Marvel’s Jonathan Schwartz on Producing Shang-Chi and Being an Executive of Production - VRGyani News and Media

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Monday, September 6, 2021

Marvel’s Jonathan Schwartz on Producing Shang-Chi and Being an Executive of Production

With director Destin Daniel Cretton’s Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings now playing in theaters, I recently got to speak with producer Jonathan Schwartz and making the latest Marvel movie. If you’re not familiar with Jonathan Schwartz’s name, he’s previously produced Guardians of the Galaxy and Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, Captain Marvel, and is now on Secret Invasion. He’s also an Executive of Production and Development at Marvel Studios.

During the wide-ranging interview, Schwartz breaks down what being an Executive of Production and Development really means, how even though he might be the point person on a project, Kevin Feige, Louis D'Esposito and Victoria Alonso are still on every movie, what he learned from being Feige’s assistant, and the amount of time it really takes to bring a Marvel movie from inception to movie screens. Of course, he also shared some great stories about making Shang-Chi, why Destin Daniel Cretton was the right person to helm the film, what the late, great Brad Allen did for the film, how each action sequence pays homage to a different facet or genre of martial arts cinema, and more.

As most of you know, the film is about Shang-Chi (Simu Liu) who must confront his father Wenwu (Tony Leung) and the past he thought he left behind when he is drawn into the web of the mysterious Ten Rings organization. Marvel Studios’ Shang-Chi and The Legend of The Ten Rings also stars Michelle Yeoh, Meng’er Zhang, Fala Chen, Florian Munteanu, Benedict Wong, Yuen Wah, Ronny Chieng, Zach Cherry, and Dallas Liu. The film was written by Dave Callaham, Daniel Cretton, and Andrew Lanham and the screen story is by Callaham & Daniel Cretton.

Check out what Jonathan Schwartz had to say below.

COLLIDER: I looked up that you're the VP of Production and Development at Marvel. Is that your correct title?

JONATHAN SCHWARTZ: No. My correct title, which I'd probably use once every six years is Executive of Production and Development. Whatever that's worth.

So my question is, what exactly does that title mean?

SCHWARTZ: I ask that question a lot. I mean, for me, it means that there's been a long standing tradition at Marvel Studios of our process, which more or less is there are a number of creative producers like myself and we oversee one movie or now streaming series from beginning to end. On a movie like Shang-Chi that means we decide I'm going to do Shang-Chi. Shang-Chi has a release date. And I get the stack of comics and have to do everything it takes to make that movie. So read the comics. Understand what gets everyone excited about the project. Why this character? What story do we want to tell? Talk to the writers. Talk to the directors. Put a crew together. Prep the movie. Shoot the movie. Post the movie. Market and distribute the movie. That was a very short briefing two and a half years of life, but it really is a beginning to end soup to nuts producing approach.

You're basically, you become the point person of that movie for Marvel?

SCHWARTZ: Yes. So, Kevin (Feige), Louis (D'Esposito) and Victoria (Alonso) are on every movie, and then there's also a creative producer like myself on every movie or show. That person generally becomes a very close partner collaborating with the filmmaker and the writer and the crew, and embedded there as part of the decision-making process.

What is a typical day when you are in between a movie or are you always on a movie?

SCHWARTZ: I'm always on a movie to some extent. In general, I'll start developing and soft prepping, whatever is next when I'm getting into the last days of wrapping the shoot, director's cut post of whatever I'm on previously. You know, lately Marvel's gotten very busy, so we're having to learn to walk and chew gum at the same time. I'm working on a little more stuff than I used to, but the process is more or less the same beginning to end, conceive of what you want, and then execute.

What character or characters have you been whispering to Kevin, "These really need to be made soon."

SCHWARTZ: Well, for the last few years, it's been Shang-Chi, and it was not a lot of whispering because he was really excited about the movie. So I was very happy to be part of this one and happy to be able to bring these particular characters to life.

You were an assistant to Kevin early on in your career with, I believe, Captain American and Thor. You did a few movies with him. What did you learn working with him on a daily basis that you carry with you every day?

SCHWARTZ: From the very beginning early days at Marvel, the ethos was always, "Make the best movie you can." I think sometimes there's a lot of accidents on the connectivity and tapestry and how it all fits together. All that's important, but the most important thing is making the movie in front of you the best it can possibly be and a satisfying experience for the audience in itself. To do that, you have to surprise and delight people, and every single good idea you have needs to go into that movie and get executed as well as you can execute it, or else you will end up with something that people will have seen before.

With Shang-Chi, say you started filming arbitrarily on March 1st of last year. How long has this character been in development at Marvel?

SCHWARTZ: I'd have to look back and check for sure. I was definitely developing Shang-Chi and working with Dave when we were on in post-production on Captain Marvel. That must've been at least 2019. I think I've been, even during the shoot of Captain Marvel, I was thinking about this movie. So it's probably been at least since 2018 is my kind of soft guess.

I know Kevin has told me and he's told other people that Marvel often has, many years are you guys thinking in the future. Even if it's not announced, it's like five years. We're already five years ahead in terms of where we're going to go. So I am curious with a character like Shang-Chi, who clearly is going to resonate with audiences, do you already have that roadmap with the character in terms of where you think it's going to go, or where he will go, in the upcoming few years?

SCHWARTZ: There are definitely opportunities for him that we've mapped out that that may or may not happen depending on how the overall story fits together, but we'll see like all things, but what makes the most sense of that story, what makes the most sense for those individual properties, what makes the most sense for that character. Movie hasn't even come out yet, so I think it's also important to see what do people respond to. Would do they like? What do they not like? That's also part of the calculus.

We've both seen the movie. It's going to be very popular. Like this isn't going to be something that fans are like, "Ooh, you guys messed up."

SCHWARTZ: It's only Wednesday. It's still early days.

When you started developing this film, to what people are seeing on screen, how did the story change along the way? Did you originally have something radically different or was it always what we're seeing?

SCHWARTZ: It went through a lot of iterations along the way, but I think it became this shape relatively early on. I think it was really when Destin joined us and signed on as filmmaker, that he brought this emotional chore to it, which is what you see in the movie. I think that's what excited us about both his pitch and the core of the comic books, much of which we had to evolve and move past, that dynamic, the family dynamic at the center of it was really interesting. Destin brought that and made it real. Very soon after he started working with Dave and me, the movie sort of coalesced into more or less the shape that you see.

One of the interesting things about Marvel is that you guys take a chance on a number of filmmakers that most people do not. Like Destin is not the person that I think most people would have expected to helm this movie. How do you guys know when you're meeting with a filmmaker that has never handled such a large budget, that this person is going to be the right person for the job?

SCHWARTZ: You know, it's a question we get a lot. It's interesting with Destine because the truth is Just Mercy is a big movie. Dustin is a more experienced filmmaker than many of the filmmakers we've worked with at Marvel Studios. But I think we're always looking for fresh voices who are excited to be in our universe, who bring something to the individual movie that we haven't seen before, something unique, something different, something cool, who'll be able to infuse it with voice and life. And then we are confident that we can build an apparatus around them, both from crew members that we've worked with, crew members they're going to bring to the table and create kind of a team that will be able to execute that vision. We feel very good about taking risks on filmmakers because we've built a system that we think allows them to do their best work.

Who do you think wins in a fight between Shang-Chi and say Hulk or Shang-Chi and Thor? Do you ever have that debate with people?

SCHWARTZ: Sometimes? I mean, very rarely, but does Shang-Chi have the 10 rings?

Say he does have the 10 rings.

SCHWARTZ: I think Shang-Chi with the 10 rings is very formidable, and it could go either way.

I'm always curious about the editing process because that's where the film comes together. How did the film possibly change in the editing room? Did you end up with a lot of deleted scenes?

SCHWARTZ: There are deleted scenes as there always are. A lot of them are really good. So when they become available in whatever way they're available, I encourage everybody to seek them out. We refined structure and pacing and everything else that we always do with our editing process. We had amazing editors on this movie Elísabet Ronaldsdóttir and Nat Sanders and Harry Yoon are all very special, very talented people. They were able to both kind of talk holistically about the structure and shape everything that you see and shape the fights and sharpen the edges of our characters and our dialogue and our action. They are great.

Every Marvel movie gets plussed after you guys see like a rough cut and you figure out what exactly you still need. What was plussed in this film?

SCHWARTZ: It all sort of gets plussed, right? You put the movie in front of audience and see what works and what doesn't work and what might just need a little bit, what ideas can be fixed, and what ideas might need to be rethought. So it's hard to say in specific, because it's all part of the same process. It's all part of the same movie. So yes, the whole movie gets plussed over the course of post-production. It's hard to pick out one element or another as, "This thing in particular was not good and then became better.

Did you guys envision this as a trilogy in its inception or was it always... Does that even come into your brain when you guys were making it like, "I think we're thinking a trilogy, assuming the first one is successful."

SCHWARTZ: Not really. I mean, look, we've been doing this long enough that you hope that your movie becomes a franchise, but the reality is that we just tried to make the best movie we could and tell the best story that we could, and to hope that people liked it enough to want to see more out of these characters or more out of this world. Certainly there are enough strands left dangling that there's plenty more story to tell. Once we've put it out in the world and gotten a little bit of perspective on it, if there's an appetite for more, then we can talk about where another story might take us.

The action in this movie is fantastic. What do you want fans to know about in terms of what it really takes to make these action scenes come to life?

SCHWARTZ: It takes a lot of work, and it takes people who really know what they are doing. I give all the credit in the world to Destin who has an amazing visual sensibility. He came in with a really distinct perspective on action. I think his whole thing was, he just doesn't want to get bored. He wants the action to feel dynamic, to have individual beats and arcs within each sequence. I think he did a really good job of bringing all of that to life. He also just loves it. He's a fan, and I think that comes across. Then I have to give a lot of credit also to Brad Allan, the late great Brad Allan, and our entire stunt team that he put together, just an international team of superstars like Andy Cheng, Mark Ginther, Guillermo Grispo, too many people to name, who came together under Brad's direction to, I think, do something really cool and really special.

What's unique about Shang-Chi is that every fight feels different. Every fight is sort of paying homage to a different facet or genre or sub-genre of martial arts cinema. So that required a lot of different expertise, a lot of different processes and approaches to make come to life. Brad just did an amazing job bringing it all together.

I love the third act, but it also could exist in a Miyazaki movie. I'm sort of curious, did you guys feel at Marvel that like, "Okay, the audience has been primed after Groot and all these other characters that are not human," if you will, that the audience is going to be willing to go in this journey in the third act?

SCHWARTZ: I think it was less sort of the Marvel of it all and more kind of the martial arts genre of it all. Leaning into the genre, I think, gave us the confidence that we could do it, and the audience would be there along the journey. And it is set up in the movie. It's not something that it comes totally out of nowhere. So building in those little pieces of it that will allow the audience to kind of tell that, "Oh, they're going to have a more fantasy inflected ending." I think it was also a big ingredient in making that turn work.

If I'm not mistaken, you are working on Guardians of the Galaxy: Volume 3.

SCHWARTZ: It's a common misconception, but I am actually not working on Guardians of the Galaxy: Volume 3.

Really?

SCHWARTZ: Yeah. My colleague, Sarah Smith, is handling that one, and she's doing an amazing job of it. I'm really looking forward to seeing that movie as a fan.

So what did you switch over to?

SCHWARTZ: I'm currently working on a show called Secret Invasion, and then developing another feature that I can say literally nothing about.

With Secret Invasion, has that started shooting, or am I mistaken about this?

SCHWARTZ: I can say literally nothing about it. It's a secret except that it exists. It's called Secret Invasion, and it's a secret.

So you're doing something for Disney+, and then you're jumping into a feature. When it comes to the Disney+ of it all, how do you guys figure out... Are you involved in some of those meetings and figuring out what is going to be a Disney+ series and what's going to be a movie?

SCHWARTZ: It's something we've all figured out together. What makes sense for Disney+. What makes sense for movies? What characters go where. We figure it out as a group. I think that what's cool about Disney+ is it gives us the opportunity to tell stories that are maybe outside of the norm of what we would be able to do in movies that want a different canvas, that want a different structure, that are maybe a little weirder and wilder than we would have typically in the past been able to go in movies. Now I think, the movies are able to do things that we may not have been able to do in the past because the shows have given us the confidence to do it. Everything wants to push the envelope more because the audience is getting used to a different level of storytelling.

Kevin has talked about how Deadpool 3 is going to be a rated R assuming this thing actually gets made. What's your take on Marvel possibly doing other R-rated movies? Do you think this is something that's in the horizon?

SCHWARTZ: I can't say if it's in the horizon or not, but I love having more tools in the storytelling toolbox.

I like that answer. I'll leave it there. I'll just say congrats on Shang-Chi. It's going to be a big hit. Thank you for giving me your time.



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