Black Widow director

For Marvel’s highly anticipated Black Widow movie, a solo outing that had been in demand for nearly a decade, the studio wanted to get it right. Over 65 female directors were considered at one point to direct the Scarlett Johansson vehicle, and that was slowly whittled down to a four-person shortlist. Ultimately Berlin Syndrome director Cate Shortland earned the gig, but one other high-profile female director was initially approached for the job of Black Widow director, only to turn it down.

Lucrecia Martel, who directed this year’s acclaimed Zama, revealed that she was approached by Marvel Studios to direct Black Widow, but turned it down when she learned that she wouldn’t be directing the action scenes. But while that may seem like an insensible offer from Marvel, it’s actually a practice that’s not so unusual for the behemoth movie studio.

Marvel is no stranger to tapping independent directors to helm their superhero blockbusters to major success, and it seemed that Argentinian arthouse director Lucrecia Martel would have fit that bill for Black Window. But Martel recently told India’s English-language newspaper The Daily Pioneer (via The Playlist) that while she was approached to direct Black Widow, discussions never progressed beyond her first meeting with the studio.

“I received an e-mail from Marvel for a meeting,” Martel recounted. “Marvel and other such production houses are trying to involve more female filmmakers…What they told me in the meeting was ‘we need a female director because we need someone who is mostly concerned with the development of Scarlett Johansson’s character.'”

Up until this point, Martel was interested. But then Marvel told her something that was a made her immediately turn down the gig:

“They also told me, ‘Don’t worry about the action scenes, we will take care of that.’ I was thinking, well I would love to meet Scarlett Johansson but also I would love to make the action sequences.

Companies are interested in female filmmakers but they still think action scenes are for male directors. The first thing I asked them was maybe if they could change the special effects because there’s so many laser lights. I find them horrible. Also the soundtrack of Marvel films is quite horrendous. Maybe we disagree on this but it’s really hard to watch a Marvel film. It’s painful to the ears to watch Marvel films.”

But it’s no secret that Marvel has a heavy hand in designing action scenes. The studio has frequently given stunt coordinators and VFX specialists responsibility over action scene coverage, which is how they’ve been able attract acclaimed filmmakers without much action expertise such as Taika Waititi, Kenneth Branagh, and Scott Derrickson. Often, previsualization for a big sequences, which is the process of visualizing complex scenes in a movie before filming, are planned by previs artists before a director is even hired. Directors can involved themselves in the previs process as much as they want, but it’s likely that Marvel has a process whereby they hire indie filmmakers and slowly familiarize themselves with the process.

However, that does go to explain why Marvel action sequences — with a few exceptions — all look similarly generic. Marvel has mostly made a practice of tapping new talent that has little experience in blockbuster filmmaking, allowing the Marvel movie-making machine to run smoothly. But this isn’t always the case, of course. Ryan Coogler crafted one of the most ambitious Marvel movies (with a stunning fight scene) this year, while James Gunn broke all expectations with Guardians of the Galaxy — and later got even more creative and filmmaking freedom for Vol. 2. Cate Shortland could possibly step up and do something just as ambitious and unique with her take on Black Widow.

Shortland will kick off production with Johansson on the solo movie in 2019, which likely means a 2020 release for Black Widow.

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