MARVEL STUDIOS undergoes restructuring with potentially huge ramifications

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Ask most people who the head of Marvel Studios is, and they will probably be quick to answer “Kevin Feige”. He is after all the President of the studio and more often than not its public face. Not to mention that Marvel’s game-changing approach to shared universe storytelling all comes from him. But everybody has a boss, and in Feige’s case it was the CEO of Marvel Entertainment, Ike Perlmutter. Yes, was. Past tense.

It’s been reported by THR that an internal restructuring in Marvel Studios has taken Perlmutter out of the chain of command for the company’s movie division, with Feige now only working under Alan Horn, Chief of Marvel’s parent company Disney Studios. And even if you’ve never heard of Ike Perlmutter before, this is still a major shakeup.

The very epitome of the stereotypical American Dream, Perlmutter was an ex-soldier Jewish immigrant who came to America in the 1960’s with just a few dollars in his pocket. He worked menial jobs and taught himself economics – despite no tertiary education – until he became a salesman for beauty products, and most importantly toys. It was success in the latter – as well a few other business ventures – that saw him work his way up from almost nothing to eventually become the multimillionaire co-owner of Toy Biz with Avi Arad. Toy Biz would then become Marvel Toys when Perlmutter and Arad – who became producer on most of Marvel’s movies – negotiated their way to the top of Marvel’s food chain when the comic book publisher underwent bankruptcy in the 1990’s and was desperate for a cash injection (this would also see them selling off the film rights to their most famous properties like Spider-Man and X-Men to other studios).

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Why is all of this background important? Because more than likely due to the way his rags to riches story played out, as the boss of Marvel Entertainment, Perlmutter would become almost legendary with his frugality (almost as legendary as his reclusiveness and aversion to cameras hence why the pic above is the “latest” image of the 72-year old). Every single story you’ve ever heard about how Marvel Studios was nickel and diming their stars, or even how little money was spent on catering at Marvel press events, it was Perlmutter’s doing.

On the one hand, this approach proved very successful, as Marvel would hire young, up and coming actors on the cheap, but guarantee them multi-picture deals and massive international exposure. They became a star-making machine that everybody wanted to work for. This frugality also led to Marvel movies never suffering gigantic budget bloat, which meant that even if a movie like Ant-Man got nowhere close to making Avengers money, it would still end up financially successful.

Unfortunately, this also led to several confrontations with Feige who had major creative ideas he wanted to apply to their universe, but was constantly reined in by the conservative Perlmutter. Reports of their butting of heads over Perlmutter’s insistence on inane details that have no creative merit but just had to be included for pure business reasons have been circulating for years. It’s a huge tip of the hat to Feige’s fighting spirit that for the most part the MCU didn’t feel like it was being run by a boardroom of businessmen, but now that strife is no longer there.

And even outside of the actual movies, Perlmutter made his controversial presence felt. A huge, well-deserved stink has been kicked up over the last few years about Marvel’s lack of diversity, and nowhere was this more alarming than on their tie-in merchandising front. Good luck trying to find an action figure or t-shirt of Gamora from Guardians of the Galaxy. Or even worse, check out out how much merchandise was actually produced featuring Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow – easily one of the most popular characters in the entire MCU. Hell, for the Avengers: Age of Ultron toy line, they took that incredible scene of Black Widow riding that sweet bike out of the Quinjet, and put Captain America in it instead for the toy version. They didn’t even have the decency to include her picture on the cast list.

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And the blame for all of this lack of female representation can almost exclusively be laid at the feet of Perlmutter, who reportedly believed from his days as a toy seller that girls don’t buy toys and single-handedly waylaid the inclusion of female characters over and over again. That huge blockage is no longer there.

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But the restructuring hasn’t stopped there. Initially reported by Heroic Hollywood’s El Mayimbe yesterday and then confirmed/elaborated on later by BMD’s Devin Faraci, the Marvel Studios’ Creative Committee is no more. Who or what was the Creative Committee? These were a group of individuals who would be asked to consult and provide insight on all of Marvel’s movie developments, and who counted among their number the likes of acclaimed comic book writer Brian Michael Bendis, Marvel Entertainment President Alan Fine (who also came from Toy Biz), Marvel Comics publisher Dan Buckley, and Joe Quesada, long-time Marvel Comics writer/artist, their former editor-in-chief and current Chief Creative Officer of Marvel Enterprises. That’s certainly a creatively potent group with lots of years of experience with Marvel’s characters, and you would think that their support would be a great thing. Unfortunately that wasn’t always the case, as Faraci reports:

“Over the years I’ve heard many stories of the Creative Committee giving notes that are pedestrian, motivated by ‘save the cat’ story logic and sometimes a drag on creativity. One Marvel creative talked to me about battles with the Creative Committee where they focused on details of nit-picky science that ignored the general tone of the script itself. The notes that drove Edgar Wright off Ant-Man came from the Creative Committee. What’s more, the Creative Committee was often very tardy with their notes, making movie development a much slower process. All of the Committee members have other, very important jobs, so you understand why that would be the case, but it was a pain for filmmakers. And that’s before taking into account the political divisions within Marvel that also created friction with the Creative Committee.”

Yes, the Creative Committee are the reason why we never saw an Edgar Wright Ant-Man. And now they’re gone. What this all means is that now Kevin Feige (with assistance from popular Marvel Studios Co-President/Producer Louis D’Esposito and Exec producer/Exec VP of visual effects Victoria Alonso) has unprecedented creative control over the direction of this movie universe. And it’s easy to see how this  would more than likely translate to the filmmakers he hires also being given more creative control over the stories they are hired to tell.

Before Feige became an extremely successful movie studio exec, he was a comic book fanboy first, which is why the he’s enamoured himself so well to most fans. And in virtually every interview I’ve ever seen him give where he gets asked the hard questions about Marvel’s creatively stifling system which seems to be driving out true auteurs like Wright in favour of people that just tow the line and produce content in the in-house style, Feige seems genuinely apologetic, that he’s fought the fight but his hands are just tied. That’s no longer the case.

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It’s too early for these change-ups to have ramifications to the currently in-production Phase 3 slate like Doctor Strange, but looking ahead to movies like Captain Marvel, Black Panther and The Inhumans we could just be seeing Marvel Studios breaking the mold they made themselves. I highly doubt that this will mean that Feige is just going to go crazy and start spending on huge stars with gigantic salaries or completely abandoning their already well-established game plan in favour of some wacky out-of-left-field movies just to spice things up creatively (sorry, Darryn. Probably no Squirrel Girl movie for you), as clearly what they’ve been doing so far on the business-side is working for them. But now the studio President has a lot more room to make the movies he wants to make, the way he wants to make them.

It has to be noted though that while Perlmutter is no longer looking over Feige’s shoulder on the movie front, as CEO of Marvel Entertainment he is still the final say when it comes to their TV endeavours – so don’t go expecting Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. to suddenly start upending the apple cart. But even with that concession, these changes are all still a huge deal. Much like how Marvel’s movies are divided into Phases, this is undoubtedly a new creative phase for the studio itself.

Last Updated: September 3, 2015

Kervyn Cloete

A man of many passions - but very little sleep - I've been geeking out over movies, video games, comics, books, anime, TV series and lemon meringues as far back as I can remember. So show up for the geeky insight, stay for the delicious pastries.

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