Photo: Marvel Studios
‘The script was a base, and then we just went crazy with it.’
The climax of the pilot episode of the Disney Plus series Ms. Marvel seems like it was designed for freeze-framers, screencappers, and “all the Easter eggs you missed” listicle-writers. The setting is dense with in-jokey references, and the action moves incredibly quickly, with a montage blitzing past dozens of characters and settings.
Belgian filmmakers Adil El Arbi and Bilall Fallah, producers on the show who directed the pilot and episode 6 of the six-episode opening season, say that sequence was the highlight of their work on the show, and of their directing career in general. El Arbi and Fallah, who have worked together since film school, previously collaborated on the 2020 Bad Boys sequel Bad Boys For Life and the Belgian crime thrillers Black and Gangsta. They’re currently in post-production on the DC Extended Universe movie Batgirl. But they say Ms. Marvel is where they’ve enjoyed themselves most in their career — including giving a specific look to an action sequence that was only a vague overview in the script they were given.
[Ed. note: Spoilers ahead for episode 1 of Ms. Marvel.]
Image: Disney Plus
Most of the first episode of Ms. Marvel is built around introducing 16-year-old Kamala Khan (Iman Vellani), a Muslim girl living in New Jersey and daydreaming about the superheroes that have become the superstars of her world. She’s particularly obsessed with Captain Marvel, and she’s put together a cosplay outfit that she’s excited to wear to a costume contest at a local fan gathering dubbed AvengerCon.
“It was the most fun set we’ve ever had,” El Arbi tells Technovanguard. “We were there taking pictures, playing with all the toys, and the producer had to grab us and focus us on the directing, because we were just having so much fun. It was an Easter egg paradise.”
“So much detail you can see — you should go shot by shot. Everywhere, something’s going on,” Fallah says.
“It’s a real homage to the fans,” El Arbi says. “I think fandom is the most important aspect of these movies and shows, and without them, you don’t have successful Marvel movies or superheroes. And I hope that the fans will appreciate what we tried to do to acknowledge them, and acknowledge their love for these works. So that was just a big pleasure, a big homage to them.”
The duo says that production designer Christopher Glass and his team are all naturally Marvel fans themselves, so they all contributed ideas and props to populate the set. El Arbi characterizes the directors’ instructions as “OK, guys, it’s AvengerCon, everybody go loco!”
“They’re all fans, everybody was a fan, so everybody had ideas,” Fallah says.
Image: Disney Plus
According to El Arbi, the duo shot so much footage that they had difficulty cutting it down to a reasonable length for the convention montage, but early audiences wound up wanting more. “We shot so much footage,” he laughs. “Our version of the director’s cut had such a long sequence that [the producers] made a shorter version. And then [after] the test audience, they made a version that was longer than our director’s cut. It had all our shots in it, which was like, All right! Pretty cool!”
Fallah and El Arbi also credit Glass for the episode’s big action sequence, where a giant-sized statue of Ant-Man loses its head, which goes rolling through the convention, smashing walls and creating havoc. They say that sequence wasn’t scripted with any specifics in mind — the idea was just that Kamala’s newly discovered powers would go haywire and make some sort of mess.
Fallah says that moment was their favorite part of the whole AvengerCon sequence, and the part they most want fans to enjoy: “It’s the biggest moment, Ant-Man’s head falling on them.”
They both say Glass suggested the sequence in a homage to the iconic Raiders of the Lost Ark sequence where protagonist Indiana Jones flees a giant rolling boulder inside a hidden tomb full of traps. “It was not in the script,” El Arbi says. “The script was a base, and then we just went crazy with it. And as we were brainstorming with Chris—”
“We wanted to have destruction,” Fallah jumps in. “So then Chris Glass came up with—”
“What about a giant Ant-Man head that just falls?” El Arbi says. “Yeah! Let’s do it like Indiana Jones! And that’s how it happened.”