THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN producers Avi Arad and Matt Tolmach chat with Capone about starting from Square One, and pay tribute to producer Laura Ziskin and production designer Mike Riva!!!
Published at: June 30, 2012, 6:32 p.m. CST by Capone
Hey everyone. Capone in Chicago here, with a boatload of fun interviews coming at you over the next few days for THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN. First up, are the producers…
Since the mid-1990s in his role as chief creative officer of Marvel Entertainment, chairman, CEO, and the founder of Marvel Studios, Avi Arad as the keeper of the Marvel flame in both animated series and later in feature films, having executive produced everything from the BLADE films, the X-MEN trilogy, THE HULK and THE INCREDIBLE HULK, DAREDEVIL, THE PUNISHER (Thomas Jane edition), both GHOST RIDER travesties, both FANTASTIC FOUR movies, IRON MAN, and of course, the original SPIDER-MAN films directed by Sam Raimi. But when Raimi and actor Tobey Maguire couldn't see eye to eye with the powers that be for a fourth Spider-Man movie, Arad was left with an interesting dilemma.
He had to essentially use it or loose it with the Spider-Man name, so he and producer Matt Tolmach (former head of production at Sony/Columbia Pictures) decided reboot the franchise, going with a new director (Marc Webb) and an entirely different cast for THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN, a starting from Square One take on both the Spider-Man origin and his first adventure trying to stop and save The Lizard.
I had a chance to sit down with Arad and Tolmach recently, but before I jumped into a conversation about the movie, I wanted to take the chance to let them remember their departed friends on THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN, producer Laura Ziskin and legendary production designer Mike Riva, who had passed just days earlier. The print of the AMAZING SPIDER-MAN had a dedicated to Ziskin, but Arad assured me a second dedication would be added for the film's release on July 3. Please enjoy my conversation with Avi Arad and Matt Tolmach…
Matt Tolmach: How’s it going?
Avi Arad: Ain’t It Cool News, right?
Capone: You know Harry Knowles, don't you?
MT: Very well.
[They discuss Capone’s digital recorder is.]
Capone: This thing records symphonies if you want it to.
MT: Avi and I do sing together. Should we sing?
Capone: Feel free.
AA: [Begins to sing the old animated Spider-Man theme song] “Spider Man, Spider Man…” Actually, Harry has been very instrumental to all this explosion when I was starting this.
Capone Yeah, I get bits and pieces about various conversations.
AA: It’s no longer a secret. I actually call Harry every once and a while to just get a gut check. After a while, you need a gut check. I said, “What do you think of the name AMAZING SPIDER-MAN?" And he said “Awesome.”
Capone: I believe I'd heard as much.
AA: And I called him over the years, and we started a little rough, because he was a little less elegant about it, but I did gut checks with him, because I knew that his geek-meter was very honest and genuine. And if something would have hit him, "You’re kidding," and we had this debate inside [the production offices]. If you imagine the debate, you probably could hear it, and I felt “You know what?”
MT: “Throw it to him, yeah”
AA: So I called him. He was in the hospital I think, and I called him.
AA: I said to him, “Harry, I’m going to ask you a question.” He said to me like, “What do you need me to do?” I said, “I just want to hear the truth, that’s all. I need the answer,” and I asked him the question. He said, “I love it. This is great.”
Capone: I’m noticing your rings here. [Both men have silver rings with Spider-Man's face on it.]
MT: I need a little shine on mine.
Capone: One of the interesting things for me, at the end of the film…
AA: When did you see it? Last night?
Capone: Last night. At the end of the film, seeing the dedication to Laura and Mike’s name in the credits shortly thereafter.
AA: You'll see another dedication on the film when it finally comes out, or was Mike’s was already on the print?
Capone: No, but he’s one of the first names that comes up at the end of the credits. This film has to be one of the best and saddest things you have ever been a part of. Can you talk a little bit about their individual contributions to the final product? I would really like to pay tribute to their work.
AA: Well let me start with Laura. Laura was added to my team by him when he was running the studio. I didn’t know her from a hole in the wall, because I’m not a Hollywood guy, and she came in armed and dangerous with great energy. She was second to [Sony Pictures Entertainment co-chairman] Amy Pascal and became very fast a geek. She was very studious. We had the benefit of not only her wisdom and experience, but she came with [SPIDER-MAN 2 & 3 and THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN screenwriter] Alvin Sargent, who is the ultimate writer, and our relationship was amazing. She was one of those really tough, stubborn ladies, who brought another point of view to the movie.
MT: I worked with the two of them, and when you're a studio executive, it’s a gift to know that your most important asset is being managed by two people who have completely complimentary skills. SPIDER-MAN doesn’t happen without Avi and his knowledge of the characters and his just innate gut sense of what Peter Parker would do in a situation. It’s what gets you through all of these decisions you have to make creatively. Laura was one of the smartest pure film minds that…
AA: She used to call herself a script nazi.
MT: Yeah. And she was rigorous about the written word and as Avi said, she had this unbelievable scribe living in her house [Sargent and Ziskin married in 2010, after living together for 25 years] who ended up collaborating with all of us on subsequent movies. So you had these two people working together--totally different people--but you knew as long as they were both there, something spectacular was going to happen.
AA: There were things that to me that I’m not what I call a technical producer--I don’t care where the trucks are coming from or is Moishe is doing the curtains tomorrow--I’m too ADD for that. [everybody laughs] She was the Rock of Gibraltar, so that was a great relationship.
MT: Let’s talk about Riva.
AA: Riva became a good friend. We did two SPIDER-MAN movies…
MT: I did a bunch of Will Smith movies with him.
AA: Two IRON MAN movies, and still today, people ask me “Where in Malibu is this house?” The CG house. It’s a bluff in Malibu, and all of the rest was designed by Riva. When we started this movie, I had a design drawing done of The Lizard. I remember going to see Matt and showing him this thing before we started the movie.
MT: Long before.
AA: I was thinking about something else, and you just hand it to him, and it comes out better. He is one of these guys who has an eye, you know? It’s hard to see it, but we were shooting in New York on this movie and we lost one dear friend that produced for us the previous movies, Joe.
MT: Yeah, JoeCaracciolo who was our line producer [on SPIDER-MAN 2 & 3].
AA: And Riva did a graffiti thing on a wall, a tribute to Joe. Actually they asked us to send Riva stuff when he was in a coma, and I’m making movie named UNCHARTED that I promised Riva and his son I'd do. He thought he was going to be in trouble, because there was another SPIDER-MAN movie coming, so I had people whisper to him in the hospital “You better get well. We have to do UNCHARTED.”
MT: But you know there’s a really interesting thing that Riva did and it’s typical of his work, which is this movie is a combination of… Marc had always envisioned making this movie feel like it’s in the real world, a very tactile movie with physics and with gravity. On the other hand, it’s a movie with a lizard and with, as we call it, pseudoscience. So it falls on Michael Riva to create OsCorp, a place that lives in the real world, but where pseudoscience credibly happens, and you don’t think about that really, but that’s what these people do, production designers, and that’s what Michael Riva was tasked with doing. I remember we walked into the set, and it’s spectacular. I mean first of all, his taste in architecture and designs is stunning.
Capone: Are you talking about the lab set?
MT: The whole lab set, which is both believable and fantastical, and we would walk around and we shot there for a long time.
AA: Michael loved OsCorp so much.
MT: They wanted to put it in AVENGERS as like both buildings sharing the skyline, Stark Tower and the OsCope building.
Capone: Whoa, why didn’t that happen? How hard would that have been?
MT: That’s a tall order for a production designer and the timing didn't work out. But that building, Riva did it and it never pulls you out of the movie. So you never feel like “I’m in some weird futuristic or faux-science movie. I’m in this movie, but I believe that in that room there’s a spider experiment happening, which is going to create Spider-Ma,n” and it’s the magic of what these guys do.
AA: I'll never forget when he bought the lizard, and the lizard became a pet. People would walk the lizard on the chain. It was like a whole thing. It was awesome, you know?
MT: He’s our friend. He’s in every frame of this movie.
AA: I still love BUCKAROO BANZAI.
MT: Who doesn’t?
AA: He was a wacky guy. Just think, the same guy did BUCKAROO BANZAI. I remember I said to Michael, “What was that?” He said, “Well, you should know.”
Capone; When you realized a few years back that Sam Raimi and his team were not going to do another film, and you decided “Okay, we will start from scratch.” What did you want to change? What did you want to do differently? What did you want to preserve?
AA: Some things were natural for us, because we started discussing it when Matt was president of the studio and in charge of SPIDER-MAN. We knew that SPIDER-MAN 4 was a wish thing that probably wouldn’t happen.
MT: Not for lack of trying. We tried hard.
AA: Time, money, you name it. The point is we wanted to stay with Sam and Toby.
MT: And what was working.
AA: And Sam just didn’t have another story to tell after those first three, “Origin, Spider-Man no more, and Dark Side.”
MT: He realized it was a trilogy once he had made the trilogy. Do you know what I mean? It was sort of that, “Oh my God, I told the three pivotal stories that I feel attached to, and it’s time for somebody else to take this on.” But that was a really important part of the conversation, which was “Spider Man has been told over and over again for 50 years. Someone else should interpret it, because I’ve done mine.”
AA: Plus, the first three movies talk about the origin of Spider-Man. This movie is about the origin of Peter Parker. Mary Jane was about the girl who fell in love with Spider-Man, only to find out that he’s Peter. In our story, the girl falls in love with Peter, which really at the end of the day it has to be all about Peter.
MT: It’s also not a movie about a nerd getting sand kicked in his face. It’s today’s post-Mark Zuckerberg reinventing the world. It’s a more empowered outsider and it’s a kid who leans into injustice even if the result is the same, that he’s going to get put down by the bully, he's not going to let it happen and he’s going to put himself in harm’s way in order to avoid it, and that consciousness is something… We talk about bullying all of the time and as a parent. it’s like my greatest fear. This is a generation of kids who react differently, who have a consciousness about stuff that people didn’t have 10 and 15 years ago, and so that character has to reflect that, and it all had to be different. It had to feel like today.
AA: Peter is loved because he represents so many of us in all generations, but in this movie what was important to us to bring out to the world is that, like him, there are so many children out there that worry about their parents, that worry about their past, where do they come from. All of these things are very hard to talk about, and you think you’re all alone. So if you have a kid in school and it’s the first day, and the teacher asks, “So what does your father do?” You are saying to him “So tell us about yourself. Tell us about your parents.” “Well, I don’t know my parents.”
It happens all over the world, children of divorce, adoptions It’s so important to us to make sure that the audience connects to our hero. You can not be alone in this world when you have a Peter Parker, and I think we accomplished that. We also accomplished the most amazing Gwen Stacy with Emma Stone, who fell in love with the way people really fall in love. They fall in love with something here [touches his chest], you know?
MT: Not with a suit.
AA: It’s a great thing of it. Stupid, but great, okay? And being intellectually equal, which makes for the best connection.
MT: And it’s a much more modern relationship.
AA: That’s what Marc did in (500) DAYS OF SUMMER. He made a real everyday relationship.
MT: She’s not “The girl in the movie.” She’s not. She will never be that character.
AA: How did you enjoy the movie?
Capone: I wish we had more time, but I truly did enjoy it. I'm thrilled it's the beginning of the Gwen Stacy saga.
AA: You should know something, Harry did something very nice. He sent Marc an email saying, “I hear you nailed it.”
MT: It was a tweet.
Capone: When was this?
Capone: Oh, that’s because last night after the screening, I went back and told Harry, “I think you’re really going to like it.”
AA: So it's you. Thank you. We still dread this stupid site of yours.
MT: You guys are too powerful!
AA: We dread the damn thing! No, you know what? We call it “The Haters,” but we read it religiously. People early in the morning, hit their computer to see what life will look like. So you start your day “What are they saying?”
MT: You type in “A,” and it comes up with you guys.
Capone: It was great to finally meet both of you. Thanks a lot.