Whenever I get a DVD and I like the movie, I check out the bonus features to see if there’s a director’s commentary. I always find it interesting to listen to the director’s thoughts as he/she takes you through the movie. You learn about the choices they made concerning the story, why they shot the scene the way they did, the ideas they discarded, what came from the script and what came from the actors. I learn a lot listening to how other creative minds approach their work.
I recently listened to Joss Whedon’s commentary for the Avengers. He wrote and directed the movie. (Let me just say up front that Joss Whedon is god when it comes to story and dialogue.) He said that Marvel had told him up front they wanted Ironman and Thor to conflict. Whedon said his job wasn’t to create the fight (the storyboards guys did that) but to justify it. There were a lot of suggestions about having one of them under a misapprehension or a spell, but he discarded those. He said those kind of reasons were deadly. If you have guys pounding on each other over a misunderstanding then you are just waiting for them to start talking to one another. “You’re just checking a box. Ironman fights Thor. Done. And you don’t want that.” What you want are two guys with conflicting agendas. What he came up with is something that’s done in a lot of cop movies—you can’t bust the bad guy becomes he’s part of a bigger operation. That gives you an excuse to set them against one another. Then what you have is not just a fight, it’s a conflict. You feel what’s going on and you’re not just watching it.
Another comment he made about a scene: It’s an opportunity to make jokes and through jokes, learn about character.
The only scene that survived the way he wrote it was the first interrogation scene where he introduced Black Widow. He also said that scene summed up his career—a seemingly vulnerable young woman tied to a chair in imminent danger from a bunch of men but who is in reality very powerful and the one in control.
I also enjoyed hearing about how a key part of the movie came to be. The Hulk has never been one of my favorite Marvel characters. I wouldn’t bother going to see a movie that just featured him. But I did enjoy the relationship that developed between him and Tony Stark which ultimately played into the climax and let the Avengers win. Whedon said that it was Robert Downey, Jr.’s idea for his Tony Stark character to poke Banner as he walked behind him when they were on the airship. He said there was no way Tony wouldn’t try to prod the guy to see if the Hulk came out. He wants to see how that guy works. That ultimately formed the story arc between those two characters. Tony isn’t intimidated by the Hulk and he sets up Banner to embrace the Hulk. When Banner does that he’s able to control what the Hulk does and that helps them win in the end and ultimately saves Tony, too. It’s a key point in the story that developed because Robert Downey Jr. knows the Tony Stark character so well.
Nick Fury and Loki are essentially the same type of character. Both of them lie and manipulate people. I found that fascinating.
His favorite scene was the second interrogation scene. The one between Black Widow and Loki. It was my favorite scene, too. He said it was delightful that in the moment when Loki is using brutal language to take her down emotionally, that’s when she reveals she had been interrogating him all along while he thought he was subjugating her.
These are just some of the things I picked up listening to Whedon’s comments. And these are the type of things that make me look at crafting a story with fresh eyes and ideas.