Fans of the arvelMarvel Cinematic universe tuning in to Ms. Marvel may recall the recently released Netflix movie The Mitchells vs. the Machines, which was nominated for an Oscar. Like Ms. Marvel, the film tells the story of an imaginative teenager who is at odds with her family, especially over her choice to live in her own world. Ms. Marvel’s Kamala Khan (Imanvellani) obsessively draws her fantasies. They appear in her sketchbook as well as all over the screen to illustrate her colorful vision of the world.
However, series producers Bilall Fallsah and Adil El Al Arbi who directed the pilot episode and six of the final episodes, claim they had older inspirations when they planned the show’s look and feel.
Fallah told Polygon that American high school series and movies were an inspiration. El Arbi and he are both from Belgium so movies such as Sixteen Candlesand Breakfast Club are “like, totally different” than the world around them. It was a wonderful opportunity to see the American high schools in that [version] — just like the John Hughes movies or Saved By the Bell.
“And Parker Lewis can’t lose. El Arbi cut in.
“Spike Lee! Do The Right Thing!” Fallah echos. Spike Lee films have New York as a main character. We wanted New Jersey to be a real character.
Interviews show the men speaking loudly and enthusiastically. They often repeat each other’s sentences, or shout the exact same thing at times. Since film school, they have worked together, first as directors of Belgian crime movies (2015’s Black and 2018’s Gangsta), and then on American action movies such as 2020’s Bad Boys For Life or the forthcoming Batgirl for DC. They talk about how they created the look and feel for Ms. They talk over each other and pile up titles, ideas and sources. Marvel comics, and even their families.
Fallah states, “I was thinking about my sister” and her nieces. Fallah says, “Having this 16-year-old Muslim character, that’s a superhero — it’s an homage to all the superhero women in my family.” That was what drove me to create a show that had a young audience and family feel.
The Mitchells vs. Machines was not something neither director knew about when they planned the show. El Arbi states that they were already working on this show when it came out so it was parallel. “But then, we noticed a lot of parallels to it.”
El Arbi claims they were drawn to Ms. Marvel’s visual style is partly based on Kamala Khan’s comics-loving perspective and her perception of the world as one big comic book.
El Arbi states
El Arbi states, “When we read comics, the vibrancy of the colors inspired us.” We wanted that comic-book aesthetic. Nothing was ever described in terms of the visual styles. We wanted to be able to translate the dream sequences and fantasy sequences of Kamala Khan onto the screen.
This means that animation appears in the background of shots as Kamala draws, thinks, or just walks down the street. This makes for a lively, visual show that conveys Kamala’s passion for life and her love for superheroes. The directors claim that all of this was inspired by 2018’s Spider-Man, Into the Spider-Verse.
“We’re huge, huge fans,” El Arbi says. “For us, it’s the greatest thing Marvel has ever done. We were so impressed when we saw it. We were so impressed by it that we said It would be great if we could make a live-action version.
Fallah says that trying to get the idea onto the screen was the most difficult thing they did on the show.
He says, “We were a bit anxious because all that was not present in other shows of the MCU” We had to give a complete presentation, with arguments and examples, in order to convince Kevin Feige (Marvel Studios president) and Marvel to let us do this. He said yes, thank you very much! He said Do not do it every five second. But they let us do that. Cool shots are our favorite, as well as colors and montages. They are very energetic and typical of our work.
Two men were drawn to Into the Spider-Verse by their admiration of its visual density and energy. However, it also pushed them into technical directions that they hadn’t been before.
El Arbi laughs, “Woof! It’s a lot pre-production.” You have to plan all of that upfront. We couldn’t improvise.”
Fallah states, “We were in good hands using the Marvel machine.” We have the best of what is available. We were stressed a lot because we hadn’t worked with green and blue screens before. You tell the actors that this is going happen and it will happen on the set. Although it’s not happening yet, it will. That was really difficult for us.”
El Arbi points
El Arbi points to one shot in which Kamala falls onto a couch, and the camera follows her. She then settles into an upside-down position, making it appear like she’s hanging from the ceiling. He says that the rig took 15 days and was extremely complex. Kamala and her friend must be biking together. There is one shot with the walls. You have to imagine the animation behind them.
The directors had to ensure that they didn’t overwhelm the audience. Into The Spider-Verse and The Mitchells vs. The Machinesboth have shown that there are people who can deal with visual overload. It is difficult to create something new in this vein. El Arbi states, “You have to ensure there’s not enough text.” He says that they thought about how to make the environment look better all the time they were filming. All of these were challenging. It was very enjoyable to work on it, and it is rewarding when it all works out.