Director's Chair: Marc Webb - 'The Amazing Spider-Man'
Issue: August 1, 2012

Director's Chair: Marc Webb - 'The Amazing Spider-Man'

HOLLYWOOD — With a name like Marc Webb, the director was probably predestined to helm The Amazing Spider-Man, the fourth film in the multi-billion-dollar-grossing franchise — even though Webb’s last film and feature debut was the low-budget rom-com 500 Days of Summer. 

Here, in an exclusive Post interview, the director, who was deep in the final stages of post at press time, talks about making the film, his first 3D experience, his longtime love of post and dealing with over 1,600 visual effects shots.

POST: What sort of film did you set out to make? 
MARC WEBB: “I wanted to make a character piece that evolved into a spectacular action-adventure. It was very important for me to really protect and care for that character Peter Parker that we all know and love, and find a new inflection of him.”

POST: How tough was it rebooting the series, and what are the main changes you made?
WEBB: “It wasn’t easy. The main challenge is that you’re faced with such a wealth of material from 50 years of comics and then narrowing down the characters, so we have the Lizard as Spider-Man’s nemesis now, not The Green Goblin. Finding the right actor to play Peter Parker was tricky, but Andrew Garfield is a great actor. 
“Then we faced so many technical challenges every day, and a perception challenge — because when people see this I think they’ll quickly realize it’s very different and new interpretation, while it stills honors the iconic Spider-Man elements.”

POST: Did you consult with Sam Raimi at all?
WEBB: “I didn’t consult with him, but we talked a couple of times and he was very generous and kind about me taking over. I think he’d just decided that his story was done, and that Spider-Man’s this perennial character who belongs on the big screen, so it seemed like a great opportunity to me.”

POST: How daunting was the 3D process, considering it was your first time?
WEBB: “You can always learn about stuff like 3D and talk to people and get great advisors around you, and it’s part of a film language. So we spent a lot of time testing rigs and trying to understand the process and how 3D can be used and exploited in a way that’s exciting and interesting for the audience.
“What I discovered, and what’s always true with any tool you use, is that it has to be used in support of the story, and I wanted to use 3D as a means to help realize Peter Parker’s character arc. So the film starts off small and intimate and gradually expands, and I used more aggressive 3D as it expanded.” 

POST: Did you discuss 3D with Jim Cameron and the benefits of shooting the film 3D as opposed to converting it in post?
WEBB: “Yes, and he was incredibly helpful and generous early on when I was thinking about it. He was a big advocate of shooting in stereo, and one of the main reasons I chose to do it that way is that we reviewed the different tests and we tested some conversions and a few different 3D rigs, and we all felt that because the post conversion is usually rushed, it can be quite flawed, unless you have a huge amount of time to do it properly. So I felt the graceful texture and roundness of shooting in stereo was really helpful. You’re not rotoscoping stuff out, so there’s a very clean, floating, rounded quality to the 3D, which I feel you can just sense when you watch a film shot in 3D, even if you can’t always see the difference in a shot-by-shot basis.”

POST: What were the main challenges of pulling all this together?
WEBB: “Obviously it was a huge shoot, almost six months, spread between backlots at Universal, Sony stages, downtown LA and over a month in New York City on location. We had massive set pieces and massive sets — rooftops, the sewers and so on, and we redressed all of the Universal backlot, so our footprint was quite large. 
“We had DITs, stereographers, lots of technicians dealing with all the 3D rigs, and of course lighting was a huge deal. I wanted to shoot at a fairly low stop throughout the whole film, so lighting was an issue. Luckily we had a very gifted crew, with people like key grip Les Tomita and gaffer Dave Christiansen,  and we managed to do 17 to 25 set-ups a day. But it was a huge empire moving from place to place.”

POST: Your DP was John Schwartzman, who shot Pearl Harbor and Armageddon. Why did you choose him?
WEBB: “I’d never worked with him before but I needed a DP who had done these kinds of large-scale shoots before, because it was a new experience for me, working on that scale, so it was very important to find key people who wouldn’t be intimidated by the scope of the work. John was great and had a great attitude. We shot it all on Red Epics attached to 3ality rigs.”

POST: How tough was the shoot?
WEBB: “It was a lot of work and long, but it went pretty smoothly, and we were on schedule. We had enough testing stages early on in terms of all the equipment that we never really ran into any problems. It was pretty intense, but well organized.”

POST: How long was post, and do you like the post process? 
WEBB: “I love it. When I started off, I was an editor. My very first job in the business was re-cutting music videos for labels and doing documentaries and EPKs, so it’s a process that I’m very familiar with and understand the power of. So I feel very much at home in an edit bay, which is good since we’ve spent about a year on post so far. Even though we tried to capture as much of the stunt work in-camera as possible, there’s still a lot of visual effects shots to deal with.”

POST: The film was edited by Alan Bell, Pietro Scalia and Mike McCusker. Tell us how it worked.
WEBB: “I normally work with Alan Bell, and he cut my last film but he was busy doing Water for Elephants, so Pietro Scalia came in and worked through production doing a lot of the foundational work. Then Alan became available and Pietro had to go and do Prometheus, and then he came back and finished it up with Alan and I. And Mike McCusker cut a few sequences. 
“We cut it all on Avid in offices next to the Sony lot, and of course we had all these massive sequences and tons of visual effects, so it worked out great that we had this really accomplished team of editors.”

POST: Where did you do the post? 
WEBB: “On the Sony lot, with a great Sony team led by John Naveira.”

POST: There are obviously a huge number of visual effects shots in the film. How many are there, who did them and what was your approach to dealing with them?
WEBB: “We have over 1,600, so it’s a lot, even though a lot are rig removal and painting out background stuff. Most of the VFX were done at Sony Imageworks, with Jerome Chen as our VFX supervisor, and he did a fantastic job. Then we also farmed out various orders to Pixomondo, Pixel Playground, Method, as there was so much. 
“I’d guess we ended up employing over 3,000 people on the film, and many of those were animators, lighting compositors and so on. The visual effects side of it is like making a whole other film once you’ve finished the actual shoot. It’s interesting because they call it post, but we actually started a lot of that stuff before we were even in production. So post now really bleeds over into production, whether it’s previs or shooting plates and creating environments, because it’s an incredibly demanding schedule in terms of all the rendering and so on. 
“In terms of my approach to all the visual effects, what was most important to me was having the movie feel more realistic, emotionally and physically. That was key from the start, to do as much as we could in-camera. We had this amazing, very dedicated stunt team, led by Andy Armstrong. He designed a lot of the wire rigs and swinging we used, especially in the first half of the film. And once we could see what it was like for a human being to be swung around the city on wires, we used all that information to inform the animation in the second half, when we embraced more traditional CG animation techniques. 
“I wanted there to be this sense of realism, the imperfection in the body form, to make it feel more grounded — wrinkles in the suit and so on. That level of detail was something Jerome and I discussed right from the start, and which we used as a foundation of realism in all the visual effects, so it wouldn’t cut between the two worlds.”

POST: What was the most difficult VFX sequence and why?
WEBB: “The big bridge sequence was tough as we shot on stages, we shot background plates, we shot in New York and on the Universal backlot — so we had eight different sets and elements combined with a ton of visual effects. But what was crucial was that it’s a key emotional scene for Spider-Man, where he has an epiphany and he’s transformed. That kind of action, that has serious emotional stakes, is the best there is. So despite all the spectacle, peril and dynamism, you have to focus on the character.”

POST: Can you talk about the importance of music and sound?
WEBB: “It’s huge. For instance, what James Horner did in the basketball sequence made it funny in a way that would never have worked just visually. It helped cue the audience into the tone and gave that scene a rhythm and feel that’s pretty magical. Music can be overused, but it can access powerful emotions that nothing else can, and similarly, sound effects are key in building tension.
“There’s a scene where Gwen is hiding in the closet and the Lizard comes in, and it’s photographed very simply. But it relies very heavily on sound effects and music, which are also quite simple, but they tell the story. We did the mix on the lot with Paul Massey and Dave Adair, and that’s a blast for me. And very early on the team began work on all the web-shooting sounds and the Lizard’s roars and sounds.”

POST: How about the DI?
WEBB: “We did it at Sony, and it was vital for 3D. I wanted to declare war on the murkiness of 3D, and correct the overall luminance of the picture for the best possible 3D experience. We designed the environments to have more practical lights, as we shot a lot at night, and it turned out great. The film evolves as you make it, but I’m so happy with the results.”