The Director discusses making the new film, the possibility of a fourth installment and what it would take to get him to do The Hobbit

Having directed Spider-Man and Spider-Man 2 Sam Raimi was destined to finish the third installment of the franchise, and complete the arc with the character of Peter Parker (Tobey Maguire) that he'd laid out so brilliantly in the first two films.

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Spider-Man 3 gives us a new Peter. 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. (Kirsten Dunst) 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, Sandman and Venom (Thomas Haden Church and Topher Grace), whose unparalleled power and thirst for retribution threaten Peter and everyone he loves.

I understand you were reticent to have both the villains in the movie...

Sam Raimi: How did you know I was reticent?

You were quoted as saying that.

Sam Raimi: There's so many fears I have in the making of the movies that that's just one of them. I don't want to make it seem overblown, in the vast array of things that I'm terrified of that people won't like. I had worked on the story with my brother Ivan, primarily it was a story that featured the Sandman. It was really about Peter, Mary Jane, Harry and that new character, but when we were done, Avi Arad, my partner and former president of Marvel at the time said to me, "Sam, you're not paying attention to the fans enough. You need to think about them. You've made two movies now with your favorite villains. Now you're about to make another one with your favorite villains. The fans love Venom. He is the fan favorite. All Spider-Man readers love Venom and even though you came from '70s Spider-Man, this is what the kids are thinking about. Please incorporate that and listen to the fans now."

That's really where I realized, okay, maybe I don't have the whole Spider-Man universe in my head. I need to learn a little bit more about Spider-Man and maybe incorporate this villain and make some of the real diehard fans finally happy.

Does it concern you that you become a slave, at times, to the expectations of the fans?

Sam Raimi: Well, no, I made choices that I thought were true to the spirit of the character and sacrificing the detail of what's in the comic book. I have fallen under criticism. I can't say that it isn't justly deserved. The fans, like myself, I'm one of them, have a right to love everything about the comic book. Everything, from the web shooters to a particular incident that happens in Issue 121. As a filmmaker, realistically, to stay true to the spirit of the character in order to stay true, I can't be true to all the details. I chose to see Peter Parker as a regular human being. Somebody I could really identify with... so I chose certain things that keep in the spirit. So I understand they have a right to be upset because I don't have the right to change things but I have to in this instance.

What would it take to bring you back to do a fourth film?

Sam Raimi: Well, we really did try to rap up some of the story elements from the first and second picture. I look at it more like the end of a chapter because if you've read through Spider-Man comic books, you know that there's so many more villains and so many more stories that can be filmed. That are very exciting and very visual. It's true, for me to come back, when I'm done with all of this, I'd have to have a breather and then look at it and say, "Where does the next chapter go to? Where can we now follow through? In a meaningful way." If I can recognize, honestly, a real deficit and we could fashion a story there... make a good story out of it then I'd come back.

Might you do The Hobbit next?

Sam Raimi: The truth is, I just don't know what I'm going to do next. That's the most honest answer I can give you. I can't honestly say, even though I have spoken to Bob Shaye, I don't know that I can honestly say that anything's been offered to me until some time in the future, because it isn't exactly right, exactly true.

Do you want to do something smaller, maybe go back to your roots, actually?

Sam Raimi: I don't feel like there's any pressure. I feel like I've been offered this fantastic opportunity to make these Spider-Man projects. I love this world so much. I feel like I understand it very well. I really believe I can make the picture and understand what they want. That's why my understanding is so important to me, I actually don't think I could do a good job... these movies don't leave with me a desire now to make my little art picture, or my little... or my love story, because I've somehow been given the creative freedom to make all of those movies in the Spider-Man pictures. I'm allowed to do tales of drama, my exploration of the darkside, I'm allowed to tell a love story.

They really satisfy me in so many different ways. I can make a little bit of a horror movie. Spider-Man has action scenes. They allow me a tremendous range of possibilities so I feel very satisfied.

So where are The Hobbit talks with Bob Shaye at?

Sam Raimi: I spoke to him once. It's a little overblown I think. That's why I don't want to pretend that it's bigger than it is. I had one conversation about the possibility of it and that's really where it's at.

Is there any fear in your mind that the fans are so attached to Peter Jackson's vision that you wonder, "How will they take me doing the project?" If you did go to the project is there any talk about getting some of the actors...

Sam Raimi: I haven't had any of those thoughts, yet, because I think it's still Peter Jackson's project. It'd be so premature. I'm so overwhelmed with my own insecurities, I can't take his on just yet. I'd have to burn through all my fears first. Then I'd have to know that he wasn't making the movie, and then it would have to be officially offered to me. Then I would be the first one to take on all those fears if all of those things would come to pass.

So you wouldn't take it on unless Peter Jackson said it was okay for you to take it on?

Sam Raimi: I'd have to know that he was okay with it. It's really his picture and Bob Shaye's picture. I hate to say that because I don't want to put him in some position where he's supposed to respond to me. I'm not even in a position where I want to ask him that. I guess I should say "No comment."

Spider-Man has a lot of powers yet you didn't touch on his Spider Sense, was that under discussion at all?

Sam Raimi: The truth is, in the previous pictures, he's always had Spider Sense and it still would take him by surprise often. I realized, it's really starting to be a device that I use when I want and I pretend it doesn't exist when I don't want it to. I thought there was so much in the picture already. In addition, in the comics, he is immune to Venom as far as the Spider Sense does not work. I thought, I not only have to cheat at times but I have to show that it doesn't work with Venom. I'm like, where is this all leading? There's too many elements in the picture already. You know he has Spider Sense, I think I may not focus on that in this particular story.

Have you already started thinking about the DVD and are there any sequences you had to cut out of the film?

Sam Raimi: Well, there were a lot of things that we wrote up and didn't shoot. Or, things that we shot that we didn't think we're funny or appropriate. We put something in the picture and realized, "You know what? That's already obvious from visuals. We don't have to say that. It's better with a look." Like any film, you'll lose lines and bits and usually exposition that might be unnecessary, although some of it adds character. It's always a balancing act. Yes, there were things that were cut out of the picture and yes, I've begun thinking about the DVD. Only in the crudest sense, I've got to plot time after the promotion to work on the color timing... and make sure all these extra pieces...

What kind of extra pieces are you thinking about?

Sam Raimi: I don't develop what they are. I just look at them and say, "You guys have already used that shot can we take that out?" I'm more like a very distant editor.

You approve of the DVD extras, right?

Sam Raimi: Yes, I do.

How many minutes, about, were cut out of the film? That we may expect on the DVD?

Sam Raimi: I have no idea about that. I don't know if they're going to include extra minutes or we're going to include extra minutes.

Recently, Spider-Man 2.1 with 8 additional minutes. Were you involved in that?

Sam Raimi: Yes, that I supervised. Sony came to me and said, "We want to make a 2.1 that gives fans more of the movie." I said, "The problem is, I wanna be good to you Sony, but you gave me my director's cut with the main picture. I don't want to punish you now but that was the movie I wanted to make and you let me make it and I'm thankful for it." They said, "Don't you have things that we could still put in that the fan's may want to see?" I said, "Okay, we won't call it the Director's Cut but there are some additional insights into the characters, a few lines, a few little action bits that maybe we're unnecessary..." that they said the fans would want to see so that's how the 2.1 came about.

So Spider-Man 3 is completely your Director's Cut then?

Sam Raimi: Yes, we've had a very good relationship like that. When I direct all the pictures. There are discussions and there's comprises that you make in any relationship, but I'm very happy with the picture.

The producers said an interesting thing that you found yourself directing the film three months after it had wrapped. Things like the Sandman scenes, can you talk about that?

Sam Raimi: Well, I don't know about finding new character pieces because those I find through the actor's performances and discussions with the actor or with the screenwriter, Alvin Sargent and my brother, Ivan. The directing never stops with a modern picture on CGI because even though I've done a storyboard and shot the scene for the animation to take place in, and have even provided an animated guide within the place, it's a crude guide. As the animation director takes over he adds his own interpretation and improves it. Or tries to understand what it was that I was after that the animator I was working with couldn't provide me.

Why do you think actors like Topher Grace or Thomas Haden Church were eager to take a leap of faith and sign on to something that didn't have a completed script?

Sam Raimi: Well, I'm very happy that they did because I needed their talents to create these characters. I think it's just the nature of these Spider-Man films, and maybe modern day films that are heavy in effects, which is basically, at the end of Spider-Man 2 I'm told when the release date is for Spider-Man 3. It is simply going to be on the screen for May 4. (Laughs) "But I don't have it worked out, yet..." so we have to be figuring it out and writing the script as we're casting as we're shooting, as we're casting... The demands, we don't have the time to do it in the proper sequence.

Ideally we would write the script and rewrite the script and finish it and only then begin the casting process. Only then start storyboarding the piece after rehearsals and then begin figuring out the effects. I had to start the effects before I had written the script; and casted before I'd written a script. Unfortunately, on these big pictures that's how it works. It's a simultaneous coming together process. It's like building a house without a blueprint.

If you continue with the series do you plan to go deeper and expand on other characters from the current films?

Sam Raimi: The more films we make the more the producers and myself, and I think in Dr. Connors' case, Avi suggested him for the first one, "Hey you're gonna mention a professor why don't you mention Dr. Connors?" I said, "Okay." Then it was real logical when Peter was in class to have it be Dr. Connors. It's a desire to incorporate, slowly but surely, all the Spider-Man families, for the films to come, so that we've been true to the comic books and so that there to draw upon for future stories.

How far along in the script process for Spider-Man 3 did you decide to put the Gwen Stacy character into the story?

Sam Raimi: My brother and I had written, in the story, about another woman that recognized Peter and knew he was at this dinner; that Mary Jane got jealous over. Laura Ziskin, my producer said, "Lets make it Gwen." And I said, "I don't think I should because Gwen was introduced before Mary Jane in the comic books, and I now I'm introducing her later... I'm not sure, she's not even in high school anymore she's in college. I'm afraid if I introduce Gwen the fans will have all these expectations that I'm not gonna deliver in this picture." And she said, "Well, the fans will much rather have Gwen make an introduction now, and you can do what you need to do or someone can do what they need to do in the fourth picture. At least you've introduced her and they would appreciate that."

So after much soul searching I thought, it's true, I've already screwed up the order... whenever she's introduced she'll be introduced in the wrong order. I might as well give the fans an introduction to Gwen so I took her advice and named her Gwen Stacy and therefore connected her to a policeman that had been in a periphery of the scenes. Not much, just enough to be true to the fact that he was her daughter, that's about all.

Did you ever think about introducing Venom in a cursory way?

Sam Raimi: Yes, we would've. I thought it would be unfair... the Venom storyline unfortunately has Eddie Brock, the establishment of who he is and what he is, this symbiote coming to Peter Parker, first. You've got to go to his entire getting of the black suit, the dark Peter, the ridding of the black suit, before it even comes on to Eddie Brock. The very nature of that story demands that you do a two part if you want to spend time with Venom, which I didn't think was fair to the audience to the fans of Spider-Man. I thought about it, I really did and I kept reading the fan's emails that Avi would send me saying, "They better not introduce him to just to tease us that would be so...," I thought that the fans didn't want that from the thousands of emails that were sent me.

I thought, "Okay," because I tried to do that. Avi said, "You're not giving me what I asked you. They want Venom just give them Venom already." I said, "Okay, but through the very nature of it he's only going to be in half an act or one act. I'll just make it as thorough and as best I can. I'll deliver Venom in the most complete way that I understand the fans might want it." That was my desire. I was lead there.

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

Evan Jacobs at Movieweb
Evan Jacobs