Interview: 'The Amazing Spider-Man' Director Marc Webb

Yesterday Sony invited a handfull of press to the studio lot to present an advance screening of the new trailer for The Amazing Spider-Man (watch it now online here). Director Marc Webb wanted us to see the trailer on the big screen, and experience the 3D aspects of the trailer. After the trailer screening, Webb took some questions from our group. He was only supposed to answer a few questions, but ended up sticking around for 20 minutes worth before he got dragged back to post production.

Webb talks about the negative response to the teaser trailer's POV footage, how he brought The Lizard to life using different technologies, keeping the characters and relationships grounded, how Peter will discover his powers, his approach to the humor in the film, casting Dennis Leary as an authority figure, some of the more impressive 3D effects, uncle Ben's death, the pressure to deliver an iconic Spider-Man kiss, the film's running time, how much of the global Spider-Man universe we see in this story, his involvement in the script for the Sequel, and advances in technology like 3D and 48 frames per second.Read the entire transcript after the jump.

Marc Webb: Are there any questions? I have a couple of minutes.Question: In the first teaser trailer there was a point of view thing which seemed to get a very negative response online.Marc Webb: The first one, yeah.Question: Yeah, because it was very computer generated.Marc Webb: Right.Question: We see some point of view stuff in here. How much of that is in the film? Let me just say, it looks a lot better.Marc Webb: Yeah, well we were still in production when we made that trailer I believe, so that was a very early rendering of some of the CG stuff and the POV stuff is, again part of the fun of this was to create the movie thinking about subjectivity, meaning getting to feel what Spiderman feel what Spiderman feels and I thought 3D was a really interesting way to exploit that. We spent a lot of time refining and just making that shit better and so there is that in the movie, but it's a much more refined version than what you had seen before.Question: How much of it is in the movie? Like how many minutes of POV kind of stuff?Marc Webb: How many minutes? It's interspersed throughout the film. It's not like the third act is all point of view, though that is an interesting idea.[Everyone Laughs]Marc Webb: I'm not that bold.Question: Not to get too specific about the trailer, but I'm kind of curious. Who was the voice that said "Don't tell the kid about his father?"Marc Webb: You'll have to see the movie.Question: It's an intentional mystery?Marc Webb: Yeah, sure.Question: Can you talk a little about just bringing the Lizard to life and technically how you accomplished it? I imagine it was all motion capture?Marc Webb: There's a lot that goes into it. I mean there was... When we shot those sequences we actually shot a human, a rather large... There was a combination of things. There was a guy named "Big John," who was literally this big guy named John who did a lot of the interactive stuff, because when you are trying to interact with Andrew, with "Peter," you need someone grabbing him to do those things and then we would replace him with the computer generated Lizard. But then the performance capture was done with Rhys and that was we would shoot Rhys in a similar environment and get his facial components, (Laughs) which we are still working on. I actually just came from SPI trying to incorporate his performance into the Lizard itself. That takes an enormous amount of time and it's tricky. In the comics there's different incarnations of the Lizard. There's the one with the snout, and I was interested more with something that could relate human emotions, because I wanted to keep Rhys's performance in that creature and I was interested in. You know performance; Pixar does it extremely well like creating the emotional qualities within characters that are essentially computer generated. So Rhys's performance, getting that nuance and getting those ticks and the looks and creating an armature that can actually speak and lips that make sounds... (Laughs) It's a very detailed and tedious process, but I really wanted him to have emotion. I wanted him to have a face and have a feeling and that's the way I chose to do that and then there's the physical components of it, where I wanted to make him very powerful. I wanted to make him stronger than Spiderman, that's a really important part of it.Question: We see a lot of spectacle on screen. How did you balance your approach to delivering the thrill ride that audiences will want with the fact that Spiderman is also one of the more down to earth and grounded super hero characters?Marc Webb: Yeah, see for me the access point... I mean I was always a Spiderman fan, but I was bigger Peter Parker fan than Spiderman and when you see the movie, I don't think anybody will be worried about the emotional part of it. There is an incredibly innocent and tender quality to Peter Parker. I mean he's not billionaire. He's not an alien. He's a kid. He doesn't have money and has trouble with the people that raise him and he has trouble talking to girls and there's that intense relate-ability, which is all through the movie and that access point was... I wish we were in the editing room, I could show you scenes that would describe that, but I think you guys have all seen the hallway stuff and that is a texture that for me was really intuitive. I mean in my last movie I felt like that was something... It's just something I love in movies, that romantic dimension. It's something I'm very familiar with, being nervous by women.[Everyone Laughs]Marc Webb: But again with the relate-ability is sort of the... The interpersonal relationships that Peter Parker has are so simple and so domestic that it's a very fun dichotomy to play that big massive spectacle alongside those very small movies. I mean in a very real way there's a small intimate little indie movie at the heart of SPIDERMAN and that was my access point. And the trailer is, you know, you want that spectacle and you want that energy, because I think there's an expectation surrounding that, but as we get closer to release there will be materials that will come out to help show and demonstrate the more intimate parts of SPIDERMAN, which is to me where the heart is.Question: Well some of the best parts of the Sam Raimi movies are when he's discovering his powers for the first time. Do you get to have fun with that again?Marc Webb: Yeah, there are elements of that. I mean listen; I wanted to do things differently. We've seen the origin of Spiderman, maybe we haven't seen the origin of Peter Parker and there are certain iconic elements of Spiderman that I felt obligated to honor, but there are some exploratory phases, but I wanted to... Again, I'm trying to build something with a different tone and a different attitude and do things in a little bit more of a practical way, especially at the beginning of the movie, so there are elements where we spent a lot of time designing and engineering sequences that existed within the camera that we just shot practically, like him swinging on these chains to help create that sensation, that feeling of joy and fun, which is always a great part of these movies.Question: Can you talk about your approach to the humor here? It seems like Peter becomes this more animated version of himself, like this guy that maybe he always wanted to be like when he's wearing the suit. Can you talk about your approach to the humorous side of Peter?Marc Webb: Sure. Again, that's something from the comics that I've always been a fan of, but humor is a very tricky thing, because it's very subjective and I wanted to... Everything in this movie, the first domino is Peter Parker getting left behind by his parents, right? And I thought to myself, "What does that do to somebody?" "How does that change your view of the world?" To me it creates a little bit of a level of distrust. It's a brutal thing to happen to you and that, to me, is where he gets that outsider status and then there's a sarcasm that comes from that and the wittiness... I think maybe some of your guys have seen the car thief scene where that attitude comes out and that generates from him having this chip on his shoulder. He's a little bit mean, a little bit kind of snarky. But that's an attitude that we can all understand and relate to, but I think it comes from a very real genuine place and I think that's an important part. My point is the humor comes from a very human real emotional place, it's not just slapped on.Question: Can you talk a little bit about those domestic elements, in terms of the casting? I mean somebody like Dennis Leary is, to me, will always be the guy in the leather jacket chain smoking, but it's interesting to see him playing this very...Marc Webb: He plays the authority figure that he's made fun of for his entire career. It's funny.Question: Yeah, can you talk about casting him and also Sally Field, a much younger and hipper Aunt May.Marc Webb: When you cast someone like Sally, they can come with a certain level of awareness and real genuine affection, which I think for Aunt May is an incredibly important thing to have. We all love Aunt May, but I wanted to created a tension between May and Peter, because again "What's the reality of this situation?" God, I wish I cold show you guys more. I actually can't, I don't have anything here, so I'm not setting anything up by saying that, but "What would happen if you were someone who was in charge of taking care of a kid who has had a lot of tragedy in his life and he goes out late at night and comes back and he's fucked up?" You would be concerned. He's got bruises and... When you cast someone like Sally, they come with a certain level of awareness and real genuine affection, which for Aunt May is an incredibly important thing to have.  We all love Aunt May, but I wanted to create a tension between May and Peter.  I was like, "What's the reality of this situation?  What would happen, if you were someone who was in charge of taking care of a kid who's had a lot of tragedy in his life, and he goes out late at night and comes back and he's fucked up?"  You'd be concerned.  He's got bruises on his face, and what happens in that moment?  That can create some tension, but you want there to be love there.  That's what someone like Sally Field gives you.  And then, we all trust Denis Leary.  He's got this attitude, but you love him.  In this movie, he puts pressure on Peter Parker.  He's on Spider-Man's case, but you understand him.  I've said this before, but good drama comes from competing ideas of what's good.  People have different ideas of what that is, and when you put that together, they collide and there's an honest difference of opinion.  There's something that's really interesting that happens there, and I wanted to explore that as much as possible.Question: There's one shot of Spiderman with his leg coming out of the screen that comes closer than anything I've seen in the recent crop of 3D. How did you do that?Marc Webb: It's true. It's a matter of convergence. Again, the movie I designed as a 3D movie and that sequence that that comes from is later on in the film. James Cameron, who was incredibly generous with me early on, likes to play them at depth, to play 3D like depth, like "This is a window and everything you see behind there, that's what is fun about it." The jungles of AVATAR are really a great example of that. I liked pushing the 3D a little bit further, so it would come out at you. I just remember as a kid watching THE CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON stick his... and all of that stuff... You know, HOUSE OF WAX and all of that stuff. There's something fun about that and seeing an audience with kids in it reach out... There were moments that I wanted to exploit like that and that was one of those moments. That was shot that has many, many visual layers to it, but we generated around this figure and then we converge, meaning we put the screen level behind the character, behind Spiderman there, so that his legs would come out and then we made him a little bit more in focus, so that you could feel a tangible sense of him rather than the motion... This gets very technical and boring, but you reduce the motion blur, so it felt more tactile and then that shot in particular, if you notice it, when a subject violates the end of the screen, to those of you guys who know 3D, like it corrupts the illusion, right? Like you start to notice that it's not really real.Question: You can't go past the edge of the screen.Marc Webb: Exactly, so I designed it so that it would exist within the barriers of the screen, so you're not aware that it's crossing out the screen. So that helps with that notion that it can come out at you a little bit more. So that's another one of those layers and then another thing is... and that shot is longer in the movie, but it's there to... You sit on it longer, that's the other part of getting that feel that he's coming into your space.Question: In the comics, uncle Ben's death is really the catalyst for Peter becoming Spiderman. From the trailer it kind of seems like the search for the truth about his parents is sort of the catalyst.Marc Webb: That's the first domino in the story, the parents and "he goes out looking for his father and he finds himself." That's my tagline, but Uncle Ben of course plays...Question: So what is his role, then?Marc Webb: Uncle Ben's death is... You'll have to see the movie, but there are three elements to it. There are a few elements that Marvel was very protective of and I think are very important parts of the Spiderman origin story. It Uncle Ben's death transforming him and having an impact him in a certain way is an incredibly part of the mythology and I would never subvert that. So that's all I will say about that, but I'm very protective of that.Question: Can you just mention working with Martin Sheen? How is Martin Sheen in the role?Marc Webb: He's awesome.[Everybody Laughs]Marc Webb: He's a dream. I mean between takes he would tell us stories about Terrence Malick, about APOCALYPSE NOW... Fellini... I mean it was spectacular. That was one of the really, really joyful parts about making this movie, getting to work with Sally Field and Martin Sheen and Dennis Leary and talking with them. I mean it is so cool. They are so cool and such pros. Again, like Martin Sheen, you think of President Bartlet and he has that sense of benevolent authority, but there's something else in terms of the dynamic that I wanted to explore visa vi Peter's relationship with his absent parents. Peter's parent's were, depending on the comics, Ben and May are sort of street wise blue collar people, but they are not scientists and Peter has this incredibly scientific ability, which creates a little bit of a gap between him and Ben and May. I thought that was a really interesting thing to explore and what Martin was able to do was to embody this sort of blue collar guy and there was some fissure, some break between the two of them that was developing and even though there is a great love for him, he knew he wasn't the father, that he wasn't Richard Parker, and that gap, that crack, that missing piece that Peter had was a really fun thing to start off with in terms of exploring..Question: You mentioned the romance part of it earlier. Did you feel any pressure to deliver one of those iconic Spiderman kisses?Marc Webb: It's hard to compete with that first SPIDERMAN kiss, so that wasn't my primary objective. I wanted to make a movie that... To me it's about the chemistry and that's the thing you rely on and those things can happen, but I didn't want to use that language. I wanted to create a language of my own.Question: There's a rumored running time. Has a final cut been locked?Marc Webb: Yeah, it's right around two hours, so I don't know... There was something on some website that said an hour and thirty minutes or something like that?Question: Yeah.Marc Webb: No. (Laughs) Every once in a while it's really interesting, because you hear people talk about information that gets out and you're like "Oh yeah, I'm sure there's some truth to it," but sometimes things come up and you're like "What are you talking about?" That's one of those things. I don't know where that came from. So it's not, and the cut is pretty much locked, we are just doing a lot of visual effects.Question: With the Spiderman universe obviously you have decades of not only comics, but animated series... I mean you have an entire world. Outside of the main story, how much do we really get a global view of Spiderman's universe?Marc Webb: We spent a lot of time with the writers coming up with the back-story and a world that could hold different stories if this series is ongoing. We plucked things from different... We took stuff from the Ultimates. We took stuff from The Amazing Spidermans and then we invented other things to make it interesting for people, you know what I mean? Take Gwen Stacey for example, I look more toward The Amazing Spidermans, because I just like the texture of her character more in that than in The Ultimates where I thought it was more appropriate for Peter, whereas the body language, like I thought were great reference points in terms of creating the physical identity of Spiderman, which is from The Ultimates of course.Question: How in touch are you with the scripting that's going on for the second one and the changes that...Marc Webb: I am not... I'm so deeply immersed in this one that I haven't touched anything. There's this talk and whatever, but it's all just talk and a lot of it just has to do with schedules, but I'm literally spending eighteen hours a day finishing the movie, so I can't give you any interesting scoop there. I wish I could.Question: Do you have any thoughts on this coming out of Cinema Con there's a lot of talk about forty-eight frames a second becoming the future...Marc Webb: I haven't seen that. I have absolute trust in Peter Jackson. I think he's an incredible filmmaker and I feel like it's really important to support experiments and it's really important to try new and different things and I really want to honor the theatrical experience and things that can make that better are great and we have to be patient and see what happens and it's a very hard thing to make movies and especially in the environment now where everybody wants to have some opinion about something that it's hard to generate a level of good will or support or curiosity about things and so I would just be curious to see it. I haven't seen it, so I can't really comment on it, but you know anything to help with making movies interesting and fun to watch I'm down for, for trying different things.[Everyone thanks Marc for his time.]Marc Webb: Thanks, guys.