Marvel Studios president and producer Kevin Feige was one of the definite highlights at this mornings tenth annual PGA Produced By conference, and while he didnt divulge any details on whether Thanos truly wins in Avengers: Infinity War II, he said, “Were working on the next five years (at Marvel), post Avengers and what that looks like.” Also, Ant-Man and the Wasp is finished and that post on Infinity War II is already happening.
In a conversation with Deadlines Awards Editor Pete Hammond, Feige looked back on his career, his rise from USC film student to production assistant at Shuler Donner productions, to being the towns preeminent box office hit meister with 19 pics that have opened at No. 1 and amassed $16 billion at the global B.O. Not just Feige, but the town –and the motion picture business– have come a long way in their attitudes toward comic book movie adaptations. Feige remembered a time during his younger days in the biz when “big decision makers at the studio prided themselves on not opening up a comic book, and not reading them which I think was mistake.”
Heres what Feige had to saw about how Marvel ticks and waves it has made:
On the $1.3 billion success of Black Panther, Feige said that Marvel “wanted to destroy the myth that black movies dont work well around the world”, and being at Disney with its platinum marketing department allowed the comic book studio to swing for the fences. “The budget for Black Panther was bigger than Doctor Strange, Ant-Man, Captain America: Civil War, and you cant do that without the support and encouragement from the leaders of the company.” Feige also applauded Black Panther director Ryan Cooglers championing his diverse below the line team in Hannah Beachler as production designer, Ruth Carters costumes and DP Rachel Morrison. Their resumes, like Marvels directors, didnt scream tentpole experience, but Feige is grateful he heard them pitch rather than rely on his regular team: “We cant imagine the movie without them, and the future movies we hope to make with them.”
Hes bad with numbers, but budgeting takes discipline. “Im very bad with numbers, math wasnt a good subject for me,” said Feige who admitted his confusion when execs throw charts and graphs at him. His talent was always with developing story, evident in his rise at Shuler Donner productions from being a receptionist at the company to an associate producer on X-Men. “Theres never enough money whether youre working on an USC student film or back-to-back Avengers movies. It takes a discipline…you can throw a lot of money at something and it wont solve a creative problem.” Feige gives props to Marvel EP Louis DEposito “who is amazing at handling budgets” and department heads who can find a solution thats always better than one which entails extra dollar spend. Feige provided an example on the first Iron Man movie where they turned an expensive VFX surgery scene where Tony Stark operates on himself into a poignant, significantly more frugal scene where Gwyneth Paltrow operates on him instead. While below the line spend stays relatively similar on Marvel titles, above the line spend increases as the actors become committed to more films.
Hiring indie directors like Ryan Coogler, Taika Waititi and Jon Watts: Feige said hes big on hiring indie directors whove never worked on huge movies given their voice. “Find people who have unique points of views who have something to say and surround them with talented people.”
On making Spider-Man: Homecoming with Sony: When Amy Pascal was head of Sony Motion Pictures Group, shed meet with Feige on how they could be more involved. “She was very gracious,” says Feige. She would have his team provide script notes on Spider-Man movies. At one point Feige told her “Why dont you just let us do it? Her version of the story was that she threw a sandwich at us (when I said that), however, the meeting was then over.” Six or seven months later they reunited, and figured out a way to work together. “When we were developing Captain America: Civil War we had a plan with and without Spider-Man since we were gearing up to shoot as we were negotiating with Sony to get Spider-Man,” said the Marvel boss.
Will Marvels TV universe like Luke Cage head to the big screen? “I dont rule anything out,” says Feige.
On failure, not that Marvel has had much “Failure is an option to do things better. Weve just had it on every film before they were released. Weve had test screenings that are awful, even going back to our earlier movies, wed (get responses) where we were like Well, that was fun while it lasted. Our job is to get in and do whatever it takes.”