June 5, 2008

CU: Kevin Feige

Will Hulk SMASH Box-Office Records?

By Mel Cowan

Kevin Feige, with Robert Downey, Jr., on the set of  Iron Man
Kevin Feige, Production ’95, president of Marvel Studios, has been in the business of translating comic books to the silver screen for 10 years. But Marvel Studios has now given itself a dose of gamma radiation and is taking on the established big studios at their own game, producing their own films with characters from the Marvel universe.

With the resounding success of Iron Man, and the upcoming buzz on The Incredible Hulk, Feige and Marvel are making good on their commitment to provide the world with heroes. 

How did Iron Man’s success set Marvel up for the future? David Maisel, our chairman, had been working for four or five years on gathering finances for us to do our own films because of the success we’ve had. We have been building that reputation for many years. We have also been learning. Those eight years that I have spent making Marvel films in conjunction with our studio partners was a great learning curve. On X-Men, we (being myself, the producers, director, the screenwriter) felt that if you take the characters seriously and look to the original source material for the inspiration, while not looking for pure spectacle and cramming in as many characters as possible, then people will respond. Fox was only willing to go to a certain budget level for that first X-Men film, but our approach paid off. It was great, because just like we learned in 290, 310, or 480 classes, those limitations can also be your advantages. 

The Incredible Hulk, expressing a difference of opinion .
You are now the president and an executive, but you are on-set frequently. How do you balance overseeing everything? The benefit of Marvel is that we make only two films per year, unlike a major studio that makes 10 to 15 films per year. But those two films take up every ounce of breath and time that I have. When we’re not in production, that level is in the office or the development process. As soon as we open up a production office or an art department, we bounce over there.

Will there be a saturation point with superhero movies?
The answer is, I think, we’re there. Here’s the advantage we have: they’re all different. If they were all somebody who ran into a phone booth and put on a mask, hoping that their friends don’t find out, then yes, they would get redundant. But they are so different. Just because something is based on a comic book doesn’t mean it’s going to be repetitive or redundant to something else based on a comic book. Nobody ever asks “How much longer are people going to keep making movies from novels?”

Robert Downey, Jr. as Iron Man.
Marvel has always been at the forefront of the trends, which we certainly were with X-Men, with Spiderman, and now with Iron Man, in terms of what we’re doing with the Marvel studio features and the crossovers, etc. As long as the films stand on their own, and give the audience what they’re hoping for, we can up the ante with something different, with an amazing actor like Robert Downey, Jr. as Tony Stark, which was unexpected in a film like this. Thor is one of our upcoming films, which is a totally different canvas than what we’ve done before. The First Avenger: Captain America  is going to be a period action piece, which is unlike anything we’ve done before.

Talk about your experience in the SCA production program in the mid-’90s. That’s the experience that you spend much of your career trying to get back to, which is an environment in which it’s all about the films. It’s about creativity, it’s about experimenting—everyone is doing everything. You help everybody out on their 290s, from helping them with the lighting to helping them operate the camera to acting. I had, and still have, no desire to be in front of the camera, but if your friend calls you on Saturday afternoon and says, “Can you put on a clown suit and dance in front of the fountain?” you say, okay, and you do it. I have that footage. It really is about that communal, creative experience. Depending on what route you go, filmmaking starts being about the business end of it and very pragmatic. Over the past two years, working on two movies at the same time, Iron Man and The Incredible Hulk, it really is about “What is the best movie, what would be the most fun for an audience to watch?” and daring to take chances as we did when we chose to finance the films. A lot of that feeling, a lot of those sparks of creativity, go back to the time spent on the campus.

The Incredible Hulk hits theaters June 13. The School of Cinematic Arts will host a special screening of the film on June 12, followed by a Q&A with Feige and director Louis Leterrier. Click for details.