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Zoom Meetings, Script Changes & Horror – How Sam Raimi Mastered Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness

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In Marvel Studios’ Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, the MCU unlocks the Multiverse and pushes its boundaries further than ever before. Journey into the unknown with Doctor Strange, who, with the help of mystical allies both old and new, traverses the mind-bending and dangerous alternate realities of the Multiverse to confront a mysterious new adversary.

This high-anticipated sequel crosses the boundaries of the fantasy genre where they are pushed into a darker, more foreboding place. At the very beginning of Doctor Stephen Strange’s journey into the mystic arts, The Ancient One told him, “If I were to tell you everything, you would run from here screaming in terror.” At the time no one could have imagined how prophetic her words were, because five years later Sam Raimi, the master of terror and wizard of thrill, took the helm of the second installment of Doctor Strange.

Raimi is no stranger to superhero movies. He directed and produced Darkman in 1990 and the original Spider-Man trilogy. So, what brings him back to the superhero genre almost 15 years later?

Elizabeth Olsen as Wanda Maximoff in Marvel Studios’ DOCTOR STRANGE IN THE MULTIVERSE OF MADNESS. Photo courtesy of Marvel Studios. ©Marvel Studios 2022. All Rights Reserved.

The Koalition spoke to Raimi to find out why he wanted to make the film, the complications of tackling connected storylines, script changes, bringing his horror expertise to the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the power of Zoom calls and more.  

“When Kevin Feige announced he wanted to bring a little bit of a horror element to Doctor Strange, that was interesting to me,” explains Raimi. “Horror and suspense have always been fun aspects of moviemaking to me. One of the reasons I’m interested in Doctor Strange as a character is because he’s a magician. Growing up, I was a magician for kids’ parties and weddings. I really enjoyed creating illusions. A superhero who is an illusionist and a magician is of particular interest.”

Those familiar with Raimi’s films will know he uses filmmaking tools to both comic and artistic effect, not afraid to push the boundaries of what audiences might be expected to accept to a place where few directors dare go. A longtime and committed fan of comic books, how Raimi uses the camera is heavily influenced by the medium—his trademark extreme close ups, tilted angles, quick cuts, mimicking comics.

Benedict Wong as Wong in Marvel Studios’ DOCTOR STRANGE IN THE MULTIVERSE OF MADNESS. Photo courtesy of Marvel Studios. ©Marvel Studios 2022. All Rights Reserved.

“Technology has changed, and it’s just become a lot easier. But mostly the-the technological difference that really enabled me to work on this movie so effectively was Zoom. The modern telecommunications system. I could speak to tens of crewmembers at once. We could show a storyboard by an artist. The editor could bring up a piece of the cut. We really had great audio/ visual communication. And you were able to speak to a hundred people at once. It’s fantastic.”

“The most important thing is having great actors and them knowing the most important thing they can do is within themselves. That’s how people connect to our superheroes. These are great actors, and they know what it’s like to be a human being. They’ve got a vast set of experiences they’re not afraid to pull into their performances. They also know their characters very well. [Benedict Cumberbatch, Elizabeth Olden and Benedict Wong] at least have played their characters for so many years now in so many important Marvel movies. It’s great to see the knowledge of their characters in this film because what they meet is the Multiverse and, in the Multiverse, it’s basically a mirror and they meet altered versions of themselves. They know they just have to change the slightest aspect of their character’s personality to create an interesting conflict with the alter-self.”

A lot of discipline had to be employed because of the strict shooting schedule and navigating the many changes made to the script. In one instance they only had two days ahead with the script pages.

Xochitl Gomez as America Chavez, Benedict Wong as Wong, and Benedict Cumberbatch as Doctor Strange/Stephen Strange in Marvel Studios’ DOCTOR STRANGE IN THE MULTIVERSE OF MADNESS. Photo by Jay Maidment. ©Marvel Studios 2022. All Rights Reserved.

“The script was oftentimes minutes before, and the actors are very creative, and they’re opinionated. They know their characters better than anybody.  So, they’ll recognize in playing off the scene this is untrue. This feels like a manipulation or could it be more real. So, we’d make changes in the moment by trying to riff on that very good idea. When you’ve got great team members as a director, you really want to pull the best of their ideas together and make something better than you could’ve made on your own.”

“Great actors, great ideas, a script that was constantly changing but it was a very lively process. Not only that, but the other movies we have storylines from, some were being made concurrently or had just finished.  Like WandaVision had just finished or Spider-Man: No Way Home was also shooting, and our movie referenced those films. We had to have meetings with the director saying what does Dr. Strange know by the end of No Way Home.  Does he even remember the multiverse? We have plenty of questions that Michael had to take into the script in the moment and take their changes and that change rippled through our movie. It’s probably for a writer like improv is for an actor.  These movies are reacting, making up, changing things, and you have to be in the moment and take it in and go with it.”

Giving a hint of what’s to come, Raimi offers, “The first Doctor Strange film really opened up people’s minds, and in Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, we are going to push it further. This film takes us on a journey through different realities in the Multiverse.” The Multiverse Raimi speaks of is infinite parallel universes, each universe home to everything that already exists, but in a different reality. Imagine many different versions of yourself living in different versions of the reality you know, leading different lives with different outcomes to the one you are living. That is the Multiverse.

Benedict Cumberbatch as Dr. Stephen Strange in Marvel Studios’ DOCTOR STRANGE IN THE MULTIVERSE OF MADNESS. Photo courtesy of Marvel Studios. ©Marvel Studios 2022. All Rights Reserved.

Now, with the introduction of America Chavez, who has the power to cross into different universes, those possibilities have increased tenfold, giving filmmakers a passport to explore the Multiverse in a way never before conceived by the MCU. With that power comes all sorts of opportunities. In past Marvel movies and in Loki they hinted at the idea of Multiverse, this idea that within the Multiverse, there’s every possible version of our world. In Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, Stephen Strange is going to break that wide open.

Fresh from her misadventure of holding people hostage in her grief in WandaVision, Olsen gets the chance to revisit the character and explore Scarlet Witch more fully and understands Wanda is very clear in her beliefs. They just don’t align with others, and that’s okay. While Wanda may not be the hero in this story her biggest goal is to become a lawyer to her character by constantly defending her actions even if they’re wrong, even if her children aren’t real to others, they are real to her. To deny her of her children, is to deny her the right to be happy and whole. Vision is gone and to her, Billy and Tommy are all she has left. Without her children, the emptiness she feels inside, the dreams that haunt her at night is at its core is a horror story for Wanda.

“[Wanda Maximoff] is the classic character that loved not too wisely, but too well and I think that’s a source of many of her aspirations in the film, and sometimes leads to less happy moments for her. I think it’s so brilliant [Wanda is] trying to defend [her] point of view of your character [because] that’s what we all are trying to do in real life. I’m this person and here’s what I believe in. [It’s] all about trying to understand your beliefs and explain them and sometimes defend them [and she does] that in the movie very effectively. It makes it very real. It makes the fantastic journey that [screenwriter] Michael [Waldron] puts you on. [Olsen] brings great humanity to it and makes it connective to the audience.”

On left: Benedict Cumberbatch as Dr. Stephen Strange in Marvel Studios’ DOCTOR STRANGE IN THE MULTIVERSE OF MADNESS. Photo courtesy of Marvel Studios. ©Marvel Studios 2022. All Rights Reserved.

“When Kevin announced this movie would be the first entry into the Marvel putting their toe into the world of horror, I was thrilled he called me to come in and talk to about the possibility of [making that happen]. I was able to take those horror films I made in my youth and what I had learned from them to build suspense sequences, titillating the audience and [teasing them with should] I give them the scare now? No.  Now, I’m going to give it to them. I was able to apply in the spooky sequences in this film.”

When fans sit in the theater to watch the film, they should grab hold of their seats because they are about to begin a mind-blowing, universe-hopping thrill ride filled with beyond belief visual spectacle and amazing never-before-seen action…with no lack of scares. The clips (and the leaks) people have already seen in the trailer spots just teases the overall look and feel of the film and its extraordinary visual effects. The movie travels through several universes in a couple of sequences, in a mind-blowing fashion. The stakes feel real. There’s earthbound jeopardy.

For Raimi, “Marvel Cinematic Universe fans are interested in the characters. Who are they? What could they have become? Did they make the right choices? Even in Avengers: Endgame, choices were made some of the characters in our movie regret. They see the repercussions of that in this film, which is really interesting. The continuance of Marvel Studios stories can be so rich, and we’re able to explore it in Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness.

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