Rodney Rothman, Peter Ramsey & Bob Persichetti Interview: Spider-Verse

We interview Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse directors Rodney Rothman, Peter Ramsey and Bob Persichetti about the challenges of making the new film.

Spider-Man Into the Spider-Verse Peni Parker Gwen Stacy Spider-Ham Miles Morales Peter Parker Noir

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is Sony Pictures Animation’s latest addition to the Spider-Man franchise.  Rodney Rothman, Peter Ramsey, and Bob Persihetti direct the film, which stars Shameik Moore as Miles Morales (aka Spider-Man), Hailee Steinfeld as Gwen Stacy (aka Spider-Woman), and Jake Johnson as Peter Parker (aka the classic Spider-Man).

Rodney Rothman is a director, writer, and producer who co-wrote Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, 2014's 22 Jump Street, and 2013's Grudge Match. Peter Ramsey is a director, illustrator, and storyboard artist who has worked on Poetic Justice, Higher Learning, and Tank Girl and directed 2012's animated Rise of the Guardians.  Bob Persichetti is a director and illustrator who has worked on Disney’s Hercules, Mulan, and Tarzan and was the story artist on Shrek 2.

Screen Rant: Listen, I'll tell you guys, not only made the best animated movie of the year, but I think the best superhero movie of the year. And by possibly the best film of the year.  It's incredible. This is just super conversational by the way. I just want to chat about the film. So, getting you guys involved in-- Because this is something. I think we're so used to seeing this Pixar style of animation, that this is something completely fresh and completely new. How challenging was that? But also, how did you even figure out that that was going to be the style that you go with?

Bob Persichetti: The part that wasn't challenging was the mandate to make something different. That was Phil [Lord] and Chris [Miller], from the get go were like, “Oh, if we're going to tell the origin story of Miles.” And we're going to use this medium that can be so incredibly expressive, you've lived through the history of animation. You can get things like Dumbo, and Fantasia, and everything that came after that. And Sleeping Beauty and all that stuff. And it's like, “Okay, so, how do we tap into that? How do we use this art form to be really unique and idiosyncratic in the same way that our main character is?” And that was the goal. And then it was really hard to do it. Because every pipeline for CGI animation for the last 20 years depends on a lot of consistency in the way the movie’s made. And we were trying to break that consistency up. And so, [Sony Pictures] Imageworks, had to write a whole bunch of new programs and codes. And figure out how to troubleshoot things that we were asking for. And it was not easy.

Rodney Rothman: It wasn't. But part of the reason why it happened and why it worked is because everyone on the movie, in a way, was kind of hungry to be part of something different. Hungry to test themselves or be part of something that was trying to, at least trying to, break new ground.

Screen Rant. Well, you definitely did.

Rodney Rothman: Right. But so many people got motivated by that and got energized by that challenge. And you know, the other thing that you’re making me think of-- When you work with Phil and Chris, it's like the house style is no style. In the sense of every movie is sort of different. Every movie is supposed to be a perfect expression of itself, usually. So, that was the vibe from the beginning. Was just like, “Okay, what's the version of this that we can give people to tell Miles Morales’ story, that people haven't seen before.”  It feels like it's specific to Miles. And it's almost a way of visually telling the story that's from inside Miles’ brain. So, it combines comic books, and street art, and all kinds of stuff. All kinds of influences from where he is and who he is. And that's kind of how it got kicked off. And then, like Bob said, then the actual job of figuring out how to do it was years of work.

Screen Rant: You also co-wrote the film.  Did you ever think that you were going to have a challenge of trying to have to explain what the multiverse was? Because you actually did it pretty well.  Simplifying it for a general audience. But was that a challenging task to even think about, “How am I going to do this differently?”

Rodney Rothman: Yeah, for sure. For sure. Yeah, it was a challenging task. I think we operated from an assumption, right or wrong, that people were ready for it. And especially kids were ready for it.  These kinds of ideas are out there. But yeah, the challenge of not just trying to explain the multiverse, but trying to explain it in a simple and visual way, so that it was up to our standards of what we wanted the movie to be, and not for it to be too prescriptive or…

Bob Persichetti: Or even expository.  At the end of the day, that was the biggest. I think there are many iterations of that scene or-- At one point, it was a different scene even. Where we really dug into it. Like with words, not just visuals. And we ended up realizing we don't need words.

Rodney Rothman: Yeah. And by the way, it's where we were helped-- to explain the multiverse is where we are helped by our subject matter, which was a Spider-Man.  Because we were able to push into this idea that, “Well, you've seen this story a bunch of different ways. A bunch of different ways, a bunch of different styles. You've seen it on TV, you've seen it in movies, you've seen it in comic books, you've seen it in a lot of different ways. So, that's a multiverse. So, we were fortunate, in that we had this subject matter that just let us embrace the multiverse idea, from the get go.

Peter Ramsey: It was organic to the story in several different ways.

Spider-Man Into the Spider-Verse Peni Parker Gwen Stacy Spider-Ham Miles Morales Peter Parker Noir

Screen Rant: With the animation style, obviously you blend genres as well, especially with like Peni and Spider-Ham, and Noir. Were there any other Spider-Men that you wanted to get in there? Maybe you couldn't figure out a way to do it. Or maybe wanted to save for a sequel.  Was there anything that jumped out at you in the Spider-Verse during your guys’ research?

Peter Ramsey: I think that cast of characters was pretty much there from the very beginning.

Screen Rant: And it's a perfect one as well.

Peter Ramsey: Yeah.

Bob Persichetti: That's why we ended up there. I think, just meaning that they all filled a role for Miles, narratively. And then the beauty was, “Oh my God. We can leave a character in black and white no matter what.”  He can be not affected by light. And then it could end up being a [unintelligible]. And then we could have a pig who is obviously coming from a world that is fluid. Squash and stretch. Traditional animation inspired. Looney Tunes. Or the heyday of-- Pick your favorite animation house from the ‘40’s. And then the opportunity with Peni.

Peter Ramsey: Yeah. In a way, just that helps you tell the story of the multiverse. That these people obviously don't belong in this universe. They're totally different from anything like Miles or anything in this world. So, just seeing them, is giving you another layer of story to help you buy into that idea.

Rodney Rothman: It's like a bunch of characters, they all have their own origin stories and their own lives. They all-- However ridiculous then may look, they all are real. And think of themselves as real and exist in their own real universe. And they're all designed to be models for Miles of different ways you can go after the challenge that's sort of fallen into his lap.  Models that he can-- that show you one way to do it, but not the way that he is going to do it.

Screen Rant: So, I spoke with Jake [Johnson] in New York. And he said that-- that was in New York Comic Con back in October. And he said that he was still recording lines for the film all the way up until then. And he had never actually seen the full script.  Have any of the actors actually ever seen the full script? And with the process of creation and creating with you guys, how much did the performance that you guys got, lend to the actual changing of any of the script that happened?

Bob Persichetti: Oh, absolutely.

Screen Rant: Oh, really?

Bob Persichetti: Yeah, definitely, definitely. They imbued the dialogue and things with the stuff that they brought to the character.  Their roles in the movie never, didn’t change, because of who we cast. But definitely the nuances. And nobody got to read the full script to this movie, other than--.

Screen Rant: Oh, really?

Peter Ramsey: It was constantly mutating.

Bob Persichetti: But even early on, because it was such a secret, that we would only send out scenes that they were in.  If they wanted sides, before we were recording them, we'd send out those things. And we would pitch them the movie. But we never gave them-- Nobody had a draft of the script. It was early with Phil and Chris and people were trying to find out what this movie was. And so, we were trying to keep it as close to the vest as possible. And we recorded Jake until last week.

Screen Rant: Oh, is that right?

Bob Persichetti: I mean, almost. Like the week before.

Rodney Rothman: Because the script is a living, breathing thing in animation. For years, you know. And there's a lot of give and take between performers and writing and animators and production, the design of the movie, everything. It's a living, breathing thing. Where you see what the production designer is doing. And you'd say, “Oh, that's cool. I want to try to write something that feeds into that or that builds off that.” Certainly, with the performers, the character has changed a lot, as we saw what their…

Bob Persichetti: Yeah. Their strengths and weaknesses. Meaning we used them both.

Peter Ramsey: They'll ad-lib lines or an attitude that, if something works in the room, then you're automatically going, “Oh my God. How can we springboard off that? Or inflect these later scenes with that idea about this character that we didn't have before.”

Spider-Man Into the Spider-Verse Movie Review

Screen Rant: That's amazing. That's incredible.

Bob Persichetti: It's a cool process. It was funny, because someone mentioned it earlier in a previous interview, but Shameik had told them that, “I just recorded my last scene like literally last week.” And it's his voiceover for his introduction to us as Spider-Man. It's that epilogue scene. And the reason that that scene was recorded last week again, was because the character, his journey, we’re reacting to it. And the character is reacting to what he went through. And as we're looking at the whole thing, there's just nuances in what he's saying that needed to be dialed. That felt more resonant, and more powerful, and more succinct.

Screen Rant: From the creative process of you guys getting to work with all these actors and seeing it on the page, which Spider-person became your favorite Spider-person?

Peter Ramsey: I was going to say Miles.

Bob Persichetti: I mean, if we took Miles out of it, let’s say.

Screen Rant: Yeah, taking Miles out of it.

Bob Persichetti: As we all said, this is all, this is Miles’ movie. Yes, it has all these other, and it's in the Spider-Verse and all that. But the core of it was Miles becoming Spider-Man. His origin story. Take that out…

Peter Ramsey: Take that out…

Bob Persichetti: Who do you like?

Peter Ramsey: For me, it's a tug of war between Peter B. Parker and Gwen. Peter… just, Jake's voice alone is just so perfect. And he's such a fantastic actor and brings so much to that character. But the idea of him being… It's like, “Oh God!” You sort of want to see... We get a super-fast version of his life, between young Spider-Man and where he ends up. But just the idea that it's catching him at a point where it's like, “I'm not sure why I'm doing this anymore. It's costing me. It's costing me everything, basically.” And then Gwen.  When we finished her flashback and stopped the music on it, I was just like, “Ah! I think I want to see this movie.” It’s like, “Wow.” And the idea that we finally settled on, “Oh, this is someone who's afraid to have friends.” Because of what she's gone through in her life as a Spider-person. So, it's just like… resonated.

Bob Persichetti: The pain of loss. God, I'm going to go out on a limb and just say Noir.

Screen Rant: Same. I’m with you.

Rodney Rothman: Really? There was a right answer? [Laughter]

Screen Rant: I mean, for me, I’m a Noir guy.  It’s just that character-- On paper he probably shouldn't work, right? But it worked perfectly. And Nic Cage captures the character perfectly. And it's like, “Oh, wow.” Because I remember that.  It was like 1902 or something. But the Marvel comic that had Noir in it. And I was like, “Oh, this is exactly what this is. This is perfect.” How about yourself?

Rodney Rothman: I love Peter B. Parker too.  Because it’s fun to work on a version of Peter Parker that hasn't been seen, at least in the movies, before. Peter Parker on the cusp of a different phase in his life, dealing with different problems. But my real cop out answer is Aaron and Jefferson, who are not Spider-people. But I just loved trying to tell that story of Miles and his uncle and his dad.

Bob Persichetti: Plus, Brian [Tyree Henry] and [Mahershala Ali] are amazing.

Rodney Rothman: Yeah.

Screen Rant: Well, it’s kind of crazy because Brian and now Donald Glover played the same role in different universes to kind of connect Spider-Verse even further. It's pretty crazy. Miles Morales, just talking about him for a second, because he's such an important character, but it's a more recent character, but such an important character. Not just in the comic book world, but I think it's a representation of so much more. And the message I got from this is that anybody can be Spider-Man, which is so cool.  How much did you want to stick to what Miles is origin was? And how much did you want to veer away from that at all? Because it sticks pretty closely to the comic.

Bob Persichetti: I mean look, Brian Michael Bendis that-- The original story is great. And it has so much narrative meat in it.  I think we wanted to use that, because that's why, I think at the end of the day, when people leave the movie… Sure, the visuals are new and amazing, hopefully, or different at least.  But the thing that everyone leaves with is like, “I didn't expect it to be that powerful. I didn't expect it to be that funny.” So, I think it was just about sticking to the pretty heavy dramatic guns of his origin story, which is intense.

Screen Rant: Yeah. I'm not going to lie. I teared up.

Bob Persichetti: Absolutely.

Rodney Rothman: Yeah. I teared up too. And I worked on it.

Bob Persichetti: You should have seen— the two scenes. The door scene with his father and the other one.  Those scenes, even in recording, were just like, “Oh my gosh, okay. Cut. We're good.”

Peter Ramsey: Those actors. They brought it. There was no-- it didn't matter that it was animation or Spider-Man or whatever it is. 100 percent complete commitment to those roles.  And they totally knocked it out of the park.

Bob Persichetti: And then our animators were like, “We get to animate this? We get to do a performance like this? Are you kidding me?” So, everybody just pushed extra hard on making sure it was good. And because they were building on something that was so good.

Screen Rant: Well, I really just want to thank you guys. Because I'm a huge Spider-Man fan, like lifelong and this is exactly like what I've always wanted.

More: Luna Lauren Velez & Brian Tyree Henry Interview for Into the Spider-Verse

Key Release Dates
  • Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (2018) release date: Dec 14, 2018
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