The writing duo of Stephen McFeely and Christopher Markus filled in on a screenwriters panel for the Los Angeles Film Festival’s “Coffee Talk” series. Roberto Orci had a conflict so we got the writers of Captain America: The First Avenger instead. They joined Diablo Cody, Dustin Lance Black and Josh Olson to discuss the writing industry for aspiring filmmakers and fans.
As the panel broke up into the hallway, I cornered McFeely for some follow-up questions about his big summer movie. We discussed the process of writing Captain America, and the early plans for the sequel.
SM: It’s not even so much we get notes based on what the next Avengers project is going to be. I would just say it’s not even notes. The world is so interesting and there’s so much of it, 70-80 years of Marvel comics, you just have conversations where an executive will say, “Have you considered Modok?” And we think to ourselves, “The guy’s a floating head? How fabulous would that be if we can do that?” The depth of the world makes for some really interesting, weird conversations. As far as a specific strangest note, I don’t think I have one because from Marvel, mostly they’re good and they end up in the movie.
Q: With the Modok conversations, at what point do they get crushed by, “No, we can’t put that in the movie?”
SM: Well, at first, “We’ll save that for Captain American 2.” We’re sort of just opening up what are all the things we could be drawing from? So things like that come up.
Q: What did you get to do that you always wanted to do?
SM: There’s a train scene that I’m really proud of. I’m really excited about that. It’s all ours.
Q: Do you get to write the post-credits tag we all know will be there?
SM: Yes, that was us. That was tough and it went through a lot of drafts obviously, but yeah.
Q: Do you worry there’s origin story fatigue, since every comic book movie is doing the origin?
SM: I think there’s no fatigue if the story’s good. I don’t think that’s why people don’t go to the movies. Either they’re not good or not successful or appreciated. It’s whether they’re good or not. It’s not whether it’s a first. So I don’t think any comic book movie would necessarily be served by writing episode two instead of episode one unless that was so much better. I don’t think there’s an origin fatigue, I don’t.
Q: When you write the Steve Rogers scenes, do they assure you they’ve got the visual effects to do it so you can just write what you want?
SM: Oh yeah. We’ve done a number of CGI movies now and you just have to rely on people who are much better at this than you are and have a lot of experience in terms of making this lion realistic or making that guy’s head really look red or making that guy look 98 lbs. And they do. They do every time. I’m always amazed.
Q: But at the screenplay stage, they don’t know how they’re going to do it. So do they just say they’ll figure it out, you go write?
SM: Yeah, not on the first draft. We don’t have to worry. In our heads, he’s 98 lbs. just as in our heads that lion can talk. In our heads, that’s Peter Sellers playing that part. We don’t have to worry about that particularly on draft one and two. Then we’ll be in the room. That’s what’s exciting on Captain America, we’re in the room all the time where we go, “All right, is it going to be a head replacement? Is it going to be a different actor? Are we going to double cast this?” All the possibilities came up and they’re really smart guys, Chris Townsend particularly, would say, “All right, here’s how the best way to do it is for these particular shots.” It’s a big deal because that’s the first act.
Q: Is Captain America the last big one who hasn’t been done yet?
SM: Good question. Off the top of my head, I can’t think of other big ones. It depends where you rank people. They haven’t done a Flash yet in DC.
Q: Well, they haven’t even done Wonder Woman yet.
SM: They haven’t done a big screen Wonder Woman so there are certainly big characters on the DC side. Marvel, not just the Marvel Studio movies but the license to other studios, they’ve been at it for a few years now. In Marvel there’s 5,000 characters so there is going to be a law of diminishing returns. Is everyone going to go to a Luke Cage movie and are you going to make it for the same amount that you made Avengers for? There’s risk vs. reward.
Q: We know he comes into modern day for The Avengers, but is there room to go back to WWII?
SM: Well, our hope is that there is room and we’re negotiating how to do that now. The story will likely be in the present day. We’re experimenting with flashback elements for more period World War II stuff. I can’t say much more than that but we made it baggy enough to refer to more stories in the past.
Q: So you left gaps in Captain America 1 where you can always say something else was going on back then?
SM: Absolutely. He had more adventures than just the one you’re going to see in the movie.
Q: Do you know who the villain of Captain America 2 would be?
SM: It’s undetermined. I will pass that question, how about that?
Q: When would you be scheduled to work on a sequel?
SM: We’ve already made the deal so I was at Marvel last week. We’re talking and passing stuff back and forth all the time. They just sent me a big PDF file of comics.
Captain America: The First Avenger hits theaters July 22.