Part 1 of Quint's epic interview with Jon Favreau! IRON MAN 2! IMAX! James Cameron's AVATAR! And... Genndy Tartakovsky?!?
Published at: Oct. 29, 2008, 12:40 a.m. CST by quint
Ahoy, squirts! Quint here with a very, very long chat I recently had with Jon Favreau. We talk about a lot of things, but the main focus is the current and future state of Marvel Productions and what’s in store for us with IRON MAN 2.
Since this is so long, I’m going to break it up into two pieces. You can find the second part linked at the bottom of this one.
Keep your eye out for his mention of seeing a presentation of AVATAR footage and how he thinks that’s going to change the industry. Fascinating… He’s not the only one I’ve talked to that has seen this presentation and everybody is convinced it’s a game-changer of a movie. I hope to God they’re right and we’re in for a few decades of James Cameron firing on all cylinders.
Also notice the revelation that a certain awesome creative force has joined Favreau and his team to collaborate on the pre-production of IRON MAN 2!!
Anyway, some fascinating tidbits below. Keep in mind this chat happened before Don Cheadle replaced Terrence Howard as Rhodes, so that's why we don't cover that bit of news... Enjoy the interview!
Jon Favreau: I’ve been… I just finished a draft of COUPLES RETREAT, a film I’m writing and Vince (Vaughn)’s producing, Peter B(illingsley) is directing… so that’s cool.
Quint: That sounds good. Is it a comedy?
Jon Favreau: Yeah, it’s a romantic comedy. Well, not romantic comedy… it’s four couples who go away to an island retreat that focuses on therapy and it’s a beautiful vacation, we are shooting in Bora Bora, but they all end up in therapy sessions and one couple, which is Jason Bateman’s couple… It’s me, Faizon, Vince, and Jason Bateman as the four guys. We go there and Jason’s having issues and his buddies are all worse for the wear.
Quint: That’s awesome, I love Faizon. I saw him at the IRON MAN premiere and I really wanted to go up and shake his hand, because I have totally become a huge fan of his watching DINNER FOR FIVE and I think he’s one of the funniest guys ever, like when he’s going off about Ice Cube and all of that stuff, I don’t think I have ever laughed as hard in my life.
Jon Favreau: He is so funny. I’m like “You should do more stand up.” He’s been doing that more and more. I love writing for him. I met him on THE REPLACEMENTS and then I wrote MADE and I wrote him into MADE and then I cast him in ELF and we always been looking for something, like we have tried to set up TV stuff for him. I really like his voice; he’s kind of like a Jackie Gleason.
Quint: I can see that.
Jon Favreau: On one side he sort of has that rough exterior, but he really has a big heart. I just like those types of characters and he’s just… I have a much easier time writing when I know the person and really like them and know their voice, so the fact that I could write this for the four of us and we knew who they were going to be, it made it a very easy script for me.
Quint: And you said that this the one that Billingsley is directing?
Jon Favreau: Yeah, Peter B is directing it.
Quint: That’s really awesome.
Jon Favreau: Yeah.
Quint: That’s cool, has he been wanting to get into directing for a while?
Jon Favreau: Yeah, we sort of pressed him into it, more than, I’m sure, he wanted to, when he has experience in that area. He’s you know he knows that you know that he knows everything about production and behind the scenes, and often times he would…you know I’d send him off with other units to grab stuff and even with performers on IRON MAN, so that was great comfortable with that Vince has collaborated with him a lot as well and then when we saw how this was all timing out with IRON MAN 2… You know it was…we really wanted to make it now and uh, and there was a little bit of a window while I’m in pre-production but not enough you know I had I was able to do the writing, but directing takes… you know you have to see the whole thing through, so it wouldn’t have been possible to do both films.
Quint: Now I hope that means that we’re not sacrificing an IRON MAN 2 Peter Billingsley cameo.
Jon Favreau: Um, I…(laughs) I don’t know, yeah I don’t know if we’re going to Stark Industries, but he’s definitely part of the team.
Quint: He’s got to have the haircut again.
Jon Favreau: I know! Everybody looked at him and said, “Why did you shave your head for a one day role?” But I like that kind of commitment. It’s like RUDY.
Quint: Well, you’re going to have to forgive me because I haven’t watched the Blu-Ray yet because I came home and my PS3 had shit the bed, so I don’t have a Blu-Ray player. I have the disc sitting right in front of me, but I can’t watch it.
Jon Favreau: Okay, yeah there’s a lot of good featurettes on it.
Quint: I can’t wait. I keep talking to people who’ve seen the been watching like the documentaries and…
Jon Favreau: They like it?
Quint: They love it. They said they’re obsessed with THE IRON MAN the main big documentary so it’s like…
Jon Favreau: Oh good. I haven’t looked at the disc yet either, I saw some discs when they were… You know, they give you sort of rough cuts that we were looking at.
Quint: Yeah, have you seen the high-def transfer?
Jon Favreau: Did I see it in the…? I mean I saw it on a monitor at EFILM, but I never saw it off of the Blu-Ray yet, and there’s always uh it’s always an interesting translation, but now it’s gotten to the point where the quality is really, really high. I’m sure I’ll love it. No I haven’t really…not for nothing but the last thing I want to do is watch IRON MAN right now. (laughs)
Quint: Well, what do you think about the whole HD revolution? I mean do you really view that as kind of the next step? Or do you think this is just kind of a place holder for the all-media download service?
Jon Favreau: I think HD as a format, working for HD resolution, I think that’s here to stay, the way that it’s going to be delivered I think is going to change dramatically in the next five years. Everybody’s sort of doing their own version of it. I have Direct-TV and Apple iTV and Blu-Ray. I got to be honest I’m more likely to watch something off of the Apple TV, with the direct download, and I think that’s going to be a very important part of the business and I can see why there’s been so much…it’s been such a priority for all the unions to establish at least fair ground rules for how that’s going to be figured into the equation because it’s going to be a big revenue stream.
The difficulty, of course, will be how do you prevent piracy at that point? And if DVD is replaced by download and download is undermined by piracy it becomes… it takes a big revenue stream from the people financing the films, so it’s potentially dangerous, and I think everybody saw what happened with the music industry. And the only way they combated that was to bring the price point so low on the download it just became easier to do it the proper way rather than pirate.
Quint: Yeah, it’s convenient to actually pay for it, they made it accessible and…
Jon Favreau: It is, but I got to be honest with you when I get music on iTunes it’s a bummer because it, when if I want to use it on like a DJ program like Serato or if I want to transfer music I bought to another computer, another Ipod or…move my music around I found myself re-buying stuff a lot and sometimes it doesn’t play because they have the new mp4 format and so I find myself going to Amazon and buying the mp3s that are unrestricted.
Quint: Yeah Amazon’s where I go, man. Sometimes you get it cheaper. I mean they have this great thing called Goldbox. I don’t know if you’ve ever done it but there’s a link at the top of the main Amazon page and it’s pretty much the deals of the day. Each day if you just go to the mp3 download main site they have like a $1.99 or $2.99 full albums that you can download. I think they’re doing it smart and I like being able to have the music and have the same freedom with it as I’d have if I went out and bought the CD.
Jon Favreau: Yeah, which is good and when you start digitizing CDs that becomes hard. DVDs are good because you can give them as gifts and you know I think there’s room for DVDs, but I think it’s going to be like CDs are. It’ll allow you to play it in your car, it’ll allow you to play it on a portable.
But I think music is still “shared” a lot, and people don’t have any apprehension about it. I don’t think you can rely on people…not doing it because they think it’s wrong. I don’t know that correlation is ever going to effectively be made. It’s like you’re lending somebody or making somebody a tape. So, it’s going to be challenging moving forward to see how to keep ahead of the curve, and not have the movie industry suffer because if the profits go down, then the budgets go down, and the scope of the films go down.
But I think that you always have to stay ahead of the curve with technology. I went down and visited (James) Cameron and he was working on AVATAR and I saw what that is going to be like…and what’s great about what he’s doing is he’s looking forward and saying “how can we make the movie-going experience so unique that downloading it is not going to be…you don’t feel like you’re getting the same experience” you have to go out and go to the movies. And people still go to the movies. And IRON MAN was very successful in the sense that people would want to go it more than once and share that experience with an audience. And that’s not something you can get watching it just on your laptop.
Quint: Yeah. Also what I love doing is especially if I see a movie that’s fun, that’s a great visceral audience experience, I love taking friends who haven’t seen it yet and I end up seeing it multiple times. Which is why movies like IRON MAN, DARK KNIGHT, and all these were such runaway hits over the summer…
Jon Favreau: Yeah, it’s like going on a ride. And I think that either the 3-D of AVATAR or the IMAX of BATMAN are just the experience of seeing a big movie with an audience on that weekend when there’s a buzz and everybody’s anticipating it. I went to see STAR WARS I think like ten times when it first came out. I don’t know if I would have seen it that much if it was just on video, I don’t…I own it, I don’t pop it in all the time. If it’s playing like when it’s playing at the Aero Theater down the block, I’ll grab my kid and go down there and watch it in a theater because there’s nothing like seeing it those type of movies with an audience.
Quint: Even as big as home theaters are getting now… I mean you can replicate screen size and sound quality, which you can only do if you have tens of thousands of dollars to spend on your home theater, but even if you could replicate that on the cheap you’re still not getting that kind of communal experience, that shared experience of going out and having it be an event and sitting with strangers watching and enjoying the same stories.
Jon Favreau: Yeah and that’s why I think independent film is going to be harmed more by it. I mean I know that there are a lot of movies that I want to see and I have children and I’m busy, so I won’t go see a lot of movies that I hear are great because I know I’ll see them on DVD or get a screener eventually and it’s the same thing with DVD in general, especially with those dates being pushed up on the smaller films. You’re not going to miss the movie you’ll see it on Netflix and other services you can always get your hands on them or Apple-TV you can download all these films… those are the types of movies we don’t necessarily need…you’re seeing it at a smaller independent theater, not quite the same thing and I think the big movies are the ones that are going to endure more safely.
But then again look at DVD sales. The DVD sales are what give them the confidence to get behind the sequel, too, that’s a big part of the equation and I know that they were…every time a big movie comes out you’re waiting for the DVD release to see if the numbers are still strong because usually they’re going to start to taper and that’s going to change the whole business.
Quint: True. I think that’s also kind of…used as a quality test, too. You had a great theatrical marketing campaign and I think Paramount really put IRON MAN out there but it’s almost like the DVD release is the new standard to see what the legs on a film are. Are people still interested five months later six months later? Do they still like the movie enough to own it? Since they don’t really keep movies out in theatres four or five months at a time like they used to do back in the day… like the big, successful movies they would just hold onto and keep playing. They don’t do that anymore. Now it’s all about DVD and that’s the mark of success… how well you sell there.
You were talking about IMAX earlier and I guess we should probably talk a little about that since the word buzzing around the internet is that you’re looking at doing something similar to what Christopher Nolan did for THE DARK KNIGHT on IRON MAN 2…
Jon Favreau: Yeah, I loved watching DARK KNIGHT in the IMAX format. It’s the first time I saw a movie in that format that wasn’t made just for IMAX. And a lot of it I think was very, I think it was very effective. The difficulty with our film is that our main character is CG a lot of the time. And when you start shooting in IMAX format… it’s a bit unwieldy on the set first of all and second of all, I’m not convinced yet that CGI is going to look…I’m more of a believer now after the experience on IRON MAN, but it was very painstaking to integrate him effectively and not have it be distracting.
And I think that IMAX, I’m warned, costs a lot more, it’s a lot harder to render because of the resolution and I’m not sure at that resolution CGI is convincing yet. So, there are a lot of drawbacks, but in meeting with them the blowups to IMAX format are as effective in many ways, so we’ll see where we land on it, but I doubt that we’re actually going to have IMAX cameras on the set. It becomes very difficult for processing and all of that.
I think it works well for DARK KNIGHT because a lot of that was just practical shots and helicopter shots or shots where there’s CGI in the background, set extensions things like that. But you didn’t have a CGI Batman running through the frame all the time.
Quint: Yeah, I think there was only one moment… one of the Hong Kong shots when he’s jumping off the roof and then he goes and crashes into the other building to grab that dude. And but it’s CG for such a teeny tiny part of the frame, he was in black against a night sky, it wasn’t the focus of the frame…
Jon Favreau: It’s a very forgiving application of CG. When you’re dealing with an animated character it becomes a little bit more trouble.
Quint: We’re talking about the future… I think 3-D… until they can do it without the glasses is going to be is always going to feel gimmicky to me…
Jon Favreau: I don’t know, man. I don’t know.
Quint: But you saw AVATAR, or you saw some pieces, so will that be the game-changer you think?
Jon Favreau: Look, I went and saw a digital 3-D projection of BEOWULF when that first came out. And that’s one of those films where in 3-D…I don’t know if I would recommend the film on its own merits, but in the a CG environment I was recommending it to people because the experience was so different it was so dream-like in the way that you perceive it and I think it hits you it hits your brain in a different way. It makes the experience a different experience, it feels more like a dream than a movie, and I thought it was extremely effective in that.
Jon Favreau: And in watching the way that James Cameron is approaching AVATAR… he’s really pushing the boundaries on motion capture, he’s integrating live action with motion capture and CGI. It takes a painstaking and technical approach to that. And he really wants to make it a very visceral, emotional experience and he’s… he’s a bit of a P.T. Barnum in the sense that he likes to put on a big show.
He’s sort of tireless in how much he invests into it as far as his time and effort. You know, he doesn’t make a lot of movies, so a lot of thought and effort goes into each one. And I think that he’s trying to present this format in a way where it is a game-changer and in seeing it I think it’s the future. I don’t think it’s a flash in the pan. I think it’s going to open up a whole new door and I think more so than the glasses it becomes about how many screens could actually present it in its pristine form.
The amount of screens is just growing at a very, very fast rate in the states and I think in Europe as well and I think AVATAR is going to be the kind of movie that’s an event that you have to go see and you want to see again just to understand what you’re looking at. And then you still have his very effective storytelling. He really creates an adventure and draws you into it in the hero’s journey sense of storytelling, the Joseph Campbell sense of storytelling. I really liked the bits that I saw and I saw all the various stages of finished, but he’s a purist in the way he approaches things, and he’s very meticulous.
And a lot of what he’s using we’re exploring using similar techniques in IRON MAN 2 because it is a game-changer from a production standpoint certainly in the way he’s using motion capture and operating a camera within a volume and the way that the pipeline works now is… the line between animation and live action is blurring in many ways and I think that we could borrow a lot from what people have learned through animation as far as making a movie and not just storyboard, animatic, pre-viz, shoot plates, cut it together with post-viz, deliver it to the vendor and then hope you get the shot there in time for the movie’s release.
And you’re crossing your fingers all the way till the sound mix. The way that Jim’s doing it, it’s a much more organic process where post-production, production, and pre-production all sort of roll into one another and you’re moving back and forth between those media.
Jon Favreau: You’re moving back and forth as far as what media you’re creating. You really value mentors and people you can learn from when you’re in my line of work. Because everybody’s breaking new ground and there aren’t that many people who are at the top of their field. Fortunately people like Jim are very generous with their time and with wanting to share what they’ve discovered with other filmmakers, so I learned a great deal about motion capture, a great deal about cgi, a great deal about 3-d and digital photography, from spending some time with him. And I also have learned a lot just from watching his movies. So I’m glad he does what he does and I’m glad that he’s been so generous with his time and knowledge.
Quint: Well, if anybody can change my mind it’s Cameron. But just seeing THE DARK KNIGHT and nothing that I’ve seen in 3-D…and you know I like 3-D but nothing I’ve seen in 3-D kind of came close to that kind of feeling of awe of seeing the world completely open up. It’s the first time since I was a kid watching DARK KNIGHT in Imax where I actually felt like the movie screen was a window into another world.
Jon Favreau: Yeah, it was great, and I was coincidentally sitting next to him when we both watched it together for the first time. And he and I were trying to figure out how they were going to use the format. And we were both debating whether it would be letterboxed or what the format aspect ratio would be and then the first shot was the whole screen. He and I both let out a gasp. “Wow, this is interesting”.
Quint: (laughs) That’s crazy. Well, where are you right now with IRON MAN 2?
Jon Favreau: Justin (Theroux)’s almost done with the first draft of the script. And we’re boarding and been creating animatics for the action sequences. We’re starting to do some location scouting and designing some sets and figuring out how much of it we want to… you know, what techniques we’re going to use. And the best is to mix and match the best of everything. I’m less of a purist to one style or another. I find that you got to make, you have to use the technique that best tells the story for any given moment and also that makes… that isn’t irresponsible with resources because even with a big movie like IRON MAN 2 you have to pay attention to every dollar you spend.
Quint: Yeah and well you got to make sure it’s up on the screen too. You don’t have the luxury coming off of a popular first movie of under-delivering on the sequel.
Jon Favreau: I think that I could borrow a lot from…I think a lot too many decisions were made at the end of the process, we work on this thing for two years but we don’t really lock in on the performances, at least as far as the CGI goes, till the very, very end of the process and you’re bottle necked with your sound mix, your scoring, youre final editing, and youre color timing. And so I found myself up at Skywalker Ranch making millions of decisions and not always feeling confident that I was having the clarity on any given one.
And what I’m learning, what I’m trying to incorporate is more of a, certainly for the action sequences, create a pipeline that’s more similar to a CGI film like a Pixar film or even like AVATAR. Where you can work on and refine the action stuff before you even begin shooting, and let the action and the performances be serviced by the plates and not back into a performance by the plates that you’ve shot. And so I was very, very lucky to have gotten somebody to collaborate with me on that stuff and teach me a little bit more of the animation approach to action.
Jon Favreau: I had Genndy Tartakovsky. I’ve always liked SAMURAI JACK and I loved his CLONE WARS vignettes that he did. I’ve always liked his work, a lot. And I had met with him, we had lunch together just because I enjoy his stuff and I wanted to meet him. I really dig his sense of humor and his sense of rhythm, and the way that he acknowledges the same cinematic masters that I really love the work of, like (Akira) Kurosawa and (Sergio) Leone. And he finds a way to pastiche it without ever undermining the stakes or the reality of the tension that’s created in his action sequences.
Now clearly his stuff is a bit broad for a live action film but I love his rhythm and his attention to detail. It has a real comic booky feel but yet it feels cinematic and not gimmicky and even his cartoons feel… there’s an elegance to them.
So in this process as we’re storyboarding and designing sequences he and his team have come in and I’m working with them and they’re working on collaborating with us on the project and that’s a new wrinkle and it allows me… I feel like I’m really learning a lot from collaborating with this guy.
And then he has the original IRON MAN film to draw from and he also has a pretty deep knowledge of Marvel. So, he is transitioning into live-action features, which I have no doubt in collaborating with him that he will. There’s a transition that he’s making that hopefully I could be helpful with and at the same time as I move from dialogue and character and story-driven filmmaking I’m able to understand the way to approach action in an interesting and elegant way. So, it’s been a very, very fun collaboration so far.
Quint: That sounds really cool. I loved his CLONE WARS episodes. They were just so filled with fun and a level of effortlessness.
Jon Favreau: Yeah, there’s a level of fun and effortlessness, but also it’s… the tone of it is right because we want it to be fun but we want it to be real. And we want it to make sense but we also want it to be over-the-top at times. And I remember seeing the Mace Windu sequence from I think it was the first set of CLONE WARS that he did, where he’s using his lightsaber fighting off all of these bad guys and then he uses his Jedi force blast to send people flying and I’m thinking to myself “Man this is very interesting to look at from the perspective of IRON MAN.” It was after I had done IRON MAN already.
And I definitely was aware of what he did when I put together the action sequence when he’s fighting the terrorists and he shoots the people with the shoulder missiles. I was definitely referencing similar…you know the way that it would be covered by Leone or Kurosawa and the action was not slow-motion and it wasn’t a slow-motion orgy I wanted it to be about rhythm about downbeats, hesitations, pauses, and then abrupt action.
And it worked, it’s my favorite action moment in the whole movie and it was the thing that we did in the re-shoots. And I was referencing the same filmmakers that he references in his work and I felt that I could pick his work apart and try to imitate what he does and be informed by what Genndy did, that I said look “There’s no rules to this game, why don’t I just approach the guy and see if he wants to work on the movie?” And if it’s in just the planning stages, even if it’s just in helping me conceive of the action sequence and the storyboard phase and that’s where we are now, but the ideas flow very freely from him and his team and he fits really well in with the group that we have.
Traditionally you haven’t had a guy like this working on a movie like this. It just doesn’t fit I’m mixing somebody from a whole different world but as I see that so many aspects of filmmaking for us is being informed so much more by animation as opposed to stunt work on the set. I just want to see how we can outdo ourselves, how we can really just open things up a little bit more. They don’t just want to see IRON MAN 1 all over again, they want to see us take it to another level and so by collaborating with a guy like Genndy it feels like that’s a…it opened a whole new world of possibilities and I’m really enjoying, it really makes it fun to go to work.