Iron Man's Director Jon Favreau Talks Flying and Action Scenes
by Alex Billington
February 25, 2008
One of the biggest concerns I've heard recently regarding the upcoming Iron Man movie is whether director Jon Favreau will be able to take on an action movie as well as a comedy or drama. Everyone seems to feel confident in Favreau as a director, but they're really unsure whether he's truly capable of pulling off the action that a comic book movie like Iron Man requires in order to be amazing. During press interviews after the presentation at WonderCon in San Francisco, Favreau specifically addressed that question. His answer not only settled any of my own concerns, but actually turned all of my hesitation around into pure excitement. I've said it before and I'll keep saying it - Favreau really knows what he's doing and really was born to direct Iron Man.
Favreau's discussion on the action scenes began by answering what experiences he had to draw upon for the action in the movie when he's primarily touched upon only fantasy (Zathura) and comedy (Elf).
"There were two things that I drew on. One was the incredible collaborative resources that I had around me between Kevin Feige and the people at Marvel and Avi Arad the producer in the pre-production process, and then incredibly talented storyboard artists, pre-vis people, and then the people at ILM and all the vendors. It's a very big collaboration and there you must rely on those people."
"Even filmmakers who are action directors, even a guy like [Michael] Bay or like [Sam] Raimi, they rely heavily on their team as well. They have a vision for things, but you need hundreds of people to help see that vision through. And so I was very open to collaborating on that. I'm just seeing those sequences now, it'll be two years and I'll finally see what it is. So you have to have a lot of understanding and I have a tremendous amount of respect for those action directors now."
"The other thing I drew from was my sense of what I don't like to see, which is action that undermines the story of a film, that undermines the reality. Marvel films always had a tongue and cheek irreverent quality, but never when it came to the action. It was always very serious about the stakes of winning and losing. You could joke around with him talking and things happening in a humorous way to him, but when that suit's working, it better… the stakes of that conflict better not be made light of and you have to take it dead seriously."
Favreau is known for disliking CGI and only using it when necessary, which is both good and bad. In Iron Man, he found a balance between using the two.
"The action is a set piece, so it has to propel the story… In this case it's a fight, it's action, it has to do something metaphorically, right?"
"Because there was so much CG, I didn't want to just have virtual cameras flying around. And so we found a great practical air-to-air film, like Top Gun, and we said this was all real, this was before CGI - how did they film it? What did they have to do? These long lenses… And then you looked at the making of it, there's a look. It looks different than Stealth. Stealth, the camera does this, it does this, it's got a short lens, it frames everything perfectly, and it goes for a different aesthetic, it goes to be speculator. In Top Gun, they're trying to line the two planes up, it's so hard to keep them both in frame. Sometimes it buzzes…"
"Who does it good? 'Battlestar Galactica', the TV series. They do it very well. It's very charming what they do. They'll admit, they miss, they zoom, they rack, it's almost becoming a motif in that, like the shaky camera on 'NYPD Blue', but it's there. It's like, look at this, why is this cool? It should look like an air show. When something blows up, you zoom in and miss it, you try and get it. It looks like a YouTube video. And then it becomes about, okay, here are the rules."
Favreau then went on to reference one the films he actually participated in as an actor, Rudy, explaining a more technical side of filmmaking regarding lenses and how to make scenes look real. While this may sound boring to the regular moviegoer, the explanation that he gives shows that he has the experience and knowledge necessary to pull this off perfectly.
"Now you can't tell the difference between a long lens and a short lens, most people layman can't. But there's a quality to the background, the focal depth, the depth of field, and so you notice it looks real."
"…it feels real. And the more real the action is, the more you feel emotionally, the more tension you feel, the more you laugh. And all the things, the experience is just a more visceral experience."
After throwing in that incredibly nostalgic reference to Top Gun previously, Favreau finishes up by explaining that in their scenes they attempted to emulate that filmmaking style from Top Gun by applying realistic non-CGI shooting angles and techniques.
"If you look at all the flying stuff, we sometimes break the rules, but we always try to make it… Where's this camera, as well as off of a plane? Okay, what lens would it be on? What would be in front of that lens? There would be some mist, there would be some imperfections in the lensing. We shot real plates. We didn't just take a camera and do this, we flew planes and followed the planes with other planes and there was something in there, and we would paint that out and paint in the other thing that was supposed to be flying. And so you have a certainly sloppiness to it…"
"I don't know if people know that, but people responded really well to the F-22 stuff, even in the old trailer. And that was because that was shot with real lenses and real plates. And those were the rules. Let's pretend we really had these things and we were really shooting them. It might not be as dynamic as other movies where you could put the camera anywhere, but I think it adds to the overall storytelling."
Unless I'm mistaken, it sounds as if Favreau and his team actually shot scenes with real F-22's using real cameras and real planes. He also seems to elude that they also later shot pure-CGI scenes, but setup camera angles and shots as if they couldn't go "anywhere", but as if the camera was a practical camera and attached in some way.
After seeing the new trailer and the scenes at the WonderCon presentation and hearing Favreau talk about how he approached flying and action in the movie, I'm fully convinced that this is the last thing we have to worry about with Iron Man. He even went as far as to mention one of the greatest movies involving fighter jets ever made (despite being very campy), Top Gun, as inspiration for the flying scenes in Iron Man. Do I even need to say more?
While I'm not naive enough to believe that this alone will have converted everyone who was (or is) concerned about Favreau approaching action, I hope we've at least made a few of you "that much more" confident in Favreau as a director. I just want everyone else to feel as completely excited for Iron Man as I do and to not worry so much about Favreau's abilities.