Marvel Entertainment’s Co-President Louis D’Esposito has been on board the Cinematic Universe since the first Iron Man hit theaters back in 2008. Since then, he’s been there for two more Iron Mans, two Thors, two Captain Americas, and an Avengers, on the Blu-ray release of which he directed the One Shot aftermath entitled Item 47. Now, with the release of Iron Man 3 on Blu-ray today, D’Esposito is back behind the camera as the director of Marvel One-Shot: Agent Carter, which picks up the story of Peggy Carter (Hayley Atwell) a bit after the events of Captain America: The First Avenger. We spoke to D’Esposito earlier this month at a press event, and it should be noted, this was before the news that Agent Carter is being developed for TV. So, if he sounds noncommittal, it’s because it hadn’t been announced yet.
NERDIST: When was the decision made to do the Agent Carter story as the next Marvel One-Shot?
LOUIS D’ESPOSITO: Well, we had been developing it, and we had an Agent Carter script — I don’t remember if Hayley was not available at that time or if complications in that way… When we started talking about what short we’d do next, we were throwing around ideas and we said, “Let’s see if Hayley is available now. Can she do it?” And so, we pulled it out of our pile and we sent it to her and it just so happened that she was available. And that has a lot to do with it sometimes. too, people’s availability. You know, because they lead very busy lives, our actors, and scheduling is sometimes a nightmare. You can imagine what scheduling was like on The Avengers.
N: Oh, I’m sure. The logistics of it had to be insane. The look and the style of this is very much in tune with the Captain America film and it’s very different from Item 47, which you directed. Was it your intention going in like, “We have to match the world as much as past work?”
LD: Well, I spoke to Joe Johnston [director of Captain America: The First Avenger] about it, and he actually just saw the short last week and was tremendously complimentary about it. I told Joe I was doing a short and I loved the way he shot Captain America — it was absolutely beautiful — but I was going to do it a little bit differently. I wasn’t going to go towards the sepia tone; I was going to keep it a cooler blue to differentiate it a little bit, but the style of the shoot is maybe more classic than Item 47. It was a conscious decision to do that, to keep it a cooler look. We used special lenses, we used two lenses: special lenses for night, special lenses for day. They were older lenses, uncoated, the flares are a little better and have a different quality, and I think the coolness of it modernized it a little bit to where you’re consciously not saying, “Well, it’s obviously set in period but it has a modern feel to it.” I think we also did the same with the music — our great composer, Chris Lennertz — especially for the title sequence. Sheena Duggal, our VFX supervisor, was designing the credits and said, “Lou, I need the music to animate the credits so we can understand how to hold on a frame and when does it move,” but our composer was still finding the music for the main body of the film. So, I said I had an idea: I sent them over Johnny Rivers’ “Secret Agent Man,” even though it was in the 60’s, and I said I wanted this kind of feel, this kind of sentiment to it. He said, “I understand, I get it.” I think he did a terrific job getting that and reaching that and even though it might not be pure 1940s, it has a period feel to it, and yet it has a James Bond secret agent sentiment to it too.
N: And that’s cool because she was a spy right at the beginning of the Cold War, it’s got a shade of that kind of cold war 60’s espionage to come.
LD: One thing that Joe said, one critique he gave: Because I said I emulated his style, he said, “No, you didn’t emulate my style; it’s your own style and it’s absolutely beautiful… but you did have whitewalls.” Whitewalls [tires] weren’t around at that time and he’s really a car fanatic — so that was his one criticism.
N: You mentioned the James Bond movies. I really liked the little reference to From Russia with Love, with the little knife and the suitcase, which is great. Was it movies like that you were going off of for the action in the film?
LD: Well, the action, what we did was, we choreographed the action with Hayley in mind, obviously, she’s the lead, and I just wanted the film to have a lot of energy. I didn’t want it handheld, so for most of these, we used the Steadicam or a dolly. It was all very planned out. What I did was videotape the fights, and sat down with our cinematographer and I did not make a conscious effort to look, I did not say, “Let me look at that fight, let me look at that fight.” I wanted it to be very organic and didn’t want it to be too influenced, even though everything you watch has an influence. So we took a fresh approach to it. I’ve seen a lot of compliments about that, about the film work, that it was energetic yet you could still see the fight and that it wasn’t too quick cutty or blurry or shaky. I think that was our conscious choice, in terms of our action.
N: For a short like this, which obviously doesn’t have the budget or the time like a feature film does, how do you choreograph fighting that looks as good as it did on the schedule that you needed?
LD: Well, we were always pushing our limit. I know I wasn’t going to get every shot and I wasn’t going to get every punch and kick, so what we do is get the optimum — this is the fight — I lay it out and I know before we start shooting that I can live without this shot or I could live without that shot. Our cinematographer, Gabriel Beristain, is adept at using two cameras when we had to, and that’s always helpful; we had a great Steadicam operator so it’s very laid out, everybody knows what they’re doing, they see the fight in advance, I show them the shots. It makes it a lot easier when we get there on the day to say, “This is what we have to accomplish.” If you’re making it up as you’re going, which sometimes is great, it just requires time.
N: In doing something based in the comic book universe, I would imagine it would be better to have something planned out.
LD: Every director has a different style. Some need storyboards, some don’t, some hate them and can’t work with them. There’s some, obviously, when you’re doing big visual effects, you need visual pre-vis storyboards. We did a shot list and we couldn’t hire a storyboard artist, so what Brad, the cinematographer, and I would do is to go to the location and bring stand-ins or, in the case with the stunts, we had the video, and we bring the camera and lenses and we start blocking it out and start laying out the shots and we actually write them down. I like that, I like to visualize it in my head. Sometimes we would attach a photograph of the lensing or framing we wanted and… that’s what we’re following and that also helps with the visual effects. There aren’t that many but there are some complicated ones: when she’s flying with the gun into the door, that’s all visual effects. We were going to do a practicum but we ran out of time. So our visual effects coordinator – I turned to her and said, “I don’t have time to keep changing course, we have to go pure visual effects.” We were going to go with them on some of the shots and that’s how your best laid plan gets compromised or changed when you’re right there on the day. The last fight, too, when she’s being attacked by the big guy, we were really pushing to get the shots; we ran out of time and I had to really think on my feet. There were a couple of shots I missed, but it turned out great.
N: In a larger sense, since you have all of these characters and things to play with in the Marvel universe, how do you plot out what would make a good short versus what would be good for something else? Is Agent Carter going to go into something else, possibly?
LD: We want to tell more Peggy Carter stories. We have a great, wonderful actress playing the role and its obvious that people love her and they like the stories so we haven’t quite planned out what that will be yet, but it’s definitely there. It’s for us to tell in the future. Sometimes we take a lot more — it’s like a big funnel in the beginning, we’re throwing in ideas and some were so wacky, I think I was saying at the panel, we had a young Nick Fury idea for a fantasy short we were making. But how do you cast it? And wouldn’t it be great to do something on Asgard… We have all these good ideas, then we get slapped in the face by reality, and I think that the limitation sometimes forces you to be more creative and leads us right to what we should be making. Item 47 was great for The Avengers Blu-ray – it was a continuation of that story, what happens to one of the guys and you know, it’s also great because we get to see Peggy Carter and we love her.
N: As far as the future goes, how do you go about as a company deciding we’ve done this now, what do we move onto next, as opposed to doing more sequels or that kind of thing?
LD: That’s the balancing act because with sequels – you can’t abandon films that have been so successful and we want to tell new stories. We’ve only been doing two films a year, so the question comes in – do we introduce a third? Do we skip a couple of years of sequels? That’s the questions we’re always asking ourselves but we have a small group of people, a small human bandwidth to grow from two to three films, we talk about it, it might be difficult. It’s always the balancing. Look at Iron Man, there are three of them, and you’re going see your second Captain America and Thor and you see them in The Avengers. We can’t just abandon them. But you’ve got Guardians of the Galaxy coming and Ant-Man coming, so there’s two new ones coming out.
To see Peggy Carter kick ass, pick up the Iron Man 3 Blu-ray, available right now.