Interview: Thor: Ragnarok Producer Brad Winderbaum on Matt Damon, Devo, Taika Waititi, Jeff Goldblum and the Gold Coast

While in Australia last week for the premiere of the latest entry into the Marvel Cinematic Universe, we sat down with Thor: Ragnarok producer Brad Winderbaum to talk about filming on the Gold Coast, working with New Zealand director Taika Waititi and Mark Mothersbaugh from Devo, bringing in Matt Damon and Jeff Goldblum – and we ask the all important question: If we don’t get a Thor 4, can we at least get a Grandmaster spin-off?

It’s rare for us to get to talk about a big Hollywood blockbuster that has been filmed in Australia. What were some of those experiences like, filming on the Gold Coast?

The Gold Coast was a great place to make a movie. I lived there for six or seven months. It gave us an opportunity to … paint on a brand new canvas. There were just so many amazing new environments we could put on screen … had one of the most amazing crews, ever. It was a great place to live, with my family. Beautiful, beautiful place to be.

It certainly is. You got to work with a lot of incredible New Zealand and Australian crews, as you mentioned. What is the process for putting those sorts of crews together, when you come to a place like Australia? Obviously when you’re working out of the studios in LA, and New York … probably even London, there’s go-to people that you work with, every time. When you come to a new place like Australia, you’re working with new people, that haven’t worked on a Marvel film before. What is that process of bringing people into the folds?

As we find our crew, we’re fortunate enough to attract a lot of talented people. When Taika and I were finding the department heads, and the creative voices that we’re going to allow to tell the story that you want to tell … we had a group of incredible international artists. From (Costume Designer) Mayes Rubeo … to (Production Designer) Dan Hennah. These amazing creative voices were able to come in and bring our vision to life.

Taika has certainly left his mark on the franchise with this film. He’s not given a writer’s credit, but … I imagine a lot of the stuff that we see, especially with the scenes of his character… and some of his Kiwi cohorts… It feels like some of that was off-script. Would that be a fair assumption?

Absolutely. Taika is … very experimental on set. He is constantly playing with dialogue, constantly trying to find new ways to draw out the conflict in the scene … and to explore the situation, and exploit it for maximum dramatic or comedic results. You know you can’t do that unless you understand what the scene is about.

He is a filmmaker through and through. He wants to play, and have fun, and … experiment. You only get to do that if you understand the fundamentals of the story you’re telling, and understand what’s driving each scene. He does, better than anybody. He had the script, he had the dialogue, he got it all in the can … and then would riff, and play, and allow the actors to explore … he found new and exciting ways to get at the heart of the story in every scene.

Was there a worry though … he sort of steals every scene he’s in … was that a problem? You know, just, “Don’t be that funny. This is Chris’s movie…”

I think when you’ve got a character like Korg, there’s not a fear that he’s not going to steal the film from Thor… I think if you look at the humour, it is always in service of the conflict of the scene, or the situation of the scene.

The way that Taika worked with Chris, and that they found the voice of Thor in this film … was amazing to watch, and experience. It was a long development process, and they really discovered a version of the character that … we’ve seen touched on in other movies, but that was really at the forefront of this one.

The Last Jedi, at the moment, is getting a bit of flack from its own director about giving too much away in the trailer … what I found really interesting about the Thor: Ragnarok trailer was that, there were scenes re-cut, re-edited … to not give away certain plot points, that we won’t give away in this piece. How much went into that … making sure that, that trailer wasn’t giving away some of the major plot points of the film?

You know, we’ve got an amazing marketing department at Disney. They have a lot of respect for the film, and the movie we want to show people. They also want to get people into the theatre.

It was balance of showing these exciting trailers that could show scenes from throughout the entire movie, but not give away these fundamental plot points. We did a little slight of hand at times, had two versions of the visual effects, different backgrounds, different elements of the characters themselves … in order to save many surprises for the experience in the theatre.

One of the best cameos we’ve ever had in a Marvel film, other than Stan Lee of course … and that’s Matt Damon. How did you get Matt Damon into this film?

We were down in Atlanta, we were picking up a few shots for various scenes … pulling a couple of our scenes together. When we were in the middle of post-production, Chris told Taika and I, “Matt will fly down. If you want-” and we were like, “Yeah! Let’s do it.” He just came down one day, and we had the costume prepared, and the little bit of set we needed, and shot it against blue screen, and put him in the movie. Simple as that.

It was a pretty brilliant scene and, a real testament to the humour and comedy that Taika has … in his films. Having Liam in there as well, and regular Sam Neill…

Yes, totally. It was Luke.

*laughs* Oh, it was Luke. Sorry. Too many of those damn Hemsworths running around.

Exactly.

That was such a funny scene. There’s so much humour in this film, but perhaps the real star of the film, in that regard, is Jeff Goldblum.

Amazing. Hollywood legend.

Hollywood legend, and arguably under appreciated on this kind of blockbuster scale. I know he was in Independence Day, and a couple of others in the 90s… but it sort of feels like he’s having his renaissance.

He is. I think we remember Dr. Malcolm from Jurassic Park … who is this eccentric, but a very seductive character.

Life will find a way.

Life will find a way. Taika really allowed Jeff to put all of his eccentricities on display as the Grandmaster, and push it as far as he could go. Believe me when I tell you, we’re using about 10% of the amazing material that was discovered on set … by Jeff and Taika.

We’re piecing together the deleted scenes on the Blu-ray. There’s amazing stuff … that is on the cutting room floor because you just can’t … the movie, you got to tell the story, you can’t have all of it. There’s an embarrassment of riches, when it comes to Grandmaster material.

It seems like there were genuine moments of laughter, from the actors in the film, that were left in.

Yes, definitely. Definitely. Taika created an environment that was very freeing, very playful … for everyone involved. The actors, to the department heads, to every crew member. It was a fun place to be.
Working on that set was a great experience for everybody, and what it created in the actors was this naturalism … they were laughing at each other, they were very much in the moment because they were riffing, and discovering things in real time.

One of my favourite moments is when Jeff laughs at Rachel House when she says that the melting dude smells like burnt toast, and he just laughs and continues with the scene. It’s a genuine laugh… or when Thor actually laughs at Ruffalo, saying he’s like fire and he’s like water. These are real, genuine moments because they’re coming out of two human beings together … just riffing in real time. Really part of the magic of Taika, as a filmmaker.

It is, and that translates so well … even in a film as grand as this one. Having those little moments of humour, genuine moments of humour, throughout it … works brilliantly. I really look forward to seeing what was on the cutting room floor.

While on the subject, I understand that there was an interview with Taika a while ago saying the film was going to be around 100-110 minutes … it ended up being 130-140 minutes. What happened there?

Obviously it’s a long post process, and the film takes on many different forms, throughout. Constantly playing with story, constantly playing with the scenes, trying to find the best avenues to go down. I will say, a lot of our campaign … there is a little bit of trickery going on. That was definitely a red herring.

In addition to the on-screen cast, so many great people behind the scenes. One of the most recognisable names is Mark Mothersbaugh from Devo, doing an incredible soundtrack. Can you talk a little about bring Mark on board?

Mark was like a dream. He fit so well with the movie that Taika wanted to create … which was this mixture of the big symphonic, sweeping scores of the other Thor movies, but also bringing in this synthesised 80’s film … score from the kind of movies we loved from the mid 80’s, too. John Carpenter scores.

A bit of even Tron in there –

There’s some Tron in there.

– when they were doing those chase sequences.

Yes, and when you listen to the way that Mark was able to integrate both the big orchestral sounds with the synthesised part of the score, it’s really a triumph. There’s a few moments in the movie in particular, where he just seamlessly moves from one musical idea to another. Thematically, it works so well with the movie itself.

It’s a movie about opposites in many ways. You’ve got Asgard contrasting with Sakaar … you’ve got Thor’s journey, where he has to learn what it means to be a leader, and you can hear it in Mark’s score. Nothing is accidental there. He is firing on all cylinders. I think it is one of the best scores, if not the best score we’ve ever had.

It was brilliant, striking, ticked all the boxes. Looking ahead, you mentioned Thor 4 may be on the cards.

Ruffalo. Man, Ruffalo just loves to cause trouble man. He really … I stepped right in it. Look, obviously when you make a movie like this, you hope that the audience enjoys it enough so that you have an opportunity to make another one. While we can’t say anything officially, it’s something that I think we all hope we can do in the future.

Well, there’s still a lot of Avengers films to come out, and other films in the cinematic universe … which it getting more and more intertwined every day it seems. Is there anything that we should be looking out for in the film? Without giving anything away, are there easter eggs that people should be keeping an eye out for once the film comes out?

Yes. I think there is a lot of great allusions to the history of the Marvel cinematic universe in this film. Taika knew the movies really well, and you’ll see there’s a lot of great parallels that he’s worked in … if you’re a fan of the universe at large. The most I can say about the future of the MCU, is that Thor: Ragnarok really does set the table for Infinity War, in ways that will become clear when you see that movie.

It must be interesting, those meetings where all the films are being laid out, with all the plots… the knowledge that you must have, that any fan of the universe would crave. *laughs*

It’s amazing. It’s also an ever-changing, organic, morphing thing. We have ideas, we have a vision of where we want to go. Kevin’s got a strong sense of the big over-arching story of the universe. Each film has its own personality, and kind of defines the universe in its own little distinct ways, and tells you where it wants to go.

If no Thor 4, maybe a Grandmaster spin-off film … the fans are going to be craving that.

I’m so in for a Grandmaster film.

You could at least do some short films, that’s kind of how you started with Marvel, wasn’t it?

Yes, absolutely. Those one shots are … I’m so proud of them. There’s some great stuff in there. I’d love to return to that. Those little corners of the universe, those little ideas that don’t warrant a feature in and of themselves, but explore the ever-changing, living, breathing document that is the MCU.

Thor: Ragnarok is in cinemas nationally on Thursday, October 26th.