Kevin Feige and Shane Black on making 'Iron Man 3' photo-real and building a better story
If you saw this morning's trailer debut, then you know there are a LOT of suits in this movie, more than ever before. Feige addressed that for us, saying, "We’ve seen, through 'The Avengers,' seven or eight suits, and we wanted to progress that in this one. He’s tinkering even more than he did before and he’s building much more than he ever did before. The Iron Patriot is also kind of a response to 'The Avengers.' It’s a government rebrand of War Machine, frankly because the US government felt that they were slightly embarrassed by the events of 'The Avengers.' These crazy heroes known as The Avengers were the ones that saved the day, saved New York City, saved the United States. Not the government. The government felt they needed a hero of their own. They have a military officer that has one of these suits, and they paint it red, white, and blue. They pose it next to the president, and Tony sort of rolls his eyes. You saw a little bit of that today. They want a hero of their own. And Tony’s like, 'What do you mean? I’m a hero.' And they say, 'Well, you’ve been spending a lot of time in your workshop. We want somebody we can rely on.” So that’s sort of how the Iron Patriot came about. And, again, it’s a thing from the comics. We just thought the Iron Patriot suit looked equal parts cool and slightly goofy in the comics. It’s not Norman Osborne or any of that stuff obviously, but it gave us a place to go with Rhodey. We wanted to take Rhodey and his sort of split loyalties between his friend and his duty and keep carrying that storyline through." The new trailer certainly emphasizes that, and I look forward to all of the Iron Patriot stuff.
I love the sequence that was highlighted in the Super Bowl spot, the scene where the President's plane is attacked and everyone gets sucked out of the hole in the side of Air Force One. Iron Man goes after them to try and catch them, and things get really bad really fast. We asked Black how that sequence developed as an idea. "I wanted to have people in the sky, just falling, and Iron Man is confronted with that image, and he’s got to get them out of it somehow. The challenge was on the days we said, “Well we’d really love to do this, but we don’t want to do just green screen. Can we just toss people out of a plane?' And they said, 'Well, that would probably be unethical.' We found the Red Bull skydiving team that was willing to jump out of a plane and have their backpacks erased digitally. It’s kind of compelling, the first images you see of people falling in clothes, because people are always in jumpsuits, orange or yellow jumpsuits, and when you just see some girl in a skirt and a guy in a business suit falling, it’s pretty scary."
Feige said they did a week's worth of shoots, with eight to ten jumps a day, in order to get what he called "amazing, amazing footage." I brought up "Moonraker," which did a three week shoot for what turned out to be less than ten minutes worth of film, and Feige laughed. "Frankly, we talked about 'Moonraker' a lot because that sequence is actually pretty impressive except for the fact that you can see the parachutes. Until they cut in to the inserts, which… then it doesn’t work at all. We wanted to be like that without doing that. And we have an Iron Man suit which is an advantage over Roger Moore."
We brought up the way the Marvel films have become known for their post-credit stings, a signature of the series so far and a great way of laying crumbs out in a trail that they hoped would lead to "The Avengers," and we asked if they're going to continue that on every film, or now that they're entering Phase 2 and Phase 3, will they start thinking of it more on a case by case basis?
Feige smiled. "I don’t want to be in that theater for the first time when even two people stay behind and nothing happens, frankly. I like that we’ve trained at least some people to stay behind and get a little reward, but you’re absolutely right… it served a different purpose. It was a part of the, “Hey, surprise, these are connected. We’re building towards something here.' Then shawarma, which everyone knows famously was an idea we came up with much, much later and shot after the premiere just because we thought it would be fun… there was not going to be a tag until that point. So it’s a little faster and looser now because people know, and frankly the whole purpose of 'Iron Man 3' is to say that these characters can exist just as successfully on their own again. But, as I said I don’t want to be there when nothing happens after people sit through 8 minutes of credits."
So, yeah, stay in your seat.
We asked how Drew Pearce ended up in the mix, and Feige brought up the drafts that Pearce did of "Runaways," which ended up not happening. That's a shame. I love that book. The studio must have liked the script, though, because they brought Pearce on before Shane was even involved. Then when they decided on Shane, they realized they were in a weird situation, because they wanted Drew's voice, but they also wanted Shane's voice. Feige said it was strange at first for Black. "I think he grumbled a lot and to his credit and to Drew’s credit they now seem to be two peas in a pod."
Black confirmed the awkward beginnings of the collaboration. "Yeah, we got together and I said, 'Okay, basically, I don’t know why you’re here.' And he said, 'I guess we’re supposed to write together.' This is not usually how great teams start. But we said, 'Alright, let’s see.' I realized very quickly that this guy had an affinity for this, and he and I became friends and rode back and forth to work every day talking about it."
Feige said, "About four weeks into it, we were in a meeting and they, together, were kind of pitching us some ideas and directions, and Shane kind of kicked it off and said, 'You know, I initially thought that Drew Pearce was the devil, the demon that you hired, and now I think he’s great. I really do.' And Drew was not in the room when he said that, which is how I knew it was true."
Black joked, "Drew and I, we’ll finish each other’s sentences and things like that. We trade clothes."
The inevitable question came up of why Tony doesn't reach out to the other Avengers for help, and you've already read Robert's answer to that. Feige's was similar. "If you are reading a standalone Iron Man comic, they don’t spend every page explaining where every other Marvel hero is. The audience kind of accepts that there are times when they’re on their own and there are times when they are together. I’m betting that movie audiences will feel the same way. That being said, there is a little bit of lip service here and there to that.”
I asked Black if he's having fun making a big studio film like this, with all its moving parts, and asked him how soon he knew he was going to be able to set at least part of the movie at Christmas, a signature to his filmography so far. "That just evolved, oddly enough. It just seemed to organically come out of planning a story that took him to a different place and left him stranded in the snow." I compared making a movie like this to having the keys to the Ferrari. "I don’t know if I have the keys," he said. "I have the keys but, you know, at some point there’s a course you have to run, which is to say, you can’t take it anywhere you want. You can’t open it up on Main Street and then go 150 miles an hour, but what can happen is, you find ways without going back to my old bag of tricks. It's like [being a comedian]. 'You can’t do the midnight show, you’re doing this for the local church group, it's 8:00 and we're serving stew. So can you please tone it down and just leave out the blue material?' I had to find innovative ways to be less, 'They fuck you at the drive-thru.'
Feige laughed. "I don’t think Shane knew the difference between a PG-13 and an R, frankly. We would say, 'Shane, you can’t really do that.' 'You can’t?' 'No.'"
We pointed out that Tony Stark does call a little kid a "pussy" in the footage we saw, and Feige laughed again. "Well, it’s not like we’re completely backing off that tone. And, by the way, in the first assembly, I was like, 'Shane, we’re not going to be able to say that.' There was another insult that he has later in the movie, and I said, 'You keep that one. We’re not going to be able to say pussy.' Shane, to his credit, said 'Let’s leave it in the test screening.' It was the first test screening we did, and the audience, as you guys did today, went crazy for the curse word, crazy for it, and nearly burned down the theater on the second one, which I had not predicted. So we took out the second one and left that one in."
Since we know Black is a comic fan, we asked if there are any other characters from the Marvel stable that Black might want to adapt, and we asked Feige if there's a chance we'll ever see R-rated Marvel films from Marvel Studios.
Black said, "I always thought that certain characters could be adapted in a cool way. I wanted to do… Quentin Tarantino kind of poisoned the well with 'Django,' but I always thought there was a 1970’s version of 'Black Panther,' that could be really cool and involved a lot of the racial tensions of that time. That’s not going to happen. Other Marvel movies that I really loved, or Marvel Comics growing up? God, mostly just the typical ones. 'Nick Fury - Agent of Shield' in the Sterenko years. You can’t do them because Sam Jackson is 60 years old and he plays this sort of patriarchal figure now, but Nick Fury was what I adored growing up. If you ever read the ones Sterenko did for 'Tales of Suspense' followed by the 'Nick Fury' standalone 1-8… some of the best comics ever made."
That is, by the way, the single nerdiest director's quote you'll read this year.
We asked about what the most physically demanding aspects of making the film were. Black said, "Everything involving these suits flying is either on wires where you’ve got to take forever to rig somebody, or it’s invisible. So there’s a guy on wires and he turns and gets hit by an invisible thing that throws him backwards and you have to match everything and nothing’s there. So in the editing room, it’s constantly vexing to me. On 'Kiss Kiss Bang Bang,' we’d show up on the day and we would say, 'Alright, we’re doing an action scene. The car crashes. Where do we go?' You couldn’t do that. You can’t show up on the day and say, 'Okay, he jumps of the tower and the building explodes. Let’s begin.' You have to have it so meticulously planned in advance. The invisibility factor was for me the daunting thing of not knowing where anything is because it’s all just going to be there later."
Working with major CGI elements is definitely a learning curve for filmmakers, and for some people, it's a very natural thing, and for others, it never really becomes comfortable. Feige laughed and said, "We're still very much in the visual effects phase of this film, and there have been a handful of times as we sit in the screening room for hours and hours going through effects shots where Shane goes, 'Wait, that looks real. I didn’t think it would look that good.' I said, 'What do you think we’re doing? Of course it’s going to look that good.' 'Huh, it looks real.'”
Black wrapped things up, a smile on his face, and told us that he can't help but goad the effects artists at times just for fun. "[Executive Producer] Victoria Alonso will sit next to us and I'll say, 'Wow, that's a great cartoon.' And she just goes nuts. But, no, the effects look real. Photo-real. I'm very surprised."
And that was that. It was a relatively brief press day, but I felt like Feige, Downey, and Black gave us a strong indication of what kind of film we can expect from "Iron Man 3." I'm ready to get the summer started, and I can't wait to check this one out.
"Iron Man 3" arrives in theaters on May 3, 2013.