Marc Webb interview: Spider-Man, hidden set cameras

The director of The Amazing Spider-Man 2, Marc Webb, tells us about the film, and the lengths people go to to find out what's going on...

Marc Webb’s third film as director – following (500) Days Of Summer and The Amazing Spider-Man – sees him return for the second part of his webslinger trilogy. He was in London last week to talk about the film, and we chatted to him about the first film, directing action, Statham, and the day a drone camera landed on set…

I was a bit torn on your first Spider-Man film, if I’m being truthful with you, but I enjoyed this one a lot more. I couldn’t help but think back to Tim Burton, when he made Batman and Batman Returns. He always said that his second Batman film as being far more of his film than the one before. Was there any parallel there for you?

Well, you know, (500) Days Of Summer I made in a laboratory with my friend. It was just something you go in and tinker around with. When you’re dealing with Spider-Man, you have to surrender yourself to this character, and you’re protecting this character.

It’s not about me. It’s not an auteur kind of experience. It’s just not about me, it’s the only way I can describe it. So I wouldn’t use the same terms as Tim Burton necessarily. But it’s about protecting and engaging that character, and trying to service that universe. To protect what people love about him. It’s a different muscle, and it’s about embracing that.

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For you as a director, there’s a clear evolution in the action sequences from film one to film two. I thought the action in the first one was generally fine, but there’s a real jump here, far more fluidity. Even just when you’ve got Spider-Man swinging around the skyscrapers of New York.

Well, it’s interesting. One of the things I learned from the first movie… I had never done action at that level before, and so my mantra in the first one was I wanted to do as much stuff in camera as possible. I had less confidence in the visual effects. I hadn’t gone through it: I didn’t know if it was going to look right.

I knew I had to do it because Spider-Man has to exist on a certain scale, but this time around I had confidence in being able to get stuff done properly if I made decisions early on. I had more confidence in that. Because you do have to make the movie at a certain pace, but I thought if I build this in pre-viz early on, I know I can get it to the level I need to get it to. I just need to start early. I was just more confident in that part of it.

The other thing though, I remember I watched the first movie, editing it on a fairly big screen, but it was in a room. And when you’re having that kind of experience, you’re thinking in a different way. I would cut more to keep the energy up. But then I watched it in IMAX, right before we were going to finish the movie. And I thought shit, I cut too much. I want to just exist and let these play out, because the experience in this environment is very different.

Where did you see the movie?

On a huge screen in London. Not IMAX, though.

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So I was like, I’m going to hang longer on shots. I’m going to try and play the action out in longer, broader strokes. Which I think allows you to have an interrupted, more emotional physiological response. I wanted it to be bigger. I stepped back a little bit and allowed things to happen in a wider frame. It was a very technical thing, but it has a huge impact on people’s experience of it.

The other thing I tried to do, I think with varying degrees of success if I’m going to be totally honest, is to have a dramatic undercurrent to the action sequences. Like with the Time Square scene [where Electro is effectively unleashed for the first time], it’s not just physical.

In the last film, my favourite version of that was when he was trying to save the boy with the car dangling off the bridge. The emotional part in this one, with the plane at the beginning, there’s an emotional connection that’s very largely at play. So the stakes feel alive. That to me is what gives another layer to the action.

I really liked the Times Square sequence. I don’t even want to think logistically how tricky that was to do! I think what’s happened with action over the last ten years though is action sequences have either lost the before or after element to them. I thought you were quite patient here. We got a build-up, it played out, we got the after. Can you capture a little bit of how you went about that, on a night shoot in the midst of one of the busiest cities on Earth? Where the whole internet seems to be trying to take photos of what you’re trying to do?

We built Times Square! We shot about three nights in the real Times Square, and then we built our own version in Long Island.

Is that in your back garden at home now?

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[Laughs] Yeah! I Tweeted some pictures of it. I walked to the set, and we put all these crates surrounding the northern part, what’s called Duffy Square, where the bleachers and the TKTS booth is, and all that stuff. We created an environment that’s scaled to life size. And it was massive. There wasn’t enough equipment in New York to do it. We had to fly equipment in from Los Angeles and Canada to achieve what we needed to achieve. It was logistically by far the most difficult thing I’ve ever had to do.

I think Spielberg’s biggest ever set was for The Terminal.

Ah, because they built the whole thing!

Yeah. So which do you think is bigger? Your Times Square, or his Terminal?

I haven’t seen the layout!

Could your Times Square fit in his airport?

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Ha, that is a super nerdy question. You should get the plans. Mark Friedberg [production designer] did a brilliant, brilliant design!

It’s really tricky dealing with… well, you’re addressing another part of the film making process which is trying to protect the film from people who are really curious about it. They get really mad at you if they find anything out, even though they’re pursuing finding that out. And it’s tricky, and I appreciate it. I love the enthusiasm, and you want to embrace the enthusiasm, but it’s very hard, trying to protect the film.

There was even a drone, with a camera, that was flying over our set! It got knocked down, and we found it. I don’t know whose it was, and where it came from. We were like, what is going on? We were naive about it.

Was it Amazon? Had Jamie Foxx ordered some books?

Yeah! He was getting some stuff delivered.

But it is an interesting thing, and we do strive to protect the trickier parts of the plot.

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What is your plan post-Spider-Man. The Raimi approach was to do something smaller after three Spider-Man films…

I don’t know yet! We’ve got to figure out the Sinister Six. Drew has some really cool ideas, which I cannot get into! But we’re talking about that, and building out the universe in a way that will be interesting. That’s the next step, and then in terms of the third Spider-Man film, we’ll start soon…

One last question. It’s a tradition that we ask our interviewees what their favourite Jason Statham movie is.

What, really?


The Transporter. No, no, Crank. No, Transporter [grins].

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Marc Webb, thank you very much.

The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is out on 16 April.

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