A new interview with Marvel Studios executive Nate Moore revealed that the MCU team avoids hiring writers who love Marvel Comics for work on their projects.
Marvel Studios and the MCU have enjoyed more than 14 years of success at the box office, with filmmakers from Chloe Zhao to Kenneth Branagh stepping up to take on a Marvel project at one point or another.
These creatives have obviously become well-versed in the world of Marvel (or at least their specific leading hero) by the time their films have come out, but the knowledge isn't always there from the beginning. Sure, there are the Ryan Cooglers of the world who are "huge fans of the comic books," but that is not the case with everyone.
And according to Marvel exec Nate Moore, the studio actually actively avoids writers who are fans of the comics.
Marvel Studios Avoids Comic Book Fans
In an interview on The Ringer's The Town with Matt Belloni podcast, Marvel Studios VP of Production & Development Nate Moore revealed that the MCU studio avoids writers who love Marvel Comics.
After host Matt Belloni asked if there is some sort of "boot camp" for Marvel directors and writers, or if an innate knowledge of the source material is even a requirement of joining an MCU project, Moore said "Not really, to be honest:”
Matt Belloni: “It’s funny when these movies come out and they go through a press cycle, every filmmaker all of a sudden is a Marvel comic superfan, and they were playing with the comics when they were six years old, and they had all the action figures, and they knew ever little thing there was to know about Marvel Comics. That’s bullshit. I mean, we know most of these filmmakers were not comics superfans and they got a call from their agent that said, ‘Hey, this is an open assignment, are you interested in doing a Marvel movie?’ And then they come into your world. So is there some kind of a Marvel bootcamp or something that you do with these filmmakers to get them into this world and knowing all of the things they need to know?”
Nate Moore: “Not really, to be honest.”
Belloni: “Or is it just oversight? You guys are just there all the time.”
Moore: “We’re there, we’re there. I was that kid, and I mean, I’m still that guy who has long boxes in his garage that my wife wishes I would get rid of, so I do know a lot of the stuff. And the stuff I didn’t know, I certainly know now. I think they are probably more fans than you give them credit for but certainly not with the same dept that they’ve described. Joe [Russo] did collect comics, so did Ryan Coogler, to be honest.”
Moore noted that writers who already love Marvel are "always a red flag" for him. On the other side of the equation, Moore looked at Captain America trilogy writers Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely along with Thor: Ragnarok director Taika Waititi as examples of creatives that looked at their projects in their own unique way:
Belloni: “Exactly. And some of these filmmakers, it’s a stretch. But maybe that’s what works.”
Moore: “Well, no, and I honestly think it does. And you talk about the process, for me, one thing I think is interesting, and specifically for writers, I would say, a lot of times, we’re pitched writers who love Marvel. And to me, that’s always a red flag. Because I go, ‘Oh, I don’t want you to already have a pre-existing idea of what it is, because you grew up with Issue 15 and that’s what you want to recreate...’ I want somebody who’s hard on the material, who goes, ‘What is this? I think there’s a movie here, but maybe we should be looking at it in this way.’
And I think, again, the best example of that for me was Markus and McFeely, who weren’t comic guys coming up, but were like, ‘Wait, Captain America, this seems a bit weird. What if we kinda looked at it in this way?’ And they weren’t married to anything, nothing was, you know, there was nothing sacrosanct. And I think that’s important to be able to go, ‘Look, the source material is great, and I love it, and comics work in the medium they were built in, but that’s not a direct, one-to-one translation to the best version of the movie.’ And sometimes it takes someone who’s out of this culture to go, ‘Hey, I know you think it should be this, but maybe it should be this other thing.’
I mean, Taika’s a great example of that too, right? ‘Hey, I know Thor is traditionally a bit stiff, it’s a bit Shakespearean. What if you tweaked it? What if you tweaked the tone completely?’ … I mean the tone of Ragnarok is all Taika, because he wasn’t married to Thor on the page… I haven’t read every Thor book, I’ve read a lot, I couldn’t tell you a Thor run that is tonally anything like Ragnarok. Like that movie sort of sits on its own, because of the filmmaker.”
Then addressing what Marvel Studios actually looks for in its filmmakers, the longtime executive said there are two criteria they look for. First, "have they shown excellence" in the past? And second, "are they passionate about making the movie that we [Marvel] wanna make:"
Belloni: “We talked about the writing process, and I wanna ask a bit about the filmmaker hiring process, because you guys have had this unprecedented run with filmmakers who are not conventional choices for these films, going all the way back to Jon Favreau with the original Iron Man, to going to someone like Taika Waititi for Thor, and James Gunn for Guardians of the Galaxy, people that have not been thought of as doing mainstream blockbuster movies, Fleck and Boden for Captain Marvel. What is it about– I think a lot of agents would like to know– what is it about specific filmmakers for specific material that leads you guys to say, ’Have you seen this little New Zealand movie? This guy could be good for 'Thor: [Ragnarok]'?’”
Moore: “I think the things we look for, there are two things, I think, and in my experience this has been true. We look for filmmakers who have at least done something exceptional once, right? Because making a movie’s hard and sometimes a movie that someone is really invested in doesn’t come together for a lot of reasons that are in their control or out of their control. But, have they shown excellence? And are they passionate about making the movie that we wanna make?”
Moore said the passion had to at least be a part of an MCU creative because "filmmaking is hard and we are hard on filmmakers:"
Moore: “Filmmaking is hard and we are hard on filmmakers, because we’re always trying to make the movie as good as we can. And the filmmakers that are dying to do the movie are the ones who tend to have the stamina to get through kind of the ‘Dark Night of the Soul’ moment where everything’s going wrong, or everything’s over budget, or what we wanted to do isn’t working out, and they were always willing to roll with the punches, because they wanted to make the movie.”
The Secret Sauce of MCU Filmmaking
Looking at these quotes from Nate Moore, one can easily see the tightrope that Marvel Studios has to walk when picking who takes the wheel on any number of MCU projects.
While an innate passion for the source material may be a turn off as Moore described, it can also be the thing that pushes a filmmaker to make the best thing they can. The marvel exec said it himself, sometimes these creatives need to "roll with the punches," whatever they may be, and enthusiasm for the heroes one is working with can be the thing to help get things going when the going gets tough.
But that fandom can also be a drawback as Moore explains. It can be the thing that puts a writer or director in a box, as they seek to emulate their favorite moment from a particular comic, rather than tell the best story that makes sense for the screen.
It's a delicate balance, that Marvel Studios has had to play with since 2008, and has done so to resounding success (for the most part), helping names like James Gunn, the Russo brothers, and Taika Waititi shoot to prominence because of their work on the franchise.