Today at the monthly LA Comic Book and Science Fiction Convention there was a panel with head of Marvel Avi Arad, producer Laura Ziskin, and favorite director Sam Raimi! The following is an abbreviated transcript of the Q&A session taken from a crummy recording. Most quotes from the panel guests are exact but some of the sound was garbled (Laura Ziskin's voice especially did not record well) but all modifications were kept to a minimum for your reading pleasure. (^_^)
Below the transcribed Q&A you will a brief story about meeting Sam...
Sam Raimi: We'd like to say thank you for having us, we're thrilled to be here with the fans of Spider-Man and we're greatly honored to get such a warm welcome! Thank you very much.
In the film Peter Parker gets bitten by a spider, normal people when they get stung by something they go to the doctor or something. I'd like to know, how is it that the guy doesn't go get treatment?
Sam Raimi: It's a very good question and I know that Avi's got a great answer.
Avi: Okay Sam...[answers: 'it's a movie!' basically.]
Actually, I have a wonderful anecdote about Sam and when he premiered Evil Dead over twenty years ago in New York, absolutely wonderful. Firstly I just want to tell you I'm a big admirer or yours and I'm doing a little martial arts movie [blatant movie/website plug] and we're trying to get Kirsten Dunst to play our bad girl...The anecdote is over twenty years ago at the theater in New York they premiered Evil Dead and I was an assistant manager in that theater working. I enjoyed the movie so much. I was sitting in the theater having the best time, but I had to get back to the office and I was afraid. So, I finally got out regrettably and headed out the door where I crossed Sam Raimi nervously all by himself, smoking a cigarette and he looks at me coming out and he says "No! Go back in! It's getting better! It's getting better!"
*S:Well, that movie...thanks for that story. When Evil Dead opened, like, nobody saw that movie. There was nobody in the theater and then I remembered after that business fell off a little bit.
S: :pause: I say, after that uh, business fell off a little bit. Let's try that again.
*S: Yeah, that was our first picture, called Evil Dead. And it had some kinda crude directing in there, crude story. I remember some performances in there were so bad we had to, uh, keep the soundtrack and dub in the acting! I say, uh...Is this thing on?! But thank you for those kind words and that story and thanks for mentioning that I smoke to everybody!
I've actually got a message, I was wondering...
S: Is this about that money I owe? :starts to stand to leave:
[continued] No! There's going to be an event in New York City, May 10 &11. John Ramita Jr. Is going to be doing the event to draw the most consecutive Spider-Man sketches in the world at Planet Hollywood. And he was wondering if you could help out somehow?
S: You know what, if that's a charity event I will be there, absolutely! You bet.
So many directors tried to get Spider-Man made and failed, what was it that Marvel found so special about you? What did they see in you that made them think you were the right director?
S: Well, this is Arvi and he's the president of Marvel and I've been afraid to ask him the question 'why'd they ask me'? So I'll leave it to him.
A: Well, I thought he was okay. I mean, we could have had a bigger weekend...but to be serious about it, I think what Sam brought to us was confidence, someone who loves Spider-Man and Peter Parker. Someone who felt a responsibility to the amazing product that Stan Lee started and a great responsibility to continue on the big screen to capture the essence of what the books have been for forty years.
S: Good looks and humility...?
A: Yeaaaah! But seriously, Sam loves Spider-Man and it shows in the movie. And we think, Laura and I that there's a little Peter Parker in him and it shows.
*Laura: And we knew he could get Ted Raimi in the picture!
Can you talk about the second movie?
[continued] So it's under wraps?
S: :acts as if he's got tape over his mouth as he speaks:
Hi, I just wanted to say is that I really enjoyed the movie. The biggest problem I had with it was finding a theater that wasn't sold out! I was wondering if you could talk about some of the influences you had in making the movie, you made some references to Superman was that something that influenced you on this?
S: Yes, um. I think the biggest influence was the forty years of great Stan Lee and Steve Ditko and all those great Marvel artists and writers that have written the books. That really was 90% of what we tried to put on the screen. David Koepp the writer, contributed a great deal. So did Alan Sergeant who did a great polish for us. Everybody from the story board artists to the actors all came up with material. Everything that even Avi or Laura came up with was all about trying to bring to life the vision of the Marvel comics. So I think the biggest influence was just those books, those same books we all grew up reading.
I understand the three of you didn't have complete control over this, but what caused you to put Mary Jane Watson into being the love interest of Peter Parker as opposed to Gwen Stacy who actually has a much more direct connection to the Green Goblin in the comics and in particular the final battle between Spider-Man and the Green Goblin.
A: I think the major reason is that MJ is more an ongoing character in Peter Parker's life. And some of us think she has a more interesting back story. Peter Parker actually ends up loving her longer than Gwen.
[continued] Laura, do you have anything to add to that?
L: Just for dramatic reasons and storytelling and Sam and I talked about it a lot. It's really a story where every character in the movie is wearing a mask. The obvious masks of Peter Parker and Norman Osborne whereas MJ wears a mask in a thematic sense.
[continued] What about the strong silent one?
S: Is he here?
S: Um, well I think I agree with these two. I said to Avi, I remember, "You know, I really wanna do the Gwen Stacy/Goblin story" which is a no-brainer for any Spider-Man fan, but Avi said "You know, the strongest thing about Gwen is when she dies -- the effect that it had on Spider-Man. Go back," he said "and read the issues with Gwen and see what kind of character she was." So I did that and I realized it was her death that was so powerful, not necessarily the interaction when she was alive with Peter that had a lot of meaning to me. So we knew that the bulk of the movie would be about the living interaction of this character so we restudied Mary Jane Watson's character and realized even though she didn't exist the same time as the Goblin exactly -- well, she did actually, she was in those comic books -- she wasn't the central love interest to Peter Parker at that time... We felt that she was the more interesting character. And, because we really wanted to concentrate on the dramatics between the characters, she was one character who could interact with both Peter and Peter's best friend and there was a great deal of possibilities for dramatic tension and situations there, you know Harry and Peter both loved MJ. We thought it would be a much richer story to bring her into the equation versus Gwen who, as I said, is more powerful in her absence than in her life and couldn't interact truthfully with Harry, it wouldn't be true to the comics.
Why the organic webshooters?
S: The main reason was, it was an idea that James Cameron came up with in the treatment. It really is just a subtle riff on Stan Lee's original concept anyway as to whether he shoots webbing mechanically or organically. Finally, in a nutshell, the strength of the movie was always going to be for us as it was in Stan Lee's comic that Peter Parker is one of us. It's what made Spider-Man a unique story, and unique super hero -- he's a kid like us and we soar with him when he becomes this hero. We decided to do everything that we could to keep that concept alive and real and potent to the audience, we wanted him to be someone we really identified with. So that when it came time to talk about the story aspect where he could create the webshooters and have the technological ability to create such a mechanical device in his little Queens bedroom and have the ability of a chemical engineer to the degree that he could create this incredible substance that doesn't really even exist in our world -- we felt, that Cameron's idea was better for the movie. I'm not saying for the comics, I love Stan Lee's idea for the comics, but for the movie to make him a real person and stick with that theme and be true to it throughout the course of the picture we felt that was a change we had to make.
Congratulations on you breaking Harry Potter's record this weekend!
S: Thank you! It's really just a testament to all the fans who have collected Spider-Man for forty years.
Was there a struggle between what Sony wanted and what you all wanted to stay true to the Marvel comics?
L: [explains that it was a very positive experience with Sony, although there were struggles as there are on every movie, they were very supportive]
A: As Laura says it's always difficult, there's always pushing and pulling but there was never, nothing, about material. They always understood that this was something very special.
Can you tell us if Bruce is going to appear in the sequels? And whose idea was it to put the old theme at the end of the movie?
S: Well, Bruce Campbell is great. He is excellent. I haven't even talked to my partners about putting him in the sequels. We all seem to enjoy his performance if we can find a good part for him then he'll be in it. I think it was just obvious to all of us that ... We all loved that Spider-Man theme from the sixties animated show so I think it was a no-brainer to put that in.
L: I'm glad you stayed to hear it!
I have 28, slow, long, detailed questions...
[continued] Did you feel like Willem Defoe's performance was lessened because he was behind a mask?
S: Yeah, definitely whenever someone wears a mask you don't see 'em anymore, and Willem is such an expressive actor we definitely lost a lot, but to be true to the mythos of the comic books the Goblin had to wear his mask, and Spider-Man had to wear his.
For the DVD do you plan on having a lot of extras?
S: Do you know Laura?
L: Do you?
S: Not all of it.
L: There'll be some scenes...there are not too many full scenes that were shot for the movie that did not end up in the movie. Maybe one or two. I know there's behind the scenes material planned.
Was there anything you wanted to put in the movie that the studio just wouldn't let you?
S: No, like Avi said, we were incredibly in sync with the studio -- Laura, myself and Avi. My biggest concern was "Can I do it?" You know, self-doubt. Then below that, "I hope they don't make the changes, the studios usually make filmmakers make (producers and directors)" because this material was so important to so many millions of people I didn't know if they knew how important this was and as Avi said, they really did, and I guess that's why they bought it and were such great partners. There was nothing that they made me take out. Perhaps some things I should have taken out that they wanted me to, but nothing they made me take out they were very supportive.
After the Q&A there was an autograph session with Sam Raimi. Sam could only stay an hour and there were probably 400 people hoping to get something signed. Luckily, we got in line early for reserved seating and were pretty confident we'd get our turn before he had to take off. Only when we noticed the line wasn't moving at all, and people were getting multiple things autographed (a good many of them intended for Ebaying, no doubt), and telling Sam their life story (or more likely saying something along the lines of "So, about Evil Dead 4, I heard...") I got kind of nervous. Mostly I would be disappointed that my little sister Danae wouldn't get to meet Sam. She'd suffered through an 8 hour day at a convention just to shake hands and get him to sign a Spider-Man drawing she'd done. Luckily the organizers of the convention tightened things up a bit and before long we were right in front of Sam Raimi! ...well, not exactly. They set it up so that Sam stayed on stage behind the panel table as the fans were hearded through in front of the stage just beneath him. So when my ten-year-old, 4'6" tall sister handed up the drawing Sam couldn't even see her. "Who drew this?" he asked somewhat hesitantly I think, as he glanced back and forth between me and another adult EDhead just in front of Danae. I pointed down and he got up to lean over the table to see her. "This is great! Listen, I'm a movie director and in my opinion this is a beautiful piece of artwork! Do you want me to sign this?" She said thanks and I pointed out that she left a little clear space for him to sign (a box with a line that said "Sam's Signature"). He signed it happily and said "Thanks so much for sharing that with me!" It totally made her day. And I got a pretty cute picture out of the deal.