Jon Watts talks directing Spider-Man: Homecoming
With Spider-Man: Homecoming swinging into theaters on July 7, Sony Pictures and Marvel Studios provided ComingSoon.net the opportunity to have a fun exclusive chat with the film’s young director Jon Watts (Cop Car, Clown). We discussed Watts’ favorite eras of Spider-Man comics, comparing his experience to Tim Burton’s on Batman, and his thoughts on the recent Han Solo director shuffle.
A young Peter Parker / Spider-Man (Tom Holland), who made his sensational debut in Captain America: Civil War, begins to navigate his newfound identity as the web-slinging super hero in Spider-Man: Homecoming. Thrilled by his experience with the Avengers, Peter returns home, where he lives with his Aunt May (Marisa Tomei), under the watchful eye of his new mentor Tony Stark (Robert Downey, Jr.). Peter tries to fall back into his normal daily routine – distracted by thoughts of proving himself to be more than just your friendly neighborhood Spider-Man – but when the Vulture (Keaton) emerges as a new villain, everything that Peter holds most important will be threatened. Spider-Man: Homecoming also stars Zendaya, Jon Favreau, Donald Glover and Tyne Daly.
ComingSoon.net: What were some specific elements from your own high school experience that you tried to incorporate into the film?
Jon Watts: I mean, just the awkwardness and nervousness was a big part. Then there’s just a few little details that don’t really matter. As well as some clothes and gestures and Ned’s dumb hat. You know – his fedora. There was a time when I just loved Indiana Jones so much. I was in fourth or fifth grade and I wore a fedora like that one to school everyday. It was so dumb. I feel like when my family is going to see the movie at the premiere, they are going to see things in the movie that I didn’t even realize I was putting in the movie that are just sub-conscious high school scars.
CS: Like “Oh dude you used to do that!”
Jon Watts: Yeah, and I will have not even remembered and then feel that much more embarrassed.
CS: The comics have all of these different eras, artistically: The Ditko era, the Romita era, etc. The McFarlane era was what I grew up with. What specific period of the comics spoke to you the most?
Jon Watts: I try to read everything, as much as I can get my hands on to really immerse myself in the world, because they did so many different things. Because they explored so many paths. And it’s humbling, because you think you came up with an original idea, like “What if Spider-Man did this?” and you find out they did it five times in the comics. So it was always very nice to have something to lean on. But more than anything else, the introduction, the very very first books were the most inspirational for me. Because they reminded me that Spider-Man was introduced to give a different perspective on the superhero universe. And that is something that I think most people lost sight of. That’s something that I really appreciated that I thought I was doing, I’m bringing Spider-Man into the Marvel Cinematic Universe, which if people don’t know the history of comics, they’re like “whoa what a crazy thing,” but no. That was how it was always meant to be, he was supposed to give a regular guy’s/regular kid’s perspective on this world of superheroes. Like, the first thing he tries to do is join The Fantastic Four. And seeing that was a great reminder to me of the essence of Spider-Man. Because he is a regular guy and this is his perspective of this crazy world. And he’s always been alone in the movies, always been the only superhero in the universe. And being a bit of a loner is definitely a part of his personality, but it’s not the only part of his personality.
CS: Yeah, you de-emoified him a little bit. There are a lot of parallels between you doing this movie and when Tim Burton was doing the first “Batman.” Burton was just coming off two smaller movies, and then all of a sudden, he was doing one of the most expensive movies of all time. But there was a lot of machinery at work in that movie and he relied a lot on second unit, and there were a lot of cooks. If you look back at it now, it’s a bit of an incongruous movie. But what I really liked about “Homecoming” is that it all felt of a piece, it felt like it was one vision.
Jon Watts: Well you can’t overestimate what Burton did. Because there wasn’t much of a precedent at all. I mean, “Superman” was and is still amazing. But in terms of the scope of what Burton was doing, that was such a massive undertaking. I mean, I have the backs of all the other directors that came before me in this universe to sort of stand on. They built this universe, I just sort of get to show up and have fun and put my story inside of it. I got a new appreciation for everything they did back then just from talking to Michael about making the first “Batman.” What that was like, him and Tim working together to make sure they kept it idiosyncratic. You can’t over-estimate how much they did.
CS: Exactly, and even back then they had an overbearing producer in Jon Peters and they had to jump through a lot of hoops.
Jon Watts: And it was a completely different world they were making a movie in.
CS: A few years ago, we were kind of shocked when Edgar Wright dropped out of “Ant-Man” pretty close to production. They just kicked Lord & Miller off “Han Solo” three-quarters of the way through the movie. Now that you are a part of this rarefied group of people who has worked within this big tentpole world, do you think that directors are becoming less important for these kind of movies?
Jon Watts: That’s a really good question. I can only speak on my own experience, and you can’t make a movie without a director. At some point, someone just has to tell everyone what to do. Something I learned early on in my career is there’s no use trying to fool anybody about what you want to do on a project where there are other people involved, rather than your own thing. Because at some point it is going to be on a big screen, everyone is going to see it and then the “cat’s out of the bag,” so for me I have tried to be as clear and upfront as possible from the very beginning about what I want to do. And that was the case with this movie. From the very beginning I just tried to really stress how I saw the movie and I tried to be as articulate as possible so that no one at any point would be surprised or say, “That’s not what we want!” You just really try to convince everyone and be as clear as possible so when you are making the movie they can say, “Great, that’s what he said he was going to do and he is doing it and we are happy.” So, I think the tension comes in more when people have different creative visions for how something should be – and that is when you get into conflict. So I don’t think it’s a question of “Are directors necessary?” as much as making sure a clear vision is articulated and executed. Does that make sense?
CS: Yeah, that does make sense, because you don’t want a bait and switch.
Jon Watts: Yeah exactly. Especially being clear about things upfront that might be controversial. I made a lot of music videos and commercials like that. I have had that kind of experience so you just know. It is something as simple as having all the handheld footage in the movie, you know, iPhone footage. I was really going to shoot this with a tiny camera. We weren’t going to shoot with a big camera and then downgrade it to look crappy.
CS: You can always tell when they do that. It looks like ass.
Jon Watts: Yes, and it drives me crazy. We were going to shoot it with a small camera so that it will feel the same and have the same motion. And I knew that could potentially be an issue down the road, so from so unnecessarily early on, I said “This is how we’re going to do this.” And it really helped down the road because no one felt like there was a bait and switch.
CS: Let’s do the flip side of that question: What do you think was your biggest contribution to “Spider-Man: Homecoming,” something that none of the other directors on the shortlist would have been able to bring to it?
Jon Watts: I don’t know. That’s more like a Kevin [Feige] and Amy [Pascal] question. But I know I did try to bring a level of enthusiasm to the project that I wanted to contribute to the whole film. Because I was excited to be making it, I wanted Tom to be excited about being Spider-Man. I wanted “Peter Parker” to be excited about getting to do what “Peter Parker” gets to do. I wanted to just bring that kind of excitement to the project and to capture what I think is the true spirit of Spider-Man.
CS: Are you showing people the Spidey tattoo you got?
Jon Watts: I don’t have a tattoo. That is a totally hilarious thing…
CS: How did that rumor get started?
Jon Watts: Someone said it once as a prank and then it was added to the Wikipedia page, so now people think it’s real.
CS: It was in a Hollywood Reporter article also.
Jon Watts: That’s great! You can ask Eli Roth, my whole career is built upon hilarious pranks so this makes sense.
CS: You should get one.
Jon Watts: Now I should. Tom has one.
CS: Oh really?
Jon Watts: Yeah Tom got a little Spider-Man tattoo at the bottom of his foot.
CS: Oh, that’s awesome.
Jon Watts: Which is probably the most painful place to get a tattoo. I mean, he did it, I was too chicken.
Spider-Man: Homecoming opens in North American theaters on July 7.