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‘Werewolf by Night’ Director Michael Giacchino Dismantles Blade Cameo Rumors: ‘It Was a Thought But It Was Never a Thing’

The Oscar-winning composer also takes TheWrap behind the practical effects and B&W cinematography of the Marvel special

Hear that howling at the moon? It means one thing; “Werewolf by Night” is here.

The Marvel Studios mini-movie, billed as a “Marvel Studios Special Presentation” and running just under an hour, is now available on Disney+ and it’s the perfect Halloween treat. Gael García Bernal plays the title character, whose human name is Jack Russell (get it?), a monster hunter who is called to a mysterious gathering with fellow hunters. Their task is to capture and kill the most elusive beast yet. But can he get the job done without revealing himself to be a monster too?

TheWrap spoke to director and composer Michael Giacchino, who has a long history providing memorable scores for Marvel Studios (including all three Tom Holland “Spider-Man” movies and “Thor: Love and Thunder”) but who is making his directorial debut here. We were talking the night after the movie’s big premiere at Fantastic Fest in Austin, Texas, an event Giacchino was meant to participate in until he tested positive for COVID-19. No matter – he was there in spirit, via the magic of technology. “Because I was on Zoom before [for the intro], they left the mics open,” Giacchino said. “I was just listening to all the reactions. And that made me very happy.”

During our chat, we talked about his attraction to the Werewolf by Night character, the potential of further adventures and what was really going on with that rumored cameo from Blade (Mahershala Ali).

Mild spoilers for “Werewolf by Night” follow.

When Kevin Feige came to you, you immediately said you wanted to do “Werewolf by Night.” Why was that?

Because mainly because as I grew up, I loved monster movies, loved them. And I grew up watching them religiously with my brother. Saturday mornings was our… I keep saying this, but it was, it’s the only way to describe it… That was our church, was sitting in front of the TV and watching the creature double feature. That was our religion. We practiced the religion of monster movies. And for us at that time, we weren’t picky. It was like, well whatever is on creature double feature is what we’re going to watch. And of course, they served up every single Universal film, every single Hammer film. There were also Japanese monster movies involved. And I love Ultraman, Godzilla and of course the best one of all King Kong. That is so ingrained in me, all of those movies, and I have such a love for those movies.

And I also love what those movies do in terms of exploring humanity and empathy and the way they deal with the fact that these are people with problems. These are people with serious problems that need help. And as you know in our world today, a lot of people who need help are not helped, they’re instead persecuted. For whatever it is, you fill in the blank. But generally, the first thing is to call them out as different and shun them. And the monster movies were about that exactly. And there’s something about that that really attracts me to want to explore that in the form of one of these fantasy monster films. What I wanted to do was just explore what that is and what that would be like for someone. And also to have some fun with it as well in terms of how you tell that story.

It was shocking to hear last night that you didn’t set out to shoot in black and white, at least initially.

Well, I wanted to. In my head, I always wanted to. Me and the DP, Zoë White, who is incredible, she and I both felt like, Could you imagine if this was in black-and-white? Wouldn’t that be amazing? She and I both took the approach of, Okay, she’s going to light it as if it’s going to be black and white and we’ll just cross our fingers and hope for the best. And we even had a monitor on set that we could see. We had a separate monitor that was a black and white only monitor so that I could go and check the black-and-white monitor and go, “Oh that looks really cool. Okay, great.” We were hedging our bets, hoping. And it was when we showed it to Kevin finally in black-and-white, when he said, “Oh,” he looked at me, he was like, “I guess we have to show this in black-and-white.”

And I was like, “Yep.” But I get it because it’s a big left turn from everything they have been doing. So to get that proof-of-concept and say here’s what it could be. And once we decided that they have been amazing, they were just like, “All right, let’s put it on real film. Let’s film it out to real film.” Which we did. We put it to real film, we scanned it back in, we did all of it. We did everything we could to make it as legit as possible. And it was really a fun process and I learned a lot doing it too.

There are also fun things like “scratches” and “cigarette burns.” Was that a back-and-forth discussion in terms of how much to lean into that stuff?

It’s funny. No one ever said, “Stop.” No one ever said, “Okay guys, enough is enough. You’re pushing the boundaries of good taste.” No one ever said that to us. So we just kept doing what we thought was… Jeff Ford who edited the film, is one of the great editors on the planet. And he and I are both nerds for that kind of stuff in a big way. When you’re left alone in a room for months on end editing, there’s a lot of time for you to come up with all these crazy ideas. And we would just do every single one of them. And they never said, “Don’t.” Even with all the blood and everything, no they never pushed back.

There was always sort of a feeling around the post department, Are they going to let us do this? Are they going to allow us? That was a big question in the air whether we were going to be allowed to do it. But we just kept doing it. And around the production, the joke was, “Let me guess more blood?” And I was like, “Yeah, more blood. More blood. Can we add it here? Can we put it there? How about over here?” All that stuff.

I wonder if the black-and-white helped with the blood too.

I’m sure it did. I’m sure it helped. I’m sure it did not hurt us in that regard. Because we had assumed it was going to be TV-MA because of all of that, which was fine with us. We were like, “Great, let’s do a TV-MA Marvel thing.” But I think it ended up TV-14. I don’t know how all that rating stuff works.

It’s pretty intense for TV-14.

Yeah, I agree. I agree.

There’s the great shot of Gael killing all these goons as the camera slowly pushes in as the doors to the room start to come down and the blood on the camera drips down. Was that how the shot was always engineered?

Absolutely. There were two shots in the film that I knew that I wanted more than anything else. And one was the push-in on Elsa as he’s transforming with the shadow behind her. And then the other one was the hallway shot moving in on the hallway towards the door as all of this craziness is happening in front of, behind us, on the side of. Just almost not even paying attention to the action itself, just the door and all of that, everything else is happening in front of us. Those took months to design and create because we did them all in-camera.

All that was done in the camera. There’s no CG involved in those and it was very difficult to do that hallway thing. We only got two takes of that because it’s so hard. That’s like a stunt show basically. It’s very difficult for them to do, it takes a lot of energy, and you don’t want to kill these guys. They’re doing their best. But we had two takes of that. And imagine you’re in that costume doing this thing. I mean it’s so hot in those costumes. So yeah, it was really tough. But those shots were ones that were designed from the very beginning. And if you look at the storyboards, they’re almost shot for shot, exactly what we wanted to do. It was fun.

I love how kind of 2D that shadow is too on the wall when he’s transforming.

That was projected on the wall as we were shooting. All of that was done in the shot. So we filmed all of that in-camera.

Can you talk about the design of the Werewolf by Night monster and his Dia de los Muertos makeup?

Well, what happened was when we were designing the look early on, in the visual development portion and Ian Joiner, who was doing a lot of the artwork at the time, he had some crazy idea and he did one… Because we were dealing with a lot of Day of the Dead makeup on Gael, and then we were trying to design what that was going to look like and how that was going to feel. And then he did one with the werewolf with that on it. And the second I saw that, I was just like, “Oh my God, yes, that we’re doing that. We are doing that no matter what.” And it was one of those things I just kept pushing for, pushing for, “We have to do this, we have to do this, have to do this.” And because I felt like, the reason Gael wears that is to keep himself tethered to his family, which he doesn’t have a connection to his family.

We don’t even know how old he is, he could be hundreds of years old. And for him, it’s the only thing that he can help tether himself to those people. And I thought, Well if he’s going to turn into a werewolf, that makeup’s not going away. It should still be on. Which to me felt very powerful in a way, because it’s almost like that was a part of his power, his connection to his family. And that felt very important to me. Family is a big theme in the whole story. So again, from the beginning, it was one of those things he just kept pushing for. I just really wanted to do that. And it also had a unique look to it that I hadn’t seen before. It just felt right and it felt emotionally right as well.

We’ve heard that Blade was supposed to make an appearance. Do you want to tell us where he would’ve been and what he was going to do?

God, I love the internet. Anyway, there was a brief moment when we thought, in the development process, Oh it would be cool if you did this and that. But the truth is, as you start getting into the story and as you start developing a lot of those things that in the very beginning are just shiny extras, drop off. You don’t need them. And I read one thing where they’re like, “Well due to scheduling conflicts.” I’m like, well it never even got anywhere near trying to schedule it. It was just something that as a thought, you’re thinking, Oh, wouldn’t it be cool if, if, if. And a lot of those ifs go away, not because the schedule conflicts, but because you don’t need them. They don’t necessarily help. And I’m a big fan of getting rid of what you don’t need. And if you don’t need it, don’t do it because it just, we’ve all seen movies that have a lot in them that you don’t need. And I tend to lean the other way. I want to get rid of as much as possible. It takes a lot of thinning out, a lot of work. But it was a thought but it was never a thing.

I’ve heard that you would love to do one of these a year.

Yeah, I would love to do something else. I love these characters so much. I think it’d be fun to do something else. And for me, the challenge would be, Okay, how do we do something else without doing what we just did? Where I’m at, at the moment, is thinking about that and there’s a lot of things I’d like to try and do and we’ll see if they let me.

“Werewolf by Night” is now streaming on Disney+.