Marc Webb Talks ‘Amazing Spider-Man’

The director of the new Spider-Man reboot on the film's 3D, motion-capturing The Lizard and the importance of Uncle Ben's death.

Fred Topelby Fred Topel


Marc Webb hosted a screening of the latest trailer for The Amazing Spider-Man, which debuted online yesterday. We actually screened the trailer in 3D, and one shot of Spider-Man swinging had his legs come out of the screen further than any effect we’ve seen in the recent crop of 3D films. Webb spoke with press after showing the trailer.


We ask about the leg coming out of the screen.

Marc Webb: It’s true. It’s a matter of convergence. I designed as a 3D movie, and the sequence that that comes from is later on in the film. James Cameron, who was incredibly generous with me early on, likes to play 3D as depth, like this [screen] is a window and everything you see behind there, that’s what’s fun about it. The jungles of Avatar are a great example of that. I liked pushing the 3D a little bit further so that it would come out at you, because I remember as a kid watching The Creature from the Black Lagoon sticking all those things coming at you, and House of Wax. There’s something fun about that, and seeing an audience with kids in it reach up. There were moments I wanted to exploit like that and that’s one of those moments. That was a shot that has many, many visual layers to it. We generated a figure and then we converged, meaning we put the screen level behind the character, behind Spider-Man there so that his legs would come out. Then we made him a little bit more in focus so that you could feel a tangible sense of him rather than the motion. This gets really technical and boring but then we reduced the motion blur so you could get it so that it felt more tactile. And then that shot in particular, if you notice it, when a subject violates the edge of the screen, those of you guys who know 3D, it corrupts the illusion. You start to notice that it’s not really real. So we designed it so that it would exist within the barriers of the screen so you’re not aware that it’s crossing off the screen. That helps with that notion that it can come out at you a little bit more. That’s another one of those layers. That shot’s longer in the movie. You sit on it longer. That’s the other part of letting that feel that it’s coming into your space.


Marc Webb on the new-and-improved first-person webslinging shots.

I believe we were still in production when we made that first trailer, so that was a very early rendering of some of the CG things. Part of the fun of this was to create the movie, thinking about subjectivity, meaning getting to feel what Spider-Man feels, and 3D was a really interesting way to exploit that. We spent a lot of time refining and just making that shift better. There is that in the movie, but it’s a much more refined version of what you had seen before. It’s interspersed throughout the film. It’s not like the third act is all point of view. Though that’s an interesting idea, I’m not that bold.


The Lizard: Motion Capture vs. CGI.

When we shot those sequences, we actually shot a human. There was a guy named Big John, who is literally this big guy named John, who did a lot of the interactive stuff. When you’re trying to interact with Peter [Parker], you need someone grabbing him and to do those things, and then we would replace him with the computer-generated lizard. But then, the performance capture was done with Rhys [Ifans]. We would shoot Rhys in a similar environment and get his facial expressions, and we’re still working on that. I just came from trying to incorporate his performance into The Lizard. That takes an enormous amount of time and it’s tricky. In the comics, there are different incarnations of The Lizard. There’s the one with the snout, but I was interested more in something that could relate human emotions because I wanted to keep Rhys’ performance in that creature. Pixar does it extremely well, creating those emotions within characters that are essentially computer-generated. So, getting that nuance and the eyebrow ticks and the looks, and creating something that can actually speak with lips that make sounds, is a very detailed and, frankly, tedious process. But, I really wanted him to have emotion, have a face and have feeling. That’s the way I chose to do that. And then, there’s the physical components of it, which was making him very powerful and strong. 


We ask about getting to show Peter discovering his powers for the first time all over again.

There are elements of that. I wanted to do things differently. You’ve seen the origin of Spider-Man, but maybe you haven’t seen the origin of Peter Parker. There are certain iconic elements of Spider-Man that I felt obligated to honor, but there are some exploratory phases. I’m trying to build something with a different tone and a different attitude, and do things in a little bit more of a practical way, especially at the beginning of the movie. We spent a lot of time engineering and designing sequences that existed within the camera that we just shot practically, like him swinging on these chains, to help create that sensation and feeling of joy and fun, which is always a great part of these movies. 


Denis Leary sells out and the new-and-improved Aunt May.

[Leary] plays the authority figure that he’s made fun of, for his entire career. We all trust Denis Leary. He’s got this attitude, but you love him. In this movie, he puts pressure on Peter Parker. He’s on Spider-Man’s case, but you understand him. I’ve said this before, but good drama comes from competing ideas of what’s good. People have different ideas of what that is, and when you put that together, they collide and there’s an honest difference of opinion. There’s something that’s really interesting that happens there, and I wanted to explore that as much as possible. When you cast someone like Sally [Field], they come with a certain level of awareness and real genuine affection, which for Aunt May is an incredibly important thing to have. We all love Aunt May, but I wanted to create a tension between May and Peter. I was like, “What’s the reality of this situation? What would happen, if you were someone who was in charge of taking care of a kid who’s had a lot of tragedy in his life, and he goes out late at night and comes back and he’s fucked up?” You’d be concerned. He’s got bruises on his face, and what happens in that moment? That can create some tension, but you want there to be love there. That’s what someone like Sally Field gives you.


The “Untold Story” of Peter Parker’s parents doesn’t overpower Uncle Ben’s death.

The first domino in the story is the parents. He goes out looking for his father and he finds himself. That’s my tagline, but Uncle Ben’s death, you have to see the movie but there’s three elements, there’s a few elements that Marvel is very protective of and I think it’s a very important part of the Spider-Man origin story. Uncle Ben’s death transforming him and having an impact in a certain way is an incredibly important part of the mythology and I would never subvert that. That’s all I’ll say about that but I’m very protective of that.


And Martin Sheen as Uncle Ben.

“It’s awesome. He’s a dream. Between takes, he’d tell stories about Terrence Malick, about Apocalypse Now, Fellini. It was spectacular. That was one of the really, really joyful parts about making this movie was getting to work with Sally Field and Martin Sheen and Denis Leary. It’s so cool. They’re such pros and again, Martin Sheen, you think of President Bartlett. He has that sense of benevolent authority, but there’s something else that’s important in terms of the dynamic I wanted to explore, vis a vis Peter’s relationship with his absent parents. His parents, depending what the comics were, Ben and May are sort of streetwise, like blue collar people but they’re not scientists. Peter has this incredible scientific ability which creates a little bit of a gap between him and Ben and May. I thought that was a really interesting thing to explore and what Martin was able to do, even though he’s an incredible erudite guy, was to embody this sort of blue collar guy. There was some fissure, there was some break between the two of them that was developing. Even though there was a great love for him, you knew he wasn’t the father, he wasn’t Richard Parker. That gap, that crack in Peter, that missing piece that Peter had was a really fun thing to start off.”


So, another upside down kiss?

It’s hard to compete with that first Spider-Man kiss. It really was. So that wasn’t my primary objective. I wanted to make a movie that to me, it’s about the chemistry and that’s the thing you rely on and those things happen in a different way, but I didn’t want to use that language. I wanted to create a language of my own.


Picture lock.

It’s right around two hours. There was something on some website that said an hour and 30 minutes or something like that. No. Every once in a while, it’s really interesting because you hear people talk about information that gets out and you’re like, “Oh yeah, there’s some truth to it.” But sometimes things come up and you’re like, “What are you talking about?” That’s one of those things. I just don’t know where that came from. The cut’s pretty much locked. We’re just doing a lot of visual stuff.


Ready for The Amazing-er Spider-Man?

I’m so deep immersed in this one that I haven’t really touched anything. Whatever, it’s all just talk and a lot of that just has to do with schedules. I’m literally 18 hours a day spending finishing the movie so I can’t give you any interesting scoop there. We spent a lot of time with the writers coming up with the backstory and a world that could hold different stories if the series is ongoing. We took some stuff from the Ultimates, we took some stuff from the Amazing Spider-Mans and then did certain other things to make it interesting. Gwen Stacy for example I looked more towards the Amazing Spider-Mans because I just liked the texture of her character in those more than in the Ultimates and I thought it was more appropriate for Peter, whereas the body language and a lot of the Bagley art were really great reference points in terms of creating the physical identity of Spider-Man than the Ultimates.


Marc Webb’s thoughts on 48 frames per second.

I haven’t seen that. I have absolute trust in Peter Jackson. I think he’s an incredible filmmaker. I feel like it’s really important to support experiments. It’s really important to try new and different things and I really want to honor the theatrical experience and things that can make that better are great. We have to be patient and see what happens. It’s a very, very hard thing to make movies and especially in an environment now where everybody wants to have some opinion on something that it’s hard to marry a level of good will or support or curiosity about things. So I’d just be curious to see it. I haven’t seen it so I can’t really comment. Anything to help making movies interesting and fun to watch I’m down to try.