Behind every block buster movie is a creative team that made it come to life. I’m always intrigued with what goes into making the shows and movies we watch and enjoy. And the creative team behind any Marvel film brings some of the most stunning special effects to the screen, and things previous movies may not have been possible before the film. Before the release of Doctor Strange, we were able to sit down with Director Scott Derrickson, to find out what went into making the movie, and why he thought it was important to bring this Marvel comic to life.
Doctor Strange is unlike any other Marvel movie to date and focuses heavily on the mystic side of the universe. This focus brings in new visual effects we haven’t encountered before. We asked Derrickson what went into making the special effects. “The visual effects took a long time developing them. It was one of the most creative parts of the whole process. The idea going into it was to use visual effects for a new reason than what you usually get in big event movies. In big event movies, even in Marvel movies, special effects are usually used to destroy things. It’s about destroying cities, destroying because that’s what creates screen stimulus. And I just felt committed to the idea of using those big expensive visual effects for something else, something new, something more interesting, and specifically, something trippy, and weird. To give the audience an unexpected experience.”
Like the special effects, most of the movie will be a new experience for viewers. The majority of the movie’s graphics and music have a 60’s feel based on the original comic strip and era. “The ’60s comics were the primary influence for the movie, for sure. Those early Stan Lee and Steve Ditko comics, which were very much products of the ’60s, and the ’60s psychedelia. The weird imagery of the movie is so rooted in the Steve Ditko artwork from that era. I listened to almost nothing but psychedelic rock from that era, while I was working on this screenplay. It’s why there’s one Pink Floyd track in there that’s, you know, from the first Pink Floyd album, back in their early psychedelic days.
“What I wanted to do was to not make a throwback movie, or a nostalgic movie. I didn’t want to try to go back and recapture the ’60s revolution feel. I wanted to have that same mindset of open your mind, expand your mind, see things new. You know, look at a new aesthetic and explore possibilities. That was the goal, to take that ’60s mentality, and then bring it into a modern superhero movie, and do it with a character who was about something, hopefully meaningful.”
While writing the screen play, Derrickson made the choice to change some of the key characters including Wong and the Ancient One. He explained his reasoning. “That choice was twofold. The first reason was because I was trying to find creative ways and positive ways, to escape the racial stereotypes from the original comics. You know, they were products of the ’60s for good and bad, those comics. For bad, the Ancient One, and Wong, those two characters were pretty offensive racial stereotypes, by modern standards.
“Wong’s character, I was able to completely reinvent. I sort of inverted his character. Everything about his character in the comics, I just flipped on its head. Instead of a man servant, you know, he’s a master of the mystic arts. Instead of a sidekick, he’s Strange’s intellectual mentor. You know, so that was great. With the Ancient One, I couldn’t really do that. The Ancient One, for the origin story to work, still had to be a magical, mystical, domineering, martial arts mentor, to Doctor Strange. So the first thing I wanted to do is make it a woman. And, and I thought, okay, that’s fresh. And I did that to get away from the cliché and the stereotype, but I also did that because I wanted a woman Tilda’s age. You know, I wanted a woman who wasn’t, you know, the 26 year old, tightly leather clad hot, fan boy dream girl. I wanted to have a real woman in the movie, in terms of trying to get diversity in there.
“I thought about casting an Asian woman. We had lots of discussion about that. But I couldn’t get away from the stereotype of the Dragon Lady. If you know anything about American cinema, and the portrayal of the Dragon Lady, and, you know the anime movies and all that, I felt like a trap. So then I started thinking, well who could bring the ethereal, enigmatic, mystical qualities of the Ancient One, from the comics, that are good? And I was like, Tilda.”
Tilda Swinton was a strong choice for the Ancient one, but we wondered why she was the obvious choice for Derrickson. “Who else could it be? An interesting story about that is that, I was trying to write the role, and it was the one role in the movie that was flat, it was just a flat role. It just, every version I did of it was just not great. It was not working. And when I came up with the idea in my head about Tilda doing it, suddenly the role came to life, and I wrote it, without her knowing anything about the movie. Or knowing that I was interested in her doing it, I wrote it for her, and it was great. And I remember bringing the script to Kevin, and handing it to him, saying, “okay, this role is great now, but it has to be Tilda Swinton that plays it. And if it’s not her, we’re going to have to rewrite it again.”
“I didn’t feel like anybody but her could do the role as I wrote it.”
But the role of the Ancient One wasn’t the only role they wrote for a specific actor. “This is very rare, but the five lead roles, we got our first choice on every one of them. I don’t think that’s ever happened for me, where our first choice for each role, we just were able to get. It usually doesn’t happen, for no other reason, because of availability. But it just turned out that all of our first choices were available. And they all wanted to do it, when they heard what the movie was. Once we got Benedict, of course, he’s kind of an actor magnet. Other actors want to work with him, so there was that. But then when I would meet with them and explain the movie, they got excited, I think, at what it was that we were trying to do. Like Tilda, I remember Tilda got excited because she understood, I wasn’t making an experimental movie. She doesn’t care about how big a movie is. She could care less. She cares how interesting it is.”
Doctor Strange is a Marvel movie that has a power message in it, and Derrickson said that was an intentional choice. “My biggest personal motive for making the movie is that I have two boys, who are now 13 and 10. They’re Marvel fans, huge Marvel fans. I wanted to make a movie that would surprise them, but also a movie that would leave them an impression on them.”
Derrickson wasn’t the the only one in the running to make Doctor Strange come to life, and it definitely was a labor of love. “I went after the job really hard. Like, really hard. I had eight meetings to get the job. It’s a very thorough process they go through, in hiring their directors. I grew up with Marvel comics. Doctor Strange is my favorite comic. When I heard they were making it, I felt like it was the only comic book character I was uniquely suited to do.
“I had my own opinion about what a Doctor Strange movie should be, and I felt very strongly about it. And when I went in for the first meeting, I was amazed at how in line my thinking about the comic was with theirs. And that was the point where almost like a switch flipped in my brain, and I just said, I’m getting this job. I’m going to outwork everyone on the presentation. I wrote the astral fight that they have in the hospital, I wrote that 12 page scene, before my second meeting. Then I illustrated it, and I spent a lot of money on concept art. I went in with a full vision, and just said, here’s what a Doctor Strange movie should be. I just love it. I love that comic so much. The movie is so true to the comics. You know, it so obviously feels the way the comics feel, and is true to that origin story.”
There are a lot of different messages you can pull from Doctor Strange, but Derrickson summed up what he liked best about the story. “Hopefully movies, like any kind of quality entertainment, or great art, is about more than what you can reduce to. But, I think that the idea of this character who has the wrong values, who has everything, thinks he has everything, but his life is shallow. He’s a materialist, he’s self-centered, he’s bad at relationships. He’s ego-driven. And, then, he loses everything. And through this trauma, through this gauntlet of pain and suffering, he transforms into something better. I love that the movie’s about that. I love that the movie’s about how pain can dislodge you from what’s bad about your life, and push you into something better. Because he becomes a much better person as a result of the worst thing that could happen to him, happening.”
Doctor Strange is a departure from the normal Marvel movies or even super hero movies out there. This is partly due the comic it is based on, but also the choices made while making the movie. “This is a golden era of comic book cinema, it’s the most significant populist cinema in the world. But it’s reached a saturation point of the kinds of movies that we’ve seen. We’ve got to do something new and fresh. It’s got to evolve, or it’s going to decline. When I saw Guardians of the Galaxy, I was like “touchdown” you know? That was my favorite movie of that year, because it was so unexpectedly fresh and new. It was so weirdly, uniquely, James Gunn, that it took me about half an hour to get used to the sense of humor. Like, when you first watch that movie, it’s not funny at first, it’s just weird. Then when you realize how funny it is, it gets funnier and funnier every time you see it, it becomes funnier, still.
“So, as a fan, going into Doctor Strange, I wanted to, to make the kind of comic book movie I wanted to see, which was a hard left turn. Which was a bold and fearless leap into the surreal, with some substantial meaning. You know, some depth of ideas, and still fun. Still Marvel, still a Marvel character. You know, but with a little more originality and ambition than what we’ve been seeing, lately. That’s what I wanted as a fan, that’s what everybody wants. And if I hit that target for my own taste, I have to believe it’ll, it’ll satisfy other people as well.”
The artwork throughout the Doctor Strange comics and even the movie are visually stunning. The movie bases its imagery on the work of Steve Ditko. “I don’t think that we could’ve done that, even three or four years ago. It’s like, visual effects have finally caught up with Steve Ditko, you know? You haven’t seen that artwork ripped off in other movies, because you couldn’t. I mean, you literally couldn’t do it, even if you wanted to. The time was right, and the technology is one of the reasons why this movie now, as well. Because it’s finally time to, we can do this, this kind of crazy stuff.”
About Doctor Strange:
From Marvel Studios comes “Doctor Strange,” the story of world-famous neurosurgeon Dr. Stephen Strange whose life changes forever after a horrific car accident robs him of the use of his hands. When traditional medicine fails him, he is forced to look for healing, and hope, in an unlikely place—a mysterious enclave known as Kamar-Taj. He quickly learns that this is not just a center for healing but also the front line of a battle against unseen dark forces bent on destroying our reality. Before long Strange—armed with newly acquired magical powers—is forced to choose whether to return to his life of fortune and status or leave it all behind to defend the world as the most powerful sorcerer in existence.
“Doctor Strange” stars Benedict Cumberbatch, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Rachel McAdams, Benedict Wong, Michael Stuhlbarg, Benjamin Bratt and Scott Adkins, with Mads Mikkelsen and Tilda Swinton. Scott Derrickson is directing with Kevin Feige producing. Louis D’Esposito, Stephen Broussard, Victoria Alonso, Charles Newirth and Stan Lee serve as executive producers. Jon Spaihts and Scott Derrickson & C. Robert Cargill wrote the screenplay. Join Strange on his dangerous, mystifying and totally mind-bending journey when Marvel Studios’ “Doctor Strange” opens in U.S. theaters on November 4, 2016.
Watch the Official Doctor Strange Trailer Below: