or there’s… CASINO ROYALE. There’s like this middle ground in between where you can have some fun with it and play up a comic book version of Tony Stark. And Downey… you could get away with a lot with Downey because he doesn’t seem like somebody out of the pages of MAXIM magazine, he seems like a guy out of the… tech conference. He’s a different (type) who happens to like to live large but he has a sense of humor about it. And at his heart he’s got certain shortcomings and certain things he’s wrestling with, certain addictions that Tony Stark has and the fun thing is going to be what happens after he says “I am Iron Man,” how has the world changed.
Quint: Well that’s fascinating. That decision right there immediately takes it and gives the movie its own identity and completely takes it out of all the other superhero movies which are still having to deal…the Supermans, the Batmans, Spidermans… They still have to cover their identity, I mean I guess you can look at X-MEN a little bit…
Jon Favreau: A little bit. FANTASTIC FOUR did it in a different way. That was… that made us… we definitely want to do our own version of it. But a lot of our time is spent steering clear of DARK KNIGHT and that franchise. Tonally, casting wise, the way we present the action. Because there’s so many similarities at the core, and now that we were both very successful movies this summer it’s going to be… there’s always going to be the Coke and Pepsi argument going back and forth.
For me I’m very, very happy to be Pepsi. I think Nolan and I seem to have different personalities as filmmakers. He takes filmmaking very seriously and I treat it more like I’m throwing a party. To me the experience I’m building to when I’m making a movie is what’s it going to be like when we show footage at COMIC-CON, what it’s going to be like when I go to the party, when I go to the Cineramadome and pop in and listen to the crowd. That’s, to me, what it’s all about.
And so it’s really like throwing a party in that respect, that you want people to have fun. If they didn’t have fun, if they don’t like it… then I’m disappointed. Because it’s all about that, to me it’s a medium; to me it’s not a work of art. It’s a medium, it’s a means to communicate a feeling, an emotion, an experience to an audience. They’re giving you ten bucks and an hour and a half, and you have to get in there and make them feel like it was a good deal.
Quint: Well, you can have the best of both worlds there. I think that if IRON MAN was just an effects spectacular… then it would be a different thing, but I mean I think why the critics liked it so much and why it was so highly rated on IMDB is because it kind of…it doesn’t come off as a hollow experience.
Jon Favreau: I don’t think that people want a hollow experience. See when I say you’ve got to… You could write a rock’n’roll song, a pop song, that doesn’t mean that the song has to… The BEATLES were writing pop songs. But that doesn’t mean that they can’t have, they can’t be invested with something that’s important and meaningful and emotional. So, I think that without the emotional aspect and stating some truth and bringing people together on… having some sort of spiritual wrinkle to it that connects with what we all share in common and around the world, I think if you don’t do that you are selling your audience short.
So, when I say that I want to throw a party, I’m not saying I just want to make a popcorn movie that takes your mind off of things then you move on and you forget about it. I want the movie that you enjoy and cheer for and laugh at when you’re there, but you have an emotional experience. Movies deal in emotion, that’s the currency. And if you don’t feel emotionally, some sort of an emotional experience by watching something… and titillation is not an emotional experience. It’s frosting. That’s something you do to up the ante so that you feel the emotion on a deeper level.
And so as I get more experienced with making movies, you’re able to use all of the tools that you have whether it’s CGI, special effects, explosions, comedy, humor, and you use all of those things to hopefully make people feel some of the same emotions that they would in smaller movies, independent films. When all I had was dialogue and humor to use in storytelling… how do you preserve that standard and still make something that would be a great Superbowl commercial.
Quint: Well if you hit that median… I don’t know what tone you’re going for with the next one but I would imagine…I think the kind of the golden standard especially for this kind of movie is EMPIRE STRIKES BACK, where you have something that really kind of ups things, a darker movie, but it’s still fun.
Jon Favreau: That’s what we talk about. We talk about EMPIRE and we talk about WRATH OF KHAN. And the reason that those two are such great templates in many ways is because there’s very plot in either of them, and it gives you room to explore characters and it allows you to up the ante on character development.
What’s so great about EMPIRE is you don’t feel like Luke Skywalker became a Jedi in STAR WARS and now it’s the adventures of Luke the Jedi. You feel like he is still in transition, he’s still seeking out mentors, he’s learning lessons, he’s delving deeper and deeper into his own emotional core and that is exemplified by the trials of Yoda, learning to master the force, going into the cave, facing his shadow. And it’s very, very Joseph Campbell shadow archetype where you’re dealing with mentors, shape shifters, you have allies and friends, heralds… It really hits all of the primal archetypical milestones of a Joseph Campbell mythic journey.
Quint: So, is Tony Stark’s shadow alcohol?
Jon Favreau: We’re definitely going to use alcohol, but alcohol isn’t a shadow, I don’t think. I think addiction is something you use to anesthetize yourself when you’re dealing with something deeper. And if you look at twelve step programs, that are probably the most effective way of dealing with an addiction, you’ll see that they spend very little time dealing with the actual thing you’re addicted to: substance. Most of the steps become about dealing with your spiritual health and delving deeper into what’s underneath the addiction.
And I think in that respect it’s very telling as to what… it’s a matter of discovering what Tony Stark’s issues are that he’s dealing with that’s causing him to drink, causing him to womanize, causing him to escape and run in whatever way he does. And that’s what’s compelling especially when you have a guy like Robert, who can really handle this kind of a storyline. Of course you don’t want to overwhelm the film. I want to maintain the tone we had with the first one, for the most part. Nolan has cornered the market on that tone and does it well. It’s not what I do well or what I want to see in IRON MAN.
And so you have to have enough of it to inform the story and I think that EMPIRE STRIKES BACK really walked that line very well. I wouldn’t call it a dark movie but it definitely was for real, it definitely had some emotional resonance to it. It wasn’t just a videogame. So, we try to study who did it right.
And I feel pretty at ease because typically the number two movies are… you sort of the best of both worlds, where you know what you’re doing, you’ve got your team together, and you’ve got your cast, and you have your basic things, and it’s how do you expand out from that? And the audience is ready and accepting, you don’t have to prove yourself to them, they’re coming expecting a good time. And you could really do stuff that you can’t do in the first one, now that the origin story is out of the way. And with the villains and the playfulness and the dialogue we have between us and the fans of the books where you start to pick through forty years of books and try to find villains and storylines that apply to both the Cold War context in which IRON MAN was presented, as well as what could work with the headlines today. What pays homage to the tradition of this storyline and what does not seem ridiculous when it hits film.
So it’s preserving the soul of the experience while having enough reference, so that there are moments where the fans are rewarded for having followed his stories are so long and not frustrated by that. Often times people who are fans of comic books go see the movie and enjoy it less than people who don’t know anything about the heroes because they’re so frustrated by how many leaps and liberties they took with the source material.
In IRON MAN I think the fans actually enjoyed the movie more than the people who didn’t know what was going on and I think that should be it, you should have stuff in the margins for people who have dedicated themselves to following this and were excited when they heard it got made and they’re the first ones in line to see it. You don’t want them to be disappointed, you want them to have an even richer experience. And then have their friends turn to them and say “I don’t understand who’s that guy with the eye patch” you know what I mean? That’s when it becomes fun. When I saw LORD OF THE RINGS I felt good that I had read the book LORD OF THE RINGS. It enriched the experience for me.
Quint: Yeah, you guys did that when you had Nick Fury come in and the shot where you can see Cap’s shield on the workbench…
Jon Favreau: Yeah, and we named like the pilots’ call sign was Whiplash One and Two. There are little things here and there… and the Ten Rings.
Quint: Yeah, that one I didn’t get until the second viewing.
Jon Favreau: And if you look at the flag of the Ten Rings, you’ll see that the writing… it looks like it’s Arabic but it’s actually Mongolian writing on the flags.
So, we were really paying attention, of course now it becomes more and more difficult because we’re weaving… it has to culminate in the AVENGERS. Which, although I won’t be directing it, I’ll be involved with it as an executive producer and I would feel really disappointed if what good will we’ve curried from IRON MAN 1 and hopefully 2, is not lived up to in the AVENGERS.
Quint: Yeah because that movie’s got to… you talk about what has to knock it out of the park. THE AVENGERS is one of those movies that’s been kind of a fanboy dream for years. And then you’re coming off the success of IRON MAN and even the HULK and I love the interconnectivity that’s going on now and it just seems to all be building to an AVENGERS movie.
Jon Favreau: And I’m going to get a little more involved now with what goes on with the other movies. I’m very excited about Kenneth Branagh, I can’t wait to see his take on THOR and we’re really looking at the Cap stuff, very closely.
For one because we put the shield in there and Tony’s legacy… Howard Stark’s legacy somehow is related to… there’s some relationship between Tony’s father and what was going on in World War II, in the Marvel Universe, and Shield, so we’re trying to lay some pipe here so that when it all happens it feels somewhat inevitable.
But there are a lot of tonal challenges that are going to take place, more so in the other films I think. THOR has a tremendously… that’s going to be the most difficult one to integrate into this reality. And if it can be properly done then you get a great version of AVENGERS. If not, AVENGERS is going to seem like ROGER RABBIT with different cartoon characters from different worlds, you have Betty Boop next to Daffy Duck next to Donald Duck you know. (laughs)
And I don’t know that’s the experience it should feel like, it should feel like a unified Marvel Universe. And I know that the Marvel guys are very, very vigilant about that.
Quint: Well, and it’s smart especially they’re involving the creative teams behind these movies and the kind of interconnecting themselves and able to work with each other so that way like you were saying it doesn’t feel like you’re just… where we don’t just see a scene in IRON MAN 2 where we’re going “oh gee, I wonder if that’s supposed to mean…that’s going to pay off later” something that’s more organic.
Jon Favreau: It’s amazing how much you have to figure it out so that it makes sense it takes a lot of effort to weave all this stuff together. Just making a movie is difficult, let alone trying to service a whole set of films that has to coexist. I think a really good step in that direction is them getting this facility down at Manhattan Beach so that all the films will be working out of the same studio and shooting on the same stages and they’ll be prepping and posting and we’ll all be in that one area so we can bounce back and forth and hopefully they’ll be a generosity of creative input between all of the filmmakers and writers and producers so that we could come up with something that’s much more synergistic than anything that has been seen before. But it’s a tall order.
Quint: It’s a very exciting time for movie fans and for comic fans. And I guess in closing are you going to keep up that transparency that you had with the first one with the fans and the open dialogue with them?
Jon Favreau: The trick is going to be… I think I’m going to setup a Facebook page for it. So, I will still disseminate information and include them in the process as much as I can. The difficulty becomes… you don’t want to undermine the release of the film.
Quint: Well, you walked that tightrope really well with IRON MAN though.
Jon Favreau: Yeah, but the hunger, the curiosity factor is much higher now. Since the movie’s come out, just the way my… the things that I would sort of say informally on a little blog with some of the core fans would get picked up in mainstream press and on Hollywood type blogs. You have to be a little more selective in the way you… it can’t be quite so conversational because the way you turn a phrase it ends up leading people to conclusions they shouldn’t be led to or they might be misleading. I never want to lie to my fans.
But I reserve the right to keep certain things out of sight until it’s time to reveal them. I think everybody has snuck into their mom’s closet and seen their Christmas presents before they opened them and then taped them back shut and it’s just not as fun Christmas morning. And I want to make sure that everybody has a good time.
So I want to get enough out there that it keeps people excited and it rewards them for paying attention but I don’t want to blow the experience of the movie. And I think we barely squeaked by, I don’t know if there were any secrets that were not revealed by the time people saw the movie.
And the one big thing was that your site… we really went out of our way to shoot Sam Jackson’s scene. We came in on the weekend, we had a skeleton crew, we snuck him in a limo. There was no paperwork. We did it, whisked him out of there. And like a week later you guys put it up. And the only fun thing that came out of it was all the preview prints and even the premiere print didn’t include the scene.
Quint: Yeah, I know! We were getting emails, people going “You fucking liars, you lied to us!”
Jon Favreau: (laughs) All is fair in love and war. But I think it made it even more fun when people actually saw the movie. That we even cared enough and that Marvel was even willing to do that. Says that relationship is an important relationship, between the fans and the filmmakers, and I want to… It’s not like I’m going to cloister myself away and not communicate. I’m still going to be the guy… If I go to COMIC CON I better bring something good, you know what I mean? If I say something, it better be something important. And I’ll try and maintain that dialogue.
I’m also dealing with a studio that tends to be very secretive about things. So I think that I’m going to probably be more open than most filmmakers would be, but I definitely don’t want to blow enough stuff… because stuff’s going to come out, between all the sites that there are. Stuff will be figured out on its own. And if we reveal too much stuff and certain things are figured out or spies get pictures of things we won’t have any razzle dazzle left for the actual release of the film, and that’s the only concern.
Other than that I love sharing the stuff, I love talking to the fans, and I will continue to but I just don’t think… while I was doing IRON MAN I was like answering every question about every thing. And now it’s not going to take much for people to figure out what’s going on, but we’ll try to maintain a veil of secrecy and I enjoy everybody who tries to pull that veil away. That’s the game.
Quint: By playing hard to get man, you’re just going to get everybody more excited and there will be a lot more discussions. And that secrecy is something that people like JJ Abrams have been able to really use to their advantage. And even if…
Jon Favreau: That being said I can’t keep my mouth shut. I always like to get everything buzzing around you know what I mean? Because there’s always buzz from other movies and it’s like “ah let’s get something out there”. I love sending pictures out. To be honest from you I like the feedback, because the feedback does affect things.
There was a shot in the Super Bowl ad that didn’t get there in time for that and the feedback on that gave me the ability to turn around and say “Look see, it’s not just me. They have a very high standard, these people. They don’t just eat what we feed them, we have to satisfy, you have to treat it like a chef, not like a short order cook. They’re not just going to eat what you put in front of them. If they don’t feel respected they will not support this thing. This has to be special. There’s too many movies like this out there. We have to win their approval.”
So I like the dialogue, I learn from the dialogue, I’m tremendously grateful to the fans for turning this thing into a phenomenon. All the mainstream press was saying shitty things under their breath in their articles writing about “Marvel parades out its’ B-list heroes does anybody give a shit?” And because the fans gave a shit and liked what we were doing and I was lucky enough to be making this movie in a time when there was still an appetite and there was a very vocal, viral online community where word would spread one way or the other when you’re doing something good and they like it word gets out there. And the next thing you know there are eight thousand prints on screens and shows selling out till three in the morning and them adding screenings and stuff because of people texting each other, and that all started from Comic-Con, that all started from people liking the first trailer.
And whoever bootlegged that Youtube thing… I know that Paramount chased it down and pulled it down and that’s what they have to do, but as a filmmaker that was probably one of the biggest thrills of the movie, watching that bootlegged video with the crowd reactions in it, and you couldn’t even see the screen barely. It captured that sense of something special was happening, and people were into it. It was just a great, great feeling.
Quint: And in a way that kind of really helped the enthusiasm spread more than seeing a pristine Apple Quicktime of it. There’s something to seeing footage like that when you have people going crazy and blowing out the little speaker on whatever recording device they were using.
Jon Favreau: Yeah, exactly, on their cell phone. It gave Paramount a lot of enthusiasm, and then they really went out of their way to make sure…they helped me cut together that segment. Josh Greenstein over there worked very hard on that thing. He took it seriously. And I was always pushing for more, more, more footage. I really wanted to… I said we got to really make a splash because we’re the underdog here. Nobody’s expecting this thing to be… this is not the biggest story there. My god we had INDIANA JONES, CLOVERFIELD, there was a lot of big buzz around with other films around ours. And it was that experience that sort of made this movie more of a priority for them and then they really supported it well and marketed it well and put a lot of work into those trailers and commercials and I even liked the new DVD commercials are really fun too. They’re really fine just like how they’re handling this whole thing.
Paramount’s been a class act, and now that Marvel has like a… Marvel’s a much bigger deal at Paramount than it was when we started then. They have more partnerships at the time and now, now we’re very important to each other and that feels good. So I’m really enjoying the experience of IRON MAN 2 so far. And I was very nervous going in with the amount of time we had, but it’s amazing how much progress we’re able to make very quickly because we’ve learned from the mistakes of last time. We’re much more efficient. The basic designs of the suit are there so if anything changes we’re building off of something else. We have our basic cast. And we understand what the basic story is, so it’s a much easier process than the first time around and I hope that is reflected by a movie that’s even more enjoyable experience.
Quint: Cool man. Alright well yeah I think that’s all I can think of. So…
Jon Favreau: Well great to talk to you. Come by and visit us!
Notice how he dropped the Cold War era premiere of the character? Is that a hint, you think? Or am I over-analyzing everything like he talked about at the close of the interview?
And how awesome is it that he has his team working with Genndy Tartakovsky plotting out the action sequences for IRON MAN 2!?! I know I'm psyched.
I hope you enjoyed the chat. Many thanks to Jon Favreau for taking an hour of his life to bullshit with me about the upcoming film and his thoughts on the industry at this moment. I think if he’s able to collaborate as closely as he wants on the other Marvel properties we could be in for a very creative and special time in big event filmmaking.
What are your thoughts?