Israeli Avi Arad is best known as the producer of some of hollwood’ds biggest franchises, from X-Men to Spider-Man, and The Hulk and the upcoming Iron Man. So a movie about teenage girls bsased on a doll doesn’t quite seem to be Avi’s movie. But Arad is one of trhe key producers of Bratz and he predicts its success will lead to a sequel. He talked exclusively to Paul Fischer about Bratz and beyond.
Question: This is not a movie I would ever have expected you to become involved with. What was the key attraction for you?
Arad: Well the key attraction was I looked at the brand, as you know, I love brands, and my friend owns the company and I got involved and I looked at it and I said I know what story to tell. I had this story which I presented to some writers and da da da da. And what attracted me was, basically you will understand best, it’s like excellent for girls and I got a movie about diversity here. Four kids, different social economics, different ethnic groups, that have – all of them have aspirations. They all have different emotional lives, from divorced parents to single parent to the grandma, which so many kids their closest friend is their grandmother because parents are too busy working, earning a living. So we were able to touch on every area and most importantly – what really drew me into it, is the idea that this isolation when you go to school, the cliques, the pulling apart. Just asking people how many friends they still have from high school and you’ll be shocked how so very few are in touch with anybody from their high school days.
Question: Did you discover the inner girl in you when you were doing this?
Arad: I discovered my daughters in this. You’re too young but one day, just ask your friends. I don’t know if you have any single siblings. It’s really tough out there. You know, you get invited to a birthday and today with texting and stuff, and guess what, someone is going to make sure to ask you the obvious question, ‘Are you coming tonight’, but you weren’t invited. That’s how it works. Kids make themselves feel a little better by putting someone else down.
Question: What are the challenges for you, having made films that have a primarily male demographic to do something that is very specifically young females?
Arad: Well, you know, having done the animated show X-Men for god knows how many years, and X-Men Evolution, actually the female characters were very much about isolation and fear of being different. And to me the fact that these particular girls reminded me a lot of the school years, years of coaching of girls and seeing the way – I used to say to my daughters, ‘Don’t get too upset. Two weeks from now you’ll be in, they’ll be out. That’s how it works. So don’t let it get to you.’ But a fact of life is that we as parents, we believe that we know what’s good to them. They’re trying to be respectful but at the same time they’ve got their own aspirations. And so it creates a lot of tension, a lot of fears, a lot of insecurity. And this movie came out as a sort of – can be a great story for everybody in the audience – is finding themselves in this boy one way or another. Is it because of family connection, is it because of their aspirations, is it because of their fears, you know, seeing their friends going through it?
Question: This is, I guess, your first post-Marvel film under your new production banner. How nervous were you about leaving behind the security of a corporation like Marvel?
Arad: There was never security. I was running the damn thing. That’s very insecure. No, you know what? The stories – I’ve been doing it for god knows how long – animations forever and then movies, and it’s all about the stories. So to me the process is easy. As to making a smaller movie believe it or not is harder work because – and this one was very personalIt was just an opportunity to tell this story. So there was nothing nervous about it. On the contrary, it was right up my alley.
Question: Why would you say that this was the right time for you to leave Marvel? What was the main thinking behind that?
Arad: I think I felt a little bit like an astronaut, you know. I walked on the moon a few times and needed to find new moons. It’s very difficult. I like spending time on set, as you know, you cannot run a company beyond a certain semblance of life. I wanted to do some of the things I still love to do like and make movies that I felt like there was a story to tell.
Question: Was there a sense of frustration at Marvel dealing with all the different studios and the bureaucracies involved?
Arad: No I actually thought that we were really fortunate. We made movies with terrific studios with terrific people and I know people who say there was one over another but all in all it was still an incredible run. I can not think of too many situations of more success of movies and DVDs. So I’m pretty excited about this and I’m going to do some very big movies in the future but they take longer. But what’s nice about the Bratz is that you can start and finish in a year.
Question: And the other thing of course is you haven’t really left Marvel behind completely right? I mean you’re still personally involved in Hulk and Iron Man …
Arad: ..and Spiderman. And I’m making Venom.
Question: So what’s different about you doing those movies now as against when you were directly in charge of Marvel?
Arad: Well when I was directly in charge of Marvel, it’s a big public company. There are board meetings, there are personnel, the licensing. It’s like running a company. It’s very different when you freelance, you know, when you do what I’m doing now, you like concentrate on the movies and I really pick up the projects that I love and I really have a lot of personal freedom. As Chief Executive Officer you’re holding everything, in new business, in publishing, in dealing with the shows, dealing with the press, dealing with the studios – the business part of it. That was a way of potentially being contentious at times but in a sense was an amazing time really, I picked up the time to go right after X-Men 3 because it was quite a success. So I knew I’m in good shape. After that I felt extremely good about leaving Kevin behind. It was time to move at the time. I’ll be sixty this year.
Question: Well let me ask you about these things that are going to be a Comic-Con. I’m going to be there and I may bump into you, but The Hulk. So was there trepidation on the part of the studio to do another one and how careful were you about how you were going to approach it?
Arad: Well I really was not nervous about it. I wouldn’t have put it in the forefront if I was nervous about it. As you know, I worked very hard to make a deal with Universal that allowed us to make the movie and allow them to distribute the movie. And the reason I did is because I think Hulk is still a huge character – personally I just love the Hulk and I think it was an opportunity for us to make another hulk. It’s almost like a reconfiguration that is closer to the television show Hulk, which is an interesting opportunity for us. So as far as I was concerned Hulk was the lowest risk project we had.
Question: How different in tone will it be to the Ang Lee film?
Arad: what I loved about what Ang did, he really defined anger in a very unique way. And he showed what happens when this takes place. This movie is concentrating on the hulk persona that is primal and can be charming and funny and loving and loveable. It’s the Frankenstein part. It’s misunderstood, yet he’s the hero. I think what you’ll see with Banner in our new story is a struggle of dealing with the Hulk. And we wanted the Hulk to be more endearing. More relatable and heroic. We wanted Banner to have a real love affair with Betty. That’s the thing I missed the most about the first movie, is Betty and Banner really didn’t mesh. There was no time to wield that part of the relationship because the original story is just sort of setting it on a very fast course without the ability to go back.
Here you have a situation without giving away the content of the movie, in which he is coming back to life with some hope but guess who is bringing him back to life? The Hulk. So there’s really an interesting relationship between Banner and the Hulk and the relationship between the Hulk and the audience is very important to us this time.
Question: There’s all this stuff on the net about whether he’s going to be green or grey.
Arad: No, no, he is green. That was a joke. He is green. Yeah I told a joke. Oh boy.
Question: You know you started this off, I think it was doing the Spiderman junket.
Question: Tell me quickly about Iron Man and how that’s shaping along.
Arad: That’s now in editing and I think it’s going to be stylish, interesting. It will have a level of sophistication and very kick- when Iron Man is Iron Man.
Question: Is it a very different comic book film than all the others you’ve worked on?
Arad: Not really. Tony Stark has a really interesting message, especially in this day and age. And it’s actually, in some ways it’s closer to the idea of what is Tony Stark about? What is the responsibility? And whose hands are they going to get into so there are moral issues about being a weapon manufacturer. On one hand it’s the only way to keep the balance and peace as much as we can. On the other hand obviously it’s providing – weapons are for war. So it’s really an interesting thing to do and Favreau is great and the cast is totally amazing so when you look at it, you say,’ OK so that part of it I understand.’ It’s going to take itself into a world that we want to hear about. But then obviously you have the redemption, the changed man to Iron Man. And that’s way cool and it takes you into the adventure behind the man alone and how does it work for him.
Question: Have you had discussions already about a Spiderman 4?
Arad: We are just talking about it with Sony.
Question: Do you think it’s going to happen with the same people?
Arad: As I said, we are just talking.
Question: And how is Venom coming along?
Arad: Awesome. Awesome.
Question: When do you start, when do you announce who and cast and …
Arad: Ah, soon. Soon. You know ….
Question: That is the tight lipped Avi I know and love.
Arad: Yeah, yeah. I have to be.
Question: Are you looking at doing another Bratz?
Arad: Yes, of course.
Question: And immediately next year, beyond these three movies, do you know yet?
Arad: My next production is another medium sized movie based on Robosapien. And it’s a story about a boy and his robot. And it’s live action and CGI, and very touching and very – I like emotions, as you know.
Question: Is there a director?
Arad: Sure. Same guy.
Question: Oh Sean McNamara’s directing it.
Question: But you haven’t cast it yet I take it.
Arad: We’re just starting actually. We have our first casting session this week. And that’s one of the smaller movies. There are some very big movies coming up. We’ll make probably some announcements in two months. Some properties that we acquired. I’m having a great time auctioning books that I love by major authors and you will hear about it soon.