Director Chloe Zhao made history at the Academy Awards this year by being the second woman and first woman of color ever to bring home a Best Director statue in the show’s 93 years of presenting. This also means Zhao is the first Oscar-winning director to work in the MCU–and, according to a profile published by Variety , the studio has fully embraced her signature style.
During the early days of Eternals pitching and development, Zhao fought to keep the sprawling sci-fi movie grounded and practical wherever possible. According to Marvel boss Kevin Feige, practical locations were a must for the director’s process. Zhao cut a sample reel for Disney’s higher-ups, and during the presentation, Feige impressed upon the room that it was “right out of the camera” with “no VFX work at all.”
Later, Feige explained, watching Nomadland, he was able to realize this was not a one-off for Zhao. “Oh! That is not just what she wanted to bring to Marvel.” he related. “This is a signature style.”
For Zhao’s part, she was quick to explain that Marvel Studios was both accommodating and flexible to work with during work on the film. When asked if Marvel had any objections to the movie’s diverse casting–it will feature the MCU’s first gay superhero and first deaf superhero–she says the Disney powers-that-be allowed her to take the lead.
“I want to be careful saying ‘my vision,’ even though I do want people to know they did support what I wanted to do. I want people to know that,” Zhao said. “But I also want to make sure they know that I got the support of this incredibly talented team, some of the most talented artists in the world. And it really is a village to make this film, but they did let me lead.”
This (relatively) hands-off approach even extended to the crew of the film, as Zhao’s preference in working with smaller, tightly knit crews was upheld. “From early on, they knew the way I wanted to make this film, how I wanted to shoot. It can't be hundreds of people standing around,” she explained. “So they very much adapted how to run the set the way that I wanted to work. I'm still surrounded by 25 people. They just have armies, and each of them knew they needed to keep the army away.”
As for her influences in the tone and story, Zhao was quick to point back to the source material. “Jack Kirby and his imagination, his incredible work, is really the foundation of it. On top of that, there is what Marvel Studios has built, this incredible journey they have going on,” she said. But added that she also pulled from genres and mediums she grew up with like “sci-fi, manga, and fantasy films.”
The Eternals is set to hit theaters on November 5, 2021.
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