Producing 'Daredevil.' Avi Arad and Gary Foster discuss the movie

Tue, February 11th, 2003 at 12:00am PST

Comic Books
Rob Worley, Columnist

Continuing with the CBR News/Comics2Film s coverage of Twentieth Century Fox's "Daredevil" press junket, we present the latest transcript of the round-table interviews. In this installment, "Daredevil" producers Avi Arad and Gary Foster talk about the movie.

This interview does contain potential spoilers, so read it at your own risk.

(L-R) Avi Arad, Director Mark Steven Johnson and Gary Foster
Q: Avi, In light of the Space Shuttle Tragedy, have you spoken to people back in Israel?

Avi Arad: Well, it's the last thing we needed now. The whole putting a man on the moon is really sort of a way to have a sense of unity and optimism.

That was rough, because in a small country a guy like that becomes a national hero, a symbol for this great unity. Every nation sent someone up there. It was rough because he became quite famous and elections and wars...I just got back.

It's rough. It's rough here. It's rough there. We actually met him. He was kind of a shy guy. In a way I'm surprised how successful the program was. That's the first accident in a long time. This is really wild going up there and coming back.

Q: With all the tensions in the Middle East, that space flight was really the first positive thing in a while. What's the effect been?

AA: It's rough for everybody. It's rough here. It's funny. We're so used to the shuttle coming in and out. It's like going through La Guardia or something. All of a sudden it brought into focus again that this is quite daring. I just feel bad for the guys up there [in the space station] because they have to come back.

Q: Director Mark Steven Johnson said there is a hard and fast rule that films based on Marvel characters don't get tested. Is that true?

AA: Well, they get tested on family and friends. They get tested for clarity.

Today, the way media is, especially Internet...Internet is sort of a mixed blessing. It's a curse and a blessing at the same time. It's out of passion. It's out of the best intentions. But it became sort of the national sport to unveil and reveal what's happening in a movie, many times before it's time. It's like the old Gallo thing: "Don't serve your wine before its time."

So we know that if, unless you are in the business, seeing the rough-cut, seeing the movie without score, without special effects, without what it takes to finish a movie, it's really not meant to be served. It's like, you sit in a restaurant and I drop a piece of uncooked steak, say, "You want to taste it? If you like it I'll cook it."

So we have to be careful with these things because it is a national sport, literally. Who can get the word out first? Ready. Not ready. We've been through that for years now. On one hand, we love this attention and we read it every day because some pretty smart ideas come out of it, but it's risky business.

Q: How objective is a family and friends test screening? Who do you find to be the most objective in the circle of family and friends?

AA: I think they're quite objective because what we want to know is not did you like the movie or didn't like the movie, what didn't you understand? It's based on source material so when you're dealing with source materials at times, we are so close to it. We've been in it six years now, whatever. You get so close you want someone just to look at it.

I'll tell you they're blatantly honest. Some of these kids kind of grew up in the business, so you'll be amazed at their comments like, "Wow." I wish they were just kids. And you get very good information. And you get the fun factor. They let you know if they're going to have fun here.

That's the best we can do because to go through a major testing is just too big a risk.

Gary Foster: It's a shame too, because test screenings can be very valuable. Unfortunately it's become fair game. With the kind of money you spend on the movie you can't take that risk. It's a loss for the filmmaker because he doesn't have that tool to hone his film. So a lot of it is on that small group and a lot of it is on just instinct. You'd better have a very confident filmmaker to navigate that because a lot of it's going to fall on his or her shoulders.

Q: The shared universe is such a strong part of the Marvel comics. Is there any possibility of getting "Daredevil" and "Spider-Man" together in a movie?

(L-R) Marvel EIC Joe Quesada, Mark Steven Johnson and Exec. Prod. Kevin Feige
AA: There's no need. They're two distinct characters. We have so many movies to make. To me it's like making glow-in-the-dark toys. When you're on your last leg you make it glow-in-the-dark.

We have "Elektra," we have "Daredevil 2," we have "Spider-Man 2." Too many good characters. They don't need to clash at this point.

Q: But I love them, as a fan. Some of those comics were my favorite. How can you say there's no reason to do that?

AA: Well, that was your favorite, but there's no reason to do it at this point.

Q: That brings up an interesting balancing act: pleasing the fans vs. introducing the character.

AA: We start by pleasing the fans because the story is source material. "Man Without Fear" is a great story and if it wasn't a comic book and someone just published a book, "Man Without Fear," about this kid who lost his father, became blind, became a lawyer, fighting for justice.

It's a great story. You don't need a body suit to tell this story. Fall in love with this girl, she's the daughter of the mafia. This is Shakespeare.

When you look at it, now it comes with a community, a huge community that loves our movies. It started with "Blade," "Blade II," "X-Men" and then "Spider-Man." I think they look at Marvel as great storytellers, good quality control. We're passionate about our movies. We pick up the right partners, right directors, right casting. The movies are fun and we are hitting the masses.

GF: I think you have to make sure that combination of the people in the core group making the film aren't all narrowly focused in the one area which are, the geek factor. I, for one, never read comic books before we started this journey six years ago. I was fresh to it.

As we're making the film there were a few of us out there who would say, "OK. I understand that that's what in the comic book, but what if we went this direction because I don't really know if that's gonna fly."

And some really nice interaction amongst both sides of the line, which I think helps broaden the appeal of the movie.

Q: What were the thoughts on "Daredevil" letting the guy die in the movie?

GF: Letting the guy die was a big, big discussion, but in telling a dramatic story, there has to be an arc and we chose to tell the story of a guy, who is a vigilante, who has to come to terms with the fact that maybe that's not the right thing.

You get to the end of the movie and you see that he makes a choice with Wilson Fisk, the Kingpin. That's a more dramatic choice in the movie now than if he had already made that choice an hour and thirty minutes prior.

But that was my point of view. Avi had a different point of view because as the head of Marvel, obviously has a different agenda in some of the comics.

Q: What about Daredevil taking prescription medicine?

AA: I think that part came to demonstrate that, unlike many of our movies, where the hero is actually a superhero with special powers and special physical attributes, Daredevil is just a human being, as a matter of fact, just a human being with a handicap.

The fact that he has enhanced hearing…we actually had a blind consultant on the set. This is kind of easy to explain. It makes sense. By taking painkillers after the night he had at Josie's bar you demonstrate that he's just human and it takes a bigger heart.

If I cut you and you heal, well, you're now healed. But if you know that every night you got out there you can get killed, there's nothing to keep you alive aside from yourself. Taking the pills are a really good way to show what it is to be.

If you listen to the answering machine it shows you the loneliness of the commitment of a real hero. It's like a fireman or a policeman or a soldier going to war who says, "I cannot marry you now because I don't know when I'll come back."

All these human touches have to be dramatized. He cannot say, "Wow. I hurt." That moment showed you that this is really [a] human being. If you are a prizefighter, believe me you go in the back, you take a shower you try and kill the pain. This man had inside and outside...

GF: And I think also, with the genre, every movie has to be distinct. Every movie has to have it's own place. We went to great pains to make sure we didn't repeat what they did so successfully with "Spider-Man" or "X-Men."

Talking about it you decide this movie is the real world of what it is to be a superhero, the good and the bad. Right or wrong we made a movie that does not feel like any other movie. I think that's part of the formula for success for the genre. If you're cookie-cutter, making the same movie time and time again, at a certain point people are going to say, "enough."

If you like a dramatic story and you want something that's more on the edgier side, "Daredevil's" a choice for you.

(L-R) Kevin Feige, Arad, Foster, Direcor of Photography Ericson Core, MSJ and Stan Lee
Q: Stan Lee's been a big supporter of these movies. He's credited as an Executive Producer on this one. Yet, he's also suing Marvel. What's the relationship of Stan Lee to the project?

AA: Listen. I can start it by saying, "Kill the lawyers," and you make your own conclusions.

Stan is chairman emeritus of Marvel. He created or co-created many of our characters. He loves the movies we make. He is now doing some of his own things. He's entitled to do it.

We have no beef with him. I hope he's still a big friend of Marvel. I still adore him as my uncle and he knows it.

If you read articles, I've always been very protective of him. He's eighty years old. He's not going to be on the set with us at midnight, in downtown L.A., when it's twenty degrees.

What we want to do is show homage to his legacy and therefore you saw it in the movie. We took the best Stan put together, which is the literature and the story and made a movie out of it. It's quite joyous for him. It's like an out-of-body experience when he sees these movies.

Q: How much input did you have on Ben Affleck being cast in the lead?

GF: Myself, Avi, Mark and the studio, we are the core group making the casting decisions.

Ben was somebody that we had always known was a fan of "Daredevil." He wrote the forward to Kevin Smith's "Visionaries" piece. So it was easy to welcome someone who is part of the family.

Because he had scheduling issues we originally didn't offer him Daredevil because we didn't think he was available. We offered him Bullseye because it was a shorter role.

Stan Lee's cameo in "Daredevil"
He read the script and said he wanted to meet, and within the first ten minutes of his meeting with Mark he said, "I don't want to talk about Bullseye. Let's talk about Daredevil."

Very quickly he just said, "I will do what I have to do to move things around to play this part," because it was such a big part of his soul. Avi and I were thrilled.

He's 6' 3". He's a good looking guy. He's a terrific actor. He knows the character. He's not starting from scratch. He's passionate about it. You couldn't ask for any more.

Q: How far can you take Marvel's characters? You've got so many you could take over Hollywood.

AA: That's the idea. To take over Hollywood.

You know what? The whole thing is, when we finally bought the company...you know there was a big war and when we finally got our hands on it the goal was: Marvel is culture. It's literature. It's art and these are the kinds of things that make for movies, television, animation. It's multi-media.

The idea was to systematically go in and find people that will want nothing else to do but that particular character because they grew up on this character.

Like Mark who...that was the character. He was a stalker. That's the character he wanted to do. Or Sam Raimi for "Spider-Man." People don't know Ang Lee has two boys who are like Hulk fanatics. One of them actually draws Hulk, a very gifted artist.

So it's finding people who want to tell a certain story within our universe. People who grew up on it, who finally have the clout...the way you start a movie is you start with a writer who has clout. If you say, "Well, I have Mark Steven Johnson writing 'Daredevil,'" the studio has to listen. That means it's a good investment, a good risk.

And we go from there. As long as the stories are right, the casts are right, God knows the box-office is right, because we have a community that guarantees you opening weekend, that will buy the DVD, will buy two, one to watch, one to collect, you wouldn't even open the package.

There's a tremendous amount of people who are coming into this community, who at one time or another read the character. They were eight, nine years old and all of a sudden there's a resurgence.

There's also a resurgence in the comics, all these Ultimates that are coming out. It's a good feeling. They give you a great combination of emotion and a roller coaster ride.

Q: Avi, this resurgence is largely due to you and your efforts. Who are you most anxious to see in a movie?

AA: I think my favorite will be on the screen soon I hope within the "X-Men," is Beast, but that's a long conversation. We need a shrink for that.

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