I sat down last week and chatted with Matt Tolmach and Avi Arad, two of the producers on The Amazing Spider-Man 2. Arad has been with the character for many years now, while Tolmach has been the shepherding hand behind these two Amazing movies.
Here's a transcript of the non-spoilery portions of our chat. We'll come back for the rest later once you've had a chance to see the film.
BC: Who do we have to send the bottle to? Whose idea was it to cast Andrew Garfield?
MT: Marc Webb.
And can you remember that moment?
MT: 100%. At the time I was a studio executive.
AA: We had five or six people come into the room for testing and then there was a rigorous process. We had a couple of scenes that were not from the movie. But Andrew was selected by the girls. They told us that he's the best kisser.
AA: It sounds comical, but we asked the girls "Who was the best kisser?" and Andrew won. There was a very specific scene we tried and he was just so strong in it.
MT: Marc really felt strongly about it. The most important thing for a director, especially on a movie like this, is that they find their 'muse.' For Spider-Man that's your Peter Parker, and Marc felt it very strongly. There were some really good actors but with Andrew it was one of those things where when you saw it, you felt it.
That's what it's like for us.
MT: We're the same too. You see him and it's like "Oh, right, that's Peter Parker."
Peter Parker has a hard life but he's also a wish fulfilment figure.
MT: I think that's why. If you didn't feel that life is hard for him too I don't know… to me, wish fulfilment happens when I can identify with the character. If somebody just has a perfect life and they've never struggled, everything handed to them on a silver spoon, there's no wish fulfilment. It's like a fantasy. This is opposed to Peter Parker who, you feel so much of yourself in him that when he does something extraordinary, when he overcomes tragedy and adversity, you feel the triumph with him. It's only because you're latched into him.
So you start with a big fat brick of a script, some of that doesn't make its way to the shoot and some of it doesn't make it through the edit…
MT: It's always interesting, thinking back on some of the things you were thinking of early on. There's two filters that the script goes through. One is "What's the right story?" You begin from a place of pie in the sky and you talk about a million different ideas, and when you read the draft it becomes very clear which bits distract you and you can start to hone in. And then the other filter is budget. Talking as producers, you can only do so much. At a certain point, the studio says you have X number of dollars and X number of days to make this movie. You can't jam this script, this brick, into that bucket. Necessity forces you to begin pulling away things that are not essential. Eventually you arrive at a shooting script that adheres to a shooting schedule that's viable.
AA: You end up concentrating on the most important part of the story. Budgeting helps you. You cannot just go all over the place. In our case it's a little easier because the focus must always be on Peter Parker. As long as every piece of this puzzle brings together into something about Peter's life, then we know it's money well spent.
MT: And then there's part two which is editing. While you're making the movie the editor is doing their assemblage and then you'll sit down and look at that first cut of the movie which is three hours long and you know right away "That's not happening." Thirty minutes can be taken away with the director and the editor just working on pacing, then there are things that worked brilliantly while you were shooting but suddenly you don't know if you need them. The movie takes on another life of it's own, nothing to do with what made sense in the script, and it's about performance, and pacing and tone. You're kind of reinventing the movie through each iteration.
We show the movie to test audiences and they tell us what they like and don't like. You end up with a movie that's the essence of what you started with in the script but there's a lot of things that are different.
Does Marc get power of veto, though? Does he have final cut?
MT: He does not literally, legally have final cut. The studio doesn't give final cut on movies like this. Final cut is a hard thing to come by in Hollywood as an actual, legal right.
AA: You don't need final cut, you need the director to feel he has a team who is supportive of him, who loves the script – you won't be shooting until everybody loves the script.
Making huge movies is not easy. It's a miracle that the heart of The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is so intimate and tender when you consider the epic-scale logistics that were necessary to bring the film to life, and the hugely collaborative process that flesh the story out.
The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is playing in UK cinemas now and will open across the US on May 4th.