Marvel Studios president and producer Kevin Feige was one of the definite highlights at this morning’s 10th annual PGA Produced By Conference, and while he didn’t divulge details on whether Thanos truly wins in Avengers: Infinity War II, he said, “We’re working on the next five years (at Marvel), post-Avengers and what that looks like.” Also, he said that Ant-Man and the Wasp is finished and that post on Infinity War II is already underway.
In a conversation with Deadline’s Awards Editor Pete Hammond, Feige looked back on his career, his rise from USC film student to production assistant at Shuler Donner Productions, to being the town’s preeminent box office hit-meister with 19 pics that have opened at No. 1 and amassed $16 billion at the global box office.
Not just Feige, but the town — and the motion picture business — have come a long way in their attitudes toward comic book movie adaptations. Feige remembered a time during his younger days in the biz when “big decision makers at the studios prided themselves on not opening up a comic book, and not reading them, which I think was a mistake.”
Here’s what Feige had to say about how Marvel ticks, and the waves it has made:
More female directors on Marvel pics: Captain Marvel is the first Marvel title to have a female director at the helm Anna Boden (who is co-helming with Ryan Fleck. And having more female directors behind his superhero pics is a trend he plans to maintain, “I cannot promise that (the next) 20 Marvel movies will have female directors but a heck of a lot of them will,” he said in response to an audience member’s question. The Marvel boss mentioned that agencies are sending more female directors than men for Marvel directing jobs.
On the $1.3 billion success of Black Panther, Feige said that Marvel “wanted to destroy the myth that black movies don’t work well around the world,” and being at Disney with its platinum marketing department allowed the comic book studio to swing for the fences.
“The budget for Black Panther was bigger than Doctor Strange, Ant-Man, Captain America: Civil War, and you can’t do that without the support and encouragement from the leaders of the company,” he said.
Feige also applauded Black Panther director Ryan Coogler’s championing his diverse below-the-line team in Hannah Beachler as production designer, Ruth Carter’s costumes, and DP Rachel Morrison. Their resumes, like Marvel’s directors, didn’t scream tentpole experience, but Feige is grateful he heard them pitch rather than rely on his regular team.
“We can’t imagine the movie without them, and the future movies we hope to make with them,” he said.
He’s bad with numbers, but budgeting takes discipline. “I’m very bad with numbers — math wasn’t a good subject for me,” said Feige, who admitted his confusion when execs throw charts and graphs at him. His talent was always with developing story, evident in his rise at Shuler Donner from being a receptionist at the company to an associate producer on X-Men.
“There’s never enough money whether you’re working on an USC student film or back-to-back Avengers movies. It takes a discipline…you can throw a lot of money at something and it won’t solve a creative problem,” he said.
Feige gives props to Marvel EP Louis D’Eposito “who is amazing at handling budgets” and department heads who can find a solution that’s always better than one that entails extra dollar spends. Feige provided an example on the first Iron Man movie where they turned an expensive VFX surgery scene, where Tony Stark operates on himself, into a poignant, significantly more frugal scene where Gwyneth Paltrow operates on him instead.
While below-the-line spend stays relatively similar on Marvel titles, above-the-line spend increases as the actors become committed to more films.
Hiring indie directors like Coogler, Taika Waititi and Jon Watts: Feige said he’s big on hiring indie directors who’ve never worked on huge movies given their voice. “Find people who have unique points of views who have something to say and surround them with talented people,” he said.
On making Spider-Man: Homecoming with Sony: When Amy Pascal was head of Sony Pictures’ Motion Pictures Group, she’d meet with Feige on how they could be more involved. “She was very gracious,” Feige said, saying she would have his team provide script notes on Spider-Man movies.
At one point, Feige told her “Why don’t you just let us do it? Her version of the story was that she threw a sandwich at us (when I said that) — however, the meeting was then over.” Six or seven months later they reunited, and figured out a way to work together.
“When we were developing Captain America: Civil War we had a plan with and without Spider-Man since we were gearing up to shoot as we were negotiating with Sony to get Spider-Man,” said the Marvel boss.
Will Marvel’s TV universe like Luke Cage head to the big screen? “I don’t rule anything out,” he said.
On failure, not that Marvel has had much. “Failure is an option to do things better. We’ve just had it on every film before they were released. We’ve had test screenings that are awful, even going back to our earlier movies, we’d (get responses) where we were like ‘Well, that was fun while it lasted.’ Our job is to get in and do whatever it takes.”