'Captain Marvel' Directors Ryan Fleck & Anna Boden On What Makes Carol Danvers A Unique Superhero [Set Visit Interview]

Ryan Fleck & Anna Boden aren't the first directing team at Marvel Studios, and they certainly aren't the first filmmakers to make their MCU debut with a Sundance Film Festival origin story. But they are the first filmmakers tasked with bringing a female-led Marvel superhero film to the big screen, and that's a big responsibility. Not only that, but they are setting up a character who is supposed to help anchor the next decade of cosmic MCU stories.

Speaking with the duo on the set of Captain Marvel, I felt the confidence and intense thought they had put into it all. Like other filmmaking teams, they would continue and complete each other's sentences, and add more to each other's points. When they mentioned that RoboCop was a big reference for them in making this film, I was rather confused, but they had a really good explanation. And that's just the tip of the iceberg in this interview.

Note: this interview was conducted in a roundtable format with other journalists.

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Question: So, what has the adjustment been for you guys, moving from films like Half Nelson, Mississippi Grind to a movie of this scale?

Ryan Fleck: It's the same. That was a joke. It's not the same, they're totally different. I mean at the end of the day we're still telling stories and so we're just trying to stay focused on characters that we love and we've loved characters in all of our movies, we love the characters in this movie and just trying to tell a story as best as we can.

Anna Boden: But learning a lot with a lot of new elements in this movie it's like...it seems crazy moving from making little movies to making like literally movies with Marvel, which are like the biggest movies that they make. But it's actually probably the easiest transition into making movies like this just because we're working with so many people who are so good at their jobs and collaborating with people who are literally the best at what they do and so we're, we kind of feel very well supported and with creative people at Marvel who are also just really into being storytellers at the end of the day.

Question: What's the process of pitching to get a gig like this, do you go in there with your own spin and if that happened is what we're getting now completely different than that?

Ryan Fleck: It is a good question. We dig into all the comics, the history. There's a lot this character has gone through a whole bunch of different changes over the years and so we just kind of locked into the character that we liked from the Kelly Sue DeConnick run. We were like "this is the Captain Marvel we love" and everyone else loves that version of the character too, so that was great to be on the same mind with the Marvel people on the Captain Marvel story we wanted to tell.

I don't know, in terms of the pitching. We came in, I know that our movies don't look like we're like big action nerds but we are fans of action movies so we just put together these clips of like a lot of our favorite movies and cut them together to music they were like that's cool we were like isn't it cool, let's make a movie. We had to do that like five times.

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Question: If you had to pick a genre and he was saying, like '90s action movies, what were like some of your touchstones when you were pitching them and you showing them those things? What were some of the kind of cool things you were thinking of?

Anna Boden: The list of movies that we, that this, that Captain Marvel is a love letter to is very expansive and strange. Everything from like... should I say anything?

Ryan Fleck: That's the theme of this movie.

Anna Boden: I was going to say Robocop is one of our big ones.

Ryan Fleck: There's some Terminator 2 in there French Connection is not so '90s but..

Anna Boden: But.

Ryan Fleck: There's a big homage to French Connection here.

Anna Boden: There certainly is. We even slipped a little Conversation into this movie.

Ryan Fleck: It's not an action film but, you have to look for it.

Anna Boden: Yeah.

Ryan Fleck: There are little moments, homages to shots from our favorite movies.

Captain Marvel RoboCop

Question: This is the second time we've heard of Robocop as a reference, but Robocop is one of darkest visions of the future and most satirical visions of the future-

Anna Boden: True.

Question: So are we going to see some of that humor in this, like that dark humor of Robocop?

Anna Boden: There will be humor. It is not a dark movie in that way like Robocop. I think that what is exciting to us about Robocop was this idea of a character who's finding himself and finding his past. And even though it's a dark movie its also like extremely emotional in that way. If you remember that scene of him walking into his own home, you know, and remembering those moments from his past life and remembering who he was I mean that's big. And that was one of the first things we talked to Marvel about in terms of this character the idea that self discovery and reconnecting and rediscovering your humanity and who you were and it's a huge part of this film.

Question: What were the advantages to you guys having Kelly Sue be a part of the process and getting her input?

Anna Boden: First of all we got to meet her. And I mean just she's amazing and it was so cool meeting her for the first time, having read all of her comics, and her whole Captain Marvel run, and really falling in love with Captain Marvel through her comics and all of, so many of our references and our ideas of who this person was and the things that we had pitched in a room to the Marvel folks, to Kevin Feige about what we thought this character was, were similar to her references and her touchstones. It just goes to show what an amazing writer she is, that she was able to, I don't know, like express so much of that musically even through the comics and that it felt like I don't know we really connected with her and it was really, she was so articulate and so smart and just a fun person.

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Question: I was wondering about the team directing things. The idea of team directing has always fascinated me. Where do you, where does one begin the other take over, who do you hand things over to, are there specific things, how does that work?

Ryan Fleck: I just do what Anna says [laughing].

Question: [laughing] Okay. That's good. At least I would say so in this particular case.

Anna Boden: No, we are not tyrants on set, and we are kind of come at it very much as collaborators and not just with each other but everybody and particularly the actors. We are just so blessed to have so many amazing actors in this movie who are telling the story with us and they're storytellers and to be able to collaborate with them on set, and hear their input and feel you know you kind of write something you imagine a character you imagine the words in their mouths and then somebody's living that and somebody's saying that.  And they come on set and they have those words and they're changing them, they're bringing something new to them, they're bringing life to them and spontaneity to them and like that's a part of the discovery that we love so much of making a movie, so that had nothing to do with your question. I'm really sorry, I just went off on a complete, tangent but that's to say that you know, I think working as a team comes naturally though it's just because we're collaborative by nature.

Question: You've talked a lot about how much you love Captain Marvel. What is it for you guys personally that made you want to tell the story and take on such a massive kind of project?

Ryan Fleck: It was just her voice. It was the humor in her attempts at humor. You know, I think that sometimes she's funny and sometimes she tries to be funny. And it's just like nice try at that joke and she doesn't care she just keeps doing it you know, I love that she's...

Anna Boden: Able to make fun of herself.

Ryan Fleck: She can make fun of herself and I mean she can take a punch you know she gets hit and she likes to fight, she's a fighter, born fighter, and she's just tough.

Anna Boden: The idea of this superhero who's like one of the most powerful superheroes but like you, she also has this like scrappy personality, this, like dirty, get down and dirty personality.

Ryan Fleck: Scrappy.

Anna Boden: Because she wasn't always like that. Before she was a superhero, she was a woman in the Air Force you know and in the story that we're telling, a woman in the Air Force before women were allowed to fly in combat and just that part of her history and who she was and always having to fight and you know that for the... It is just part of who she is. So even when she's like super powerful and can just blow everybody out of the galaxy she still has that core, that center of just you know having to fight for it.

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Question: Can you talk a little bit about the unconventional structure of the story?

Anna Boden: What about the unconventional structure, I guess like it's an origin story but we meet her after she's already superpowered.

Ryan Fleck: Yeah.

Anna Boden: Yeah, that's been really fun and challenging

Ryan Fleck: The movie has a mystery that it unravels as it goes on so I don't know what I can say about that. I think it's just fun, like, you're learning about the character and her history.

Anna Boden: As she's learning about herself, yeah.

Ryan Fleck: She knows about it as well.

Question: In that vein, so what we know about the plot is that yeah she starts out as Captain Marvel and she thinks she's Kree she comes to Earth and has to discover who she is again who she used to be. So I guess my question for you is, who is Carol Danvers in this movie? Who is Captain Marvel?

Anna Boden: Well, I mean, that's the discovery of the movie. For us, I think what makes it what we love telling about this story is that as a character as a superhero as she becomes more and more in touch with her own humanity. You know, it's not like she realizes... Thor was a god and was always a god, but it's as she comes more and more in touch with her humanity is when she becomes her most powerful she would like discover she has that like her own self discovery is where she becomes as powerful as she can be. And it's a cool story to tell and it's a cool character to experience that.