Soaring to new heights while writing & directing Captain Marvel!

March 15, 2019 Jeff Goldsmith

As Captain Marvel heads toward making a billion dollars worldwide – there’s a lot to learn about how the storytelling connected with worldwide audiences.

Now, for your reading pleasure, please enjoy this excerpt from Backstory’s 3,300 word spoiler-specific interview with co-writer/directors Ryan Fleck & Anna Boden by Jeff Goldsmith from Backstory Issue 36 – now available for purchase as an individual issue or live to access for subscribers!

Official S.H.I.E.L.D. Memo: Reader beware—major spoilers are contained herein.

One of the many qualities Marvel brings to the film community is a willingness to give independent filmmakers their first big-league shot. The writing-directing team of Ryan Fleck and Anna Boden first gained worldwide recognition with their excellent 2006 film, Half Nelson, which scored Ryan Gosling his first Oscar nom, and have been crafting solid character-driven tales ever since. While they co-wrote Half Nelson, Fleck received sole credit for directing and they’ve teamed up as co-directors ever since on projects for both big (Sugar, Mississippi Grind) and small screens (Billions, The Affair). Now they’ve joined the MCU with Captain Marvel, the studio’s first female-led superhero film, which tells of human Starforce member Vers (later known as Carol Danvers/Captain Marvel and played energetically by Oscar winner Brie Larson), who fights with Kree aliens to wipe out the threat of the shape-shifting Skrulls. Her commander, Yon-Rogg (Jude Law), has trained her to be merciless against the Skrulls and never let emotion get the best of her. After being captured by Skrull leader Talos (Ben Mendelsohn), Vers learns that she might find answers to her jumbled memories of a past life on Earth—which she just happens to crash into as she is escaping from Talos. Dropped into Earth circa 1994, Vers meets young S.H.I.E.L.D. agent Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson), who sees value in helping her keep the planet safe from invading Skrulls. As Vers’ Kree warriors are en route to assist her, she continues fighting the Skrulls with Fury’s help until they learn there may be more than meets the eye regarding the war into which she’s been drafted…

Backstory: How did you two come on to Captain Marvel?
Ryan Fleck: They announced the movie and we were intrigued, but then they announced that Brie Larson was going to be playing Captain Marvel, and that’s when we got even more intrigued. The casting is just so good in these movies. In our past films, whenever we go to make a schedule and we’re trying to cast an actor, we look down the list and none are available because they’re all shooting Avengers movies. We should probably make one so we can work with one of these people one day—and it happened to be Brie Larson. But yeah, we raised our hands and said, Hey, let’s start the conversation, and after about five conversations, they offered us the gig.

What was the shape of the script when you guys signed on? I know you wrote a version with Geneva Robertson-Dworet [2018’s Tomb Raider], but there was already a draft before you came in, right?
Anna Boden: Yeah, there had been a draft by Meg [LeFauve, a writer on Inside Out] and Nicole [Perlman who received co-writing credit on Guardians of the Galaxy], which is the “story by” credit. And they did a great job of helping to define the basic building blocks of what the story was gonna be and what it was gonna explore. Then when we came on, we hired Geneva as a writer and ended up working with her and literally splitting up the scenes after outlining, with each of us taking some. It was our first time working with her, and she was a great partner.

How did you choose her?
Boden: A bunch of writers came in and pitched, and we really just clicked with her immediately.

What were some of the early left turns—ideas you had that maybe you thought for a few months were going to be in the movie but you later didn’t even shoot? It’s always interesting to hear about the path writers go on as they’re making these decisions.
Fleck: We started the movie with Carol Danvers as a human and meet her in the late ’80s in a training exercise for the Air Force with her friend Maria Rambeau [Lashana Lynch]. So the movie kind of starts with a Top Gun kind of sequence of training. Then we hang out with them at a bar, get to know them a little bit, and then the movie mysteriously jumps ahead to another planet, where she’s this superpowered intergalactic warrior but she has lost her memory. She doesn’t know how she got there.
Boden: We loved that sequence. I still wanna see that movie. I loved everything about it. We ended up doing previs for that whole air exercise sequence, but it started to feel like the audience knew so much more about her than she knew about herself. It kept the audience one step ahead, but it was much more satisfying to be on her journey of self-discovery when we’re discovering things for the first time, and so we ended up reconceptualizing.

By putting the audience on the same track as her awakening tale—and thereby the central mystery being what happened in her past—it allowed for the amnesia concept to really take over. Do you remember at exactly what point you made that change?
Boden: We always knew we didn’t want to tell a super traditional version, which would be starting with her in the past and then making it completely linear. So the kind of halfway version, where we get a little bit of the past and then jump ahead—it didn’t end up feeling as satisfying even though there were some really nice things about it.
Fleck: The nice thing about it was meeting Carol Danvers as a human and liking her sense of humor and relationship with Maria—you just meet somebody that you instantly like. That was the challenge of introducing her as a space warrior who doesn’t know [her past]. You still like her, but you don’t know anything about her. [Had we started on Earth,] the audience in a weird way would be rooting for her to get back to Earth and reconnect, as opposed to just going along for the ride and learning as you go.
Boden: I feel like you’re pitching our old version of the movie right now.
Fleck: No, no, no, I was just about to finish and say that it’s more satisfying to go on the journey with her.

It was also great how the film in a way reminds you of the TV show Alias, where at the end of the first season, the protagonist learns she’s actually not working for the CIA but instead is fighting for the wrong team. Here, a similar revelation tells us that the Kree—for whom Carol/Vers is working—turn out to actually not be the good guys. In fact, they’re perpetuating a genocide against the shapeshifting aliens. And I’m curious about your decision on when to drop that information? If I’m looking at the structure correctly, it seems like this is more toward the end of the second act. Did that reveal always hit there, or did it move around?
Boden: Good question. I think it always kind of landed about there.

How long did it take to write the script after you broke your outline?
Boden: We just finished writing it!
Fleck: Like, we were writing it while we were shooting it. We were writing it while we were editing it but never really finished.

To read the complete 3,300 word spoiler-specific interview in Issue 36 of Backstory, click HERE to subscribe or buy it as a single issue.

For more info about all the other articles in issue 36, view the Table of Contents.