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Q&A with ETERNALS Director, Chloé Zhao

October 11th, 2021Q&A with ETERNALS Director, Chloé Zhao

Get Tickets ETERNALS opens November 5th

Director Chloé Zhao has quickly catapulted herself as one of the most exciting filmmakers working today. Just this year alone, she swept the awards circuit for NOMADLAND, including winning Best Picture and Best Director at the 93rd Academy Awards, and will next bring audiences one of Marvel Studios’ most ambitious projects yet when ETERNALS opens at AMC Theatres on November 5th!

We recently had the opportunity to talk with Chloé Zhao to learn more her transition from independent filmmaking to a Marvel blockbuster, the manga influences that inspired her take on the film, how she approached the massive scale of the story, and more. You’ll also want to read until the very end of our interview as she gives fans a tease of the post-credit scenes in the film (with of course, no spoilers mentioned).

AMC Theatres: One of the things that Marvel does so well is choosing incredibly talented directors who tell smaller and more intimate stories and giving them the opportunity to translate those skills towards these massive blockbusters. Have you had any collaboration or discussion with previous MCU directors on making this transition?

Chloé Zhao: I literally pitched the film and then immediately jumped into making NOMADLAND. And then as soon as I wrapped NOMADLAND, I flew to England prepping for ETERNALS, so I didn’t actually have the time to speak to the other MCU filmmakers. But it definitely always felt like there was a family; if I needed someone, they would be there for me. When I was in London, I did visit Cate Shortland on set of BLACK WIDOW. I’ve also known Ryan Coogler (BLACK PANTHER) for a long time, so we talked a little bit about it as well. But Nate Moore at Marvel Studios has been with me day and night helping me with this transition because he also comes from the independent film world, so he was so important to me. Also with Kevin Feige, Louis D’Esposito, and Victoria Alonso, I give a lot of credit to the team at Marvel for helping me during that transition.

AMC Theatres: I saw a photo with you and Destin Daniel Cretton at the SHANG-CHI premiere. I bet that was a great experience getting to be there and celebrate that remarkable film.

Chloé Zhao: Destin and I have the same manager. We also met very briefly at Comic-Con in 2019 and we were joking like “oh my god, we’re going to do these movies, what are we going to do?”. Obviously, we are aware of each other’s work in the independent world, so there was definitely a commadore right away. I was so happy to see him at the SHANG-CHI premiere and to see how successful the film is.


AMC Theatres: You’ve shared before how you’re a fan of Marvel Comics. Can you explain what it was about the Eternals that made you want this be your first venture into the MCU?

Chloé Zhao: Nate Moore at Marvel showed me a treatment of the movie and I was blown away by the scale of the story. They drew heavily from Jack Kirby’s comics and also took inspiration from Neil Gaiman’s run. It’s just a chance for me to tell a really visceral story – that’s something that Kirby does so brilliantly. It’s also a story that combines modern, historic, and cosmic myths all together, which excited me.


AMC Theatres: So then, prior to this film were you a fan or aware of the Eternals and their comic book origins?

Chloé Zhao: No, I wasn’t and I actually don’t know many that were aware of them. But they always were meant to be – I think when Jack Kirby created them, they were always meant to be this group of people that just stood on the sideline and not in the mainstream. They exist in their own little world, which I loved because the idea of making a standalone film was really attractive to me.

AMC Theatres: The members of the Eternals have their own unique abilities and powers. Which character did you have the most fun bringing to life?

Chloé Zhao: I had such a great time working on their powers, their costumes, and finding historic inspirations for these designs. They’ve been around for so long, so they must influence us in some way. It’s about looking at human society, all these sacred symbols, colors and shapes and then go backwards to see the Eternals powers and costumes from 7,000 years ago. I also drew a lot from my manga read for their powers and their abilities. I paid tribute to some of my favorite manga. For example, “YuYu Hakusho” is my favorite manga of all-time and in that manga series, Yusuke Urameshi’s Spirit Gun was a huge inspiration for Kingo’s cosmic blast, so that was definitely a geek out moment for me.


AMC Theatres: Looking at the comic book origins and this film said to span over 7,000 years, how did you approach capturing the scope and scale of this massive story to work within the confines of a 2 hour or so feature film?

Chloé Zhao: I worked closely with Nate (Moore), Kevin (Feige), and our writers, Patrick Burleigh, Ryan Firpo and Kaz Firpo. We had the timeline laid out and we wanted to see what part of history we haven’t seen before in movies. It was really important for each character to have their time and ultimately that challenge came down in the edit. I worked with two incredible editors, Craig Wood and Dylan Tichenor, and we actually just wrapped last week. It is about having the scale, the intimacy, and give each character their time to shine and for their arcs to come through.

AMC Theatres: In addition to the massive scope, this also feels like a very grounded, personal story about humanity. How did you balance the spectacle fans expect from the MCU with these more intimate character-driven elements?

Chloé Zhao: When you have unlimited resources, it’s really important to set limitations for yourself. Very early on, all of our action units, visual effects and design teams, we set these limitations on how we’re going to move the camera, what lenses we’d be using, how we’d be shooting action sequences, and develop visual effects. All of this has to honor both the fantastical and the intimate. In order to do that, we had a set of rules that could unify these two aspects to the extreme. That was one of the most important things for me. When I pitched the movie to Kevin (Feige), I started by showing him a picture of a grain of sand and I cited the William Blake poem where he says “to see the world in a grain of sand.” Because in that poem, it literally expressed you can find universes of meaning, revelation, and endless cosmic beauty hidden inside the smallest things on Earth and the most intimate moments between human beings. Our entire goal making this film and the visual experience is to show the juxtaposition of these two and how they could seamlessly exist in one movie and have emotional sight from each other.


AMC Theatres: In the trailer, the ramifications of the Infinity Saga and why the Eternals didn’t step in. How much of a focal point is that in the film or is it more just to answer the inevitable question on where the Eternals were during the events of AVENGERS ENDGAME?

Chloé Zhao: It’s much bigger than just ENDGAME. There are many things that happened throughout history where they did not interfere. The film will address that in a very complex way; just tied very much to the identity and the fate of the Eternals. There’s a legitimate and complicated reason why they didn’t interfere, so you’ll have to watch and find out.


AMC Theatres: As more and more footage comes out, we’re starting to get a better look at the Deviants. Can you explain the threat the Deviants post in this film and how they compare to other MCU villains?

Chloé Zhao: The Eternals are here on Earth to protect the humans from the Deviants. There are five fighters in ETERNALS and 5 thinkers. The fighters keep the Deviants away and the thinkers nudge humanity, so we can advance. The one day where we become strong enough to protect ourselves, they disappear into the shadows. In order for humans to develop and progress as they way we’re meant to, they have to go away eventually, if you think about. If they keep helping us, there wouldn’t be Tony Stark or the Avengers. In a way, the Deviants play a unique role in all of that. That’s all I can say – the very existence of them are a very complicated, moral dilemma in the film.

AMC Theatres: As with any Marvel movie, there are a lot of rumors and speculation out there about this film. Can you tell us what the wildest rumor you’ve read about ETERNALS?

Chloé Zhao: The best way I can answer that is often in life, the wildest rumors are the true ones. Often the most crazy ideas are the ones that turn out to be true. If anything, I’ll say at the end of the movie, stay for the post-credit scenes; don’t stay just for one, stay for both. Let’s just put it this way, we want to surprise you until the very end.

We’ll have to wait until the movie opens at AMC Theatres on November 5 to see what these post-credit surprises will be, but you can get ready by grabbing your ETERNALS tickets now!

Get Tickets ETERNALS opens November 5th

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