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July 2005
The Fantastic Four : An Interview with Director Tim Story and Avi Arad

The Fantastic Four: An Interview with Director Tim Story and Avi Arad

By Wilson Morales

When word went out last year that Tim Story was chosen as the director of "The Fantastic Four", a couple of heads were turned. Folks really wanted to know how this director, who at the time had only helmed "Barbershop", got a plum assignment. Comic book films have been very successful these last few years with Spiderman 1 & 2, Daredevil, and most recently Batman Begins each grossed over $100 million dollars domestically. At a recent press conference to promote "The Fantastic Four", both Tim Story and Marvel President and CEO of Marvel Studios Avi Arad spoke about their roles in making The Fantastic Four come to the big screen.

Avi, I noticed of course that Stan Lee and Jack Kirby's names were in the credits, but did any money go to the Kirby estate?

Avi Arad: There is no money going to the Kirby estate. Jack Kirby was a hand for hire, like all the Marvel artists. He got credit but not money.

This movie is opening up the week after War of the Worlds. How do you guys think you're going to stand up against this? Are you happy to be opening this weekend?

Tim Story: I'm just happy about the movie coming out. When it comes to thinking about the competition, it's a crowded summer and I don't think you can guess what's going to happen. I'm just happy in what's going on with the job Fox has done. It's everywhere. I think we have a family movie that is light and fun, it's a popcorn movie. You can sit back and have a good time, and I think the summer's been looking forward to something like our movie. Hopefully we get blessed with an audience.

AA: I feel this is quite different from early in the summer. Most of the movies were on the dark side, Fantastic Four is traditionally no secret identity, more of a dysfunctional family, action/comedy adventure. I think our audiences are going to be, on the top end, similar - young men, young women. And on the low end we have a hidden treasure, which is the kids. This movie is designed for everybody. It's a family movie. I think Tim put in a lot of fun, comedy and heart. Not on the intense end of it, but in the way Fantastic Four is supposed to be - loving, with sibling rivalry kind of comedy.

Tim, what was the journey like from being a rapper to this? And Avi, what qualities did Tim have that made him good for the job?

AA: You're asking me? I have no idea! He showed up and - well, my Tim Story journey started with my wife and I going to see Barbershop. Barbershop you'll remember is ten characters in one room for two hours. A lot of story and a lot of terrific acting. For Fantastic Four we needed someone with a good heart, a light hand and a sense of comedy that can handle a group. It's very difficult. You can follow one character, but this one is five characters - six characters in a way. In a very short period of time the film has to introduce to the world, to the uninitiated, the Fantastic Four, who they are and what their destiny is. And then we met with Tim and we really believe that directors put themselves on the screen in many ways. This movie is about good hearts and you have to be light with the problems, you have to accept your destiny and he just loved it.

Then he did one last thing that was the perfect end of the story - he had to go home to talk to his wife about it! He was actually expecting a baby. He had to figure out, on one hand it's an opportunity of a lifetime, especially for someone who always loved the Fantastic Four. At the same time it's about family, soŠ When he left and said he had to talk to his wife, we knew we had the right guy.

TS: Coming from music and that - I started with film when I was young, at age 12. Music was, when I was young in my neighborhood, you either danced or rapped. So I was a rapper for a while. But after high school it came down to picking one or the other and film is the only medium where you use everything - you use music, you use art, you use drama, you use it all. I knew at an early point that I wanted to do this and as a teenager drifted back to it, and fell in love.

Tim, the younger generation might think that this film is just taking from The Incredibles, but it's the other way around. How would you explain that to them?

TS: I would just explain to them that there's origins. When you look at The Incredibles I would say let me show you a comic book that started 40 plus years ago and check this out. The Incredibles was made in the last five years. I think it's pretty simple. I have a niece and nephew I had to educate as well. I gave them these comic books and now they're into them, so they almost know more than I do now. But just to see the education of them - they loved The Incredibles and at the time I was doing the movie they didn't know what I was doing. They knew Uncle Tim was doing another movie, but when I explained to them what this was, they got it. It's as simple as that. This is the origin of pretty much modern comic books. This is where it started, with this magazine. It's as simple as that.

Tim, what kind of pressures did you feel directing such a high profile film based on one of Marvel's flagship comics?

Story: You're walking in with an audience that already expects a certain thing. Knowing that there's a certain pressure on all films. It's not from the studio, it's from yourself. The pressure came from myself. I knew immediately what I was getting into, and Avi was quick to educate me on what I was getting into. I talked to a couple of directors who have been through this history of being booed, where they talk about you on the internet. Avi told me immediately, do not read the internet. They told me, "Tim we picked you for story and character, and we're going to support you when it comes to effects and action. Just go out there and do what you do." With that kind of support, the pressure just comes down to getting through the rainy days of Vancouver. That's the real pressure, because when you're out there shooting you're surrounded by people who support you. The pressure was big, but I dealt with it.

Talking about the action sequences, where there any notable problems or casualties?

TS: Luckily we didn't have a lot of casualties. The casualties were probably just -

AA: Us!

AA: Yeah, us being rained out. We'd come up with ideas - you're out there putting an 11 ton truck on a 300 foot section of the Brooklyn Bridge, and it's raining so you've got big screens over everything - the casualties were mainly us and our feelings because not every day was the perfect day for us. But as for people working on the movie, considering a quick prep and rainy Vancouver, we did pretty well for ourselves.

AA: We had great stunt teams. We take great care with it. We've been doing it a long time, always these big action movies. We understand the pitfalls. Most important, there is nothing worse that can happen on a set than someone gets injured because of careless planning. We put a lot of time into it.

Quick question about Fantastic 4 2 - Avi has said that he would like to see you back, Tim. Would you do it? And you've mentioned that you would like to see the Silver Surfer involved, but there are other names now coming into the picture with that. Would you still want to use the Silver Surfer?

TS: I would definitely want to come back for the second one. There's just - if you're familiar with the comic book, we've just scratched the surface. This is an origin movie. There are so many characters, there's so much that we have to get to. Things like the Fantasticar. Now that these guys are comfortable with their powers, there's a whole other attitude that comes on.

To see Ben Grimm in this movie, Ben Grimm was not wanting to be what he is. After he's comfortable being what he is, he's walking around town like a superstar. I would love to be back. Working with Avi and the whole group was - I won't say incredible. It was fantastic. I would love to be back.

When it comes to the Silver Surfer, I argue with Avi all the time about -

AA: And he loses.

TS: Yeah, I lose! I argue all the time about how I want Silver Surfer for the third movie.

AA: The good news is that Silver Surfer and the Fantastic Four is always Fox. Once we tell the Silver Surfer's story, there's no reason why sometime in the future we can't have guest appearances and maybe connect the story. But right now there's so many Fantastic Four stories to tell. We are just getting going with the Surfer. It's all good stuff to anticipate.

Have the Marvel movies helped the comics sell better? Are younger audiences discovering comics because of the movies?

AA: That's a good question. Actually, after Spider-Man that was the first time we saw the resurgence of comics to kids. All of a sudden there was a new discovery. What we did this year, as Marvel, we are now selling our comics at 7-11 and Walgreens, places kids can get to. Part of the issue with the business was that kids can't get to the store.

With Fantastic Four we went a step further. We actually did a program with the schools called Do the Right Thing. Lesson plans, we brought the comics right to the kids and the response was fantastic, so if you go now to major chains, you will see comics for younger kids. Read anything, the philosophy is read anything, but if you do read comics and have fun with it, it's even better. So now when we put out movies, especially things like Fantastic Four that's positive and has wish fulfillment and empowerment and is on the soft end of what's right, we support it with comics. As you know, Ultimate Fantastic Four was a huge success. This movie will help push that agenda.

Can you talk about the casting, especially Jessica

TS: I think what's cool about films like this, and Marvel and Fox have been champions for it, is that they're looking for the best cast. They're not concerned with the getting the stratospheric star, whoever that may be, but whoever is best for the role. They'll pay for them if they cost a lot of money. In this case we looked for the best cast and luckily enough we were able to find the five - six, including Kerry [Washington, as Alicia Masters] - people that were best for the part. When it comes to people like Jessica, she came in and it was right. She was blonde because Sue Storm was always blonde in the comic book, but we just looked for who was right. All of these guys were such a find, and I don't know who could play these parts better than they did. Ioan [Gruffud, Mr. Fantastic] and Chris [Evans, the Human Torch] came out of nowhere and it was like, who are these guys? They were so good that they just blew us away.

How close did you feel you had to stay to the comic? And how did you decide to balance the character's screentime?

AA: First, the movie is very true to the comics. The only difference is - and again, when you talk about comic origins, when you publish a book since 1961, there's no scenario that wasn't written by someone at some time. What works very well in our movies, historically is to connect the villain to our heroes. The only thing that I keep hearing about and reading about and the only hate mail we get is that Victor was on the space ship. First, it was a huge space ship and we needed more people on it. I am kidding.

The idea was to get to know Victor as a man first. See that he is human, he has human flaws. He is connected to the team and that way the conflict becomes personal. The whole idea behind this movie, the whole reason Tim is directing this movie, is relationships. As he said to you the CGI, all that stuff is specialists today. You don't need to know that, guys take care of that for you. You need to know what you want to see.

So it's very true to the comics. Eventually Doom looked like Doom, despite all the chatter going out there. It was just important to connect him to the team upfront. All the rest comes out of the story. How much screentime each one gets? Well, you need Ben to drive the idea that sometimes heroes is not the best thing to happen to you. You need Johnny to interact with all of them, you need Sue to be the glue to the team. The script ends up determining screentime. It's not like we sit around saying, Jessie needs another scene. The story tells you who is going to be at the forefront of a certain story within a movie.

You set the movie in New York, but shot in Vancouver. What's up with that?

TS: It's expensive to shoot in New York! We were blowing up stuff! We wanted to shut down the Brooklyn Bridge. You can't do that. Avi knows more about that then I do.

AA: If you look at the movie, the movie is in New York. That's why it's a movie. The whole idea behind this industry is to make reality from imagination and vice versa. By the way we did shoot in New York, and we shot a lot of plates in New York so we could integrate into the movie enough of what one expects to be the classic Fantastic Four in Manhattan. I won't take you through all our movies but if I tell you where some scenes were shot in some of our movies that you were absolutely sure were in New York you would be shocked because it wouldn't even be in Vancouver.

The fanbase is huge. Fans have been waiting decades for this. Did the fans influence you at all? Did you make changes based on fan reactions?

TS: The fanbase, like I was saying before, originally the fanbase was - I don't mind saying it - they weren't too happy with me. Avi said don't listen to them. My true gauge was knowing about the comic book, and growing up on it I felt pretty good about my position, and Avi and Kevin over at Marvel. We discussed what was best for the fanbase. Meaning the fanboys. Avi and Kevin have done so many of these movies that they get it. They know every nuance that I need to know in terms of that. So I never felt that pressure.

At the same time what's so cool about all the guys I worked with is that they realized we were doing a movie for a mass audience as well. There's an audience out there who doesn't know who Sue Storm is, who doesn't know - they were astronauts? They did what? They don't care. They want to see a good movie. So if you can draw them in, you'll be OK. We always respected the fanbase, but at the same time we wanted to make the best movie we could.

AA: I have to remind all of you, if you remember the first week when we announced Bryan Singer for X-men, not only was it negative, it was despicable. It was exactly the whole idea behind the X-Men - the whole philosophy behind the X-Men was desecrated by the fanbase. It's this passion is why I was telling Tim, don't read it, don't pay attention to it.

There is a constituency of ours that pride themselves on building on the negative. I can give you names but I have no reason to make them more famous than they think they are. The point is that we have to pick up the talent in what we believe is good for the movie. The only place where we do listen to the fanbase is in the characters themselves. If you go to the movies and say that Chris Evans is Johnny Storm, that means Tim Story is a great director and Chris Evans is a great actor. The fact that Jessica Alba was not born blonde - it doesn't mean anything. It's like times go by. Things change. Let's change with them.

At the same time, put Jessica to wear blue contact lenses because it was such a thing. "Sue Storm had blue eyes!" Who cares? But you know what, we tip our hat to it. This is where the fanbase, where their anxiety and their love of the characters gets them overboard, almost militant.

So yes, I start my day reading all the sites and making all kinds of hex. I use Dr. Strange for that, he helps. As far as the talent, they should concentrate on making a fun movie.


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