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Taika Waititi, Drew Goddard, and Simon Kinberg Talk Fan Service

I wasn’t surprised by everything I heard at New York Comic Con’s Visionaries panel. Hearing Drew Goddard say that The Empire Strikes Back sparked his interest in filmmaking, Simon Kinberg‘s apology for X-Men: The Last Stand, and Taika Waititi‘s explanation for Thor’s shift in character in Thor: Ragnarok—in his words, the direction consisted of “Be more Chris”—was all a lot of fun, but none of it was particularly revelatory. What did shock me, though, was the directors’ differing approaches to the preexisting fanbases of their properties, and their varying levels of eagerness to respond to fans’ hopes for their projects.

“It always has to start from a place of love,” said Goddard, who was himself a self-proclaimed superfan of Buffy the Vampire Slayer when Joss Whedon asked him to come aboard. He stated, “If you’re not a fan, you shouldn’t do [a project].” Waititi echoed Goddard’s first sentiment, admitting he hadn’t read many Thor comics before being tasked with Ragnarok and wanted to understand what there was to love about the character. That led him to a significant amount of research, including “trying to just go through the ages” of Thor and settling on the Jack Kirby era as his chief inspiration.

“I wanted to make the audience feel how I did as a kid reading comics,” Waititi said.

This—being inspired by the source material their individual projects were rooted in—was a point that came up time and again. Kinberg followed up his apology for the third X-Men movie by saying his Dark Phoenix will reflect the character’s story “as told through comics [and] as told through cartoons.” He emphasized multiple times, “If you like that comic, I think you’re going to like the movie.” Of the three directors, Kinberg was most forthcoming about his relationship with fandom as a creator and as someone who’s adapted beloved properties–he’s produced numerous X-Men films, including Logan and he’s involved with Legion and The Gifted. He reiterated the importance of listening to your audience throughout the discussion of fan reaction.

The danger of that, to Goddard, is the desire to be everything to everyone—something he warned against. “That’s not what you should be doing. What you should be doing is trusting that you have your own love for this material…The real secret is ‘Don’t work on things you’re not a fan of.’” Goddard’s first fandom was, of course, Star Wars.

Waititi wasn’t entirely on board with those ideas. Regarding painstakingly recreating the source material, “I don’t really care too much,” he said after noting that if a viewer’s favorite panel was missing from a comic book movie, they’d consider the entire film ruined. Kinberg agreed, remarking he doesn’t want his work to feel like “a book on tape,” simply reiterating what’s already been done.

Though the panel wandered a little because, Waititi (in the span of an hour, he gave a step-by-step tutorial on how to turn a beard into a mustache, did an uncanny Boba Fett impression, and, when asked about his feelings on Easter eggs, provided details on what he loves about every major holiday), all three directors shared their views on pleasing fans—or, to put it more bluntly, fan service. Though they have differing perspectives, each values storytelling above pinpoint accuracy and shot-for-shot remakes of source material. “At the end of the day, it’s about story,” said Waititi, something Kinberg and Goddard had both alluded to earlier in the panel.

I’m not a viewer who takes well to what I view as fan service, and knowing at least three of the sci-fi/fantasy genre’s best and brightest creators have a sharp eye on what works and what doesn’t was reassuring. I love being in the audience for hidden panel gems like this one. Here’s hoping NYCC continues fostering these type of discussions.

Images: Marvel, 20th Century Fox, Lucasfilm

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