Captain America The Winter Soldier

You may not know the names Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely, but you know their work. They wrote the three Chronicles of Narnia movies, this month’s Michael Bay film Pain & Gain, and also a little film called Captain America: The First Avenger. From there, they went on to not only Captain America: The Winter Soldier, which started production this week, but to do a lot of work on Thor: The Dark World too. So they’re a pretty fantastic authority on Marvel’s Phase 2.

We spoke to the pair on the occasion of the release of Pain & Gain and, of course, inquired about their Marvel movies. We’ll run the enlightening stuff about Michael Bay’s movie closer to release, but Markus and McFeely had some very interesting, non-spoiler, thoughts on their two Marvel movies as well as how they relate to The Avengers 2.

The pair said that the biggest thing they had to do when writing a movie to lead into The Avengers 2 was make sure the character loyalties were in a specific place. They also discussed how writing on Thor: The Dark World was a different experience, how much The Winter Soldier had changed from its initial outline, and how the sequel will put Captain America in a totally new place. Spoiler alert – they really love working with Marvel and want to continue to do so. Read the quotes below.

Here’s a snippet of our conversation.

I saw you guys speak soon after Captain America: The First Avenger came out and you were already working on Captain America 2. Since then, how much has the script changed? Was it always the Winter Soldier, did it have Black Widow, Nick Fury and everyone else?

Stephen McFeely: When you saw us speak, we probably were just in the throwing stuff against a wall phase. So that would’ve been like July or June of 2011. For those, say, next three or four months, it was a process of us going back and forth with Marvel and thinking what about “this, and what about this?”. And eventually that sort of steered down into an outline and then we started writing that outline in late 2011. So from the summer, it changed plenty, but from the outline in late that year, it’s been the same

Christopher Markus:  It’s been pretty drilled down.

So if you were writing that movie, how did you have time to work on Thor: The Dark World as well?

Markus: Between Cap drafts, Kevin gave us a call. We were in a great place on Cap because we had a lot of lead time on Cap 2 so there was a certain amount of leisurely pacing. We had the time.

McFeely: And when you turn in drafts you don’t automatically get notes the next day. Sometimes it takes a while. So Kevin said “You’re gonna have a month or whatever” and so we slid over to Thor. To be honest, we don’t know who’s gonna get credit on that movie. There are a lot of people who contributed to it so it may not be us, we don’t know.

Thor and Cap are such different characters, how do you go about balancing writing for each of them?

McFeely: We’re inheriting that story so we didn’t come up with the story for Thor 2. We just came in and said “How can we tell this better and differently?” So your question doesn’t really come up to us. We say “Here’s the problem Thor is dealing with. These are the people and this is the plot. How do we balance character and plot efficiently here?” And we do the same thing with Cap, but in that case we’re just on it for much longer.

Markus: Cap is much more about realism. They’re tonally quite different genres, almost. Things get a lot more “way out” in Thor, so the chance of tonal overlap is pretty slim.

Just looking at Cap’s release date, plus knowing it’s set in the same time, same city, and with the leader of The Avengers, it seems likely it’ll do a lot of legwork for The Avengers 2. You obviously can’t talk specifics, but how do you work with Kevin Feige and Joss Whedon to make sure your film, as well as Thor 2, all fits in for Avengers?

McFeely: Kevin is the dungeon master, so if there’s something we really need to know, he’ll tell us, but he doesn’t steer us. With rare exceptions does he say “We can’t do that because of this next movie.” More often than not he’ll say “Let’s get this movie right and whatever falls out after that,we’ll address in the next movie. We’ll make sure that we don’t steer that movie in the wrong direction.”

Markus: And more often than not, when you’re thinking of the movies as a whole, it’s “What do you want the state of the world to be when Avengers 2 kicks off?” It’s never like, Cap has to put down a briefcase so the Hulk can pick it up. It’s never that specific. It’s sort of like, “Where do you want loyalties to lie when that movie opens?”

How much bigger is The Winter Soldier from The First Avenger?

McFeely: It’ll feel like a different genre, we’ll can say that. We’re very proud of the first one because it was our love letter, and Joe Johnson’s love letter, to Indiana Jones, so it had that Forties vibe to it. This is much more of a modern conspiracy political thriller. So it’s a fast ride. The action will fell commensurate. You’ll see Cap fight in a way that you have never seen before, or at least not for him. The DNA is the same, but the animal is different.

Finally, do you want to continue doing Marvel movies or would you like to pepper in different genres like with Pain & Gain?

Markus:  We always want to switch it up, but I’m VERY comfortable at Marvel (laughs). They’re very nice people and I love playing with their toys.

McFeely: Chris is right. A lot of people walk in and say ‘If you get to a position where you can pick things, you do one for us and one for them.’ We like doing big and small, and in terms of big, I don’t know where else I’d rather do big movies than Marvel. I know everybody. When they say let’s write this script, I know they’re going to make the movie. There are expectation. I like all of it. We could go do other things, and maybe we will, but there’s no guarantee that they’ll be as good or as culturally relevant. And that’s fun. It’s really fun for my mom to say my son wrote that.

***

A huge thanks to Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely for the chat. Their latest film, Pain & Gain, opens April 26. Check back that week to read about what’s it’s like working with Michael Bay, some issues they had in the adaptation and what it means to balance a “true story” versus “based on a true story.”

Their other films, Thor: The Dark World and Captain America: The Winter Soldier, open November 8 and April 14, 2014 respectively.

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