The Producers break down the production process, they discuss other superhero projects, and they also explain why Spider-Man 4 might happen

At a recent press junket for Spider-Man 3 we had a chance to sit down with the film's producers Avi Arad, Laura Ziskin and Grant Curtis. Having had great success with the other films in the Spider-Man franchise that they produced, they seem both excited about the current installment and hopeful that Spider-Man 4 could become a reality.

In Spider-Man 3, Peter Parker (Tobey Maguire) has finally managed to strike a balance between his devotion to M.J. (Kirsten Dunst) and his duties as a superhero. But there is a storm brewing on the horizon. As Spider-Man basks in the public's adulation for his accomplishments and he is pursued by Gwen Stacy (Bryce Dallas Howard), who rivals M.J. for his affections, Peter becomes overconfident and starts to neglect the people who care about him most. His newfound self-assuredness is jeopardized when he faces the battle of his life against two of the most feared villains ever (Thomas Haden Church, Topher Grace), whose unparalleled power and thirst for retribution threaten Peter and everyone he loves.

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Was it your goal to top the other movies in terms of action and everything else?

Avi Arad: Well, the idea of making No. 3 and No. 4 is always, "Can you top this?" You never sit around and say, "Lets spend more money and see what we can do." The idea is to top it from a story standpoint, my favorite thing to say is that Sam's hobby is to beat up Peter Parker and see how much he can take and if he can still stay a hero in-spite of what Sam enjoys doing to him. In order to do that you have to expand the storyline, you have to find new villains, new issues and take his love life and make it more complex and more sophisticated. In order to do that you have to make a bigger movie. If you have a new villain, it's not only the storyline, our villains are pretty demanding from a CGI or costuming and so on. Inevitably you make it bigger but dollar for dollar, if you look at Spider-Man 2 vs. Spider-Man 3, just the size of the movie, I think we were very successful being incredibly efficient. Getting so much more for not that much more.

I think it worked because we had a good story. It didn't feel wasted, these characters really had room in the story.

Laura Ziskin: I think there were a couple of things that went into the complexity of the story. Both on Spider-Man 2 and Spider-Man 3, in each case we did all consciously say, "We have to top ourselves." For us as filmmakers it's not going to be an interesting endeavor if we don't. In terms of what we think the audience expects, we jokingly said, "They don't expect less." I presume you all want more. The story was complicated by a basic narrative idea that Sam and Ivan had that was critical to the tale. Which was, the relationship between Peter and Harry and the fact that there had to be a battle of two against one. That necessitated two villains. A lot of the discussion in the development of the movie was, we knew one of the villains had to be Sandman... because we knew that was one of the characters we wanted to create; visually. Then we were also interested in exploring Peter's darkside. That seemed thematically right for the story and that led us to the second villain being Venom.

How did you persuade Sam that Venom should be in the movie?

Laura Ziskin: A lot through the interest in exploring Peter's dark side. I think that led to Venom.

Avi Arad: Sam is big a Spider-Man fan as we all know and Venom was a later character. Initially, the Eddie Brock part of the story, he just didn't know enough about it. As he got educated about it we kind of caught a break. Sandman in the movie is much richer than in the book, he's not just a goon who has this affliction he happens to be an interesting story. Eddie Brock is the opposite of Peter Parker, similar vocation, different morality. It was a unique opportunity with the symbiote to connect it and demonstrate who the symbiote needs as a host, and to show how all of us are vulnerable to something like that. Then Alvin (Sargent; screenwriter) fell in love with the character and he wrote an interesting character. I think we all found it really, really interesting and Sam found it really interesting.

Once Topher came on, as you remember on the internet everybody was saying, "Topher is skinny." Publishing has it's privileges...

Laura Ziskin: He gained 25 lbs. It took him 6 months to gain the 25 lbs and he lost it in about two weeks.

What about the pressures? Fans? Studio?

Laura Ziskin: Making any movie is a terrifying, difficult, all consuming experience and when you're in it you're really just trying to serve the movie. We have parameters, we have goals, we have budget issues and things like that... Sam is a self proclaimed populist filmmaker. He wants to make movies that audiences enjoy so he's very aware of the audience. He thinks about the audience but you also can't let the fans dictate. Every fan, we knew this in the first movie, everybody has a Spider-Man movie in their head, because he is the biggest fan we then rely on his judgment, and Avi's and our own feelings about what's a good narrative. Ultimately, we have to make the movie and shut out the movie that other people would make and hope they want to come see what we make.

What are the talks right now about Spider-Man 4?

Laura Ziskin: When we get to actually have a conversation about the next one I'm sure that will trigger us to look back on things, but we haven't had any time to have those conversations. Unfortunately, because of the demands of time we have never actually plotted out the whole series.

How prepared are you to proceed with a fourth film if Sam doesn't want to do it?

Laura Ziskin: This is the honest truth, this is the first question everyone asks us... we all would love to make Spider-Man 4 and 5 and 6, but we don't know...

Avi, how involved are you right now in Iron Man?

Avi Arad:Iron Man enjoys a lot less of my presence especially in the last month, because we are concentrating on this picture. That is fine really because the toughest part of the movie is preproduction, getting the script right, getting interesting casting, after that there is an amazing production team and a great director, and I go and visit in between.

How's it looking?

Avi Arad: It's looking great. With a cast like that how can you have anything but a terrific movie? A great script, a great director. It shows you what happened, finally we are able to do what we did with Spider-Man from a casting standpoint. X-Men from a casting standpoint. The biggest actors in this country, or anywhere for that matter, want to be in these movies because they know they're character driven. They get a chance to act in a way that most movies do not allow.

What about Captain America?

Avi Arad: That's still in scripting.

Do you think Edward Norton is a good choice for The Incredible Hulk?

Avi Arad: Edward Norton is a great choice for anything. He's just a great choice period.

How did you cast the villains for Spider-Man 3?

Laura Ziskin: We ended up having to cast these two roles Eddie Brock and Sandman very early before we really had a finished screenplay. So scenes were written for both and we just liked Topher we just thought he was an up and comer based on In Good Company. Which was not a successful movie but we thought he was terrific. The character kind of evolved, he came in and met with us and we had a couple of scenes for him to read. The character kind of developed around him. Both Thomas and Topher, for us, in terms of Spider-Man were pretty extraordinary circumstances in that we cast them without a big search. They both had qualities that we thought suited the characters. It was a leap of faith on their part to come on before the script was completed.

With The Incredible Hulk coming next year, you have to be pretty far along with the script? And, are you going to incorporate any of the CGI from the first film?

Avi Arad: None. It's a new Hulk. It's a new direction, new size, new color, new attitude. Anything that was done before is not in this movie. It's a very different kind of a Hulk. It's more of a love story. It's a heroic Hulk. It's the kind of Hulk we loved in the show. So, it's kind of more influenced by the show than anything else. It's very human, very touching. A new direction, Louis Leterrier has a unique filming style that will be great here.

Any truth to a gray Hulk?

Avi Arad: Well, we'll see, I don't know.

Edward Norton is such a bold casting choice. How do you get someone of that caliber to sign on? How did that come about?

Avi Arad: We let him read the script, let him meet the team, let him understand what the character is about, what the journey is about. He actually turned down Hulk 1. So, I guess the second time around was more convincing.

What made him change his mind this time?

Avi Arad: I think he thought he wasn't ready or people have... in all fairness, I think Spider-Man and X-Men... made actors of this caliber really interested in our kind of movies. They realized that they can tell a story in a real special way. The creature still contained the character of the actor. If you look at the kind of choices that were done on Spider-Man 1, 2 and now 3, it gets their attention. People get attracted and they realize, "No, no, it's not about the action, it's about the story."

Robert Downey, Jr., to be in a superhero movie, if you talked about it 10 years ago he would have looked at you like, "Get out of here." This is the time of his life.

How hard of a process was it to get Spider-Man 3 to the big screen?

Laura Ziskin: This was a long process. I think Sam and his brother started working on the bones of the story right after the opening of Spider-Man 2, that was when it began. Then there were many variations of that for several months. Then our first draft was written, I think, exactly two years ago. Then the writing continued up until two weeks ago.

Is there a lot of give and take between Sam and the studios?

Laura Ziskin: Yes... they have a lot of confidence in us but it's still a huge investment on their part. We welcome that dialogue because a lot of good things came out of it. The story evolved... out of that requirement of two villains, but it was there...

Grant Curtis: Without a doubt. I think one of the fascinating things about Spider-Man 3, in the story telling process, that does separate it from 1 and 2, is how much the story continued to be told, to a certain degree, after the camera stopped rolling. Specifically, because of Sandman and how that character had to evolve in it's CG form. Everyday we have meetings at Sony Pictures Imageworks and we look at the continuation of shots. One of the things Sam said, after the cameras had stopped rolling for three months, "I can't believe I'm still directing this film."

We delivered one of the final shots in the Sandman sequence two weeks ago. Until that point, Sam was still working on the nuances of how Thomas's character was emoting and acting during that performance.

When you bring on people to these movies like Edward Norton or Robert Downey, Jr., do you get them to sign on for multiple pictures? Or, is it a balance? You get a big name but they only sign on for one film?

Avi Arad: It's a mixed bag. Some of them sign for multiple pictures. Our experience with these kinds of actors is they had a good experience, they want to stay with the character. Once you've formed the character you can make a movie this size, and that sophisticated, from a relationship standpoint, because Toby, Kirsten and James have that deep within their own characters. You can really take some risks. Acting is character development. So forget what a piece of paper says, if an actor doesn't want to do it, it doesn't matter what the contract says. They have to want to do it. You don't want somebody showing up on set just because they signed up for it. You want them to come in and have a great time.

I think everybody in this cast is tired, is excited; everybody is. They had a great experience and when they see your reaction they get the appetite to continue. It's always a little frightening. "How will they accept the movie? How will they accept us?" If they get positive reinforcement, they love the characters by now.

It sounds like everybody is done with Spider-Man, right now? They've said publicly they feel this is a natural end.

Avi Arad: I think the last ten days we've started hearing different stuff.

What have they said?

Laura Ziskin: There's an openness. I think everything is, we're so focused and have been on this movie and until this movie is out in the world... I don't think anybody knows.

So Jake Gyllenhaal is not a lock then?

Laura Ziskin: (laughing) No, certainly not.

Is there any thought like, "We did a great trilogy. If we can't put it together with the old cast, lets sign a new cast and create a new trilogy?"

Laura Ziskin: You guys are thinking about that. Everybody thinks we are. We haven't had time. There will for sure come a time, probably in a couple of weeks... where a meeting will be called and we'll have all these conversations that you're having. Honest to God, the only time we have them is when someone from the press asks us the questions.

Spider-Man 3 swings into conventional theaters and IMAX on May 4 from Columbia Pictures.