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Comic-book filmmaking heroes find ways to connect with fans during the pandemic

Screen shot of Taika Waititi and Mark Ruffalo during an Instagram Live watch party.
I see you, MCU heroes: Taika Waititi (top), Mark Ruffalo (below), Tessa Thompson and more than 12,000 fans took part in Waititi’s Instagram Live watch party for the Marvel Cinematic Universe hit “Thor: Ragnarok” on April 9. Other filmmakers have been connecting with fans via Twitter watch parties as well.
(Screen capture from Taika Waititi / Instagram Live)

One thing the current pandemic has proved about movies is that the thirst for their collective experience remains strong — an experience attainable only in a crowd —or, these days, with a virtual watch party. And now, directors and even the actors are joining in to discuss their films live with the audience.

Directors of Marvel Cinematic Universe films such as “Doctor Strange” and “Guardians of the Galaxy,” among others, have taken part in Quarantine Watch Parties on Twitter. And writer-director-actor Taika Waititi hosted an Instagram Live watch party with the help of his “Thor: Ragnarok” stars Tessa Thompson and Mark Ruffalo.

Waititi gamely answered a seemingly endless stream of questions from fans while he cooked a lamb dinner in his kitchen, his young daughter zipping around in the background. There was some movie dish but was more chummy hanging out with his actor friends. The fans ate it up, appreciative text from more than 12,300 participants flying by in the chat window.

Taika Waititi hosts a playful Instagram Live watch party for his “Thor: Ragnarok,” with a little help from his actor friends.

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But you don’t have to be an Oscar winner to foster a comic-movie-loving community.

Brandon Davis of ComicBook.com was stocking up on groceries in Nashville in anticipation of the lockdown when it struck him that people wouldn’t be seeing each other much for a while. Perhaps they’d appreciate connecting with one another through Twitter while watching a movie.

The #QuarantineWatchParty was born.

“I tweeted out, ‘If we did a marathon, would you guys want to do a watch party?’ People were like, ‘Absolutely!'” Davis, who has more than 58,000 followers on Twitter, put four comic-book movies to a vote. “‘Avengers’ won and #QuarantineWatchParty wound up trending in the United States with only an hour’s notice.”

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After that, he hosted a screening and tweet storm for “The Dark Knight” and realized he should get his ComicBook.com outlet behind it. Some studios got involved to promote their titles being pushed to early home release (“Birds of Prey,” “Bloodshot”), with directors Cathy Yan and David S.F. Wilson, respectively, participating and sharing behind-the-scenes dish; David Sandberg, director of “Shazam,” took part in his film’s party as well.

Since then, directors Scott Derrickson and James Gunn (of Marvel Cinematic Universe entries “Doctor Strange” and “Guardians of the Galaxy”) have been guests of honor for their films’ Quarantine Watch Parties. Derrickson shared deep-dive filmmaking nuggets such as, “The visual idea for the Hong Kong scene was to do something that had never been done before — have a fight occurring in forward time while the surrounding destruction runs in reverse time” and more.

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“I felt like it would be something really positive I could do for the people who follow me,” Derrickson told The Times. “There wasn’t anything particular I wanted to say — I didn’t prepare for it at all. I just started the movie and tweeted random thoughts as I watched.”

The platform-savvy Derrickson noted how fans were reacting to individual comments.

“The single most-liked tweet of my whole watch party was this one: ‘One of my primary goals for this movie was to use big-budget visual effects for something other than mass destruction. To use them for visual creation not destruction.’ I was really happily surprised that so many people appreciated that one.”

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For Davis, the “Guardians” party with Gunn participating was particularly rewarding, as that’s one of his favorite films — one he credits with making him sure he wanted to work in a field connected to the industry.

“As a massive #GotG fan whose life is tremendously influenced and impacted by this movie, tonight was very much a dream. Amazing. Thanks everyone,” Davis tweeted after.

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Davis had tried going through Gunn’s publicist to get him involved before the event but couldn’t secure a commitment. So he just “announced it and tagged [Gunn, who saw the tweet] and he was like, ‘When is it, how can I participate?’ You can see that exchange on Twitter. He just saw it and wanted to participate because he loves this stuff. He’s always been enthusiastic on Twitter.”

“He even answered one of my questions during the party; I always thought they filmed the outer-space sequences underwater. He said they did and it was a nightmare; they’d never do it again,” says Davis.

The writer-director also got his brother, Sean Gunn, who plays Ravager Kraglin and provides the motion-capture reference for Rocket Raccoon, to participate. Sean Gunn tweeted of the emotional moment in which Groot tells the Guardians why he is willing to sacrifice himself for them, “Still gets me every single time. Can’t lie.”

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After answering many fan questions and sharing behind-the-scenes tidbits, James Gunn tweeted, “Thank you all so much for your thanks & compliments tonight. This self-isolation stuff is difficult for me as it is for so many & connecting with you all tonight has been a blessing. You’re all wonderful. Much love to all of you. Until next time.”

The “Guardians” Quarantine Watch Party made Twitter’s “Worldwide Trends,” with more than 20,000 tweets — and that’s counting only the ones using the hashtag.

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The next two will feature the screenwriters of “Avengers: Infinity War” and “Avengers: Endgame” in a two-night event April 26 and 27. (Search #QuarantineWatchParty to join.) Davis also has a wishlist for future parties that includes Patty Jenkins for “Wonder Woman” and James Wan for “Aquaman.”

Davis did get a little help with one of the events. “When Regal Cinemas [which is not affiliated with the event], before our ‘Doctor Strange’ watch party, tweeted that video of the roller coaster that goes through the popcorn and the soda and said, ‘Your Quarantine Watch Party can begin now’ … I realized we really are reaching a lot of people and this really is recapturing that feeling of seeing movies with a lot of people the best we can. That, to me, was the coolest.”

Derrickson says of the highlight of his watch party experience, “For sure it was the enthusiasm from the people watching. It felt like a real joyous escape for a lot of people — and like a genuinely communal event. It was a privilege to be a part of it.”

Upcoming Twitter Quarantine Watch Parties:


April 26, 7 p.m. ET/4 p.m. PT: “Avengers: Infinity War” with writers Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely.

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April 27, 7 p.m. ET/4 p.m. PT: “Avengers: Endgame” with writers Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely and actress Emma Fuhrmann (Cassie Lang).

To participate, start playing your copy of the film at the appointed time and search Twitter for the hashtag #QuarantineWatchParty. Include the hashtag in your tweets. That’s it.


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