Now you can see The Amazing Spider-Man. It’s out, it pulled in a few million over midnight screenings, it’s tracking large. The good news is we don’t have to worry about there being more Spider-Man movies. The bad news is what us not having to worry might say about how the franchise is going to be treated from here on out (starting with Amazing Spider Man 2 in May 2014).
I sat in a hotel room with producers Avi Arad and Matt Tolemach to talk to them about The Amazing Spider-Man, and here’s where I was coming from: “Who decided to retell the spider bite origin story, because I feel like you didn’t need to.”
What followed ended up being one of the more interesting conversations I’ve had with non-crew/non-actors. Matt and Avi come off really passionate about their Spider-Man centric beliefs, and that leads us down a rabbit hole where me, the concerned fan, starts to worry that Spider-Man movies get made because Spider-Man movies are profitable, so let’s churn them out.
Avi Arad was the pre-Fiege face of Marvel, from Blade (oh, we talked about Blade and David Goyer, but my recorder had to be turned off at that point, curse you, journalistic integrity!) to Iron Man, if it was Marvel, Avi was on it. Matt Tolmach was the former head of production at Sony/Columbia.
A bit of Marvel history you might need to know to understand what goes down with me and Avi at the end of this interview:
In 1992, producer Bernd Eichinger had the rights to the Fantastic Four and was being told by lawyers that unless a FF film was in production by the end of the year, he was going to lose the rights. So he got B-Movie legned Roger Corman to make an ultra-low-budget ashcan movie (one they intended to throw away) in a little over a month without telling anyone involved that they had no intention of releasing the flick. Come 1993, the actors were attending comic book conventions and a 1994 release was announced. HOWEVER – the film never saw the light of day and it was annoucned the film would never be released. Eichinger was then a producer on the 2 FF movies released in the 2000s.
Got it? So…Somehow my interview about Spider-Man turned into a great behind the scenes story of Avi Arad burning the negative of the first Fantastic Four movie.
Yeah. It was pretty cool for me: super Marvel fan.
WARNING – Light spoilers included, but nothing that’s going to ruin it for you.
Hi guys! I’m Da7e.
Matt Tolemach: Matt.
Avi Arad: Hello.
Nice to meet you.
Matt: Where do you work, Da7e?
I work for Latino-Review.com
Avi: You guys have some good sources.
We are big fans of Marvel over there.
Anyway, I want to talk to you guys a little bit about how Spider-Man 4 became a rebirth for the Spider-Man projects. When it started deteriorating, what did you guys start with when you wanted to revisit the Spider-Man franchise to reenviograte it?
Matt: The comics.
Avi: Let me think. As we were winding down after number three, we had two thoughts. One was: let’s continue with Sam but let’s find something that Sam believes in because the way the trilogy was laid out, it was the origin – the birth of Spider-Man – then Spidey No More, then the dark side. And this is a natural literary order of things and he told it brillantly. When it came to 4 it was like…
That was the Vulture/Vultress maybe generational something?
Matt: All that.
Avi: And some of it was potentially cool, but none of it was a Peter Parker story, and we’ve been doing this for years-
Matt: You gotta start there.
Avi: What is Peter going to do now and how does it affect Peter.
Matt: Everything else falls into place.
Avi: So, for us we have a huge oppertunity that we were discussing quite awhile ago about doing the origin of Peter Parker
Matt: We flirted with the origin, if we’re being honest, we flirted with the origin of the parents, the question of the parents way way back on Spider-Man 2, but it -
Avi: It didn’t fit.
Matt: Yeah, Sam Raimi was telling a specific trilogy. It wasn’t what he was focused on, but it caught our eye from the very beginning.
Avi: Very exciting. It shares with people around the world the deepest need to know about the loss of parents.
Matt: And who am I as a result of that?
Avi: …if you are four, five, six years old, something like that will stay with you till the grave.
I like the parents stuff, I guess I was more curious about if there was always a decision to include the spider bite, or if there was ever a point where you were going to rush that through and maybe do more flashback?
Avi: It didn’t belong there from a creative standpoint. It’s a different spider bite, because the whole story here is about this boy who actually has a lot of inner strength, who loves his aunt and uncle and, unfortunately, like many many kids out there, without parents, they don’t want to seem ungreatful to the adopted parents, because it makes you feel as a parent: “Am I doing something wrong?”
But those are two separate ideas. So me as a fan, I’m reading about John Malkovich is going to be the Vulture and he’s going to pass this down to his daughter the Vultress, and I’m wondering if Peter Parker’s parents are also part of this generational theme. Did that carry over from 4 or was it just: “Let’s go back to Peter Parker and see what comes out?”
Matt: That wasn’t a part of the conversation on 4, the parents, to be honest with you. It wasn’t.
Avi: Actually, we wanted to keep it away from it.
Matt: It didn’t fit into the three movies, you’d have to go back in time-
“All of a sudden-”
Avi: To be honest about it, I felt this was such a big new direction that it belonged in its own world
Avi: The parents story, obviously, a lot of questions still need to be answered because our format of the movie is a unique please to be able to have a story about a kid who has a lot of questions opening the Pandora’s box, starting to look for answers, answers are making him do things that acre being done…he’s causing things to happen.
Avi: He’s taking unnecessary risks because he’s getting deeper and deeper into it. That’s a very unique spot for a movie.
Matt: There could never be, in our minds, a version of this movie without the spider bite because it;s a different interpretation of Peter Parker. What Avi’s saying is: What’s unique about this Peter Parker – his parents leave him and he’s left with, what? A briefcase. That’s all he knows. And what’s in that briefcase is a piece of paper and on that piece of paper is a forumla, and what he does with that is goes on a quest, this quest takes him to Oscorp. At Oscorp, he ventures into a room that clearly says: “Do not come in” and gets bitten by a Spider. So it’s a different idea than a spider drops down when he’s on a field trip and bites him.
Avi: It’s not a casual thing, it’s part of the search.
Matt: And it’s part of who he is. So this Peter Parker literally opens Pandora’s box and inside he literally finds a spider. So it’s not just “Oh, this is another version of the spider bite” it has a different meaning in the story and it goes to the core of who he is.
I guess spilling out of that, it seems with the genetic mixing story line and the end credits tease, that we’re starting to discuss down in the press room isn’t Norman Osborn but somebody else -
Matt: Yeah. Keep us posted on that.
We’re trying! Is this you setting up a new series of Spider-Man where he’s the one who has opened Pandora’s box? Like more of a Batman where he creates his own villains.
Matt: Very definitely.
He didn’t realize that great responsibility came with great power before he already screwed up.
Matt: That’s right.
Matt: You’re right on.
I hear the Oscorp building was almost in Avengers?
Matt: Yes. How do you know?
We all talk down there.
Matt: We just told somebody that minutes ago.
Yeah, we try to make your interviews progressively harder.
Avi: It’s a sad story. A close, close friend and college passed, Michael Riva-
Matt: Our production designer.
Avi: And he designed the most amazing ominous building that looks like it was born for New York. And we had a meeting with Kevin [Fiege] and we looked at it and we kind of thought it would be cool to have this building in The Avengers, in any – in all of these movies-
Matt: So you’d have these two towers on the skyline.
Avi: The viage of New York now will be connected.
Matt: With Stark Tower and Oscorp.
Avi: Towers of power, right?
Yeah, like a Manhattan midline: Chrysler Building, Stark Tower, Oscorp.
Matt: That’s exactly it, yes.
Avi: By the time the CG was done, though, the movie-
Matt: The timing didn’t make sense.
Avi: It was just timing. But in the future we’ll figure that out. It’s fun for us and fun for the fans.
It would be like a more Easter Egg fashon, because obviously the whole melding of properites is a big business thing that will never happen.
Matt: Thank you. At least you understand that. People are like “Why aren’t you doing that?”
(sarcastically): “Wouldn’t it be easy?”
Avi: Interesting fun fact: …did they give the fun facts sheet to the press?
I don’t think so. I tried to keep my eyes on Peter Parker’s room as we were panning over it for a Donald Glover poster and I saw the Spider DNA made of push pins behind his door.
So he obviously knew a little about DNA before he got the briefcase
Avi: When this movie comes out [on DVD/Blu-Ray] go through it. There are things on teh walls that are really, like -
Are there HINTS on the walls? Because I know, like, on the DNA tree we get a close up of the spider, but we see a Rhino and Scorpian, which I know are the video game bad guys – so I’m not going to ask you guys if it’s Rhino or Scorpian – but is there something in the movie besides the end credits scene that shows us where you guys think this is immediately going?
Avi: I think, obviously, if you’re a comic fan, [Gwen’s] father is dead, so…
Well, yeah, Norman Osborn is in the world, but that [Gwen Stacy’s death at the hands of the Green Goblin] seems like a trilogy capper, guys, so where are we going immediately – are we going to investigate the Parkers more?
Matt: We know and it’s awesome, but it’s in the hands of Kurtzman and Orci now.
So you guys do know?
Matt: Yeah, we’ve gotten good at this.
So was a sequel just a foregone conclusion to hold on to the property?
Matt: Not to hold on to the property, because we-
Well, the movie’s going to do well.
Matt: Right, but that’s not why we’re making a sequel, we always intended to anyway.
Avi: I will go on the record to say, because you’re a serious fan: if we didn’t have…when we walked away from 4 as a studio, that was a huge financial risk, to not go with the same team one more time and worry about tomorrow the day after-
Matt: Let the next regime worry about it.
Avi: For people like us, the producers and the actors and so forth, you have to basically, if you say: “I don’t think we should make this” you have to put your money where your mouth is, because they’re not going ot say to you: “it’s good advice, we’ll pay you to not make the movie.” Not happening. And I don’t expect it to happen. You have to love Spider-Man and Peter Parker enough to say: ‘it’s not good enough, let’s not do it.” And when you have someone like Sam Raimi and Tobey that are so respectful of the character and of themselves saying: “we told our story. We could make another one together. We’re a good team, we had a good time, there’s lots of money to be made, but that’s not the movie we wanna make.”
Avi: If we didn’t have two of the great directors of our times writing this movie to a story that we think is above and beyond, sensational and exciting, we wouldn’t have put the flag in the ground. Sometimes all you need is one page: one page! And you can see a movie.
I really enjoyed what you said at the press conference, that you got into this property to take comic book characters and make them serious cinematic characters, and I think we’re there and this movie does a good job updating Peter Parker from the Raimi classic Peter Parker to a wise-cracking guy who is on his cell phone who is a serious genius. I guess the big fear in my Marvel fan head or in the Marvel community is something like what happened with the Corman Fantastic Four where they make it-
Avi: I bought it for 2.5 million dollars. And burned it.
That’s a sign of respect! Plant your flag!
Avi: Yeah! It’s respect.
Matt: You’re saying your fear is we would just make it to keep the rights?
Marvel has this huge juggernaut, you guys have this huge juggernaut, and they’re successful being kept away from each other, but the fan group is going to pressure you smash them together like the fan group has an opinion about organic or non-organic web-shooters.
Matt: Sony’s not losing the rights, for real. That’s not the reason – we announced [the sequel was coming] May 2014 way before any rights situation or anything arised just because we believe in it.
Avi: We care too much for the characters…what you think I’d spend…I spent $2.5 million on a $700,000 print with Halloween costumes. And when I understood what happened just as I took over Marvel, this guy Bernd Eichinger had the rights and he was pushed by stupid lawyers saying “if you don’t start the movie on September 1st you lose the rights.” I’ll never forget, I was in Puerto Rico and one of the kids who was helping me said to me: “Hey Avi, you going to Seatle to see The Fantasic Four?” I’ll never forget it, I said: ‘What?” He said: “Yeah, they’re releasing the movie.” I called Germany right away and said to Bernd: “You’re not going to- I just got here, I’m here with my family on vacation. You know what, forget that [release]. How much did it cost you?” He told me, like $3 million and I’m: “Bernd! How much did it cost you?” He said: “Give me $2 million and-” And I said: “I’ll tell you what, I’’ll give you two-and-a-half, because 2 sounded like it was between him and whats-his-name…
Matt: Corman. It was Corman.
Avi: Yeah! So I told him I’d have someone do the papers, it was over Christmas, and we just burned – DESTROYED – the negative, then you go to Comic Con and-
Matt: People are selling it.
Well, I mean, I found it on a VHS tape in -
Matt: You’ve seen it?
Oh, I’ve seen the Corman Fantastic Four.
Avi: It wasn’t bad actually.
Eh, I mean…what I’m hearing that I’m really enjoying is that there’s an integrity that you two personally feel for these franchises.
It feels weird to do a reboot later, but it worked out well, because this is presenting something completely different?
Avi: It’s also, you know this, my biggest issue was dealing with all the angst of “reboot,” “no reboot,” “it’s only been 10 years.” The timeline, if the story is different is irrelvant because 10 years in life is a new time. We’re talking about millions of new people. What am I talking about, probably billions because of new markets like China. Brazil became a whole new movie company in the world. There’s really nothing weird about it if we didn’t do our job. If we did our job right, there’s no timeline. Literally one day, if you can make a movie for half a million dollars that looks like what we made, then you print it like you do with comics: different episodes.
Like the Star Wars Live Action series, if they can ever make that budgeting work.
Avi: And you know what, if I were him, I would do it. Because Battlestar Galactica – I can still watch it, it still feels fresh to me.
Matt: When making movies, you can’t ever take yourself out of the position of being the audience and all I can tell you is, as me, if I had never met him and had nothing to do with this franchise, I’d be fucking lining up to see another Spider-Man movie.
And I’m glad you’re holding on to that because you’re deep into the dollars and cents-
Matt: Otherwise go into another business! It’s too hard! If you don’t actually like what you’re doing, then fuck it because this job is 24/7.
Avi: My people wanted to kill me: “What do you mean spend $2.5 million and what are you going to do?” Burn it. Thankfully I’m quite the dictator when it comes to the Marvel characters. And it was the best decision that we ever made. it was good for Bernd who did it out of desperation not to lose the rights, but it was the right thing to do. Hopefully the future will bring an excellent Fantastic Four movie to the world and, you know, these chapters will never end.
Then I got to turn off my recorder and talk to Avi about his opinions on Batman & Robin and told him just a few little things about ‘Iron Man 3.’ He seemed very entertained by my fanboy enthusiasm.
I asked Matt if the two of them were going to swing by Comic Con and they said, no. Which made me sad, because I want another 10 minutes. Heck, I want to know everything about how Spider-Man 4 became Amazing. I want to know everything about the Spider-Man movies, even if that means occasionally having to put up with one that feels like a re-tread.
‘The Amazing Spider-Man’ is in theaters NOW.