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INT: Sam Raimi

It’s hard to resist comparing Sam Raimi’s story to that of Peter Parker. Like Parker, Sam was just regular guy working in relative anonymity, largely underappreciated by the people around him, until one event catapulted him into the limelight. Once pigeonholed as a “genre” filmmaker, Raimi quietly churned out classics like EVIL DEAD and ARMY OF DARKNESS before taking on SPIDER-MAN and making the most successful comic book film ever, both financially and critically. Just like any superhero, Raimi now has an enormous responsibility: he’s got the weight of the Spider-Man franchise, the crown jewel of both Marvel and Sony, on his shoulders.

You wouldn’t know it by looking at him, however. He still has the look of a guy having the time of his life, living a fanboy’s dream. And he’s still just as friendly and unpretentious as he’s always been. Dressed in his trademark suit and tie, he stopped by the Culver Studios in L.A. last week to talk about making SPIDER-MAN 2.

 

SAM RAIMI

What were the challenges of making a sequel to such a successful first film?

Well, it was in trying to figure out what the audience wanted to see in part two because I really wanted to please the audience that the story could've taken in the second Spider-Man. So I tried to think about what they must've been attracted to in the first one. I think that they came up with the answer in that they were probably most attracted to the characters and the stories of Mary Jane Watson and Peter Parker. And that's versus the bigger extravaganza type of effects or visuals or making it louder or bigger. So I tried to concentrate the story and the writers on focusing on the relationships between Tobey Maguire's character and Kirsten Dunst's character and James Franco's character. And Peter's relationship with his aunt. These are the things that I thought the audience would be interested in most. So that's what I pursued. But the biggest challenge was trying to figure out would want to see. Not  what they would expect to see necessarily, but what they were really connecting to.

You’re often referred to as the director who got the comic book movie right.  What did you do differently from others before you who failed?

I don't know. Thanks for that lovely compliment though. I was just trying to concentrate on the things that I loved about Stan Lee's great creation Spider-Man. I've been given so much help along with the writers being given help. All of the Marvel comic book writers who've gone before, they'd been writing Spider-Man for forty years now. So in making this movie, we can stand on the shoulders of these giants, and have these great stories and  visuals all at our disposal to pull upon. So I think the advantage that I had maybe over some other motion picture filmmakers is that I had this great wealth of material, great stories, great writers, great characters that I had at my disposal. And I already loved the stories. They already worked. So it was easy. Well, not easy, but it was a great help to have this material to build the movie from.

Did you feel that you were given more freedom this time around?

I had a tremendous amount of freedom, a little bit unearned, on the first movie. But I didn't want to say anything. When I got the job, I really thought that the studio clamps were going to come down, “Oh, you have to make it like this. You have to make it work like this.” But they really let me have anything that I wanted which was really surprising and fantastic. So I just kept my mouth shut and enjoyed myself trying to make the best picture that I could. Yes, I even had more freedom on this picture if that's possible; to construct the story, to create any visuals that I wanted, to really do anything that I wanted.

There’s a little joke in the film about Peter Parker’s back being sore. Was this a wink to the controversy surrounding Tobey’s back problems?

Yes, there's a joke in the picture where Tobey is trying to get his powers back. And he jumps to his aunt and says, “I'm back. I'm back.” But he doesn't really have his powers completely back and he falls, hurts his back and says, “My back, my back.” Yes. What happened was that my brother wrote that gag, and then after writing it we said, “Oh my God, maybe we shouldn't do that because of the problems with Tobey's back.” Then we said, “No. It'd be really funny if we did do that. It'd be fun for the people who did know that problem.” Because it was thought of independently, it might be funny for the people who don't know about it. I hope that it's fun. It's the funniest thing, the publicist said to me, and that's supposed to be a joke, that moment. And so the publicist said, “Don't worry, when we were in the audience last night and when that thing with Tobey's back happened and he hit the car, no one said a word.” [Laughs] I said, “Oh, that's great.”

Will the third film be the last chapter of Spider-Man that you direct?

I can't imagine that I'd have the strength to direct another one after the third one.

Did you know that there was going to be a third film while you were making the second?  Were you concerned at all about potential problems of this being connected to a trilogy?

No. I wasn't concerned about that. I did know that there was going to be a third movie when I was making the second movie. Like in the first movie, I was trying to put things in there that would have a pending outcome like a serial, like a comic book so that you'd have to keep turning the pages and wanting to read the next issue. That quality of ending a comic book and needing to see that damn next issue. That's what I was trying to get in this picture. I wanted the audience to have that feeling. So I definitely knew that there was a third one and I was trying to create an anticipation and desire for it. I really like that feeling when I read a comic book.

To be continued, that's where it comes from when you used to see that. But I wasn't worried about it being some connecting piece because I was always interested in telling this unique story about Peter Parker, a beginning, middle and end story of this character, the journey towards responsibility and a story about a life out of balance. How that starts one sided, how he tries to find the other lopsided way of life and how by the end of the piece he might find a balance. A way of going down this road that he thinks is a miserable and lonely road. Yes, he does have to take this journey down this road to responsibility, but he learns by the end that he doesn't have to take it alone.

So I felt that I had a very complete story and a place where the character had come to some great understanding of life even though he's just a kid and there's so much more to learn. I felt that he had learned something and something that gave him an end to his  suffering at least for now, a certain amount of his suffering. So I thought that it complete. Then as a secondary idea, I put in elements that needed the audience to see the continuing story.

Can you talk about your experience working with Alfred Molina?

He's really a wonderful person, Alfred Molina. I'm so lucky to have had him in the role of Dr. Octavius. I was looking for someone who could perform the part. My wife said, “You've got to look at this guy, he's in Frida,” and so I watched the movie. It was a brilliant movie and he was outrageously good in it, so good. I only realized later that I had seen him in many other pictures, but he's such a chameleon that I didn't know it at the time. When I met him, I expected him to have a Spanish accent. I  was completely bowled over when I found out that he was a Brit. So it was very weird. He's very funny. Why he was chosen was because we needed a really solid actor. Someone who could stand across from Tobey Maguire and Kirsten Dunst and be as top caliber as I consider them to be.

Also, someone who could create a real person, who had the ability to project real warmth so that Peter could connect with him as a human being so that we could connect with him as someone  who was worthy of following. He was someone who became tragic because of what they had lost as a human being and someone who could become noble at the end by finding it again. So be able to do that, I think that someone has to have a good soul. They have to be a good actor and have a good soul. I think that the audience can see right through someone who is trying to do that, but doesn't,  I think. I think that the audience collectively is super smart as far as  issues of human character go. They can see right through a lot of things like that.

So really felt that he was a solidly good person. I thought that he was a  great actor from all the movies. And he had to have a physical element to him because this characters in the comics was always illustrated as a large man. Then after working with Neil Spisak the production designer, James Acheson the costume designer, and John Dykstra our visual effects designer, I realized that I needed a large man to put these arms on. Otherwise, they may dwarf a small man. It had to have a visual symmetry. It had to work as a visual, I mean. So he was a larger man, a great actor, seemed to be a good person, had a good sense of  humor and my wife said so.

How worried were you that Tobey wouldn’t be able to return because of his back injury?

I was so worried about Tobey's back that I didn't think we could make the with him. I thought that his back was in such a state I was told by someone, I don't know who, some manager or agent or representative, but I was told that his back was in such a state that if it got injured anymore, it could maybe lead to paralysis. So at that moment, I said to myself, “I can't be irresponsible. I can't make a movie about responsibility and then grab this kid and make him do stunts where he's going to be paralyzed. And I can't compromise the movie either.” This whole movie that I'd been working with the writers on was all about Peter Parker. He's got to be on wires. He's got to be jerked up into the air super fast. He's got to tackle people. He's got to jump. He's got to take falls. He's got to run. There's just a tremendous amount of  physical stunts that Tobey would have to do.

So I couldn't ask him to do something that would endanger him. Nor did I want to be in a position where I kept shorting the movie where I was afraid to ask him to do it because I have a great responsibility towards the picture. So at that point, I guess that I realized we'd have to recast the role. As much as I love Tobey, and as much as I had to fight for him on the first film, I didn't think that it was any longer feasible, period, to work with him. So that's really what it was. The doctors came to us and said, “Look, he is okay. Yes. He can bend his back more. It's more about pain. He won't be paralyzed.” I like causing actors pain. So if it wasn't about the paralysis, that became a whole different issue. So at that point,  I thought that Tobey was responsible enough to take the choice onto himself, and I felt okay with that. If it's just cause going to cause back pain and not paralysis, he could have the part.

What can we expect to see on the DVD?

There's not a lot that didn't make it in the final cut just like the last time. Pretty much what we had planned ended up in the picture. Now, (we said) “There's ten seconds here that was a nice moment, lets trim that up to keep the pace going. This is interesting, but it turns out that that information in this particular scene is clear. We thought that maybe it wouldn't be clear, but we had this line here. It turns out the visual which we weren't thinking  about when we made the script made it clear. So it seems redundant. Lets cut this out.”  That's pretty much the type of things that were cut out.

Is there a J.K. Simmons scene that was cut out?

You know what, yes. There's a JK scene. I don't want to tell you. It's a surprise.

Will that be on the DVD?

I think that Sony is planning to put it on the DVD later. I think that they're thinking is that they might do a 2.5 version. I think that they're thinking is that once the dad has spent the money to take the family to the movies, and then once the dad has bought the kid the DVD, they can still smell a few more bucks from the dad's pocket. The kid will say, “Hey dad, I've got to buy the new one.”  “Didn't I take you to the movie and buy you the DVD already?” “Yeah, but there's a new five minutes on this one.” I think that's that they're planning.

At some point, would you like to get back to your roots and make films like you did before the Spider-Man films?

Well, my interests have changed. When I started to break into the business twenty four years ago or twenty five years ago and I was shooting that movie in '79, I was trying to make the picture as visually interesting as possible. Since I knew that I didn't have a good story and I didn't have movie stars and it was only sixteen millimeter, it was going to be really grainy, I was just trying to make it interesting and exciting for the audience in some way through sound design and lighting design. That's the great thing about a supernatural horror film.

If you're breaking into the business, you can really experiment with those elements because your job is to create an unseen world, a world that doesn't exist. So for a young filmmaker, it's a great learning ground, a great world to explore your craft. That's what interested me the most really, exploring the craft of film. But as I grew older and I matured and became a married man and had children, my interests lays in stories more and characters and people and life itself. I'm still fascinated by the technical aspects of film. But now only as a device to tell these stories. That's it, I guess.

When you started making the second film, did you look at the first to see how you could improve upon it?

I didn't really look at the first film like that. I was just so interested in what would become of Peter. I was looking forward more. I wondered if he could really live without Mary Jane Watson. I wondered if I could. I wondered what would happen to him after two years of being Spider-Man. And what poor Harry must be thinking. But I didn't really look back and say, “How can this be better?” I did in some respect as far as personal like when we were organizing the offices. I said, “Hey, lets get an office where we don't hear that stereo coming through the wall like last time.” There was some horrible noise coming through the wall, I remember. “That was really a good actress, lets use her again.” That's more how I looked back.

Working this those people, this movie was so about everyone making the movie. It's really, unlike a small movie, the success or failure of a big picture really depends on the team that makes it. I mean from the production designer to the costumer to the visual effects designer to the editor to the sound designer, the mixers.  These guys are generals that really make the movie in the trenches. And they surround themselves with really fine artists and craftsmen. That's really how these pictures are made and it's so big. It's such a humongous task that really no individual could make a movie this big. It finally boils down to how good of a team you have to make a picture like this.

Questions? Comments? Manifestos? Send them to me at [email protected]

Source: JoBlo.com

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