Avi Arad for “Spider-Man”

He is responsible for helping turn Marvel Comics around from near disaster to the giant juggernaut it is today in both comic and film/TV arenas – he’s also producer on the likes of recent hits like “Blade” & “X-Men” as well as upcoming actioneers such as “Daredevil”, “The Hulk” and “Ghost Rider”. Avi Arad made a brief trip to Sydney recently and I got to speak with him in person for half an hour about Marvel, this film and what he’s up to now:

Question: About 6-7 years ago, DC had a lot of predominance in the movie adaptations of their comics – then the “Batman” and “Superman” film franchises went under and now its completely turned around with Marvel titles like “Blade”, “X-Men” and now this doing big box-office. How does it feel to be on the crest of the new wave?

Answer: We’ve been working hard on that as you know, and I knew it was going to happen we just had to get out of the business issues we dealt with…Its great material and a lot of people out there were looking at us to make all these movies, and just tying in people who were passionate about the material – people like Sam Raimi who doesn’t tell people about his movie “Indian Summer” where he had a little acting gig in which he went back to his cabin one night to sort out issues and spent the whole night drawing “Spider-Man”, so Sam has been into it for a long time and hence was the right man to handle a movie like that. That’s what we do, we just try finding people who get it – who care about it, we don’t license our products.

Question: Your film adaptations have grown progressively bigger in terms of size and budget, this is easily the biggest – is it any more difficult to do due to the increased size and demand?

Answer: No, actually more of an opportunity. I mean with “X-Men” we should’ve spent more money on it, I think that FOX at the time were not as confident – “Blade” was the first ‘light’ and “X-Men” came in and we should’ve spent another $10-15 million on “X-Men” it would’ve been maybe 40% bigger. At the end of the day you know, our comic movies play very well – they lend themselves to sequels, people want to see them – we combine the effects and the story in a way that everybody gets something out of it. “Blade 2” we just opened on Friday with $32 million so its a nice thing because you look at Sony and they go “$32 million, wow” so its a show of confidence from everybody that we have a community that loves these movies and that we have good word of mouth to generate excitement. We’ve enlarged this community, it used to be hardcore, now its… more and more people come into the fold which makes it easier to make these big movies.

Question: Your actually challenging one of the biggest movies, “Star Wars”, at the box-office this year but the buzz is more on you guys – how does it feel to be ahead of the game?

Answer: I’ll tell you I actually got a call from my friends on “Star Wars” congratulating us about the buzz and excitement for “Spider-Man”. They’re going to do great, they’ve one of the greatest franchises of all time. But “Spider-Man” is a world icon that has been in waiting for many reasons, and it just works out right as I don’t know if we could’ve made the “Spider-Man” that we have today even five years ago. I think “Star Wars” is on its fourth sequel, we don’t have to light a candle for them but its great in buzz and perception to be ahead of the curve right now. I just think internationally “Spider-Man” was always bigger than “Star Wars”, “Star Wars” did quite well in more of the American derivative worlds – it did well here (Australia), did well in the UK. It did not do well in Japan, it had its problems overseas – “Spider-Man” is just such an international icon – for years we had a number one show in Australia and everywhere else for that matter, and its finally coming in a size and scope it deserves. It was really lucky for us, because of the dual facility the studio and SPI – the John Dykstra organisation. It was a corporate challenge and when everybody gets behind something, you just go for excellence and as you’ll see the CG stuff in this movie has never been done before and probably wouldn’t be done again, except our sequel maybe. It was a kind of undertaking that took years to get there.

Question: This has the potential to be a Bond-like franchise with a sequel every three years…

Answer: Two

Question: Sorry, two years. Your ready to handle all that workload?

Answer: Yeah, ready to get started with the second one. Everybody’s signed up, in our movies we make two if not three picture deals with the talent, and Sam Raimi’s onboard for the sequel.

Question: Is there any particular villain you’d love to see up on the big screen that hasn’t been adapted?

Answer: Its almost obvious what is the next villain

Question: Dr. Octopus?

Answer: Its ALMOST obvious (smiles). Again we’re going to do something with our villains that continues to marvel. We don’t have villains who were born villains, they’re usually victims who through circumstance and illness or science and so on ended up being like that and I think if you look at the villain in this one, you’ll see scenes with villains and you’ll ask yourself if you’re watching Shakespeare rather than “Spider-Man”. That’s the liability of what we need to do, make sure these movies work on all different levels – so we look for villains who are not just a villain, just someone who is running around. The compelling part of the Goblin is when he does not don his uniform, when you see a man who is trying to be a father and trying to sustain his company and trying to sustain his sanity – and it gets away from him of course and he becomes a great villain. We have a lot villains in the “Spider-Man” universe that have these qualities. If its just single-minded, just a criminal – I mean that’s a sideshow you know, just a thug. We’re not interested in seeing that.

Question: The design of the Green Goblin in the movie is quite different to that of the comic, that was a deliberate change.

Answer: If you look at the Goblin in the comic book, the Goblin looked like a Halloween costume – it was a latex mask with a gown and um…never liked it much. for 55 half hours of “Spider-Man” and if you look how many Goblins we had there – we like the Hobgoblin better because he didn’t look as goofy. Oscorp use aircraft and advanced technology, and a guy (Norman) like that is not that goofy and we went through the learning curve of latex to mask to whatever…Jim Hutchison, three time Oscar winner went soul searching with us…

Question: I saw a piece of Alex Ross art which had him as an evil Scarecrow kind of creation

Answer: I think Alex was in the right direction but we needed to take it further and if you remember initially it was controversial…we had to make something that didn’t look like someone just found a mask somewhere – it would look like a witch, not some scary hi-tech supervillain. I think we accomplished that, risky as hell but we got there.

Question: With people like Tobey, Hugh Jackman, Eric Bana, etc. in these superhero roles, do you think its a good choice having these sort of lesser known but very talented actors in such major roles.

Answer: Tobey was kind of the easy one because when you meet Tobey, he just – he’s an understated actor and he has the gestures and the eyes and the expressions that make you believe that he is overwhelmed, confused, underwhelmed, naive, at the same time as you get closer you see incredible eyes, strong face, determination – and Tobey’s had to make a big decision by taking the role, when you become Peter Parker you carry a responsibility – you just have to watch what you’re going to do in your future because a lot of people are going to associate him and he did a brilliant job in this movie – he tests off the wall with the scores. His choice over the years was to do art houses, and I think what he proved to himself with this movie was that you don’t have to give up your craft at the same time make something that’s one of the biggest movies of all time. On the contrary, I think it helps the craft cause he’ll be under the scrutiny, under the microscope like never before – he could do things in “Wonder Boys”, but in “Spider-Man” everyone is going to see it and he did an amazing job. There is strength in his silence and that’s Peter Parker.

Eric Bana we feel in love with, actually we had Eric for three movies and we’re like ‘ok which one do you want to do’. It starts with decency in these movies, you have to be a different guy and you have to accept the day you took on this role you’ll be coming to hundreds of millions of people and a legacy that has lived for 40-50 years and stood the test of time, and you’re the guy that’s going to be moving it forward into an art form that’s never been done before successfully and probably wasn’t available. So Eric had this kind of freshness, and as you know after “Chopper” – what was he a comedian? (laughs) and then it was his choice of what he wanted to do and he picked well and he looks amazing. Hugh Jackman, we fell in love with him from the get go and what he did for Wolverine you cannot read in the script, it was to bring humanity to that anger and until now Wolverine was one of these beserk kind of things and Hugh came in with these soulful eyes and changed it forever and people now associate it with him. We like to bring in someone fresh because after a while…if you have someone that is very well established, it depends on the role again cause sometimes you need it the other way, but roles like that we need people to do three movies – Tobey’s going to do three movies, Kirsten is going to do three movies – I mean these people become our enterprise and the fresher the better, and its been working.

Question: Your very busy as both “Daredevil” and “Hulk” have just started production and “X2” is on the way, do you get any spare time?

Answer: The only spare time I’ve had so far was yesterday in Australia, I got to go for a run. No I’ve no interest in spare time, I’m at the stage in life where I retire to do what I love to do. So that’s what I’m doing, this is my retirement plan.

Question: How is “Daredevil” progressing?

Answer: Fantastic. I mean its doing great and “Hulk” is fantastic and I just signed a deal with Sony for “Ghost Rider” and that’s going to be ‘WOW’, one of the great amazing spectacles. We’re just going to do more and more with the studios. After the first time I came into this company I said every year we’re going to have product movies and the idea is to make them different from each other, to be gutsy and sometimes make some gutsy decisions and find directors who have the clout and the passion and that have all their life said “one day if I really make it, that’s what I want to do” and these are the guys that we have. We are very fortunate that way, we have a universe that is thriving and just the stories are great. If you sit down to write a script, today its easier because you can draw on 40 years of books and you can pick up the best of the best and adapt it.

Question: David Goyer said in an interview last week that he wrote the “Ghost Rider” script as an R-rated picture, whereas Nic Cage and Stephen Norrington are molding it as a PG-13 kind of film. Which direction is it going?

Answer: David is my surrogate son and I love him, and I started him as you know. I think there is this bad boy image and sometimes he says this stuff…I think there is this expression ‘gratuitous violence’ and I think you can accomplish just as much, and we love David’s script – there’s nothing wrong with the script, its just the extra kick to the face is just unnecessary if you can get your message across without doing it. I think Nic Cage’s instincts were right because the most important power in “Ghost Rider” is not his hands – the most important power this movie is going to bring is something that no-one has ever seen before is the Tennant Stare and that’s not physical – its mental, its emotional and that’s why its a Nic Cage movie. This man when he looks at you with his eyes is going to make you feel everything bad you’ve done to someone else, and you’d rather die than live with it and that to me is the kind of violence we’d want to show.

Question: How will that be conveyed on screen?

Answer: Its easy to do, its as simple as flashbacks done in an interesting way because if you’re a villain you’ll never be the same again.

Question: There’s been all sorts of talk about the Daredevil costume updated to look more street wise yet still remain faithful to the comic, any word on when the first pictures of the design will be released?

Answer: Not soon. You know there’s no reason to do it when we start shooting that part of the movie which is in a couple of weeks, but that’s when things will probably start to come out. We’re very proud of it, as you know its a nerve-wracking process to come up with the costume. We expect to have a reaction – with “X-Men” it was ‘uh man’ and then with the Goblin – you read the Net, so you look at it and you know, I would be really upset if no-one cared. As long as they are passionate about it, and you know I want to read what they say because maybe they’re right – we’re so close to it. That particular costume, I think Ben Affleck looks good in even a paper bag – especially as he’s now thin and in shape and amazing. At the end of the day its a judgement call and you have to make this decision or you’ll never make the movie. So far we’re four for four so I’m not nervous yet.

Question: One project you mentioned you’d love to see adapted would be The Sub-Mariner, that would be a hell of an experience

Answer: Mind-blowing, but it would be great. We’re in script stages and studying CGI opportunities and believe it or not its totally doable. The way the industry is now, we’re going to take Spider-Man to places he’s never been before – we’ll make him fly, and jump and fall and swing and as long as we do that and people come in and buy their ticket and buy the DVD and buy the toys, etc. If you want to break new ground, that’s expensive and very difficult to do on a low budget.