Interview: Into the Spider-Verse co-director/writer Rodney Rothman



hey everybody and welcome to school ISM interviews where we talk about art and life as an artist I'm your host Bobby Chu and today's guest is one of the co-directors of spider-man into the spider-verse Rodney Rothman he is not just a co-director which is already oh my goodness but he also helped to write the screenplay he's also worked on such things as producing pop star never stop never stopping I love this movie as super funny highly recommended he's also one of the producers of get him to the Greek Forgetting Sarah Marshall year one and the list goes on you can actually look him up and see everything that he's done an incredible person credible screenwriter as well 22 Jump Street comes to mind The Late Show with David Letterman comes to mind and he was actually hired to write on The Late Show with David Letterman in his early 20s by the time he was 24 25 he was already the head writer of The Late Show with David Letterman and we talk in depth about that as well as his experience writing for Saturday Night Live this one is one to share with your friends everybody this is a really great interview so without further ado here's my interview with the one and only Rodney Rothman please enjoy so Rodney first of all thank you so much for your time because I I know everybody must be wanting to talk to you there right now with the success of spider-man and congratulations on that thank you very much you'd be surprised now that I don't have a job anymore how little I have to do I'm supposed to do some stuff I was always using stuff I just don't feel like doing well that's good to have that kind of freedom as well part of these interviews is not really to kind of focus on the fandom of you know spider-man but more to kind of know about you so I kind of want to ask first you know where did you grow up and and what were you like as a child sure um I grew up in New York I grew up when I was a little kid in Forest Hills Queens which is where Peter Parker is from coincidentally and that's where my family was from for a long time they my whole family lived in Queens and Forest Hills in Rego Park and then we moved to the suburbs when I was about seven or eight and I grew up in the suburbs of New York and you know essentially like I was you know a happy kid I was a pretty good student but not a great one you know and at a certain point maybe around seven or eight years old I think I I started to figure out that I was funny or that that you know that's being funny or being you know yeah being funny was something that you know people were recognizing me for it was something that was sort of mine and you know no one else's know by extension writing I think by that time especially under the you know with the support of a couple of specific teachers that started to emerge as something something that was just getting a lot of positive reinforcement for you know was there like a key moment like a particular story that you wrote or for me it was like doing a little circle amongst my friends and having yo mama jokes during recess what about for you well I mean I literally remember telling my first joke publicly when I was in second grade on my first day of school and I'm not gonna repeat the joke because you know it was really geared more towards the second grade audience you have to know your audience that's rule number one but I remember telling the joke specifically telling a joke to sort of you know ice break with a whole bunch of new kids that I was nervous about I remember getting a big laugh I remember the joke was a little bit cheeky and maybe that taught me something you know and uh and then writing wise I mean yeah I remember writing some things in elementary school you know again I had a couple teachers who who pulled me aside and again you know I wasn't like a you know the best student but I was fine but you know but but yeah but you really remember when people you know who you respect pull you aside and they and say to you like if this is something that you are good at you should you should keep you know the stuff that I was writing for creative assignments even as a kid but work with stuff that was a little weird and was a little imaginative and and appeal to older people um so yeah and then by the time I was um maybe nine or ten I was pretty obsessed with Saturday Night Live that was my Wow at 9:00 or 10:00 yeah or 11 or 12 you know I was I didn't understand comedy writing I didn't understand even how to make a living as a writer and I was also into a lot of the same stuff that you or that you know the people that might watch this put into a lot of the same movies a lot you know like you know the same sort of 80s and 90s movies that uh you know whether it's like back to the future or Indiana Jones and you know so I I think I started to develop this idea that I wanted to work in movies and television you know even when I was actually four in Queens you know my parents tell a story about you know that I used to make them drive by the the Midway theater in Queens and tell me what was playing when I was four years old I was sort of fascinated already with something about movies and you know I had felt to go to the movies back then so yeah so I kept writing tell me if any of this gets boring by the way and Noorie for want to ask another question um I kept writing you know through high school and college writing funny things writing experimental things and again it was just something I just kept doing it I started to perform with a comedy group it was just very clear that that was you know where my particular you know gifts lay you know like which isn't to say that I didn't have a huge amount to learn but but um and then um and then eventually I when I was a senior in college I didn't really understand how to break in as a writer I didn't understand the industry when I was a senior in college what are you taking on college as your major actually I'm thinking well I'm taking a lot of literature classes and mostly literature classes you know I was you know but I took I took some uh some script writing and TV writing classes in college and got pretty bad grades I got like a c-minus in TV writing you know I wrote like a aspects it to comma script which I you know I don't know why but uh and did that affect your confidence at all like he didn't listen I was I wasn't cocky but I for some reason you know I just always not by the time I was in college I was interested to get into uh performing and very specific interests that I had you know comedy and Chicago and different comedy theaters in the in Chicago in the 50s and 60s and different styles of comedy performance I started to kind of nerd out about that stuff by then I think I already was developing a reverence for certain kinds of iconoclastic performers whether it's like Albert Brooks or you know Charlie Kaufman or you know I I remember I wrote down a list of people who I admired when I was around that age and it was all people who have kind of peculiar little selfish toward voices and and I remember even back then noticing that you know noticing that that's who I was gravitating forward towards I didn't I didn't seem to be dreaming about being part of any group or you know you know being on staff I seem to be dreaming about doing stuff that was a little bit weirder or something now I I kind of want to touch on the whole confidence thing because you know as a creative in the arts whether it's dancing writing music or whatever a lot of times there there's a huge kind of failure rate perhaps or at least that's that's the that's the the feeling that we all get especially our parents right and for me it was like I think my confidence came from my parents constantly criticizing my stuff I love them you know but they would constantly criticize my stuff even like when I was like six years old and that just pardon yeah my drawings yeah I'm like six I'm drawing a tiger and my moms like the perspectives not good and yeah you know yeah I didn't even know anything about perspective yeah but the main thing was is that all that harsh criticism made me really build a hard shell to be like okay yeah I don't need to listen to what other people will say or marks that I get right I believe in myself that's where that came from for you where the like when your parents when you think about how your parents were were they strict did they believe in you know what you were doing at the time yeah neither were stripped in some ways they weren't particularly strict and you know in some ways it weren't even you know they both worked and we're out of the house a bunch and and you know in some ways I was left to my own devices a fair amount you know I would have you know I would say that in my early years as a writer I had an unwarranted calm confidence in the stuff I was doing and this is this is an attitude that I missed later on in my life and miss you know later on in my life and career especially when I started a few things professionally I look back on myself younger when I was younger quite nostalgic you know because I felt like I was quite experimental you know even on any college I would write you know I had a column in the newspaper that was very avant-garde and it was pretty funny and and I would try out different conceptual ideas and and I didn't second-guess them very much you know later on like I said I look back on that and I felt like a different person like you know but I didn't you know I wanted people to love what I did and I wanted a reaction I didn't want to toil and obscurity but people were liking what I was doing and you know people were appreciating some of the weirder things that I was doing this is just my early bring all this stuff built my confidence and and it um it led me to a place where I I just kind of think I've thought I had I expected things to work out for myself but I know this is not inspiring you know like like I I just I didn't know what how to do anything but I think I I I just thought I don't know I know what was gonna happen but I it was a very pure time of expressing myself back where I was you know originating a lot of ideas and concepts I visited throughout my you know and I don't know what who I was influenced by I think I mean I like Kurt Vonnegut and I liked you know Christopher Guest and I liked you know I don't know you know uh you know I like Douglas Adams I liked I liked people who I really loved uh Bill Watterson you know I loved you know even back then I was starting you know I wasn't afraid of doing making things that were funny and then you're very quickly into something different something you know dramatic or disturbing or you know I wasn't afraid to mixed tones in my earliest work you know and yeah and like I said this this you know it's these kinds of early instincts I think have guided me later on especially as doubt has entered my process more or the need to like make money or whatever um you know it's all on instinct kind of thing all on instinct all um you know this will be interesting I remember I mean this I'm not bragging about these like they're the greatest ideas in the world but I'll still tell you them like I remember writing a column where I took a shot of vodka after every paragraph and I just wrote that one you know and then published I remember writing a column where I I said the beginning of the of the of the column that from every and that out of every four sentences one would be if they lie and three would be truthful and then I wrote a very searingly honest revealing a lot of my faults but mixed in were different subterfuges and lies that made it feel artistic to me and you know that's something that I wrote there's my wife why you smile I can't remember other things but I was a lot like that you know I remember an English teacher of mine who was not giving me a good grade after my first poem ran he I remember him saying to me like your little postmodern rowdy like you know like he almost a little dismissive but I've got and you know but I was writing something a little postmodern in the news anyway you know then the crazy thing that happened to me is when I was a senior in college um I went home for Christmas break and my mom my mom said to me that she had met someone who who knew someone who knew someone whose son was a writer at Saturday Night Live which is it here's his phone number and you can call him he's expecting your call you can call him I know you're interested in writing you know you know you can call him and talk to him about how old are you at this time approximately went I was 20 so I called this guy he was a young writer on Saturday live and Brian Kelly and he was very nice and he spoke to me for a while about what it was like to be a writer I was drawn to seront life as much as much because of the comedy as because because of the mythology around the show I was obsessed with books about Sarah alive in the 70s and this rebellious spirit around it you know I'm certain writers that were there in the beginning whether it was Michael O'Donoghue or you know Bill Murray or you know you know the sctv people held ramus you know I was obsessed with this counterculture rebellious spirit that it was born out of so talk to this guy and told me at the end of the call he said hey the guy who does Weekend Update at the time Norman Donald takes he takes submitted jokes like he pays $50 a joke if you want to write some jokes I'll pass them on if I think they're any good I'll pass them on to the weekend update' department you know they think they're good they'll use them and so when I was a senior in college I started to spend almost all my time writing writing trying to write jokes from Norm Macdonald on Weekend Update and every week our write a whole bunch of them and I would send them or fax them to or McDonald you know it was crazy and then I would watch the show you'd never know and I'd watch the show and they wouldn't use my jokes and I would be heartbroken even though that was a completely unreasonable expectation you know you'd have to watch live and they wouldn't use the jokes and then I remember taking walks at night thinking like maybe I'm not cut out for this you know which is silly thing for like 20 or you know but I was immediately you know maybe my jokes suck I thought they were funny and then this one time I've sent a bunch of jokes and there was one joke that I put on I'm not gonna tell you the joke it's no longer a PC or appropriate but there's one joke that I included that I that I wasn't sure I should because I thought it was like pretty edgy but it was normal at Donald and I sent it in then I sat down at a party that weekend to watch the show and I was watching the show for what it's worth I was watching the show with this guy named Jason Mantzoukas who was a really close friend of mine in college and is now a really big comedy actor but we were watching the show together and Nour McDonald ended Weekend Update with a joke that I live and I was sitting in Vermont I was just a regular person like you know a regular kid who had grown up watching the Senate live I was sitting in a random beer you know so room in college at 12 o'clock midnight and on McDonald's closed we can update with the joke that I wrote did you quietly celebrate or did you like I remember jumping into Jason's arms I it was like your first high it was like it's never been that good ever since and I've just been chasing that feeling and and then your McDonald's started to use jokes that I was writing when I was in college and he would pay me 50 right $50 cheques and send them to me they'd invited me know down to write with them one weekend and even he has it I was 20 and I went down and wrote with McDonald and his writers and I was terrified and they use nothing of mine that week and I remembered where my god took I was working I was so nervous and working on these jokes and nor McDonald just took the jokes and said he had to go take a piss that's what he said those were his words I'm gonna take a piss and he took the jokes with him that I've been working on and just right then I guess when he was taking a piss and then came back and just silently put them down in front of me and then walked out you know I was like five hours of work um well it was a very distinctive style though so ready for him was very much like what did what makes me uncomfortable to say you know he always did the jokes but the second jokey ever did of mind was booed by the audience you know so so I was sitting with a date for like a carnival ball and how cool is it to simply date at midnight and like you're like yeah I wrote this joke and then everyone started doing and I'm just sitting there so so out of that I ended up you know somebody told me in college somebody said that there was an ad in the Career Center the thing that letter and was looking for writers and Wow put out an ad yeah an ad they were looking favorable we got a college and paid them like a quarter salary they wanted to call the apprentice writers was a program they were trying that turned out to be against the field regulations but it literally was an ad like some kid but just like any you're funny like I know you you know there's an ad and the Career Center about wicked writing for David Letterman so I wrote a submission for David Letterman and graduated from college and started a job and and got a call about two months later that they want they wanted me to come in and meet on an apprentice writing job at David Letterman I was an intern so that was like um you know I was I was working at MTV you know basically as a glorified intern and then I had an interview uh The Late Show with David Letterman you know so I again is this boring or is this no this vent a stick so I you know so I left my office building and walked up to I walked up to the Ed Sullivan Theater by the way cuz this is all like 20 you know 15 20 years ago the head writer called and left a message on my machine or call to us called and spoke to my sister at home because I was living at home and he um he uh she didn't give me the message for three days you know like him three days later she was like I think someone named Donald Donald burnt something at Letterman called like three days ago and I said Donna carry the head writer Dave Leonhard so my own I went in for this interview and ya know I was 21 years old um they were looking to hire like I said these apprentice writers and I met with the head writer I was almost in a real TV show office you know and it was overwhelming and then at the end of the interview he said do you wanna meet David David Letterman and I was like okay and he marched me down a hall like down a staircase through some doors and all of a sudden I was sitting in a room with David literally and I was you know and that was literally like crossing a threshold from like I don't know just being like myself to walking through like the TV screen and being sitting opposite someone who was wildly iconically famous this was not something that was no one look at my life um and I was sitting office and anything was smoking a cigar at the time and he started asking me questions about myself you know and I was then I just chose not to tell him that I was you know terrified and living at home with my parents and you know you know I'm putting it whatever had been in high school three-inch before that um and uh and he asked me at the end of the interview he said to me I hear you're working at MTV in the development department which is what I was doing like I said basically has an end to it he said what what shows are you guys working on and and I immediately got very scared I really never interviewed for a job before and just that day at MTV my boss had said to me just so you know you're working on a bunch of TV shows and development here and they're kind of proprietary and the top secret you can't talk about them to anybody because they're our secret just so you know cuz I know you're nuclear you know and I was like okay okay and then I was sitting like eight hours later open up David Letterman he said what are you guys working on at MTV so in my head the first place I went in my crazy head was I was just like oh he must everyone must know you're not supposed to talk about this stuff and he's testing my loyalty so so I said oh well you know we're just working on shows and then you said what shows and I said oh you know just like game shows and comedy shows they you know Dave David Letterman like you know he is the one of his talents was he what he just did to reach people all day long great interviewer he's greater view and he's very good at like finding the story finding the thing finding the good bit you know and at that point he was just starting to get laser focus he saw me shipping him I see he said what shows which dramas which which which comedians are you working with and then I kind of sounds panicking and I said um I'm sorry sir but they just asked me today not to talk about this stuff and I feel strange talking about it and then he came and he to sort of change the subject and we had another five to three minutes of conversation and then at the end of the interview he said he just took a breath and he said all right Ronnie I'm not asking one more time when you're working on MTV and then I just told him everything I just like told in every show we had to develop everything everything I drew diagrams and stuff and and then eventually I was hired and they get to on a 90 contract as a staff whether at Letterman and I guess I kind realized like oh he was testing my loyalty to him not other people you know or something I don't know I didn't think the interview went very well but but I think either he hired me as a staff writer on a nine week contract and that was the start of my career was writing for David Letterman I was 21 years old and credible and the nine week contract turned into like what like a couple years three years or something about five years I was there as a staff writer for three years I became the two and a half years I became a head writer when I was just before my 24th birthday and and ran the comedy on the show for a couple years which was crazy but also it they're saying that a number of more experienced writers stepped aside for me to get that job like it was not necessarily a job that like the experienced old hands on the show were were falling all over themselves to take well also you know like we're not that far apart in age so when we talk about the late 90s that in my mind I don't know if it's because of the age I was at but that in my mind was like the height of David Letterman like he was crazy funny at that time so that's really oh yeah and it was a you know I was I was I mean I was mentally I was literally mentally unprepared for the job by that I mean like I don't think my body and brain or emotions had started and formed yet you know um so yeah and it was it was a great place to work it was also you know it was a really really intense place to work those those kinds of shows especially those old shows we're like their own ecosystems where people that work there work there a long time there is intense politics and intense you know just just you know there were it's like you kind of adjusted to living in that ecosystem and then don't look at you know and then when you leave and I did eventually leave you almost wonder whether you are going to be capable of living and world you know and there was a few years after I left that I that I had I had a rough adjustment um do you want to skip ahead to like just talking about normal stuff sure well actually you know I I actually have one more question about that because with a lot of creative people that deal with comedy I kind of see like two different versions ones one that is super analytical and they don't laugh at funny stuff and they just go that's funny that work yeah and then you got the other ones yeah that killed me on my first day at Letterman that was my first encounter you know with that of that you know I was my first encounter of pitching an idea and having said that some say that's funny you know and and and it just terrified it terrified me I used to have recurring nightmares at Letterman where I was in the writing room and everyone around me was pitching funnier jokes than me and I would sit there in the nightmare and I would get so upset that I couldn't write the jokes as funny as the ones that they were pitching and then I would wake up and that really aggravating thing was I was like I'm writing those jokes my subconscious is writing funnier jokes for other people and you know and I can't access those jokes yeah I would literally sit in my dream and be like that's really clever what Steve O'Donnell just said that my brain wrote for him while also doing 16 other things but uh yeah I mean yet people are analytical I know I'm a little of both you know um I'm a you know personally I think I'm a mix of um I'm very I like to think a lot about things and you know craft things and I like things that are you know elegant and have you know a multitude of connections and you know I like to really think about things and then I also have a slide that's very silly and very you know in the moment and and you know the more experienced I've gotten as a writer or filmmaker the more I've kind of found ways to blend those two instincts to try to try to you know that definitely is the kind of stuff I gravitate towards making stuff that's a strange combination of very thought through and very 8 rocket and then has aspects of looseness or surgery or you know live performance in the middle of it and and III just like that tension a lot for sure well you know we had a chance to work with each other a couple years ago and one of the things that I really appreciated is the fact that you your enthusiasm you know it wasn't like mmm that's funny and that will work or whatever there was that enthusiasm and that was part of the fuel you know oh yeah that was great yeah so we worked together on a movie that never got made called for something and you know but but I did spend a fair amount of time I did have budget to do a lot of like this dev and do a lot of you know concept development which is where we met each other and that was very that was a very that even that that um you know project we didn't got the version was very important to me the experience was very important because it told me how much I loved how hungry I was to work with artists and to work with people who were able to to conceive and you know imagine visually you know around some of the ideas that I had I just know so I was so when we started to work together I think I was really kind of coming alive you know because I was learning that I about something that I really enjoyed you know and it was very instructive for me because even after that project didn't turn out happening I at the end of and I was at oh I want to be more of that that's really what led me into what I'm doing now which is I know I I've been working on an animated movie you know for a few years and you know it was very much the desire to that was very much for me and working with you guys and some of the people that were on that project to just you know it it spoke to so many things that I've been hungry for you know I've been very lucky you know I've been working in film and TV for about 15 20 years and I've been really lucky in a lot of ways I came through comedy I worked for Letterman I ended up you know after I left let him and I moved out to Los Angeles and started working on this TV show undeclared with judd apatow you know early days of judd apatow you know people on that show you know at that time in the early 2000s were like you know Seth Rogen was a writer and performer on that show Jason Segel was a performer and did some writing on that show you know a lot of directors and creative people move through their the stack Greg Mottola Don Hamburg Paul Feig Jon Favreau directed an episode Will Farrell was in an episode you know before he was famous and on and on it was like I got on board this like this you know this in this community of people at that time that would go on to basically take over film comedy um a little bit later that decade and when when that happened I kind of went with that community and started to work on comedy is like forgetting sarah marshall and them to the Greek and the movie called pop star and loved pop star by the way I loved a bunch of the stuff that he worked on but like the latest one that totally busted my gut and Cays good as well thank goodness I worked on the Jump Street movies and I wrote 22 Jump Street you know and by the time I was working with you which is about three years ago I had all these really amazing experiences you know making comedy dramas with we're not in a really talented people I've learned a lot and I was getting very hungry to tell stories more visual also with that like the the something was that the first project that that would would be highly highly involved with special effects yeah yeah yeah you know after I started working some of these movies you know Sarah Marshall Forgetting Sarah Marshall on things I started to had you know I started to I got to the point where people would come to me and ask me people I was working with executives would ask me what I wanted to do they were willing to buy things that I wanted to do and I think they were probably looking for you know simplistic you know easy to produce comedies and when I started to give them was quite a bit different than that and you know give them the opportunity to do something that I quote unquote wanted to do I found myself circling back to some of the things I've been doing at the very beginning you know like um you know whether it was the people who I admired or the way that I experimented and played with tone when I was 17 or 16 and didn't even know what I was doing that's what I was drawn towards you know i I've always had this need to work on things that feel different to me than what else is out there you know and I feel interesting for me to be interested in something that I'm working on it has to feel different and I have to feel like I'm getting away with something and it has to feel like there's meat on the bone it has to feel unexpected a really high bar for that stuff um when you're talking about this kind of stuff it actually reminds me of special thanks credit in Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs yeah yeah you mean of me or the way they said a film by a lot of people you have you have a credit in clarity a Chance of Meatballs as a special mix yeah because I've known the Lord and Chris Miller against is really before they were I mean they were writers but just before they were famous you know we met at a party and and they had made their show Clone High that I just watched by myself late at night in my apartment in LA and you can just watching that show by myself you know it's one of those things where I was like some of the minds behind this show I gotta meet them like like I see what they're doing it's so much weirder and cooler than the ship then the people marketing the show even seem to realize and so I before I even met them I already felt like they were kindred spirits and yes so so so they when they were doing a lot of a Chance of Meatballs I was already I already had a friendship with them where they would show me stuff for working lying I would give them my thoughts or look at cuts of things it's pretty it's pretty like it was pretty minimal help you know but they but they know they were cool and I did the same on the lego movie there's a lot of shout outs in Easter eggs in spider-man yes what do you mean like like dawn of the was such dawn all the show on or something like that yeah so in spider-man um you know one of the running jokes and or one of one of the sort of funny things about it is that that movie takes place in an alternate universe two hours that's the idea so in a way it's literally one of the premises of the movie that's from the comic book that we pasted on there's also kind of ties into how we visually present the movie which I can talk about later but uh anyway it takes place in another dimension than ours so we get we basically had a lot of fun with that what kind of imagining well what would be in an alternate version of New York City how would it be slightly different so one of the things we did is we contacted people we knew filmmakers authors musicians brands you know and we said to them basically kinds out of these people and we said what would you make in an alternate universe I contacted Edgar Wright who I knew and I said what would you make in an alternate universe and he said I would probably make you know from dusk till Shawn the sequel to Shaun of the Dead and then I was like all right well that's that's that's in Miles Morales universe now you know we're gonna make it billboard in Times Square that's that's been released there you know and lots of other people a lot of my favorite writers George Saunders and Marlon James and Sarah Vowell and you know you know gave me these things so like if you freeze a shot you know any shot in the city and into the spider-verse you see a taxi cab going by in the background it can you freeze the shot there's gonna be an ad for a George Saunders book that he hasn't actually written but that you know but you can read if you go to Miles Morales his universe the same goes like I imagine brands only because we did we did do a bunch of things you know different you know Starbucks has called something different in Miles Morales universe basically a lot of brands are still called by their original makers and never change their name to whatever what they're best known for or you know certain athletes don't play the same sports and Miles Morales is universe and on and on and on there's like literally hundreds of uh of Easter eggs in that movie I love that kind of stuff that's one of the things I love about paintings as well when you can see little shout outs little easter eggs and things like that but yeah what I when I watched spider-man into a spider verse one of the things that really impressed me and kind of confuse me at the same time is you're dealing with a story with multiple dimensions multiple versions of of the essentially the same kind of character which you know it's a complex story and you kept it clean was it hard not to make and turn it mucky yes yes that's you know that's that that movie has been in production in one form another for four years and has been in those four years like literally like our computers were broken at the end of the process and we had good computers you know there's like 500 movies on these computers it was hard you know hard as heck to make that movie because of what you're talking about because the tone the story the visual you know components of the movie were all very specific and intricate and when you had it wrong it felt really wrong it was not forgiving at all in the end the way we the way we found our way through and this is you know something I forget on every project and I have to remember on every project is that you know it all came down to the so what's the main character Miles Morales and it came down to the characters and their relationships and and remembering that you were your number one job was to tell a you know an observant and expressive story about characters that the audience can identify with you know and tell it in a way that makes the audience feel something that's 90 percent you know that's all that matters everything else that we were doing all the cool ideas we had you know all cool concepts and all the crazy you know experimental visual ideas we had none of that would have mattered at all if we didn't figure out how to you know really engage the audience in Miles Morales story you know and there are other characters important that I would personally propose that even though we're telling multiple characters stories it's an ensemble in many ways the characters are alternate universe versions of miles they may be older they may be a woman they may have you know grown-up problems they may be named Peter Parker they may be you know who uh you know he's someone who has a robot pal or being anthropomorphize Pig but they're their reflections and iterations of Miles Morales our main character so the more we embraced that the more more it made sense and the more it felt like something and honestly the more you start to realize you can let go of some of the explaining that did you have to research a lot of like you know spider-man and all the different iterations of spider-man and all that kind of stuff or was that already something that you knew or did you have like a consultant or something consultants you know who you know we had access to everything we needed you had you needed to have obviously a certain fluency or you or you needed to get up to speed with a student certain fluency and spider-man stories you know both you know both in terms of the stories but also you know our movie is so inspired by not just comic books but but uh you know sequential art or graphic art you know and what it feels like to read atomic you know you were kind of you know talking about this a little bit when you talk about painting and the level of detail you can put in painting you know like we were we that was a big part of the inspiration of you know of what we were trying to capture you know we know that the car boat ride captures is not just what it feels like to read a comic book or something like that but it feels like to make one you know the hand of the artist the way different artists whether they're literally artists or writers or that the way different artists can interpret different characters or stories and different ways you know that for us became a an echo or parallel of the multiverse concept we were playing with the fact that we were in this movie telling you the same story in some ways six different ways so I don't remember what your question was Bobby but it's all good I I'd love to move on you know one of the challenges when I paint for example a lot of the my best kind of accepted paintings were ones were at some point almost every single one of them at some point I thought I don't know ya know like I don't know if this is gonna work and I've had a lot of time you know talking with other creatives especially making films and such like Jurassic Park crash McQueary that designed the dinosaurs he didn't think that it would be a big movie right the original one yeah because at that time Spielberg was doing Schindler's List and Jurassic Park at the same time and because I guess in it felt like there wasn't as much focus on Jurassic Park perhaps that you know whatever reason whatever reason but I want to ask you with such like a challenging and complex story where there ever times where you're like what the hell did I get myself into yeah utter despair for utter despair for probably 80 to 90% of the experience oh wow real you know like I always knew from the beginning of working on into the spider-verse and from the beginning was seeing the the earliest tests and visual you know vis dev and and talking to the production designer about some of the ideas he was excited about from the from the earliest point I knew that visually it was going to be awesome and ambitious and interested but at that time the story was lagging way behind and and that was really my refrain for a lot of production which is I hope to just get there with the story I hope we nearly just got on this story is not there yet and it's gonna it's painful process you know a lot of punches in the face probably a lot of doubters as well when you're talking another spider-man movie a lot of doubters you know in there and there's a lot of and by the end we had a funny thing you know a lot of money on the line I mean literally I mean our budget was not small but I know nothing like a normal Marvel movie but my money I'm aligned to I mean you're messing with like you're messing with like the Sony corporations cash cow and we had a funny thing hue because you know spider-man homecoming came out when we were in the middle of production and you know that was so successful you know both creatively and financially that then it became a thing of like oh you could really mess with our money now you're like some weird super weird gnarly little brother who you know who's been off like you know eating his own boogers for a year and a half you know and and now all of a sudden like you're you're spider-man homecoming and chastened like don't get you know don't mess up our money don't don't like mess up Peter Parker oh not only that but like the fans of comic book superheroes are another level you know like that's their character that's their oh I must tell you that's not something that we worried as much about you know partially because we you know we have a lot of people on the movie who care a lot about the comic book so those people helped us probably read out you know our ideas that are that are most that would be really counterproductive for die-hard fans and um I'm not you know for what for better or worse like you know I would say that like respect for for Stanley and you know Steve Ditko a respect for just the creative process that produces comic books and produces art was so baked into the movie that we didn't worry about it and we felt on some level I think we felt it was like me being 16 again it's like you felt free to ticked and liberated to take certain risks because you just kind of felt like you know what I think our hearts in the right place here and you know if we do if we do this well people will just go with us you know we're in an alternate universe you know that was kind of our joke and our real thing too it's like all universe you can do whatever we want it's not it's not reality you know it's like it's another reality so you know everything's all bets are off you know so yeah when I think about miles and you know he kind of has to step into the shoes as somebody that actually already exists and everybody looks up to especially him and then I think about this is your first this year directorial debut I mean you know I read with Bob okay yes co-directing absolutely it's your co directing debut or directing debut you've worked with so many other people and and seeing so many other directors to me I kind of see a connection there where it's like miles is seeing people doing their thing and really good at it and then alson he gets put in their shoes and you kind of saw all these great directors directing their thing and then you get put into their shoes as well did you feel any of that kind of similarity I definitely felt yeah yeah there were a number of things about the movie that were annoyingly similar to the actual life that I was living there was the mild story and getting you know having to step into these shoes and live up to you know this thing that feels much bigger than you or much for beyond what you are capable of we're also telling a story about you know a disparate group of characters that have to get together and work together in a pretty bad situation and the movie was made by a team of people you know who were all real passion and who all we all really had the same goal which is how we ended up with what we have but it's like you know that was annoying sometimes to kind of like he's super mad about you know that sometimes but the teamwork process can be and then good I guess I should just like watch the movie again and listen to what we're saying in the movie because it technically that's what I should be thinking now you know like you know that was no input um yeah you know on the one hand yeah on the other hand I have to be honest like I've been you know I've been doing this for a long time and I've worked on a lot of movies and had my hands and a lot of stuff and on some level I I just felt ready to try you know I thought those ready as I'm ever gonna be which doesn't mean that I thought I knew what I was doing but I've just developed a lot of skills over time and experience you know to be able to work through some of the doubts and insecurities which doesn't mean that I feel there and by the way it doesn't mean that I didn't like wake my wife up at night and have the same conversation whether I'm this movie that had on every movie where I kind of talk about how it's a disaster and how it's not gonna work and how I'm screwing everything up and then my wife says you say that literally every time and then I say yeah but this time is telling you is different this time is real it's different she says you every time and I said you know yeah no but this is really real you have complete why won't you believe me it's really bad you know and that's you know it's a but stuff happened on this movie but um well that's why everybody and their acceptance speeches oh is thanks their husband or wife right because you even wanted him to talk about that as well she literally was that I wanted to talk about it but uh yes I guess that's kind of what I mean to answer your question of course I felt doubt and insecurity but you know but I also talk a lot less now a lot less than C then I would have been 10 or 15 years ago with an opportunity is it come out well when hey when I interview people that I really get along with time flies by super quick so I don't want to take up too much of your time I have one last question for you you were talking about being around for quite a long not like you're super old we're pretty much around the same age but being around a lot of people and a lot of experiences right so if you could thank somebody from your past that taught you something or it gave you some really good advice it doesn't have to be the ultimate top whatever comes to mind who would that be and what do they do for you that was so special oh that's a great question okay three people spring to mind I'll give you brief answers on each of them well four people speak I mean one is you know my fifth grade teacher mr. Ghosts'n just you know first person to ever reward me for my weirder creative impulses and make me feel like what I was expressing was okay and specific to me you know it's not changed my way then I'd say Judd Apatow taught just taught me so much about filmmaking it's just the way he combined like you know Harold Ramis and like John Cassavetes and the way he was so such a pure artistic spirit and also it's the way he uses collaborators and and you know the generosity around him you know that really widened my notions of what was possible you know and what I would be capable of and then Phil Lord and Chris Miller you know for being like true like major label rebels you know and like you know just just the exacting you know the exacting way that they go after things and you know you know I just learned a lot and the last thing is you know I had to get a pilot about ten years ago with Richard Linklater and got to hang out around him a lot and he just kinda bloody ever see Daisy confused yeah how do you know Randall Pink Floyd and like the quarterback and he's confused he's a super long time quite a basically like Rick Linklater is is Randall Pink Floyd and I was like the little kid that hung around him yeah I just like you know he you know that's a guy who just like lives his art you know and Heath you know he in last thing thought is you know he suddenly he used to say to me a lot is he talked about how much he likes to how much he likes to leave the camera on performers you know long takes long fluid cameras but long takes the performers can perform for two or three minutes and with no Britax and no cuts because he thinks it's important in terms of like showing the audience what the performers are capable of and involving them and and and just kind of you know helping to build the magic trick and and that really made an impact on me and had a big impact on spider into the spider-verse where you know he actually really endeavored you know when we weren't being like bombastic and Cuddy and you know during a bunch of the visual you know stuff that you we really tried to make it very naturalistic for an animated movie and very long shots that took months to animate because we didn't cuts you know in animation for like a minute or minute and a half and so it was like you know a long unbroken performance like literally months to animate that stuff and and that was all that idea which i think is part of what makes spider the spider verse work and makes you hopefully fall in love with miles all that came from working with Linklater and just kind of just admiring the you know the sphere the creative spirit around it and the love of cinema and I'm feeling like kids like them little cousin well I really admire you of everything that you've done so I want to give you a big thanks and thank you very much for your time once again Rodney this has been awesome save $100 off an annual school ISM subscription this means you get over 200 lessons organized in over 25 different courses with access to download assignments and level up through top artists like digital painter Craig Mullins character designer router taupe Oscar nominees Dyson sue me and Robert condo and many many more schools I'm calm only has one or two sales a year for their online classes so act now this is a great one sale ends January 10th 2019 go to school ISM comm and enroll today

13 thoughts on “Interview: Into the Spider-Verse co-director/writer Rodney Rothman

  1. Very interesting background, i see his handywork in the movie!

  2. Great interview Bobby. I loved hearing Rodney's stories about the industry. It inspires me to work harder to get in on all of this chaos, despair and magic. haha See ya in the funny papers!

  3. This was a really fun interview to listen to! i really loved spider verse

  4. Great interview – loved hearing about the Letterman time and him talking about the stress nightmares while working there.

  5. Great interview, and especially relevant. Worth spreading around!

  6. Yeah. Go Bobby. Go! Loved it. your new year's gift for us is awesome!thanks

  7. so nice you interviewing the guys behind the movie really loved it <3 its really interesting to get to know the people behind the movies/projects 😀
    also im soo pumped about the schoolism live in berlin but i just cant find further information on the website will the website still update?

  8. this was so cool! i loved spiderverse, it was a phenomenal film 🙂

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