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Sam Raimi: The Spider-Man Q&A
© Jason Myers

Sam Raimi gets to hang out with Bruce Campbell, boss his brother Ted around, and make the Spider-Man movie. You know you wish you were Sam Raimi. Maybe not as much as you wish were Firestar's skin-tight yellow jumpsuit, but Raimi's a close second, right?

Well, here's a little bit o' Raimi goodness, from a San Diego Comic Con audience Q&A session.

Sam Raimi: I'm thrilled to be here, and thrilled to be part of the Spider-Man story. Like you, I'm a fan of Spider-Man, and I feel like I'm one more of those great Marvel artists or illustrators or inkers or writers that have told one of the stories of Spider-Man. I can't believe it hasn't been made into a movie until now. I guess it had plenty of legal problems that tied it up. No one's happier than me, as a fan of Spider-Man, to finally see it on the big screen. And I'm thrilled to be here with, as Stan Lee would say, the true believers, to talk about it.

How much leeway did Sony give you in determining the length of the movie?

SR: Well, basically, they say "Jump" and I say "What color?" No. What happens is, they've had input throughout the script process, but really, they've pretty much been hands-off so far. The creative aspect of the picture has been determined by myself, the producer Laura Ziskin, Avi Arod from Marvel Comic Books, and the writers obviously. Sony has really given us a free hand in telling the Spider-Man story.

Now, the editing could be a different story, but so far they've been really supportive, and allowed us free creative reign. I think it'll be under two hours. I think it'll be average length. I hope it gets down to be ten minutes under two hours. Something like that

The script that I worked with, a number of writers have contributed to. It originally started as a scriptment - I've read that - by James Cameron, which was this 80- to 100-page half-script, half-treatment. And then David Koepp came aboard, and he spent a number of years developing it into a screenplay, and then Alvin Sargent came aboard, and he did the last draft or two of the script. Although Scott Rosenberg came on briefly, I don't think we ended up going in the direction that he took the script.

On the Coen brothers:

SR: I'm good friends with Joel and Ethan Coen, and I really love their pictures, and I think, just through our friendship - we lived together for a number of years in Los Angeles - we've probably influenced each other quite a bit. Specifically, it's hard for me to point out one particular film of theirs, or script, but just being with them as human beings and taking part in their sense of humor, I've probably been influenced by them.

How did you get the money to make the original Evil Dead?

SR: After I had written the Evil Dead screenplay, my partner, Robert Tapert, and my other partner, Bruce Campbell, realized we needed to go out and get money to make this feature film. So we made a super-eight version. They didn't even have digital video cams back then. We did a super-eight millimeter version. A 30-minute version of Evil Dead. We called it Within the Woods. I rewrote it to be a short film, and that we took around to different investors' houses, and we showed it to them to try and prove that we could make a film that would scare them, and, in that way, hopefully solicit their investment in our first feature film, Evil Dead.

Because we had no track record, that was a very important thing. To show that we could make a film, and it could frighten them. And if you're an independent film-maker, I still think that's a good way to proceed. Because no one's going to give you a chance to make a movie. No one cares about independent filmmakers. And what you have to do is make a little product - I think - and show it to the potential investor and really "wow" them. So you can prove that you can make this movie before you ask them for the money to make it.

There are little images in the preview that hint about Dr. Octopus, Scorpion, and the Lizard. What's the significance of those?

SR: Scorpion isn't in it. It's just the story of the origin of Peter Parker and how he becomes Spider-Man, his relationships with his uncle, his aunt. The marketing department felt that it would be fun for the diehard fans of Spider-Man to put clues into that particular scene, to have fun. I don't actually know. I'm lying.

Will you make another movie with Bruce Campbell in the future?

SR: Yeah, I love Bruce Campbell. He's the greatest. He's also a knucklehead and an imbecile, and the audience enjoys pictures he's in proportionally to the amount of damage he sustains in them. So, Bruce is in this picture. It's a cameo role. He's really great in it. He's funny. And, yes, I would love to make another picture with him.

Your films usually have a very kinetic visual style. What approach are you taking to directing Spider-Man?

SR: This time, I feel like I'm at the service of Spider-Man. I'm such a big fan of it that I did not want to be part of the presentation. I just wanted to translate the character, with the help of the writers and the actors and the production team. My job was to translate the character to the screen, and not make it a stylistic show where I was then part of the creation.

So, what I tried to do was not be present… as in "this is a cool shot" kind of thing, and yet at the same time, when Spider-Man was moving through the city, I wanted the audience to feel the excitement of soaring 70 stories up above Manhattan, and the speed at which he moves. So, there's a lot of camera movement, but its not done for the effect of creating a style for the picture. It's really just to make it feel like the audience is Spider-Man.

So, I don't think there is a style for the movie. We tried to keep it very realistic, because the great thing about Stan Lee's creation of Peter Parker is that he's a real kid in a real world, and as much as I love Tim Burton's Batman style for instance, it wouldn't have been right for this picture. Because Peter's one of us. That's one of the reasons we love him so much is that he went through elementary school, junior high school, high school, as a loser, like the rest of us. Let's face it. He gets a gift and a curse of superpower, so I felt that it had to be a very real presentation, and that it was wrong for me to make cool camera moves.

And, same for the production design, and Neal Spisak, our production designer, had to walk a fine line, because, at the same time you want to see the real world, we all know that if you filmed Spider-Man and the Green Goblin against Manhattan, in real Manhattan or real Queens, the image just wouldn't absorb them. It would just spit them out. It wouldn't work. So he had to find some level to take the edge off of reality. That's what we tried to do without making any stylistic statements.

So it's not going to be like my previous pictures. It's just Spider-Man, that's all I'm gonna do.

At what point in the Spider-Man story does the movie take place?

SR: He's in high school, and he's unmarried, and this story tracks his meeting of…. He's already become friends with Harry Osborn… and he's going to meet… although he's been admiring Mary Jane Watson for quite a while, he's never really had a conversation with her.

What did Toby Macguire have that made you choose him for the part of Spider-Man?

SR: Well, there were a lot of great actors who wanted to be Spider-Man. Like us, they all love that character. Toby had a believability and a sincerity that was in Stan Lee's comics and the other writers who wrote the comics. I felt that he had that true, good soul. I think, more than anything, that's what he had.

Your brother Ted Raimi has an excellent singing voice. Can you sing as well as he does?

SR: Well, sure. I don't want to embarrass him, because it would make his singing voice sound so poor in comparison.

Is Ted in Spider-Man?

SR: Yes, Ted is in the film too. My mother made me give him a part. He's funny, though. He did a good job.

Does the film explore the wonders of Spider-Man's powers, or the curse of having those powers?

SR: This is the first installment of the Spider-Man on film. I'm sure that there are going to be more stories about Spider-Man. I think that what we tried to focus on was not the curse of the powers at first… well, yeah, we probably did. I think what we tried to tell the story of was of an irresponsible young boy who is maybe selfish and consumed with his own petty problems of getting recognized by the girl he admires, and being popular, and getting a car, and high school, and fitting in.

We followed the growth of that young man to becoming a responsible man. And I think, only at the end, stepping up to that responsibility has its own price that Peter has to pay. Maybe that's the beginning of the curse. Having the ability to help all these people with his powers, and to use that ability, what price he's got to pay. So, maybe we did touch on the curse, by the end of the picture. But, more, it's a story about how a young boy grows to be a responsible young man.

Spider-Man will debut May 3, 2002.

Jason Myers is film/DVD editor for RevolutionSF.

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