Avi Arad fights back about his Marvel legacy—but let’s go to the videotape

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A few weeks ago we alluded to this glowing profile of Marvel Studios Head Kevin Feige in Businessweek, which, while semi-revealing, was also semi-revering. Clearly, Feige’s Marvel Cinematic Universe is one of the most successful movie concepts of the 21st century, but I’m sure he puts his Hulk hands on one mitt at a time.

Well, one person who did not like this profile was Amazing Spider-Man 2 producer Avi Arad, who penned an angry letter to the writer of the piece. The bit that Arad specifically took issue with is the claim that Arad quit Marvel Studios over his disagreement with Marvel’s $535 million dollar credit line with Merill Lynch to make movies, the deal that set the stage for the MCU as we know it.

In the Businessweek piece, Devin Leonard wrote:

Finally, Marvel decided to create its own studio. In 2005 it put up as collateral the film rights to characters it still controlled, such as Captain America and Nick Fury, and got $525 million in financing from Merrill Lynch. Arad, who had doubts about the strategy, resigned the following year. Feige was named studio chief in 2007. He was 33 years old, and he was in charge of Hollywood’s first major independent movie studio since DreamWorks.


Arad’s letter to Leonard, which was first published in Latino Review, is as follows:

Good morning Devin. As usual you manage to disappoint me with your false statements. I am sure you were told by Marvel that I resigned over the self-financing strategy. It is about time for a reporter like you to do your homework and check the facts. It will sound arrogant to you, but I single handedly put together the Marvel slate. Read it carefully and you will notice the natural progression of the character’s design to get to where we are today.

You should reach out to Merill Lynch and Ambac Insurance and to our international partners that came on board based on my track record. Our financial partners counted on my reputation. I had to work very hard to convert the doubters. They trusted me and without Iron Man this article would have not been written. Iron Man was not even in the original slate. I knew that we needed it so I set out to get it back from Newline and the rest is history.

Our financing would have never happened without me reaching out to Brad Grey to make a distribution deal that will give you a corporate guarantee. Other people in Marvel worked for many months with Universal and could not reach a deal. I got tired of waiting and went to Brad. The deal was done in days, successful for both companies. The big presentation to financial institutions and insurance companies took place on the Paramount lot. I was the presenter and it worked. Does this sound to you like someone who disagreed with the strategy to make our own movies?

I have forgiven Kevin for following orders and taking the credit, but he had no choice. Shame on you for kowtowing to your business gods. I have given up on journalistic integrity. You called me to talk about Kevin and I gave you the most true and glowing account on someone that I love and respect. Share your notes otherwise you just wasted my time. I will share this letter with other papers and your management to demonstrate the unprofessional self-serving work this reporter demonstrated.


Lots of juicy stuff in this email, and there’s no question that Arad was in charge when the revolving credit line was put in place, although we all laughed at the idea of making Captain America and Iron Man movies at the time. The Hulk! That was a sure fire winner. However, I doubt Arad had the idea of Guardians of the Galaxy movie in mind at the time, so point to Feige there. (And Disney is positively giddy over the GotG prospects. “This August 1st, we’re looking forward to introducing the world to more fantastic Marvel storytelling, with a great cast of new characters in Guardians of the Galaxy, which we screened last week and we believe it has strong franchise potential,” Bob Iger told investor just the other day.)

While Arad definitely deserves to a lot of credit for kicking things off with Blade, Spider-man and X-Men, the superhero movies that started the whole current boom, a little poking reveals that there may just be some retconning in Arad’s letter. At least one informant has already written to Latino Review, with some debunking of the Arad role:

The article about the Arad/Feige wars seems interesting, it’s obviously sour grapes from a “producer” who has been marginalized by his former partner Perlmutter.
[snip]
But I was moved to write by this sentence of Arad’s – “I knew that we needed it (IRON MAN) so I set out to get it back from Newline and the rest is history.”

Let’s be clear here. Arad was happy to renew Iron Man with New Line for a total of FOUR years. He was happy with a script by Tim McLanies in which Iron Man was dressed by his toaster. He sat in meetings with Bob Shea who insisted that Iron Man not fly and he was okay with that. His vision for Iron Man was to try to pretty much do anything Shea and Emmerich wanted to do. 

So how did he get it back from them when the new opportunity arose? Simple. He lied. He lied to New Line and Emmerich for months telling them that they were in negotiations for an extension, leading them to believe the project was going forward, then on the day the option was up he pulled it.

Arad so baldy and boldy lied to everyone back in those days, it’s astonishing he wants the unearned credit now. Track record? Outside of Marvel that consists of the Bratz movie. Feige was and remains the waterboy, that was clear then and now, but to talk about “forgiving” Kevin is just hilarious.


Actually, what all this roused in my own mind was the question of why Arad really left Marvel . When it was announced back in 2006, I can assure you, the assumption was that it wasn’t voluntary. I got in the internet Way Back machine and found the first news of it from Harry Knowles, as things used to occur:

Hey folks, Harry here… word has come in from all over the place that Avi Arad and Ari Arad have left MARVEL. If true, this would mean the new guy in charge of the whole Marvel film universe would be Kevin Feige. Is this a good turn of events for the Marvel Universe? Honestly, I don’t know. Sure, I haven’t been very happy with the Fox MARVEL films recently… ELECTRA, FANTASTIC FOUR and X-MEN 3… but they have earned significant money. I’ve never spoken with Kevin Feige, Moriarty knows him and seems to feel he’s very sharp and has a good head for Marvel and its properties… Having said that, Avi Arad has been both a hero and villain in the realm of Marvel and Comic Book cinema. Bringing talented directors like Ang Lee, Bryan Singer, Sam Raimi, Jon Favreau, Guillermo Del Toro, Steve Norrington to their properties… but at the same time he’s brought some less talented directors… rolling the dice on newer talent… that has crapped out on us, but usually with good scripts. However, a lot of those sorts of problems on the worst Marvel films came from Studio interferance and the last conversation I had with Avi – he was very very excited about being able to independently produce Marvel films with a distribution partner in Paramount. Why has he decided to leave? Was he forced out? At Cannes this year they were working on raising the warchest to produce more products, did that go badly? Or is Avi tired of it all and just wants to produce his own films… does his exit from Marvel come tied with some of Marvel’s properties to produce? We’ll find out soon enough, I called both Avi and Kevin at MARVEL, but have yet to hear back. I’m sure we’ll hear soon enough.


Soon after, a bit more info leaked out (people has loose lips in those days, let me tell you!) in a piece by Michael Kim now only preserved in this post at
Monitor Duty:

Just when he helped produced the biggest X-Men movie to date, Avi Arad is leaving as head of Marvel Studio to set up his own production company to be called Avi Arad Prods. Some of the first movies Avi will produce are two future Marvel movies including a sequel to Hulk and Ant Man. As a condition Marvel set for allowing Mr. Arad to leave is he is not allowed to produce a movie based on non-Marvel comic book characters and movies from the sci-fi and fantasy genre. … One possible reason Mr. Arad left, including selling over 3 mm shares of stock in Marvel, is he disagreed with Marvel’s decision to borrow over $500 mm to finance production of its own movies. …

One reason Marvel is taking the risk of financing future movies is it’s not getting much of a slice from the enormous pie generated by movies like the recent smash hit X-Men: The Last Stand.:

201405070353 Avi Arad fights back about his Marvel legacy—but lets go to the videotape
So the disagreement story was fresh even then. I actually wrote quite a bit about Avi leaving at the time, as he was very very visible as the face of MArvel. The post is no longer online, but I found it in an old Moveble Type back up file!

DATE: 06/01/2006 11:37:12 AM
—–
In all the chatter about Avi Arad leaving Marvel to head his own production shingle, several sources mentioned the fact which we alluded to yesterday, namely that Marvel’s deal on the X-films was not so hot, so they have no overwhelming desire to put resources into another X-men movie when they are making HULK and IRON MAN and will get a big slice of the potential profits. And look at it this way — is there anyone who would pay to see X4 who wouldn’t pay to see a movie all about Wolverine?

 stories 0406 30 spidey0th Avi Arad fights back about his Marvel legacy—but lets go to the videotapeSpeaking of Arad, that story has a lot more to it. We listened to a bit of the webcast with analysts regarding his leaving, but not that closely. Maybe we’ll return to it when we have a bit more time. There was some sharp questioning and talk about Avi’s non-compete clause which states he can’t make big fantasy/superhero movies. Thankfully, it will allow him to produce a BRATZ movie, based on the neurasthenic toy line. He also mentioned that by leaving day to day running of the studio he would be freed from a lot of petty administrative detail and would be able to concentrate on making good movies.

Despite this rosy glow of getting to spend more time with his key grip, speculation over whether Arad jumped or was pushed is rife. Non-voluntary, or not, he certainly isn’t crying too much — he’s vested in some 3.15 million shares of Marvel, is already moving to sell some of them, netting some $60 mil, according to Variety. However, the timing was all in Arad’s favor:

Departure mere days after his stock fully vested lends credence to the view that he has been planning to ankle for a while.

Indeed, sources said the company has been prepping for Arad’s departure for months, most notably by hiring former Beacon Pictures and Dimension exec Michael Helfant as president and chief operating officer in November and upping longtime Arad aide Kevin Feige to production prexy in January.

Helfant will now head Marvel Studios, with Feige as his No. 2.

“If you look back, Helfant was a trigger sign,” one insider said. “Look at all the people who have come to surround Avi.”


 i p 00 03 50 51 30 0003505130603 500X500 Avi Arad fights back about his Marvel legacy—but lets go to the videotapeVariety went on to characterize Wall Street’s reaction as “Baffled.” (Veteran Marvel watcher really need to read the whole piece.) The move leaves legendary cheapskate Ike Perlmutter in sole control of Marvel, although at this point, it’s unlikely to have much effect, since Arad has been tied up in the movie end for a long time.

Despite the happy X-men news, Marvel stock was down 3% yesterday, and today, in the wake of Arad’s stock dump, was down sharply.


What I heard at the time was that, indeed, Ike Perlmutter had become less of a fan of his old partner Avi and had arranged for him to leave the studio (with a cushy stock deal to soften the blow, and a Bratz movie to produce.) So eight years later, the story that Arad “quit” over the Paramount deal, even thought it was circulating at the time, does indeed seem a bit fishy, to me anyway.

Avi in the olden days at the Spidey 3 premiere with Tobey Maguire and James Franco.

So what’s the takeaway from all this ancient history? No question but that Avi put Iron Man and Jon Favreau in place and that’s what put Marvel Studios on the road to world domination it now enjoys. He oversaw the Blade, X-Men and Spider-man franchises that set the pace for what would follow and was integral to saving Marvel from bankruptcy via Toy Biz. But he also produced a LOT of crappy movies under his watch, and the current Amazing Spider-Man 2, I’m told, has much more input from Avi, which is pretty obvious if you compare it to Spider-Man 3. And the comparisons are not that flattering.

Sean Howe seriously needs to write a sequel to his Marvel book about the movie years, don’t you think?

Comments

  1. If you can manage to find a copy of Wizard #89 (late 1998/early 1999 I think), there is an interview with Arad in which he specifically mentions Star-Lord as a concept with an incredible amount of potential for a movie.

  2. Silly but True says:

    Bingo! I’m willing to give Avi the benefit of the doubt on the long term phase strategy.

    This is the guy responsible for Blade — Blade!?! — launching what we currently know as superhero movies, turning a c-lister into a megastar.

    And you don’t think someone like Star-lord or GotG were plausibly considered?

    I also remember something about plans for cheapo movies using other c- or d-listers like Man-Thing. To some degree this has manifested as Ghost Rider and Punisher War Zone. I credit Avi with the idea that not all of their properties need a $200m tent pole budget.

    Silly but True

  3. Martin says:

    As a stock analyst, one particular bit of the archived news jumps out at me: Arad vested 3.15 million Marvel shares and was immediately “moving to sell some of them” back in 2006. I wonder if he sold the majority of those shares early on, or if he still had that majority when the Disney buyout came in 2009.

    The premium Disney paid was substantial, and while I’m sure Arad’s already a rich man, there’d be a significant difference in his wealth if he’d managed to hold onto the majority of his shares and sell them after it happened. If he missed out on it….that would be another considerably bitter pill to swallow.

    Also, Arad pushed Raimi to include Venom in Spider-Man 3. I remember reading all the interviews before the movie came out where he flat-out declared himself as the instigator of that, and we all saw how that turned out (I maintain that the forced inclusion of Venom is the main problem with the movie. You can trace pretty much every scene people dislike to it).

    “I also remember something about plans for cheapo movies using other c- or d-listers like Man-Thing. To some degree this has manifested as Ghost Rider and Punisher War Zone. I credit Avi with the idea that not all of their properties need a $200m tent pole budget.”

    But Arad was also responsible for the most expensive super hero movies to date – Spider-Man 3, X-Men 3, and now Amazing Spider-Man 2 and Days of Future Past. They have budgets above 250mn and approaching 300mn (Spidey 3 was the most expensive movie ever for a long while). So his productions fall way more to the grando expensivo side. The Marvel movie budgets are conservative in comparison – Avengers is the only one above 200mn, but it didn’t even breach 250mn and the higher budget was worth it more than Arad’s pictures, given it’s the third biggest movie of all time.

  4. Francis says:

    The Man- Thing movie got made. I remember it appearing on SyFy when it was the Sci Fi Channel.

  5. Thanks, Heidi. Great work!

  6. Blade X says:

    Lots of juicy stuff in this email, and there’s no question that Arad was in charge when the revolving credit line was put in place, although we all laughed at the idea of making Captain America and Iron Man movies at the time. The Hulk! That was a sure fire winner. However, I doubt Arad had the idea of Guardians of the Galaxy movie in mind at the time, so point to Feige there. (And Disney is positively giddy over the GotG prospects. “This August 1st, we’re looking forward to introducing the world to more fantastic Marvel storytelling, with a great cast of new characters in Guardians of the Galaxy, which we screened last week and we believe it has strong franchise potential,” Bob Iger told investor just the other day.)

    ____________________________________________

    As stated by other posters, Arad was pushing for a STAR-LORD movie to be made back in 1999/1998/2000. Arad was a huge fan of the original STAR-LORD comics and thought that SL could be Marvel’s STAR WARS (which is ironic considering that Disney owns both Marvel and STAR WARS).

    I should also point out, that according to the head writer/producer/story editor of the 90’s SPIDER-MAN animated series, John Semper, Avi Arad would take the scripts that he and the other writers of the series wrote featuring other Marvel superheroes as guest stars and use them as pitches for Marvel movies to various Hollywood studios (like for BLADE and DAREDEVIL). And based on Tony Stark’s wisecracking/snarky humorous personality, Arad also did the same thing with the excellent (and underrated) 2nd season of the 90’s IRON MAN cartoon.

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