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Captain Marvel’s Directors: Making Movies With Marvel

Smack in the middle of mega-commercial and quiet success, Captain Marvel directors Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck speak with film students about work and Marvel.

Save for Goose, part of the mystery that shrouds the release of the MCU’s Captain Marvel is in audiences and critics not knowing what to expect with the direction of the movie. Ryan Fleck and Anna Boden were a surprise choice sprung by Marvel, hurling fan predictions completely out of the water with their quieter presence.

The director duo behind Captain Marvel is vivacious and comes packed with talents that range from directing, editing and screenwriting, having very self-sufficiently worked on movies like Sugar and Mississipi Grand (starring Ryan Renolds).

I think it’s safe to say they’re smack in the middle of mega-commercial and quieter success, making them the perfect candidates for an interview with a bunch of film students. The film students at the Directors’ session were aged from 16 to their twenties, all having dabbled in film to some extent. Not to mention, the two were film students themselves.

Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck (on right of image) with cast members of Captain Marvel, during their Singapore press conference (Source: TODAY)
Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck (on right of image) with cast members of Captain Marvel, during their Singapore press conference (Source: TODAY)

Here are some of the noteworthy questions that were answered by Anna and Ryan at the panel, held at Marina Bay Sands when the two came to Singapore with cast members Brie Larson, Samuel L. Jackson and Gemma Chan for the press tour of Captain Marvel. More than anything, the panel gave us some information on what exactly it’s like working with Marvel, where collaborators extend far beyond Kevin Feige.

On The Beginnings Of Captain Marvel for The MCU

Anna:  “We just read so many comics, we just read them all. And when we got to Kelly Sue Deconnick’s run of Captain Marvel, where Carol Danvers takes on the name of Captain Marvel for the first time … we just knew that that’s the person we wanted to see on the screen, that’s the person whose story we wanted to tell.

Kelly Sue Deconick, the writer who made Captain Marvel so powerful. Source.
Kelly Sue Deconick, the Eisner nominated writer whose run of Captain Marvel is what the movie is based (Source: The Daily Beast)

So we took one little piece of all the varied history and really dug into that … One of the great things about Marvel is that they allow you to take pieces of the characters from the comics and storylines from the comics and do your own thing with them… We had some creative license to make it more modern and more relevant to audiences today.”

Kelly Sue Deconnick helmed one of Captain Marvel’s most popular runs, propelling the C-list character back into the spotlight. Fans can look forward to her cameo in the upcoming Captain Marvel movie. 

About Bringing a New Character Into The MCU

Anna: “We, and Kevin and the rest of the people at Marvel felt like we’ve seen enough traditional origin movies where you meet the human and then you see how they get superpowers, and then you see them save the world. So we got excited about introducing this new superhero in a different way … as somebody who’s already superpowered. And so when we meet her, she’s a space warrior, she’s got photon blasts from her fists. What she doesn’t know is her history and how she became who she is … so it’s like an origin story in reverse … and it’s kind of that search for herself and her own humanity that kind of makes this original and makes it fresh for us.”

A screenshot from the trailer of Captain Marvel. The mohawk is based on a look created by Jamie McKelvie for a Captain Marvel redesign.
A screenshot from the trailer of Captain Marvel. The mohawk is based on a look created by Jamie McKelvie for a Captain Marvel redesign.

The limitations of Captain Marvel’s powers are few. Energy absorption and cosmic awareness are amongst her known accessible powers, though it is unknown if she’ll go binary in the movie. If there’s one thing we do know, it is that her genetic half-Kree make-up will hold massive significance in the movie. 

What We’ll Be Seeing From The Action In Captain Marvel

A poster image for The French Connection, a thriller movie released in 1971.
A poster image for The French Connection, a thriller movie released in 1971.

Ryan: “Every action sequence is kind of its own and special thing in the movie… There’s a moment where Captain Marvel’s on a train, she’s on a fight on a train and Nick Fury’s in a car chasing that train. We called that the French Connection sequence when we were planning it. The French Connection is a movie from the 70s that was hugely influential on us… You know, there’s stuff from The Matrix in this movie, there’s stuff from Terminator 2… There’s a visual tool called pre-visualisation which is a computer tool that you can basically shoot and edit the movie digitally, and it looks like a video game. It’s a planning tool, so you basically direct and edit an action sequence before you go out there and do it in real life.”

I'd be happy to see some of that bullet time action.
I’d be happy to see some bullet time style action.

Anna: “It’s also a really great tool when you have so many collaborators. In a movie this big, you have the special effects team and the stunts team and obviously your digital effects team too, and everybody’s figuring out, “what do we need to bring that day.” You’ve your props and your art department, how much of your set do you need to build, and how much of it is gonna be in visual effects afterward.”

Here's an example of how pre-visualisation is used in Game of Thrones (Source: Buzzfeed)
Here’s an example of how pre-visualisation is used in hit TV series Game of Thrones (Source: Buzzfeed)

On being Marvel’s First Female Director Directing Their First Female-Led Superhero Film

Anna: “I just am a behind the camera kinda gal… So owning that and being in front of the cameras and promoting this movie has been a big learning experience for me. Going to the fan event last night and seeing so many young women and girls and also men and boys, but looking up and seeing this amazing female superhero as played by Brie Larson and seeing a woman that’s behind the camera too, it made me stand up a little taller.”

Captain Marvel is a real tough nut. (Source: ScreenCrush)

“There will be so many female voices, and diverse voices behind the camera who are contributing to what the social conversation is and what the stories are that people are seeing and hearing, and helping create more diversity of stories because of that. That’s a long-winded way of saying that it’s been a real pleasure and a real learning experience to be here, very humbling but also very empowering.

It made me feel very hopeful that five ten years from now it won’t be newsworthy that a woman is directing a movie like this.”

With the recent aggregation of film and television products that bother with female representation, it’s about time studios stopped getting sleigh-riders who give them the shove for ‘SJW agendas’. Are social justice warriors always a bad thing? Feminists ≠ Feminazis. If you think equality’s just a trend, you’re outdated.

Some of What Inspires Captain Marvel

Anna: “This movie really opened up my world to a lot of new people that enraptured me and one of those people was General Jeannie Leavitt, who was the very first female US fighter pilot in the airforce.

General Jeannie Leavitt with Brie Larson (Source: IMDb)
General Jeannie Leavitt with Brie Larson (Source: IMDb)

Carol Danvers has a pilot and a US Air Force past… hearing about her experience really being a pilot at a time when women weren’t allowed to fly combat in the Air Force, caring so much about that, and still pursuing it, and being tenacious and also so humble and so ambitious at the same time.”

Ryan: “My mom, my mom. Yep, I’ll just leave it at that.”

About Working With Marvel

Anna: “Yeah, it’s uhm, a real collaboration. Certainly more than any other film that we’ve ever been a part of. There are a lot of key collaborators on this who have a lot of input, we start out the whole process in a room with a whiteboard, with Kevin Feige and other executive producers from Marvel and the show, and then we finish it in the room with those people kind of making the final decisions about the editing. It’s the in-between stuff that we do on our own… that’s kind of where we thrive creatively.

There are studios out there who take movies away from filmmakers or don’t want them to have input, and that’s just not the case with Marvel. They hire people who they trust and much like my collaboration with Ryan, when there’s a disagreement we talk it out we convince each other on what the right way is.”

Taika Waititi with cast members of Thor: Ragnarok, Chris Hemsworth (Thor) and Tessa Thompson (Valkyrie).
Director Taika Waititi with cast members of Thor: Ragnarok, Chris Hemsworth (Thor) and Tessa Thompson (Valkyrie).

As with any major franchise, creative control is often out of the hands of directors. Some of the controversy surrounding Taika Waititi’s Thor: Ragnarok was in how some characters were not true to how they had been established, raising the question of how that could fly under the control of so many creatives. Not to mention, the fiasco between Marvel Studios’ president Kevin Feige and the once CEO of Marvel, Ike Perlmutter shed light on the reality behind casting decisions. In 2015, Feige accused Perlmutter of wanting to replace Terrence Howard with Don Cheadle (as War Machine) for profit reasons, with Perlmutter passing comment that black people “look the same”.

Ryan:  “I mean it’s all storytelling, it’s all getting to the heart of what the story you’re trying to tell is, who the character is, what they’re about… A movie like Captain Marvel that’s so huge and so big, there are so many collaborators that it’s just a very different experience. We’re really grateful to have it, but I think I would also be really grateful to make a smaller movie again where it’s really just Anna and I and a few key collaborators as opposed to hundreds and hundreds of collaborators.”

Ryan and Anna’s previous projects have had budgets ranging from $700,000 to $6 million, and a number of them were released at Sundance Film Festivals. Being the self-sufficient team that they are, their projects are sometimes written and edited between the two themselves.  

On Working With Each Other

Ryan Fleck and Anna Boden, the writer-director duo (Source: Substream Magazine)
Ryan Fleck and Anna Boden, the writer-director duo (Source: Substream Magazine)

Ryan:  “I think communicating is key. Sometimes communicating with yourself and understanding with yourself what you want, and then how to communicate that to your crew. Fortunately, Anna and I, we get to talk through a lot of those conversations, through each other before we have to go share or give instructions to the crew. So it’s great to have a collaborator if you’re a director.”

Anna: “You know, we do have differences of opinions, we’re different people, and ..”

Ryan: “No we don’t.”

Anna: “Part of the fun in having a collaborator who you’ve known for 20 years and who you really just trust implicitly is that you can have those honest discussions about what you like and don’t like without ever feeling like somebody isn’t respecting you… We really try to argue things out before we decide what’s going to be the best thing for the movie and … at the end of the process, I don’t think that either of us feels like there’s any one thing that we’ve compromised on. Unless we can convince the other person that the better way is our way, it’s not gonna fly.”

Creatively, I find Ryan and Anna’s choice to work as a pair repeatedly to be commendable and admirable. If anything, it is a testament to character, a willingness to stay grounded and an openness to discussion. Many directors have been known to get carried away with their decisions; though admittedly, this would be much worse if it happened with a pair. 

Mistakes They’ve Made

Ryan: “We’ll never make a mistake.

It was a joke. That joke was a mistake. I overcome and I apologise. I think the short films that Anna and I made early on, they were built to fail… And that’s what’s fun when you’re just starting out and you’re making little movies where there’s no pressure to sell movie tickets, you’re just really trying to tell a story and have fun doing it and see if … other people appreciate it as well. Sometimes you do something and people don’t get it, and they don’t like it, they don’t care. Maybe you like it, maybe the experience of making it, it makes it a success because you had fun doing it, but you can learn from that too.”

Words of Advice: How To Get To Marvel

Ryan “Just make films, make movies, and I mean that in the very simplest level.

Your first movie’s not going to be a Marvel movie. But go out, use your phone, borrow a camera, do whatever you need to do – just start telling stories.

That’s how this all works, tell your stories, tell other peoples’ stories and show them.”

Anna: “Just remember that no matter what you’re told, your voice is very valuable and we need more diverse people telling stories … they contribute to how we understand the world… Tell stories, find collaborators.”

Captain Marvel hits theatres around the world on 7th March 2019. What’s your crazy theory? 

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