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Interview: 'Into the Spider-Verse' Producers Phil Lord and Chris Miller Talk Spider-Man, Stan Lee and Reinventing the Comic Book Movie

Interview: 'Into the Spider-Verse' Producers Phil Lord and Chris Miller Talk Spider-Man, Stan Lee and Reinventing the Comic Book Movie

It is unlike any Spider-Man movie before, and it is on the verge of redefining the way animated movies are made. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse swings into theaters on December 14, and with it comes a super-inventive and visually stunning story that introduces a new Spider-Man of color in Miles Morales (Shameik Moore), along with a smattering of other Spidey characters born out of the character's deep-rooted comics history. 

Into the Spider-Verse is essentially about a young kid learning how to be a hero from a man who forgot how to be one, but it may also be the most lovingly unique tribute to a comic book character ever seen on the big screen. With a plot that weaves in alternate universes, it allows the film to feature some other more memorable Spidey iterations we've seen in comics over the years while also being an origin story for Miles and an aging Spider-Man story for a Peter Parker (Jake Johnson) who's sort of given up on saving the day.

To celebrate tickets now being on sale for Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse here at Fandango, we spoke exclusively to the film's producer/writer, Phil Lord, and producer Chris Miller. The duo behind The Lego Movie, 21 Jump Street and Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs were charged with executing what is perhaps their most ambitious concept to date, and if the early reaction is any indication, they've knocked it out of the Spider-park. Below, we discuss where the idea came from, what inspired the bold look of the film, as well as the most poignant Stan Lee cameo to date and so much more. 

 

 

Fandango: So this may be the most comic book-y comic book movie ever made.

Phil Lord: That’s safe to say.

 

Fandango: How did this originate? Did the studio come to you? Did you guys go to them with the idea, and what was that original idea?

Chris Miller: Well, Amy Pascal and Avi Arad came to us with the idea of doing Spider-Man as an animated movie. And of course, the first thing you think is, well, doing an animated movie with the source material of a comic book, you can really, really get into the artistry in a way that no live action version of a comic book movie ever did, and that was really exciting. But then we also were really excited to tell the story of Miles Morales. So, first we said, "Uh." And then we said, "We'll do it, but only if it's the Miles Morales story." And luckily, they were super on board.

 

Fandango: Visually, it really is unlike any animated film we've seen before. What was some of the main inspiration for the look of it?

Phil Lord: Well, we went to the artist who created the books that we grew up with, and then Sara Pichelli, who co-created Miles with Brian Bendis and another couple of artists, like Robbi Rodriguez and [some] other folks who are doing contemporary work that's really special and specific to the characters that are in the movie. So we really tried to make it feel like an artist had touched every frame, and that an artist had interpreted his story so that it never felt like a computer simulation of a drawing, but always the idiosyncrasies of an artist.

So that's why you see so many different stylistic takes, even in the comic books that appear in the movie. They are a combination of Steve Ditko and John Romita. There's a lot how some of the comics treated Kingpin, and the books that we grew up with in this picture. And then Gwen's stuff looks like her book. And obviously the noir has a specific style all the way to Spider-Ham, which we tried to make as cartoony as we could, so it stood out. And we got our friend Craig Kellman to really do an exaggerated cartoon version of him. So there's so much that it really feels like there's a super team of artists that are collaborating, just the way like the super-genius spiders are collaborating.

 

Fandango: I think my favorite shot is the one where the city is upside down and Miles is sort of floating towards the ground. I think it's one of the most memorable shots of the year, to be honest. How did it originate?

Phil Lord: That was in the script. That was in the pages. It's a really easy thing to write and a really hard thing to make it look great. And thank goodness we've got such an amazing group of people [working on the] animation [and] doing all that stuff, including our friend, Justin Thompson, who is the production designer on the two Cloudy [movies] and the guy we've been working with for a really long time. And one of the cool things is to watch a lot of crew members that have worked with us on other movies change gears and tell a different kind of story, a different visual language. It was really cool.

Fandango: Fans have been itching to see Miles Morales in a Spider-Man movie for a while. When it comes to that character, what was the most important thing for you in terms of bringing him to life? What was the most important thing to get right?

Phil Lord: Well, to me, it sort of all circles around to his family. He has a very different family than Peter Parker did. First of all, both of his parents are alive, so that's a huge difference right there. And being able to portray a very grounded family with a mother and father who both want the best for their son, but go about it in different ways. Also an uncle that loves him, but is encouraging him to go down a different path. That whole dynamic is really the center of what the whole movie's about, and it was really important to us to get right. And it really speaks to Miles trying to figure out who he is and who he's gonna be, what kind of a person he's going to become.

 

Fandango: This is going be the first proper Stan Lee cameo since his passing. Did you know right from the start where you wanted to place him?

Chris Miller: I remember when we talked about it, we said, "You know, he's so integral to the spirit of this movie that we don't want to just give him a little passing cameo." We wanted him to be more important and carry some emotional weight to the movie.

Phil Lord: Essentially we really thought since he was the guy who created the character with Steve Ditko that he should really give him something important like a talisman. So he gives him the spider suit, and says, "There's no give backs." And we thought that was really important.

 

Fandango: It might be the most poignant cameo he’s ever been a part of.

Phil Lord: We certainly felt really happy to do it with him, and obviously this last week [with Stan Lee's passing], it made it extra meaningful and moving to watch the movie get finished and just know that he gets to be such a resonant part of it. And we showed some fans the feature maybe two or three days after he passed away, and it was really emotional just watching everyone engage with it and collectively salute him.

Fandango: How did you go about deciding what alternate-universe Spider characters to include?

Phil Lord: We wanted everyone to be canonical. We didn't want to make anything up, because we felt like it would feel like we had a Great Gazoo to the movie or something like Scrappy Doo. We wanted to make sure that they all were originating from the comic, so we just sort of went to Marvel Wiki and having read the books and some of the event crossover books, we thought that these were characters that were as diverse as possible [and] had as many different colors to them.

Like, Spider-Man Noir is such a special dude because he's so characterologically different than all the other ones and darker. He's got a different personality and point of view. Spider-Man is on the complete opposite end of the spectrum. So we really were looking for a Benetton ad of spider people in terms of the personalities and their visualization. So that when you put them together on the screen they didn't feel like it belonged necessarily. And one of the most fun things to watch is this black-and-white character next to this highly saturated cartoon next to an animated character next to Peter and Miles. It's a really neat sight gag to get them all in one frame.

 

Fandango: It seems like Spider-Man Noir already has his own massive fan base. When did you realize that Nicolas Cage had to play this character?

Chris Miller: Well, luckily, you might be surprised to know this, but in an animated film you're not making it alone. You're making it with up to a thousand different people. And this movie was so ambitious and so difficult to make. It took so many different artists coming in and the spirit of collaboration was very alive on this movie.

So everybody got a chance to throw in little Easter eggs -- and again, the thing that you may be surprised to hear is that so many of these people who are in the field of animation are also comic book nerds. The Venn diagram overlap on that with those two worlds is pretty hard, it turns out. So, the crew was filled with people who love Spider-Man. Everybody got a chance to throw in things under the radar and the background, things that you wouldn't notice on the first viewing. So, like everything on this movie, it was a real group effort.

 

Fandango: Speaking of things thrown into the background, is there a quick shot of Donald Glover in one scene when Miles visits his uncle’s apartment?

Phil Lord: It sure looks like him…

Chris Miller: I don’t know if we’re legally allowed to say…

Phil Lord: We basically wanted to tip our hat to Community and the groundswell of support for the Spider-Man of color that came out of that, and we just thought it was a neat little nod.

Chris Miller: That episode [of Community] was sort of the origin of where Miles came from. It may or may not actually be in the movie. You have to watch to find out...

 

Fandango: I love alternate-universe Spider-Man wearing sweat pants. It's a nice touch. Personally, I very much related to this aging kind of guy who loves pizza a little too much. Is that a version that exists somewhere?

Phil Lord: Well, I think [we're] imagining if there was a Spider-Man that was about the same age as the Spider-Man in the Sam Raimi movies, and he was now a little older, what would his point of view on the job be? And he came out of us trying to find ways to break new ground visually with the storytelling with how we're trying to make the film feel more cinematic.

And that was another one where we said, "What's a situation that Peter hasn't been in before?" And we thought, "Oh, he's never had to be the older and wiser one. He's never had to be a mentor. And what if we could do Karate Kid, but where Mr. Miyagi doesn't know anything?" And it felt like a really neat color to put onto Peter that we hadn't seen before. 

Fandango: Do any of these Peter Parkers exist in the same universe as the Sam Raimi films? Because you do pay homage to them early on.

Chris Miller: I think the idea is that this Peter Parker is an amalgam of all the Peter Parkers that you have seen in popular culture. So there's elements of the Homecoming Tom Holland Spider-Man, of an Andrew Garfield Spider-Man, of the Tobey Maguire Spider-Man, of Spider-Man from various comics and TV shows. And sort of in this universe the Spider-Man that comes to Miles' world is one that looks similar to but is not exactly the same as the ones that you know. And so, that's why all of those plots are similar, but there's a twist to them.

Phil Lord: Yeah, the Spider-Man in Miles' universe that he meets early in the movie was meant to be as competent a Spider-Man as possible, and is meant to be living in an alternate universe that we would all consider the mainstream comics universe. So you'll see that like he and M.J. kiss in the rain upside down, but she's upside down, and he's right side up. Just trying to find little ways to say, "This is a parallel dimension."

 

Fandango: I love how the film is very much about a kid learning how to become a hero from a man who forgot how to be one—

Chris Miller: That's a very eloquent way of saying that. I'm gonna steal it.

 

Fandango: [laughs] That's what I love the most about it. What's something the two of you have learned in the time that you've been working on this? A lot has happened in the lives of Phil Lord and Chris Miller over the last two years. What's something you've learned?

Phil Lord: Well, every movie is really hard. That's what makes them worth doing. But I think this one was about figuring out how to [bring together] a group of really talented and diverse filmmakers and give them the latitude and support that they needed to do better than their best work. And so at every turn there's an amazingly talented person. The story of this movie is [in trying to] activate all these people and keep everybody together to push it into the right direction without losing what we love about each of these individual's voices.

And that's what's so satisfying about watching the final product is how you see everyone's contribution coming through so clearly and in such a heightened way. But I think that the message to our crew was go harder, go further, test the limits, break the machine and the tools that you're using to make the picture. We want to break new ground and you can see it. All they needed was permission, and the result is something that no one's ever seen before. We're all really proud of that.

Fandango: Does it feel good to see the film being so well received early on?

Chris Miller: Yeah, it's been really remarkable seeing how people seem to connect with the story and really appreciate how groundbreaking it is. Our hope is that this opens the door for animation to kind of push for diversity of styles going forward. I hope that people will look back and say with this movie that this movie broke the dam and allowed animation to blossom -- that we specifically are in a golden age of animation and it's just getting started. So, it's been remarkable so far, and I can't wait to see it with more people.

 

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse hits theaters on December 14, and tickets are now on sale right here at Fandango

In addition to this interview, Fandango premiered the very first clip from the film today. You can watch that below.

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Watch Exclusive 'Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse' Clip: Tickets on Sale Now!

Watch Exclusive 'Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse' Clip: Tickets on Sale Now!