"Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse" has been sweeping the awards circuit (collecting the Annie, PGA, Golden Globe and Critics' Choice prizes, among others) and is now the first Marvel property to be Oscar nominated for animated feature. Producers Phil Lord and Chris Miller, and co-directors Peter Ramsey, Bob Perischetti and Rodney Rothman, joined The Times' Jeffrey Fleishman at the Montalban in Hollywood last week for an Envelope Live screening and Q&A.
Sony asked the team of Miller and Lord, known for their absurd, meta, pop-culture-infused movies, to take the reins of the multi-billion-dollar Spider-Man franchise and shepherd the first Sony/Marvel animated film.
"We said we'd do it if it could be about Miles" Morales, said Lord of the alternate-universe version of the ultra-popular hero. Afro-Latino Miles is younger than the traditional Spider-Man, Peter Parker — Morales is a middle schooler in the film — and debuted in comics in 2011. Lord said, "We wanted to make a movie that made people feel powerful and important and necessary."
Producers Phil Lord and Chris Miller reveal the films that influenced them the most and had an impact on how they produced this movie.
In moving the Spider-Man franchise forward with Miles' story, a wide-open plot introducing the Marvel multiverse and a free-for-all animation style, Lord said they were influenced by a wide range of movies, including 1978's "Superman" and Robert Altman's "Popeye" from 1980: "Popeye actually turns into a circle; they made a Robin Williams that was a circle and they pushed him down a hill … and these heartbreaking songs, and the most naturalistic performances you could have. This Robert Altman shooting style in a super-heightened reality."
"I was going to say Coen brothers stuff …" Chris Miller interjected.
"That's a much better answer," Lord said, which brought about laughter.
"Their stuff is always really unexpected but always based in something real, relationships, real observations, just cranked to a crazy degree," Miller explained.
MORE LIKE COMIC BOOK
Director Peter Ramsey discusses how making an animated movie allowed them the freedom to create a style that closely resembled the comic books.
"For us, using the medium of animation — it's a drawn medium … it doesn't have to be photo realistic, it doesn't have to be literal cinematography; there's all these things that bring it really close to comic books," he said. "Rather than it being a gimmick or a stylistic thing, how can we take what comic books give us to make this story land that much harder and more personally with audiences?"
Co-director Peter Ramsey said one of the film's challenges was to make a Spider-Man movie unlike what audiences had seen before.
In the film, Miles meets Spider-people from different parts of the Marvel multiverse. There are versions of Peter Parker, including a depressed, doughy, 40-something Peter B. Parker; a couple of extremely different teen girls who were bitten by radioactive spiders; a black-and-white "noir" version; and even a cartoon pig. Co-director Bob Perischetti said these Spider-mentors had "different life experiences and represented a wide swath of culture and race and sex …"
"And species," added Ramsey, to much laughter.
Perischetti continued, "But really, it was just about trying to show that, through that diversity, all these people had something in common and they could all put an imprint on Miles and help him figure out who his best version of him was."
Director Bob Persichetti and producer Phil Lord talk about the importance of the supporting characters around Miles and how audiences respond to him "finding his tribe."
The film features an innovative mix of animation styles, humor, action and memorable character design. Co-director Rothman (also a co-writer, with Lord) said the film was shaped by the realism of the vocal performances — including the silences therein.
"We were working with these performers, a bunch of whom had never done animation/voice performances before, and were really doing, almost like, Method style, very internal performances," he said, citing Mahershala Ali as Miles' beloved uncle. In the takes they selected as strongest, "often things were being left unsaid, or we were including silences and stuff. And then we started to see what the animators were sending back, and what they were doing with the things that weren't being said, or what they were doing in the moments when people were saying nothing … It changed how we were writing the movie."
RELATE TO CHARACTERS
When asked with which of the Spider-people they identified, several of the filmmakers mentioned their young outsider protagonist, Miles. Not all did.
"I mean, obviously, Peter B. Parker, as a 40-something, out-of-shape guy," said Miller, citing the Spider-schlub voiced by Jake Johnson. "We can be heroes too, you guys." He paused as the audience laughed, then added, "But really, in the darkness of my bedroom, it's Peter Porker."
Rothman said, "I feel like everyone on this stage thinks that they're Miles, but really, they're Peter B. Parker."
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