By Jeremy Smith
When Peyton Reed landed the ANT-MAN directing gig, no one was more surprised than me. The moment Edgar Wright left the project, which he’d been writing (with Joe Cornish) and preparing to direct since 2006, I wondered how anyone could walk on and, I assumed, trash the wonderful superhero movie Wright had spent nearly eight years developing. I believed Marvel had done Wright remarkably dirty, and shared this opinion with many of my friends – one of whom was Peyton Reed. For a day or so, Peyton and I speculated as to which “poor sap” (Peyton’s words) might take on this unenviable task, and whether they could possibly salvage the project. Then I caught wind that Adam McKay was in talks to replace Wright, and I had a slight change of heart. Given his history with ANT-MAN star Paul Rudd, I thought McKay was an excellent Plan B. So I promptly sent a text to Peyton to get his thoughts on the subject, and didn’t hear back from him for a week – right around the time I read a Deadline story announcing Peyton Reed as the new director of ANT-MAN.
I was a fan of Peyton Reed the filmmaker long before we became friends (and, amazingly, we’re still friends even though he let Deadline have the goddamn ANT-MAN exclusive). I interviewed him back in 2003 for DOWN WITH LOVE, and again in 2010 when I took part in a tenth anniversary screening of his competitive cheerleading opus, BRING IT ON. Whether he’s making a teen comedy or a bruisingly funny examination of a dying relationship (2006’s hugely underrated THE BREAK-UP), Reed approaches the material with all due movie love; he’s as avid a cinephile as anyone in the audience, and he wants to upend their expectations at every turn. When he worked ALL THAT JAZZ jokes into BRING IT ON, I knew I’d be a fan for life; that we somehow struck up a friendship along the way makes his success all the sweeter. I just wish there was some way that this particular success didn’t entail another friend having to move on from a film he’d worked on for close to a decade, but that is water well under the bridge, and needn’t be discussed any further here.
Let there be no mistake: Peyton didn’t just walk on and make someone else’s film. As you’ll read in this two-part interview, the film had to be heavily reshaped (with the help of McKay and Rudd at the script level) and finished in time for a set-in-stone July 17, 2015 release date. So while getting to make a Marvel Comics movie was a dream come true for a lifelong geek like Peyton, he had to remain incredibly focused to ensure the project didn’t turn into a nightmare – which it didn’t. I may be biased… okay, I’m extraordinarily biased… but in my estimation, ANT-MAN is a complete joy, and has the best third-act of any movie in the Marvel Studios canon. If this is what Peyton can do with a salvage job, imagine what he could accomplish if this was his film from scratch.
Jeremy Smith: Did you really just lock picture this week?
Peyton Reed: We literally finished three days ago. We’d locked picture, but it was the final reels of color correct, and the last two of 1,600 visual effects came in.
Jeremy: That’s a lot of visual effects. This is a first for you in this regard.
Reed: It feels like they pushed that deadline even later and later. In this case, it was liberating because we were able to tweak and tweak, particularly with the sound mix and visual effects. The drum I was beating the whole time about visual effects was just trying to get them photorealistic. You see a new version and send it back, and they’re like, “Ugh, you’re sure?”
Jeremy: You’re pushing, and Marvel’s pushing as well. How hard can you push when you have a set release date?
Reed: You push really hard, but the person I found out who is pushing along with me was Victoria Alonso, who is one of the secret- or not-so-secret weapons of Marvel. She’s the Queen of Post-Production. We’ll be in these visual effects reviews with our laser pointers, and, as a long-time movie fan, I’m really particular. But she will see things the human eye can’t see. She’s amazing. We had between 1,500 and 1,600 visual effects shots, while AGE OF ULTRON probably had 2,400. It’s a lot of shots in our movie, but it’s not nearly to the amount of AOU. It’s more contained, but it’s the crux of this movie. If you don’t buy the shrinking or the ants, then the movie’s just not going to work.
Jeremy: Getting across the size-shifts, and how that impacts or enhances a punch… that seems like a nightmare.
Reed: A lot of it is trial and error. The movie was originally designed to be a [2.40:1] aspect ratio. When I came in and started working with Jake Morrison, the visual effects supervisor, the stuff we were designing and the shots we were doing, I felt like the movie should be [1.85:1]. The act of shrinking is really a vertical act. When he shrinks, the world he leaves behind is above and around. And a lot of the compositions we were doing worked so much better in 1.85. I know that 2.4 is the epic aspect ratio, but I talked to Kevin and I said, “I think it works better in 1.85.” THE AVENGERS is 1.85, and that’s a pretty epic movie, so we made the decision to move to 1.85. I think it was a really smart decision for this movie.
Jeremy: I know 2.4 is every film geek’s favorite ratio, but I think we sometimes overemphasize its importance. JURASSIC PARK was 1.85.
Reed: Absolutely. E.T. is 1.85. The whole history of movies up until the ‘50s was pretty much Academy. THE WIZARD OF OZ is Academy, and that’s pretty epic.
Jeremy: It’s how you fill the frame, right?
Reed: Right. And I’ve always made those decisions, even on BRING IT ON… when you do your first movie, you’re like, “I’m doing it 2.4! This is my shot! I’m going to do it epic and widescreen!” With BRING IT ON, because of those cheerleading formations, 1.85 made more sense, whereas DOWN WITH LOVE, that had to be an approximation of CinemaScope. I just felt like this worked better for ANT-MAN, and it was really liberating for the visual effects, because there was something about it feeling claustrophobic in 2.40. But the reality of, like, making it feel real, and when you get down there how the light plays, and the dust motes that fly around. This vibe was really important. Dealing with it in visual effects, and then again in the DI when you’re color correcting… if you bring it too bright, it can really break the CGI. I was way into this aspect of the process.
Jeremy: How early did you make the aspect ratio call after you came on?
Reed: Probably only a couple of weeks after I came on. McKay and Rudd were doing rewrites, so I was back and forth between Atlanta and the [Chateau Marmont in Los Angeles], where Paul and Adam were writing. It was all happening really quickly, but when we were assembling the sequences, and trying to figure out what was going to remain from before, 1.85 just made more sense.
Jeremy: In terms of that process, because it was so heavily publicized…
Reed: Oh yes. (Laughs) You and I… one of the first things that happened, just as a bystander, I think I DM’d or emailed you because you’d posted that video of the mascots racing. I think I said, “Who’s the poor sap who’s going to take on this movie?”
Jeremy: As fans of Edgar’s, we were both like, “Man, this sucks!”
Reed: Then I think it was a week and a half later that I was announced, and you texted me like, “Um, what’s going on?”
Jeremy: You went silent. I had heard McKay was in talks, and you texted me something innocuous and then just disappeared. So you pulled the greatest poker face of all time.
Reed: I had no idea! When it first came out, it was not on my radar at all. I was reading what was going on online like everyone else, and then I got a call from Kevin. As you know, I developed FANTASTIC FOUR back in 2003, and met on GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY three years ago. I was on Kevin’s radar, but I honestly did not expect to get that call. In the back of my mind, if I got that call, I was thinking, “This would be a tricky proposition.” But I got the call, and I read all of the existing drafts, and went in to discuss the situation not only creatively, but the schedule. I had very specific responses to the drafts that existed, and I had a conference call with him. I had nothing to lose, and no investment in the thing, so I said, “Here’s what I think absolutely works, here’s what I think absolutely does not work, and here as an Ant-Man fan…” and you know how you have your own personal relationships with these characters. I had specific ideas, particularly with Hank Pym and Hope, of what I wanted to see and didn’t want to see, and then some conceptual things. These happened to dovetail with a lot of the stuff McKay was thinking about. McKay, in addition to being an amazing comedic writer, is also a big comics nerd. Have you ever talked to him about comics?
Jeremy: Only briefly in an interview. I know he’s a huge Jack Kirby nerd.
Reed: He’s also a really smart structuralist in terms of script. So when people read that McKay and Rudd were writing, they thought it was going to be some silly comedy. But McKay and I were both on the same page in terms of two things: in the third act, we both wanted take the shrinking even further into the Microverse. We couldn’t use the term “Microverse” because it had something to do with the Micronauts or something. So we called it the Quantum Realm. We talked a lot about it, and we both wanted to embrace that psychedelic era of late-‘60s/early-‘70s Marvel.
Jeremy: Like Steranko?
Reed: Steranko and even Ditko. We really wanted that to be a part of the movie. It seemed amazing visually, and we also liked the idea of setting up where Scott had to really make a self-sacrifice to save his daughter. That led us to both of us wanting to see some version of Wasp in the movie. Janet had been referenced in the Edgar and Joe drafts, but she was never a part of the movie. We needed to figure out how she could be a part of the movie in an organic way, in a way that didn’t sell out her character, but in a way that strengthened things. And the conception of Hank Pym… particularly knowing that Michael Douglas was playing that character, I really wanted to strengthen the part of Pym in this movie that’s motivated in large part by guilt, by a tragedy in his life. So McKay wrote several versions of this Janet flashback, and how it could inform things. It did a couple of things: it galvanized the relationship between Hope and Hank in the movie, and it also set up this cautionary thing about what happens if you screw with the regulator on the suit. If you screw with the regulator, you could go subatomic. We know that something bad happened earlier, and Scott has to make that same decision. That was something that McKay and Rudd and I brought to the script that wasn’t there. I love that idea. Edgar and Joe had set up a great opportunity with a mentor and a pupil who both have issues with their daughters that need to be resolved. We just wanted to deepen and strengthen that.
Another thing I wanted to play with was Edgar and Joe’s original idea of a heist movie – which was amazing and great! McKay had the idea that, in those heist movies, there’s always one last thing they have to get; the hero’s got to go do it, and he might not be ready for it, but you send him in for this trial by fire. So McKay had the idea of “What if he encounters this Marvel character?” I loved the idea, and specifically with that character. It appealed to the kid in me who wonders, “I want to see how this hero and that hero match up.” And it felt like it really served it the story. It felt organic. It felt like something that would stand alone for somebody who hadn’t seen any other Marvel movie or read the comics.
Another thing we added was when Scott reaches this point of desperation where he’s like, “Tell me about this tip. I think I’m in.” The idea of Michael Pena and these tips, that was something that was never in these original drafts. Luis was always a character in Edgar and Joe’s draft, but McKay’s first rewrite had Luis serving waffles to the guys. He became a weird father figure to this group of thieves. Then the idea that Luis is the one with the tip, but he gets excited and goes off point: we had our production writers, Andrew Barrer and Gabriel Ferrari, write these scenes with Paul. I boarded them and shot them, and we liked it so much that we added one at the end. It worked with the information we wanted to convey, but also as a comedic trope.
We also talked about stealing the suit from the safe, and McKay brought over this friend of his who’s a security expert. Paul and Adam and I sat and listened to this guy, and he talked about specific types of metal that react to cold temperatures. So McKay came up with this idea about the safe being made out of the same metal as the Titanic. That was one thing he brought to it: this MacGyver aspect of Scott Lang. The whole section where he has to get through the laser thing. McKay and Rudd wrote that, and I boarded it out.
And one more thing I said to Kevin is that I wanted an under-two-hour movie. I wanted a tight, fast movie – something that starts as a slow burn, but then catches fire.
Jeremy: That’s what heist films do. You’ve got to do a lot of setup, but, if it’s a good idea, the payoff is well worth it.
Reed: It’s a heist movie, but in addition it’s a Marvel origin movie. We have to explain who Hank Pym is, who Scott Lang is, what that technology is, and how you control ants. Someone asked me to describe ANT-MAN, and I said, “It’s got the structure of a heist movie with a strong science-fiction concept at its core, with these dueling father-daughter redemption stories, and it’s all to the beat of a comedy.”
We had to wrap up our conversation on the Disney lot here, but we resolved to meet a couple of weeks later over drinks. I’ll have that part for you on Monday. In the meantime, get out and see ANT-MAN!