Avi Arad & Matt Tolmach interview: Spider-Man, Hulk

The producers of the new Spider-Man movies chat to us about their plans for the Spider-Man universe. Plus: Ghost Rider, Hulk and Statham...

At the press junket for The Amazing Spider-Man 2, held in London last week, we started by chatting to the thoroughly lovely and amazingly calm director of the film, Marc Webb (you can read that interview here). In fact, so calm and warm was Webb, that it seemed a logical place to start when talking to the two men behind the scenes guiding the Spider-Man movie universe – producers Avi Arad and Matt Tolmach.

I’ve just come to you from interviewing Marc Webb, and I don’t think I’ve ever interviewed a more relaxed film director! Does he ever get angry?

Matt: He’s dangerous, dangerous!

He seems the calmest, quietest person. Just reassure me that he has a rage moment in there somewhere?

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Matt: He does, he does! But it’s one of those things that when somebody is that sweet most of the time, it hurts you inside! As supposed to somebody who’s just a blowhard, and then it’s more like who gives a shit?!

Is there something volcanic in him?

Matt: He blows up, but it’s quick!

Avi: Actually, I’ve never seem him really blow up. And I tried.

Matt: He doesn’t scream. Try harder!

Avi: But then he feels like he’s doing something he loves. He feels very, very good about this movie, and rightfully so.

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Matt: He does cry!

How hard do you have to hit him?!

Matt: I like these questions!

Anyway…! I assume you’re in a position now – well, this is worth a try! – to confirm the assorted casting, plot and details for the various spin-offs and sequels you have planned. Do you want to start there? Where are you with the third one, and when are you planning to shoot that?

Matt: We’ve left a lot of stuff. What we’ve told people is that we’re completely in the middle of building Sinister Six, Venom and the third Spider-Man. The specifics of which one when… we’ve already declared that Spider-Man is going to be the movie in 2016. But we’re going to tell the world what we’re doing [with the others] when this movie comes out.

Are you looking to go annual? Is that the longer term aim?

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Matt: If it works out that way, that may be what happens. But honestly, it’s a little bit premature. When we get home, we need to sit down and look at it. We’ve got all these writers working, directors…

Avi: Although the idea of doing it as a year after year thing… because the plan for these movies involves moving all about the Spider-Man universe, they can be quite different.

There’s no reason presumably, outside of the core ones, that they all have to have Spider-Man in them?

Avi: Uh-hum.

Matt: They don’t have to, they don’t have to. But we’re sort of proceeding that there are no rules, because it’s all our world.

Should we be reading much into the fact that you’ve seeded Black Cat and the Spider Slayers in The Amazing Spider-Man 2?

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Avi: Definitely. Everything you see that makes you think about the comics, I think you should read into it.

Matt: There are no accidents.

Avi: When they’ll be implemented, that’s food for thought.

So how long are you signing people up for when they come into your film universe?

Matt: It depends who they are, and their level of involvement in the movies. Some people more than one, some people more than two. And some people…. Sometimes, deals in Hollywood are tricky that way, and sometimes people come back as they want to. Very, very seldom does it get down ‘we own you’. But it does sometimes!

There’s a flavour of the old Hollywood studio system mechanics in there.

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Matt: Studios have a lot of control.

Avi: And it can go the other way around. You can have a role in a movie that was originally something minor in terms of screen time, and all of a sudden we see something and go, wow, that’s cool.

You’ve said in the past in interviews Avi that you listen very closely to fans and the feedback that comes…

Avi: Exactly.

But where do you draw the line? How do you distil that? I’m a fan, and I passionately believe that fans don’t always know best. If I was to make a film, it’d be terrible. It doesn’t stop me sitting here with opinions on everyone else’s, though.

Avi: Well, because of social networking, there is a lot of bravado. The best way to decipher is to listen when they start yelling at each other. The truth is that sometimes the comments are very well taken. I think case in point was the costume. In the first movie, the costume left a lot to be desired.

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Matt: They didn’t love it.

Avi: And you know what? If you go online, they’re grateful. They listen to us. And we want them to feel like we’re making these movies for all of us. It’s the geeky thing to be. And they’re proud of it, and they’re allowed to have interpretations. It’s more interpretations than criticism. I hope that this happens, or that happens…

Matt: But then you get to the moment, having listened to them, where you’ve got to go do your job. You have to tell the stories you believe.

Remember when there was a moment in time where people asked what’s going to happen with movies next? Interactive movies, you can go and push this button for this ending, and this button for that ending. I think that’s bunk, because at the end of the day, people want filmmakers to make a decision that tells a story. They may not like it, and they’ll tell you. But I think people want to go to the movie theatre and be entertained.

At a certain point, you’ve got to bank in all the information and decide what stories you’re telling. And you commit to it, and go out and tell the story. That’s our job, and you can’t make everything a committee decision.

Avi: You can’t make everybody happy. Until they see the movie, and it’s really interesting: a lot of the issues they’re not sure about, they see it. And when the movie’s out, they find something else to fight about. It’s fun, it’s passion. If they didn’t care, it would be a dark day when we turn on our website and there’s nobody there!

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Matt: Having being a studio executive in the past, I’ve worked on a lot of movies. And some of them, people don’t give a shit. Then you’re really in trouble. Then you’re in trouble. As long as they are passionately agreeing, disagreeing, arguing, they care.

Avi: That’s a good conversation to have.

I tend to go online and defend one of your films oddly enough Avi, which is Ang Lee’s take on Hulk. I still think that’s a terrific film. But you went through plenty on that one…

Avi: You know how many years I was defending this movie? Years, years. And you know what? Read about it now, and now they’re getting a movie about anger, and they love the movie in retrospect. Many of our movies, all of a sudden… even you have these new discussions on Spider-Man 3 where once they were giving us a hard time. Too many villains. And when they thought about it, those people online said oh, stop it already. It was great, or we loved it. The impression changes. But for a long time, we had to defend our positions.

But do you feel you have to defend your positions? Once the film’s out, do you feel it’s handed over to the audience, or do you still feel compelled to actively defend it?

Avi: I think it happens in interviews.

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Matt: But I don’t think anybody cares. I think once you make the movie, it belongs to everybody. Avi can say he loves it, but he’s not going to change anybody’s mind.

We were having these conversations the other day. We both worked together on a movie called Ghost Rider. I loved that movie. I have a seven year old son, and he’s a super-geek now. He’s playing the LEGO Marvel superhero thing, and all he wants to be is Ghost Rider. The day he unlocked enough points to get Ghost Rider, he never turned back. And I showed him the movie. He loved it. It’s funny, because you go back and look at the movie. It did pretty well, but we took a lot of hits for it. There are some Nic Cage moments that are genius. Sometimes it just takes time. We love something and other people may not, but you’ve got to love it.

Avi: We face issues. I had death threats from a Ghost Rider fanatic, because we weren’t greenlighting the movie at the time.

Was this on the first one?

Avi: Yes. It was before we started making the movie. The real issue for them though is that some people see Ghost Rider, and say it has to be R rated, and it’s not. It’s not about the killing. We had Marvel Knights, the books, that were very vicious and violent. Ghost Rider is very interesting, it’s The Devil And Daniel Webster.

Matt: It’s a very innocent story.

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Avi: And when I see someone like Matt’s son, he sees what’s appropriate for him, and that’s what he loved about it. Incinerating half of the world, that was never meant to be. That happens in comic books, but [not movies].

I do have a particular frustration with The Amazing Spider-Man 2 film, and I wonder if I can ask you about that.

Matt: Go ahead.

Well, you worked so hard to keep the secrets of the film, and you’ve still managed to hide one or two. But at what stage did you decide to expose the Green Goblin in the marketing campaign? Personally – and this may be unrealistic of me – I would have liked the reveal there to be a surprise in the film itself. So why did you decide to let him out of the bag?

Avi: The truth is it was unexpected for us too.

Matt: It slipped out.

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Avi: Something slipped through marketing. We worked really hard to keep it secret. Then something happened, and all of a sudden it appeared.

Matt: It happens.

Avi: But we have fanatical followers of movies now. It’s a national sport to find scenes of the movie.

Marc Webb said he found a drone above the set at one point.

Matt: It crashed in Long Island. It was unbelievable.

It wasn’t us!

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Outside of Spider-Man, the pair of you have been linked with an assortment of other films. I wonder if it’s possible to get an update on some of those. Avi, you’re developing Uncharted and Metal Gear Solid, Matt you’re rebooting Jumanji?

Avi: Metal Gear, believe it or not, after a decade, we are now literally starting to develop the script, the director. It took a long time to close this deal. It’s now done, finished, the vision is in place. Uncharted too has a great script, and excellent director. We have really high hopes. It’s a fun field, it’s quite intelligent, so that’s going very well. To give you production dates? I can’t. When we come back [from the Spider-Man press tour] we can settle some of the issues.

But really top priority for us is the Spider-Man movies. They are all moving in parallel. They’re all going! It’s the same though: when the script is ready, you talk about this date or that date.

And Jumanji?

Matt: I hired a very, very good writer called Zach Helm, who wrote Stranger Than Fiction and other things. And we’re working on the script. I’m really excited about.

On Spider-Man then. Marc Webb has said that when he came on board, he had the vision of three films, and he’s not going to do The Amazing Spider-Man 4. Can we expect a fluid transition then from three to four, or will you take that opportunity to change things again.

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Matt: Here’s the honest answer. Before we know what we’re going to do with number four, we’re going to do Sinister Six, Venom and Spider-Man 3. There’s going to be a lot of crossover in those movies, so we’re just not at Spider-Man 4, because we have a whole other Spider-Man movie, and two other movies. So we don’t know yet what that one’s going to be.

Just so people don’t get the wrong impression here: are you saying that Sinister Six, Venom and Spider-Man 3 will be out before 2018? Because a 2018 date has been announced for The Amazing Spider-Man 4.

Matt: We announced that date before we announced [the spin-offs]. It will be a Spider-Man movie.

Finally, as you’re both in the UK, we’re honour bound to ask you about the mighty Jason Statham.

Matt: He’s great.

Agreed. So: what’s your favourite Jason Statham movie?

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Avi: Transporter One.

Matt: Transporter is amazing.

Avi: It’s so good.

Matt: I love that movie. It’s a great movie. I like him a lot.

Matt and Avi, thank you very much…

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