With Marvel Studios' 13th film Captain America: Civil War just days away from release, the company's former President/Chairman David Maisel is speaking out on the birth and evolution of the company, as well as revealing some previously unknown deals - including a Warner Bros. Captain America film. In this expansive 'tell-all' style interview with The Hollywood Reporter, the Harvard grad also makes some interesting claims and accusations against the current executives at Marvel Studios.
"The best description of me — I got it from my mom — is if you mix Peter Pan with Tony Stark," said Maisel. "I don't have Tony's wealth, but I do have his love of intellect. Tony enjoys his life and Tony is single. I have more naiveté. I don't try to own a room the way Tony Stark would. But there's a lot about Tony Stark that was me."
Maisel worked at Marvel from 2003 to 2009, ultimately becoming Marvel Studios' founding Chairman in 2007. Maisel is listed as an executive producer on Marvel's first five Marvel films, but argues that his contributions to Marvel — from the financing deal to start Marvel Studios, the vision of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, to the company's acquisition by Disney — are overlooked. He said as much when he asked about his simple "Thanks" credit in Avengers: Age of Ultron.
"That helped me a lot," said Maisel. "It did hurt, that history was being rewritten a little bit."
Current Marvel Studios' head Kevin Feige is described as "a relatively junior executive giving script notes to studios," at the time of the studio's formative financing deal, with Maisel describing himself as his boss.
Marvel's Half-Million Bet To Make Its Own Films
Maisel claims that it was his idea for Marvel to make its own movies instead of selling the film rights to others ala X-Men and Spider-Man, something an unnamed THR source backs up.
"The concept of Marvel making its own movies and the financial model that allowed it, came entirely out of David’s head," said THR's unnamed source, whom was an alleged Marvel executive during this time. "It was the most impressive piece of pure intellectual structuring I’d ever seen."
Maisel's strategy was a $525 million loan from Merrill Lynch in 2005 to fund Marvel's in-house movies, with oversight from the lender and the collateral if they defaulted being the movie rights to the Avengers, Captain America, Hawkeye, Nick Fury, Doctor Strange, Ant-Man, Black Panther, Cloak & Dagger, Power Pack and Shang-Chi.
It's All Connected
Maisel described how his plan for the in-house Marvel movies to be interconnected was taken from George Lucas' approach to Star Wars.
"...so that each movie could become a lead-in to the next, and, basically, after the first movie, they're all sequels or quasi-sequels." said Maisel. "If we could do movies similar to the box-office average of the [Marvel films] that had been released or even a haircut to those, significantly, Marvel could be worth in the billions."
Warner Bros.'s Captain America
One of the most interesting alleged new factoids revealed in the feature is that, according to the then-Marvel Studios head, there was a deal in the works for Warner Bros. to buy the movie rights to Captain America, and Sony to pick up the rights to Thor after its success with the Sam Raimi Spider-Man films.
"If I had gotten there three months, six months later, those deals would have been done," he says. "And there would be no chance to bring all these characters together."
How Marvel's Animated Movies Were a Test Run for the MCU
Maisel also reveals that the early string of Marvel direct-to-DVD animated movies with Lionsgate was a test run for what would become Marvel Studios, and that the deal he worked out let Marvel do those films — and control them — without contributing any money to the projects. According to THR, Marvel's deal with Lionsgate was for Marvel to have creative control, but the production to be paid for the outside studio in exchange for an unspecified distribution fee and half of the movies' profits.
"It allowed me to say to people: 'Look at the value of our IP. Here's someone paying all the money, and we have creative control and get half the profits.'"
How Hulk 2 Was Made - And How It Might Hold Marvel Studios Back From Doing More
After the game-changing success of 2008's Iron Man, Maisel said it was his idea to incorporate the Hulk into the growing Marvel Cinematic Universe — despite the uneven response to the 2003 Hulk film. Universal Pictures still held the full movie rights to the Hulk, but Maisel says that Marvel reacquired the film rights (but not the distribution rights) with the agreement that Marvel make a second Hulk film and finance it themselves. According to Maisel, Universal retained the distribution rights to any Hulk-led film, but not if he were to co-star in other films as he's done in the Avengers films and the upcoming Thor: Ragnarok.
According to THR, however, former Marvel Studios head Avi Arad claims it was he who worked out the deal with Universal, not Maisel.
Disney & Marvel's Matchmaker
Although not quoted directly by THR, Maisel said he was the person who arranged for Marvel Entertainment CEO Isaac Perlmutter to meet Walt Disney Company CEO Bob Iger in 2009 for what ultimately ended in Disney's acquisition of Marvel. Masiel had worked as Disney's director of corporate development and strategic planning in the late 1990s.