jon watts behind the scenes of Spider-man: Homecoming

When filmmaker Jon Watts premiered his independent film Cop Car at the Sundance Film Festival, there is no way he could have anticipated that it would lead to him directing Spider-Man’s return to the Marvel Cinematic Universe. But after talking to the Spider-Man: Homecoming director on the set of Peter Parker’s first MCU solo film, it is easy to see why he got the job.

During our on-set chat, Watts explained his vision for this new Spider-Man reboot, how it will be different than Marc Webb and Sam Raimi’s films, how Captain America: Civil War changed this film, the importance to diversify Peter Parker’s world, making the villain a real person, the rumors surrounding Zendaya and much more.

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Getting the Job

Could you have ever imagined being in this chair when Cop Car premiered a year and a half ago?

Not at all, I wish it was some sort of brilliant stepping stone plan to direct Spider-Man. I didn’t even think anyone would want to make Cop Car and then I didn’t think anyone would want to distribute Cop Car, and then I didn’t think anyone would want to see Cop Car. That movie is based on a recurring dream I had as a kid, and we shot it in my hometown, and my sister was the location scout, and my other sister was the medic, and my mom would cook us food. That movie I never thought would lead to anything. This is insane.

Who did you seek out advice from? 

I’m trying to remember… I don’t know…I know Marc Webb from music video days and he gave me the best advice. He was like “Just make sure to get lunch with Stan Lee. Definitely enjoy yourself.” I don’t know, it’s a pretty impressive collaboration between Marvel and Sony, so there wasn’t a single person to seek out to get advice and it felt like it was going to be a very different experience. The Russos were really cool, they sort of coached me through it.

Being the first director to have an impact on this Disney-Marvel-Sony thing, have you felt any creative pressures from either side or is it smooth sailing?

Yeah, actually, what I was saying is from the get go it’s been a very collaborative experience. I think as soon as everyone was aware of that and came into it with those expectations, which is how I entered into it…you don’t come in thinking “This has got to be ONE way,” it really lends itself to just being open to ideas and trying stuff out and following things down a path that may not pan out. Then you just start over, and it’s fun. It’s what being creative is about.

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Making it Different

When this movie was announced there were a lot of people online who were like “The THIRD version of Spider-Man?” Give us the pitch why this one is different and why people should see it and why it deserves to exist?

Well, I can talk about why I was excited about it. First of all, it being in the Marvel Universe just immediately opened up the doors to so many possibilities. First of all, Spider-Man interacting with the other people in that universe and also just to be able to explore a different side of the Marvel Universe. I was really excited about that because the other movies have shown what I described as the Penthouse level of the Marvel world, what it’s like to be Thor, Iron Man, you know, a billionaire playboy and all of that stuff.

But what’s great about Spider-Man is that he’s a regular kid and so by showing his story you also get to show what the ground level is like in a world where the Avengers exist, which is already I think a great premise for a movie. So that was very exciting, but also just Tom. By having Peter Parker be a kid that also opens up, I think, a lot of possibilities that are only really explored at the beginning of the other two versions of the films. In the Raimi one, he’s only in high school for like ten minutes, but I wanted to make a high school movie already, so the opportunity to do it with Spider-Man was pretty exciting.

At the beginning of the day, going through the art and learning the story one of the big messages that was being hammered to us was this is different than the previous five movies, avoiding things like rehashing Uncle Ben’s story and focusing on high school and even choosing different villains. Are there major supporting characters or villains that you think in the future need to be in sequels or the MCU?

Yeah, we have some ideas of who could fit in in an interesting way, but we’re just trying to build Spider-Man’s side of the world in a rich way that could organically lead to some of that great rogue’s gallery. Not Jackson Wheel, you guys know Jackson Wheel? He’s like one of the silliest of all villains. His name is Jackson Wheel, and he becomes Big Wheel, and he rides around in a giant wheel. There’s another guy named Gideon Mace. It’s hard to get, except digital copies, some years, there’s some real, real classic villains. Will-O’-The-Wisp. Gideon Mace, he has an arm that’s a mace that also shoots mace. You just imagine the writers just cracking up. “We’re late for our deadline, uh…Gideon Mace.” It’s so fun.

Spider-Man Homecoming Trailer Breakdown

The Vision For a New Spider-Man Reboot

In a world where superhero movies have stakes that tend to be really enormous, the stakes here seem much smaller, and some of the action scenes are comparatively smaller than they’ve been. How important was it for you to find that balance?

Another big part of my initial pitch was when you’re in high school everything seems like the most important thing and everything bad seems like the end of the world. So if you have a zit or a girl doesn’t like you or you, have to fight a super villain, those things when you’re fifteen are all at 11. So with that in mind, it was easy to find that grounded story that could lead you through it and also come up with a spectacle that makes for a good trailer and is compelling. It’s always starting with character, and we didn’t want to have it be any empty spectacle so it was finding moments that you would care about and feel invested in Peter and Peter’s journey and not having it just be an action sequence for action sequence’s sake.

The dichotomy is always Peter will escape something horrible that’s happening to him and then when the suit is too much for him he just wants to pack it away, which one do you think is closer in your movie? 

He’s right at the beginning where it’s still pretty new, and he’s trying to figure out “Which part of me is Peter and which part of me is Spider-Man and which part of me is both.” It’s a coming=of=age story, so it’s just trying to figure out who you are.

Given that there have been five previous films and you’re working in an established universe, what was your visual approach to making this distinct not only to the MCU but to a general audience that has seen five Spider-Man movies?

I have my director-ey things that I was trying to do, but that’s boring. I don’t know [Laughs] There’s an aesthetic that we’re trying to bring to it and trying to keep it feeling grounded where we’re not just having epic camera moves swooping over everyone. This is the camera coming down to the ground level and staying there for a while with Peter.

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