Andrew Garfield may be dressed in the red and blue Spidey suit and have the web-shooters affixed to his wrists, but producers Avi Arad and Matt Tolmach are the real web-spinners.
By Jedd Jong
The former CEO of Toy Biz-turned film producer, Arad was one of the founders of Marvel Studios and his filmography includes the first Spider-Man trilogy, the X-Men trilogy and the Blade trilogy. Tolmach stepped down as production chief at Columbia Pictures to launch his own production company and produce the new Spider-Man film series. These head honchos sat down to talk The Amazing Spider-Man 2 with F***, emphasising that they’ve got the fans in mind, talking about the Marvel Cinematic Universe which the Spidey films are ostensibly competing with, explaining Electro’s cosmetic overhaul and teasing some upcoming videogame-to-film adaptations Arad has in the works.
So, this is the teaser poster for The Sinister Six, it’s Venom right there arm wrestling! (Arad is wearing a t-shirt which shows Spider-Man arm wrestling Venom)
Arad: A-ha, I gave it away! It’s not a secret anymore.
It’s Over the Top but with Spider-Man characters!
How hard was it to craft The Amazing Spider-Man 2?
Tolmach: Movies are hard to make, by the way. We were joking that it’s actually harder to make little movies in some ways because there’s so much goodwill around movies like this. Here we are in Singapore and last night, there were so many people that are rooting for these movies so you always feel that you have the wind at your back, but having said that, it’s an enormous undertaking and just physically, the process of making these movies is incredible and on the flip-side, people’s expectations for these movies are so enormous that really our job is to make sure that we’re telling the best story imaginable and doing it with the most talented people, whom we’ve been sitting with today, and making sure that all of that stuff is aligned so that we’re giving people something they really want. It’s a big deal, we’ve been working on this movie for years…
Arad: Forever! We started 14 years ago. So for us it’s…
Tolmach: …That’s the truth. It’s all part of a larger…
Arad: He used to run the studio, and I used to take his money and make big movies, and now he’s taking their money and we make big movies.
Tolmach: He talked me into leaving.
Arad: I said “come on, you have to try it”. We were sitting at minus-something (degrees) outdoors…
Tolmach: That’s right, cut to a really, really awful location in Long Island and I think I looked at him and I was like “damn you!”
Arad: Rain and snow and “damn you” but we love it.
Tolmach: Oh no, it’s the greatest thing in the world.
Arad: Making a big movie is like a military operation. Like being on a battlefield. You have to improvise, deal with weather, deal with crowds…we had a night in which we applauded the extras because we were shooting it for summer, and it was 18 degrees, okay. Pretty cold – not Celsius, Fahrenheit. If I were an extra, I would go home. But they stuck it out, they stayed. They made a whole thing out of it, they were dancing and singing so they can take this.
Tolmach: People don’t realise, but when you watch a movie and see those people in the background, they have been standing there for like 12 hours – more.
Arad: The courage, but it’s all about Spider-Man. You want to be part of something like that because it’s cool, it’s good, it’s heroic, it’s a great role model and for me it’s the biggest character in the world so you can be part of history. It’s like “oh, that’s me over there!” and it’s a wonderful thing, it’s a folklore.
Tolmach: I think we take great comfort in the fact that – we don’t take it for granted, believe me – but we take great comfort in the fact that we’re telling a story about a guy who’s so beloved. I think as producers, the dangerous game is when you take on these enormous budgets and these enormous projects, you just don’t really know if the audience is going to care at all. We’re dealing with a character here who’s so beloved, there’s so much history that you just have a sense that you’re doing something that you really hope the audience cares about.
How do you strike a balance between giving the audience what they want and what you would like to do as producers?
Tolmach: It’s an important balance.
Arad: You know what, we actually think a lot about it and read the boards. Look at the costume in this movie. I mean people applaud this, it’s the best costume ever. The last movie, they told us it was the worst costume ever. (Laughs)
The “basketball suit”.
Tolmach: Alright, alright. (Laughs)
Arad: (These are) basic traits about an intellectual property like Spider-Man that have to be respected beyond anything else. So as long as the movie is about him and from that emanates the villain and the other issues, all in all, I have to say I think people really love what we do with our movies. Yeah, people’s nature is to criticise, it’s what they’re supposed to do I guess, but many of them criticise when they don’t know enough, so they’re nervous, it’s like “I hope they’re doing the right thing”. Our biggest pressure is not the 18 degrees, the snow and the rain, it’s to make sure that everybody’s going to walk away having something which is important to them. It’s important to make Gwen the smartest girl in school, charming and beautiful and strong, and helpful and active because women deserve that. Men love this kind of a girl today. In the 50s when comics were written, it was the Stone Age, but since then you ladies took over the world.
Tolmach: You did, we can see.
What do you think of the films that make up the Marvel Cinematic Universe, movies like the Captain America movies, the Thor movies, the Iron Man movies and The Avengers, made by Marvel Studios? How does this Spider-Man movie stand apart from the pack?
Arad: Let me tell you, the number one that we had to do when we started at Marvel was to establish the word “Marvel”. Many of the characters were known to people…by the way, people didn’t know much about Spider-Man, they knew we loved the character they didn’t know anything about it. So when we started at Marvel, the thing that made it for all of us is that today, when you go to Barnes and Noble and you buy a book and someone asks you “so, what did you get?” and you say “I got Harry Potter“, you don’t say “I bought a Barnes and Noble book.” Marvel today stands for great story, really good human value, so we want these movies to be very successful. When you walk into a movie house and you see the advertising, the word “Marvel” is part of the advertising, today it’s everybody’s story. In the old days, people say “it’s only for boys”, “it’s only for adults”, “nobody reads comics” – those days are over. Think of the kind of talent you met here and they all want to make our movies. When we started this journey, it was very hard to get great actors. We had to rely on the power of the studio and the power of the director, at the time it had to be someone people wanted to work for. Today, as long as we all make successful movies, this journey is never to stop.
Tolmach: There’s a great camaraderie, honestly, among those of us making these movies in Hollywood. There’s a sense that we’re all part of something…if someone makes a movie that doesn’t live up to fan expectations, it’s not good for any of us and we’re all part of something really special that everybody feels very grateful for. I was skiing this winter – I’m not going to tell you who this person is but it’s somebody who’s a big player in one of the Marvel, more than one of the Marvel movies – and I’d never met him. My wife knew his wife and they were talking and he was like “oh my god, I want to meet your husband because he makes the Spider-Man movies and I do this” and there was like this fraternity that we’re all part of.
Tolmach: That’s the real truth, that we’re all in this together. Spider-Man stands out, to answer your question, because in our minds what separates Spider-Man from all the other superheroes in the world is that he’s all of us. He’s an everyman, he’s a boy. He’s not rich and he’s not outwardly seemingly powerful, he’s just a kid who has to get a job and go to school and do all the things that we have to do. He’s struggling with the girl and the girl’s father, all the things that we’ve all dealt with and he’s also tasked with saving New York City against people like Electro and the Goblin and the Rhino.
Arad: He has tough principles, he cannot kill. So his job, because he’s always connected somehow to the villains who are themselves victims of circumstance, is very hard. It’s one thing to knock someone out, get into your car and drive away, but he wants to help these people and he has to stop them first. He’s the only superhero who’ll never break the covenant rule, he can never kill someone. So even as a role model, parents know that Spider-Man will do anything he can to stop, contain. When he doesn’t have a choice, and it’s innocent people (in the balance), not for himself, it’s for innocent people, then he’ll jump in. So we love this guy.
Tolmach: We do, he’s a big part of our lives.
How has filmmaking technology changed things in the last several years? When movies began, there was technology present from the first moments, and now, a lot of people say that movies are all about the technology.
Tolmach: Technology has made it possible to do things visually that we couldn’t do. Technology is great, we love technology. We fully embrace it and a lot of what you’re doing specifically in these kinds of movies has expanded, even if you’re looking at what we’ve done these 14 years.
Arad: A lot of people made it happen.
Tolmach: You couldn’t do Electro. We talked about Electro in 2000, you couldn’t do it. It required a level of sophistication technologically that now exists, and so the only thing you have to hold on to, the responsibility that we have, is to make it part of the storytelling. Technology for technology’s sake is a big “who cares”. In this case, Electro is a good example because it serves this character whom we love, who’s a really interesting, complicated character who goes from being utterly powerless and vulnerable to utterly powerful and invulnerable. So, the technology is part of that journey and we have to use it for great storytelling. That part of the moviemaking process has never changed.
Arad: You have to look at it as a commodity. Because one of my favourite superhero movies is still Dick Donner’s Superman.
Arad: The guy got an Academy Award, Colin Chilvers, for moving him on a wire, okay. That’s all it was. Today, we move people on wires in parks! Everywhere, it’s no big deal. But for us, it’s a joy to be able to make things real. You’ll see in this movie the way he flies, the way the wind does to his costume, this is mind-boggling.
Tolmach: You feel it.
Arad: And the 3D, you have to see it in 3D, because…wow. We actually made the first full 3D movie. We have the first six cameras to make a full 3D movie because it’s Spider-Man. The way he moves, the way the Goblin moves…this movie is born for technology. A lot of movies put in 3D became theatre-owners like it. This is a natural 3D action environment.
Are you worried about Marvel superhero movies possibly placing too much emphasis on the visuals?
Tolmach: No. I mean, all these movies are different. What Avi said is true, and I’ll tell you personally, when I looked at our movie, and we looked at it every other day, and the movie begins and it says “Marvel”, I smile. Because that’s a brand that says to me something very special. It’s a fantasy, it represents something that I think all of us, whether you admit it or not, aspire to be in this world and be these characters. Spider-Man is a very different character and a different story and people are always going to go to Spider-Man movies to see Spider-Man. The Marvel movies, look, they’ve got great directors making those Marvel movies and I wouldn’t in any way put all of them in the same category. What Favreau was doing vs. what Joss Whedon was doing…they’re aesthetically different movies so I don’t think there’s one feeling for the whole universe. The Spider-Man thing is very unique. Spider-Man is very real.
Arad: In all fairness, the Marvel characters are very unique to themselves. We took great pains not to make the same character again. And therefore when you see Marvel movies, each one comes from a whole other point of view. Some of them will have great influence on us, some of them are just fun to watch. Without going into names, some of the movies are very successful. For a young man, I don’t know what it means, it means “that was fun”. But the politics is more appealing to the adults in the movie house. Spider-Man is the only one that was from day one, was always accessible to everybody. I have a grandson, he has no idea what I do, he’s too young. But all that he wants is Spider-Man clothes, and I look at my daughter and she (says) “I don’t know, he asked for it.” All the stickers and stuff, he’s full of Spider-Man stickers. I remember his (Tolmach’s) boy, very young, used to come to set and as a matter of fact gave me a heart attack. He climbed up the fence! He was very little, I don’t know 4…
Tolmach: He was like 3 or 4, yeah.
Arad: He was climbing up the fence, he was like “I’m Spider-Man!” Phenomena, they’re called “phenomena” because we don’t know what we really did. It will stand the test of time, they affect our lives, they’re graphically attractive, look at this guy (points to this writer). He’s a serious man, he has a Spider-Man (action figure) in his pocket! (Laughs) And today, it’s a mark of geek smarts, okay? When I was his age, if I had a Spider-Man comic book, I had to hide it or get into a fight!
Tolmach: That’s right.
Was there a particular reason why Electro out of all the Spider-Man villains was selected, and why the radical change in the character’s appearance?
Arad: It looks goofy! Can you imagine this goofy guy coming in…like Mardi Gras, exactly!
Tolmach: If you did that, this is what the whole interview would be like: “why did you do it like that?”
Arad: The whole fun with this thing is that we’re moving everything to the next generation. In our movies, Spider-Man has a cell phone. I can tell you if wanted to do cell phones eight years ago, people would say “there’s no way he can afford it.” Today, anybody, you cannot live without it. So we have to move with technology, with science, into the things that are familiar to all of us.
Tolmach: I think fans want us to interpret. You don’t want us really to just give you exactly what was in the comic book, you want us to interpret it in the spirit of the comic book but for it to look cool! I want my kid to want to wear an Electro costume, not to not want to. He’s wearing this one, he might not have worn the one in the comics. Electro’s about power. The metaphor with Spider-Man is all about power, what you do with it and what you don’t do with it and Electro is a character who’s about power and what you don’t do with it. He’s a perfect foil to Spider-Man…
Arad: Hard to fight. His power is such that unless you have his power (he’s undefeatable). So what we had fun with when we were working was how does he (Spider-Man) really stop him (Electro)? So first, again, I don’t want to tell you what will happen because there are fun surprises, but in order to fight Electro, you have to be Peter Parker, you have to be Gwen, because they’re both science geeks. So they have to work it out, if you have so much power, how do you counter it? The solution is really simple if you really listen to your physics teacher!
Tolmach: Most of us were like (makes snoring noises).
Avi, can you talk about some of the videogame movie adaptations you have in the works? Films like Mass Effect, Uncharted, Metal Gear Solid and inFAMOUS?
Tolmach: You want me to take that one? (Laughs)
Arad: He actually bought inFAMOUS when he (Tolmach) was head of the studio and Metal Gear is finally, finally happening. We have these contract stakes sometimes, four years for Metal Gear. Uncharted again we bought and it’s now, we have a great director and it’s all happening, it’s all coming together. He bought inFAMOUS like (snaps fingers) on the spot, in the elevator.
Tolmach: I’m a believer. That was easy, that was easy to see.
Arad: And the new game, it is out of this world.
Will we continue to see stinger scenes during or after the credits of the Spider-Man films?
Tolmach: We’ll only do it when it really matters. I promise you that, when it’s meaningful.
The Amazing Spider-Man 2 opens on 1 May 2014.