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Iron Man: Favreau on film, fans and Fin Fang Foom

By Rob M. Worley     April 28, 2008

If there's one thing 'Iron Man' director Jon Favreau has learned in recent years, it's how to work the comic book fans. Coming off a less than stellar screening of clips from 'Zathura' just two years earlier, Favreau has used the Internet and Comic-Con to win fan approval for his vision of 'Iron Man'.

Not that such ardent lobbying of the fan community is necessary. The incredible preview footage of the film speaks for itself. Comics2Film took part in a Q&A with the director who talk about his reasoning for fan-outreach and how the various players in the film have made 'Iron Man' the superhero movie to watch for.

Q: Robert Downey Jr. told us that Tony Stark is the culmination of both of your ideas. Can you tell us more about that?

Jon Favreau: Well I think he's being kind because…the lead of the movie, there's always a collaboration between the filmmaker and the star. You have to put so much so much footage in the camera and you have to try so many different things to give the filmmaker the ability to make decisions in postproduction when you're the lead.

When you're a supporting character, you come in, rip it up. They either use you or cut you out. If you get laughs they keep you in. If not you go away.

When you're the lead, it's a real back and forth. In one sense because there was a lot of second unit performance done, so he wasn't around, so we had to discuss how Iron Man would move and act and fight. In all the stuff we're doing now with ILM with him flying, …all that choreography I'm working out with a whole different group of people.

Ultimately he has to come back in and voice it, and he did close up work for inside the helmet. So there's a lot of back and forth between us.

Q: You put a page on myspace, and you've used it to connect with your audience.

Favreau: With movies of this kind there's a real dialogue between the fans and the filmmakers. If you don't accept it, it backfires.

There are certain filmmakers like Steven Spielberg, who has been around long enough that he can keep a completely buttoned-down, closed set, and people will give him the benefit of the doubt because of his body of work.

When you're dealing with a character like Iron Man, and you're coming in without a body of work that would suggest you can do a good job with this movie, of this genre, you have to make your case for yourself.

Also, the fans are a tremendous resource and you'll learn what people expect of this character. There's no way I could go through 40 years of comic books and learn everything I need to learn about this guy.

In parsing that information and hearing back what people have to say, even when they're talking to one another and you get to listen in on those conversations at the various fan sites.

You learn what people like, who they gravitate to, what their concerns are, and you get to do something like you did this weekend, which is: listen to them, do it and you're not just humoring them to try to get their support. You actually show that what they had talked to you about, or what they talked to each other about, has influenced the way the movie's made.

Certain filmmakers like to have complete access to the set and do weblogs every day. For me, I felt that was going to be revealing too much too early. I wanted to save some surprise. But you don't want to close the set either.

So there's an interesting thing that happens between images that you release, and you always want to be a little bit ahead of what people are finding out about you. Fortunately the stuff that leaked out was stuff that the people seemed to like also. So we've been very lucky that the reactions to both the official and unofficial stuff that's come out has been very good.

Q: How nervous were you bringing that first footage here? How did you feel about the reaction?

Favreau: With this title, 'Iron Man', most people out there in the world, when you say 'Iron Man' they think of the Black Sabbath Song.

This is the only place where you could come and all 6500 people sitting in there know who the guy is, what he stands for, what the movie better do and not do, and what the pitfalls are from having seen other books adapted in a way that they didn't think was respectable or geared towards them.

So, I knew sooner or later we were going to have to face this group of people. The way we've been dealing with it over the last year has been listening to them as well as telling them what we were doing.

At a certain point we had to release the image of the Mark I, which was a tremendous leap from what was in the books. We got a nice little reaction from that. Then the Mark III with the red and gold. Then they liked that too.

Little by little we got our feet wet until, finally I was like, "Let's just show them what we've got." Fortunately because of the Stan Winston suits that were built, we had a lot of practical, in camera footage to show. ILM scrambled to get those last five shots together so that we could show him flying, and the high-tech version of the suit too.

We liked it. It played well. We said, "Let's see if this dog hunts."

And we put it out there and it worked out well.

Q: Did your experience on 'Daredevil' influence you, good or bad, on how you approached this film?

Favreau: Well, it was very different. I remember Mark Steven Johnson's concerns and challenges that he faced. You had Fox that was making a movie that was geared towards everybody. There were things they were able to do from Daredevil, from the books, and things that they weren't able to do.

He's a real fanboy filmmaker who wants to stay as true as he can. He was here at Comic-Con. And I think I learned things from, first of all, how lucky I was to be working with Marvel as a studio.

Marvel was no longer the people lobbying to the studio for their vision. They were people who had the money and they were looking after…I don't know if you've talked to Kevin Feige yet, but he knows more about Iron Man than I do. He was there as not just a boss, but as a consultant. He was an expert on the books. Any time I had a question I would get a binder full of pages from 40 years of books.

So their concerns were different. It was fun to work on as a filmmaker coming from the independent world. It was good for them because I came in on time and on budget. I knew how to be responsible.

I've slowly worked my way up to this budget level, in seeing how other filmmakers before me who come from my background…like Peter Jackson made the leap. Chris Nolan did a fantastic job on 'Batman Begins', and I think showed the studios that you can be rewarded by getting a cast that actually has some chops and integrity, as opposed to people who are …don't make it a star driven movie, just make the hero the star and then just make the best movie you can and the marketplace will reward you.

There were a lot of people who opened the door for me and I was able to follow in their footsteps.

Q: We saw that you snuck in an image of yourself in the footage.

Favreau: Yeah. I gotta give the people something to talk about and speculate about, because everybody's guessing at everything. All the rumors are online. It's amazing what a snowball that turns into. A huge white boulder.

Q: What can you tell us about it?

Favreau: I don't want to talk too much about…

Q: Your hair looked great.

Favreau: …thank you very much. I was wearing a wig, I can tell you that. It was an impetus for me to start losing weight, knowing that I was gonna be on screen.

Q: Were you happy to play that role?

Favreau: Oh yeah. I was happy to be in the movie. I was very, very happy to be in the film?

Q: Will we see more of Iron Man or more of Tony Stark?

Favreau: Iron Man is different from, certainly like the DC heroes where, Batman's the character and Bruce Wayne is his cover story. Superman is the character and Clark Kent is the disguise.

Tony Stark is the character and Iron Man is his alter ego that he only first begins to explore. Later on, as the character develops, is when there's more of a conflict in what he stands for and how hard it is to be Tony Stark when you really become Iron Man.

That's when you get into a sort of that layer of "Demon in the Bottle", and how that pulls a person apart. I think you're going to be seeing more of Tony Stark here, and you begin to learn who Iron Man is as Tony Stark learns who Iron Man is.

Q: Didn't you play a trick on Thursday's audience where you had the old school animation…

Favreau: Thursday was great.

That's what comes of having come here a few years now. I know what works in that room. I was there with 'Zathura' where I was trying to explain things to people and I showed some footage. It was a half-filled room in Hall H and that's a scary room when you're not holding that room.

I knew that you gotta go in there and, when you're working with a crowd that size, you have to know your audience. You have to have fun. You have to mess with them a little bit.

Ultimately you have to show them something that was worth waiting in line for, and traveling all the way to Comic-Con, and wearing a vinyl suit and putting on face paint. You know? It's not an effortless endeavor to make it into Hall H at Comic-Con on any of the days on any of the big panels. They're putting up with a lot. They're waiting in a lot of lines and a lot of people who are there who are expecting more than they're gonna see, so it was nice to give them more than they expected.

Q: How did you choose the villain for Iron Man?

Favreau: It's very hard to choose a villain for Iron Man. The big villain is the Mandarin, but the Mandarin is not the type of villain where, right off the bat, you could watch them squaring off.

You can't stay true to the books without putting off the mainstream audience without …as he's depicted in the books, I don't know if that depiction would work nowadays. Magical rings shooting, I don't know if that's the thing people are expecting.

I look at Mandarin more like how in Star Wars you had the Emperor, but Darth Vader is the guy you want to see him fight. Then you work your way to the time when lightning bolts are shooting out of the fingers and all that stuff could happen. But you can't have what happened in ['Return of the Jedi'] happen in 'A New Hope'. You just can't do it.

You can have Sauron be the first person that Frodo meets up with.

You have to lay enough down in the storyline so that as the story unfolds you get there, but you also have to delve into the rogues gallery and see, in our depiction of the universe and the reality that we're dealing with, where there aren't other superheroes with other powers in this world.

I want everything to come out of the technology that Tony Stark developed and watch it grow out from there. And then as you cut the movie together and you see how it plays and you learn the personality of the film, you can then go deeper and deeper.

I'm writing a comic book now with Adi Granov where Fin Fang Foom is the bad guy. That's what I want to see, but I don't know if I want that in the movie right now. Eventually I'd love to get to the point where the movie could accept that and you could develop a reality where that could work.

Q: Will there be more footage?

Favreau: I've showed you enough. You guys are going to pick that apart like the Zapruder film.

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