Spider-Man 3 - Q&A with Director Sam Raimi

Q&A with Director Sam Raimi
To celebrate the release of Spider-Man 3, Wizard Entertainment Group conducted a recent Q&A with Director Sam Raimi. Check out the interview here:

He may think of himself as “Mr. Low-Budget Schlockmeister Horror Film Guy,” but judging from the box-office success of the “Spider-Man” franchise, director Sam Raimi has a knack for giving audiences what they want in a big-budget superhero film.

And Raimi and Co. look poised to continue their franchise’s triumphant run as “Spider-Man 3” hits theaters this weekend. At a recent press event, the director revealed how Sandman and Venom entered the mix and explained how his off-screen rapport with stars Tobey Maguire and Kirsten Dunst translates to emotional realism onscreen.

What was it like the third time around?

RAIMI: It was great working on the third one in many ways, and it was very difficult in many ways. The easiest thing was that the team was the same. Not just the producers, who I became very familiar with and we have a shorthand way of working now, but I had the same production designer, the editor was the same, the animators were the same. And they had learned how to move Spider-Man with greater grace and they had learned from a lot of their mistakes. So it was definitely easier because of a shorthand of communication.

But also we had all learned a lot of lessons, so we could make new mistakes. We didn’t have to repeat the same ones. But also working with the actors, that was the biggest advantage of the third picture, because what we’re always after in scenes is to try and find a moment that will reverberate with the audience, you know? Like if someone is heartbroken, we want the audience to feel that themselves. And to get there we have to make a moment of truth, something about it has to be real. However melodramatic the drama may be, there has to be truth in the actor’s performance. I met Tobey and Kirsten seven years ago and we worked on the first pictures as professional people, but then our friendship deepened on the second picture and I had a much greater degree of trust in them—and I think they trusted me more, perhaps. And we weren’t afraid of hurting each other’s feelings or we weren’t afraid of saying, “I don’t know what you’re talking about,” you know? Sometimes when you talk about emotions, words come up short trying to describe a feeling that you have, or a feeling that you’re lacking from an actor. So the depth of our friendship and just the closeness of our working relationship really enabled us to get at, or attempt to get at, the truthful moments to a greater degree. I’m not saying that we were always successful, because we weren’t. We’d often miss them, but at least we were very close in our relationship so that we could really speak honestly with each other about what we felt was lacking or what we felt we needed.

You had to come up with the story for this as well as the screenplay. You worked with your brother Ivan?

RAIMI: Yes, I worked with my brother. And Alvin Sargent, the great screenwriter, contributed quite a bit.

So what was the challenge in coming up with a story for the third film?

RAIMI: Well, this time the story was pretty much set up by the first two pictures. And what wasn’t set up by the first two pictures was really influenced greatly by all the great writers and artists of the Marvel comic books of the first 45 years. So it was more about sorting through the material and trying to figure out how best to conclude these storylines and where next our character Peter Parker had to grow to, as a human being.

How did you decide that these two guys were going to be the villains?

RAIMI: They came about in different ways. With Sandman, we first decided to approach the problem like this: Where is Peter Parker at the end of the second picture as a human being? He’s a kid in all these stories. They’re kind of coming-of-age stories. He learns different aspects of growing up, different life lessons in each of these films, and oftentimes in the comic books. So my brother and I spoke for quite some time and we felt that the most important thing Peter has to learn right now is that this whole concept of him as the avenger, or him as the hero….He wears this red and blue outfit. With each criminal he brings to justice, he’s trying to pay down his debt of guilt he feels about the death of Uncle Ben. And he considers himself a hero and a sinless person, versus these villains that he nabs. So we felt it would be a great thing for him to learn the less black-and-white view of life, and that he’s not above these people, that he’s not just a hero and they’re not just the villains. That we’re all human beings and we all have, that he himself might have, some sin within him and that other human beings, the ones he calls the criminals, have humanity within them. And that the best we can do within this world is to not strive for vengeance but for forgiveness.

So we decided that’s the journey Peter Parker has to go on. So then we said, well, what villain will best represent the conflict that can dramatize his journey? If the hero runs into this conflict, how can he learn forgiveness? We said, we’ll make the villain of the piece someone who is absolutely unforgivable in Peter’s eyes, to really take him to a place where the audience understands his desire for vengeance and they feel it. And so that the kids will think, “Yes, bring the Sandman down, Spider-Man!” And by the end of the piece, you wanted the kids to go on this journey with Spider-Man so that they’d say, “No actually, as my hero, the best thing that you could do right now, the thing I’d rather have you do, is forgive this man.” We thought that would be a worthwhile summer picture, a good story for the kids if we could incorporate that. So we said, okay, we’re going to make it a villain that we can make Peter Parker really feel this desire for vengeance against in a real way, in a real heavy way, so the audience has a sense of relief when he forgives Sandman, so it means something to them dramatically.

So we chose a villain that did not have such a detailed backstory that I would be in defiance of the comic book fans. So the Sandman I’ve always thought was a great visual character and could be a formidable foe against Spider-Man from all the great Marvel comic books, and yet his background wasn’t so detailed or defined that this would be in conflict. So we added to the story that he, in fact, was the murderer of Uncle Ben. Peter Parker sees things in a very narrow way—that he is right and they’re wrong. It’s all about taking in other points of view. There are so many more truths than the simple truths of good or bad. For instance, that man didn’t kill his uncle as he had thought; it was another man. We wanted something that you could look back at the first picture and turn the whole thing on its head, so that by the time you got to the end, it was more than the sum of the parts.

We thought that would be an interesting experience for the audience—that what they had seen in the first part was true, but there was so much more to the story. When they, like Peter Parker, didn’t have the whole truth and they thought they did.

What about the relationship between Harry and Peter?

RAIMI: We wanted Harry Osborn’s relationship with Peter Parker to be resolved by this third picture. We had obviously set up the seeds to have some dramatic confrontation and resolution in this third one. And we knew in our hearts that Harry was a good boy, a good person, and was just acting under the mistaken belief that Peter had killed his father in cold blood—and perhaps wanting to hang onto the notion that his father was an honorable man. And perhaps that he could still be the son that his father wanted him to be if he had just acted a little more strongly and avenged his death, but it wasn’t as simple as that for him.

You mentioned a lot about the spiritual concept of forgiveness and redemption, but there’s also a lot of spiritual imagery. Peter on the front of the runaway train in the second film and when Peter, while wearing the black costume, looks like he’s bowing his head in prayer in this film. Was all that imagery intentional, and what does it all mean to you?

RAIMI: Well, that imagery from the church is really borrowed from the Venom story. We wanted to be true to the comic books and it’s very similar to how it was depicted in those classic Marvel comic books of the ’80s, which I more recently have become familiar with—how Spider-Man shed his suit and how it came upon Eddie Brock. So we were trying to pay tribute to those books. But there are a lot of literary concepts and spiritual concepts within the comic books. And they really reverberate and they work for me and the ones that did, and the ones that worked for the writers, we incorporated into the story.

You’ve had a lot of fun with Peter Parker embracing his darker side. In working with Tobey on that, can you talk about creating that aspect?

RAIMI: Well, in this story Peter Parker falls victim to his own pride. He starts to believe all the press clippings about himself, that he’s really this hero and somebody great and he starts to be afraid that he is that person and doesn’t want to act any other way than the person that’s right, and that pride manifests itself in a much darker way. So in working on those sequences with Tobey Maguire and the dark Spider-Man, that was a difficult thing for me. It wasn’t fun for me because I didn’t like those sequences. I don’t like watching Spider-Man go bad. And it was unpleasant and I kept worrying, gee, do we really have to do this to show how rageful and vengeful he is? Do we really have to show how pride can destroy you? But my brother kept telling me, “Yes, because he’s going to find himself again.” He loses himself.

The Venom character was not from your comic book experience but you found a way to integrate him into your script. How long did it take to get a handle on the character?

RAIMI: [Producer] Avi Arad said, “Sam, listen: You are so aware of all these ’70s villains, but you really need to incorporate Venom into this story because the fans really love Venom, and don’t be so selfish with just the villains that you know and love.” So I said okay. I didn’t understand that much about Venom because I hadn’t read him as a kid. So I went to school on Venom and Avi taught me a lot about Venom and then Alvin Sargent, our screenwriter, he really was the voice of Venom in the writing of the screenplay. And he showed me who he was. Then Topher Grace brought another life to the character, and I learned who he was. And in trying to satisfy the comic book fans, we incorporated Venom into the story.

Sony has announced that they’re planning to do “Spider-Man” 4, 5 and 6. Are you going to have anything to do with those?

RAIMI: Yes, Sony’s making 4, 5 and 6, but I haven’t had time to even think about involvement. I don’t want to assume that they were definitely going to ask me to do it. I don’t want to be presumptuous about that.

Would you like to?

RAIMI: If there was a great story to tell, and I felt I had a really good take on where the character could grow to, then I think it would be great. But I’d have to have a tremendous passion to do it. Because so many people love Stan Lee’s character that if I didn’t think I could do it fantastically, then I should step aside and let a younger director come in who loves the character and who could do it with the greatest passion on Earth.

And if there was a new series, do you think it should be a new Spider-Man?

RAIMI: I don’t know. You’d have to make that choice probably based on what the story is and what the characters are. But it would be very hard to be involved without Tobey and Kirsten, for me at least.

After so many years with Spider-Man in your life, you don’t have the feeling like you just want to say goodbye then?

RAIMI: It would be very hard to say goodbye to Spidey.

Are you comfortable with being a franchise guy now?

RAIMI: Well, I know that that will pass. Mostly I see myself as who I was for 20 years of making films professionally, and that is Mr. Low-Budget Schlockmeister Horror Film Guy. You know, low-budget crime thriller or low-budget supernatural thriller. Although I have the occasional different picture, I’d always thought it was strange that [Sony Pictures chief] Amy Pascal hired me to do [the first] film. I mean, I really love the film and I wanted it. But I thought it was a bold and unusual choice and when it had that tremendous success as a big franchise, I realized this too will pass. This is a very strange experience and I realize how unusual it is, and I know that it won’t be here long.

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