I’m always kind of in awe when I get to see people working at the absolute heights of their powers and abilities…especially when you truly get to witness that next level.
On the off chance you’ve LITERALLY been living under a rock, Avengers: EndGame is now in theatres everywhere and it just may go down as the cinematic event for an entire generation with the scads of money (along with the glowing reviews, including ours right here) that it keeps raking in…but how do they do it?
Right before the opening we got the unique pleasure to sit down with one of the minds behind it all; Victoria Alonso. She’s an Executive VP at Marvel Studios and one of the key creative and production minds behind almost all of the Marvel Cinematic Universe as she’s worked on 21 of the now 22 films in the canon.
We talked about working on such a complex puzzle that these films represent, how they measure success internally and looking for the secret sauce that makes all these amazing pieces of cinema work as well as they do.
Dave Voigt: I’d say ‘congratulations’ but it doesn’t feel like a big enough word. This 22 movie adventure we’ve on been is really something historic that hasn’t been seen in cinema or any kind of pop culture annals. Can you walk me through the initial idea of getting the ‘Marvel Cinematic Universe’ ball rolling?
Victoria Alonzo: Well that ‘initial moment’ is never really like that because this is such a complex puzzle. It really is just a constant chipping at it; we have a stone and we know what we want it to look like but we just keeping chipping away at it and then the stone cracks in a different way then we expect so we have to adjust midstream. For us filmmaking is NOT set in stone and I really feel like that it is this aspect that has really given us a chance to always flow into something better. We’ve always been very fluid and not bound by limitations, so if there’s a tornado on location, or an actor isn’t available or even if we just don’t have the money; because even on these films with massive budgets there’s plenty of times we just don’t have the money to do something we want. Limitation is truly the mother of all creation so we just chip; chip away any time we do these.
The idea is always pretty solid, we know we have to get the story from point A, to point B and point C and so on but somewhere along the way the idea you might have that you think is just absolutely brilliant, just has no way of playing out. That has happened MANY times to us over the years and you know what? The one thing I would say about us at Marvel as a team is that we don’t get stuck and we’re honest and we listen, and then we go and find whatever the best idea might be.
Is that how you keep such a high standard of filmmaking for all these movies? Because while there are obviously going to be peaks and valleys, the quality of the work has always been very high and any sort of expectations usually get cleared pretty easily.
The way we see it and the way we always approach it is that this is going to be out last movie together. Kevin (Feige), Lou (D’Esposito) always look at each other on each one and go “Maybe this one is the end of the ride?” We felt that way when we did Iron Man, because we just had no idea if they’d let us do another one and that has just never changed. We try and take a very indie approach to making this humongous films. We keep the mentality that we are working on an independent film, each and every time.
As producers, when we’re on location, we have one trailer for all of us…ALL OF US. We eat together, we’re living this together and that’s just how we are. It’ll never change. I mean we always order pizza for every friend and family that we do, it’s just who we are. It’s like because we have all this success we’re going to act differently, it’s just not who we are.
That’s just fantastic… (Pauses) Do you think that’s why this has all worked as well as it has? And I mean, every director that has been brought in to work on these films, has never worked on this scale before. Going from an indie-level budget or even something mid-range to one of these films with just a nine figure budget on it is just a different beast entirely.
Most people, who do come to work with us, have never worked on this scale before and you’re right it IS a completely different beast entirely. These movies from the outside looking in are just GINORMOUS (Editor’s note: GREAT word). The amount of people working on these films is really the equivalent to a small town. Most indie directors do need a minute when they come in to just go “Wow” and let it all soak in.
Ultimately though I really think we’ve been successful so far because we’ve never once drank the Kool-Aid of our own success and let it go to our heads, and I mean I know it sounds like I’m giving you lip service but we truly believe with all our hearts that anytime we go into a production we treat it like it could be the very last. I mean I am having anxiety over the opening weekend because the bar has been set so damn high that if we don’t open to $270 Million domestically…then we’re a failure; at least in the eyes of the press because it’s always expected of us that we have to top the opening of the last film. That’s just the way the movie system is, sometimes opening at $100 million is the absolute biggest success of all time, but we’re judged on a different scale. However, we have always believed in the work, we love every minute of what we do and we hope that the world loves it too.
That leads into my next question, because obviously as a producer you have to worry about the money, and the opening and those sort of things but I’m curious on how you measure success from a creative side of things? Was there a moment or a benchmark that you’ve hit on each film or even in general where you’ve been able to say that this is all working?
I think it comes down to the fans, who are obviously very quick to tell you when something is or isn’t working and we’re always listening as well. If they say something, we feel it so it lands in a very real way. I’d say for us, at least from a pop culture standpoint when “Wakanda Forever” became a NATIONAL saying. When people from around the world we’re walking into universities doing the “Wakanda Forever” gesture and it was spreading everywhere we knew that we had found something. It was really the right place and the right time. Also when we could see young girls with tears in their eyes saying “That’s Me!” getting up every time I fall down just like Captain Marvel. It’s those moments that really resonate with us and I am certain that there have been many many movies in the past that have touched people, but because this audience is just so global and so large yet so similar because as human beings we all want many of the same things and because this all comes in the package of a superhero it allows us to open our hearts and understand the point that is being delivered in so many of these stories.
That’s what really struck me about Avengers: Endgame and I think it all comes back to the opening scene of the movie which is just so quiet and dramatic and not done in the kind of cinematic flourishes and grandeur that we expect…it just happens. It’s moments like that which allows us to see these characters as flawed real people that we can actually relate to…
It kind of feels like you want to ask me what the secret sauce for the whole formula is right now…
(Laughs) I DO…but at the same time I almost don’t want you to tell me!
But I’ll tell you, the secret sauce of it all really just comes down to the level of honesty that goes into every frame of every film is beyond any level of honesty that you can feel on any level of Hollywood filmmaking. It works because for us, the ego takes centre stage elsewhere and not in our world. For the franchise certainly it does, but for every not for any director, producer, actor…ANYBODY. The franchise is always the BOSS and everything else has to step away from the table. To the franchise we bow, the franchise we work, to the franchise we honour…and that really is the secret sauce.
(Long Pause)…I’m speechless…that’s just amazing…
And when you see this movie (Avengers: Endgame) that’s really our love letter. Certainly not to us, we’re always making a love letter to the character. To the love that we truly and deeply feel for them.
You’re right, because as “GINORMOUS” as these things are, at the end of the day these are all really passionate character driven pieces which is why they are as beloved as they are. Thank you so much for the time today, I really appreciate it.
Thank you…and please no spoilers.
Avengers: EndGame is in theatres everywhere now.