Making a film, especially a big blockbuster, requires the collaboration of so many people that there’s always ample opportunity to claim credit for success and pass the buck on failure. The most successful brand around right now is Marvel – more or less the only brand that anyone recognizes, other than Pixar – and while the other studios are falling all over themselves trying to copy Marvel’s strategy, the leadership at Marvel gets to soak up the praise while journalists write fawning puff pieces. The “great man” theory of history is always the easiest explanation.
So it was with a recent Business Week blowjob on Marvel head Kevin Feige, whom the profile characterizes much in the same way that past businessman profiles would a real estate tycoon, listing all the reasons his success is due to some unique facet of his personality and meticulous attention to detail, intercut with scenes of him chastising an underling for a window set at the wrong angle or not enough blueberries in his casino’s muffins.
Much of Marvel’s success can be attributed to Feige. He has a special understanding of comics, fans, superheroes, and narrative. He concedes that Marvel won’t recover the film rights to Spider-Man or the X-Men anytime soon but says Marvel has something more valuable: a universe of thousands of characters it controls entirely. […]
Then later, walking by an editing suite where James Gunn was using animations to storyboard Guardians of the Galaxy…
Feige sees something on the screen that he doesn’t like. The evildoer needs to be farther away in the frame so he looks more imperious, he says.
“I don’t know,” says Gunn. “I think it’s going to look cool, man.”
“You just don’t want him to feel petty in that way,” Feige says. “I think it’s a fine line.”
“How do you think it comes off as petty here?” Gunn says.
“He’s so damn close,” Feige says.
“Yeah,” concedes Gunn. “I think I’m going to have him floating in space.”
Feige is concerned about the throne, too. He points at the base. “Those don’t need to be rockets,” he says. “Maybe gravity disks?” Feige says he’ll check back later.
In the hallway he extracts a pledge not to name the bad guy. “That could not be a bigger spoiler,” Feige says.
As Feige consumed stacks of Marvel comics, he wondered why others working on X-Men didn’t do the same. “I would hear people, other executives, struggling over a character point, or struggling over how to make a connection, or struggling over how to give even surface-level depth to an action scene or to a character,” Feige recalls. “I’d be sitting there reading the comics going, ‘Look at this. Just do this. This is incredible.’ ”
The profile includes almost every businessman profile trope, down to the detail about Disney head Bob Iger (who would go on to acquire Marvel) and how he has a statue of Winston Churchill in his office and likes to quote from the poem Invictus. Which no doubt led him to the unprecedented conclusion that Disney “needed more enduring characters like Mickey Mouse and Sleeping Beauty that could be turned into movies.”
Only a man so enamored with Churchill could display such a brilliance for strategery! In any case, Kevin Feige’s former producing partner Avi Arad blasted the writer of the profile, Devin Leonard, in an email, which Leonard made public.
I am sure you were told by Marvel that I resigned over the self-financing strategy,” Arad wrote to the profile’s author, Devin Leonard, in an email he then released publicly. “It is about time for a reporter like you to do your homework and check the facts. It will sound arrogant to you, but I single-handedly put together the Marvel slate. Read it carefully and you will notice the natural progression of the character’s design to get to where we are today.”
Arad went on to report that Marvel’s financing “would never have happened without me reaching out to [Paramount Studios CEO and Chairman] Brad Grey to make a distribution deal that will give you a corporate guarantee… The big presentation to financial institutions and insurance companies took place on the Paramount lot. I was the presenter and it worked. Does this sound to you like someone who disagreed with the strategy to make our own movies?” [THR]
The sticking point was basically the article’s implication that Arad left over Marvel’s now widely-praised decision to start making their own movies. Maybe Avi Arad wasn’t against it at all! Maybe it wouldn’t have worked without him in the first place! Meanwhile, I’m sure there are 100 nameless Korean animators in a basement suite somewhere whose work designing Iron Man’s rocket hands had as much to do with Marvel’s success as Kevin Feige’s thoughts on what looks “too petty” or which poem guided Bob Iger’s acquisition strategy. Aren’t corporate politics fun?!