Last April, Avengers: Endgame rocked multiplexes with the force of an angry Hulk. The final film in MCU’s Infinity War saga shattered box office records on its way to a $2.7 billion tally. Most impressive, though, is how Endgame exceeded MCU fans’ Galactus-sized expectations. It’s the rare blockbuster that impressed critics, dazzled fans, and earned enough cash to make Scrooge McDuck blush.
So how did Marvel become the movie industry’s gold standard? Behind the scenes sits a team of writers, directors, and producers who oversee every aspect of each film’s development like Marvel’s very own clan of Uatus. They consist of Kevin Feige, the Russo brothers, and Endgame’s EP Trinh Tran. Tran has contributed to Marvel’s team since Tony Stark first put on his Mark 1 armour, and her brain holds more secrets than the Infinity Gauntlet’s Mind Stone. Tran has been doing press for Avengers: Endgame’s Blu-ray release and That Shelf was too excited to catch up with her to talk about life as a producer, what makes MCU movies great, and as always, what’s on her shelf?
Trinh Tran Interview
Victor Stiff – I know that a producer wears many hats, but what’s an average day on the job like for you?
Trinh Tran – Wow, that’s a great question. What’s great about being a producer at Marvel is that we’re there from the beginning to the end, so every day is so different. There’s a period of time where it’s all development, and I’m sitting in the room with Markus, McFeely, [Endgame’s screenwriters] and the Russo brothers [Endgame’s co-directors], and we’re in the conference room, and we’re brainstorming the heck out of the narrative and the story. So, for a period of time, we’re in there and behind closed doors, 12-hours sitting in there and we have the character cards up, and we’re talking about each scene, each character. And given the fact we have so many characters in Endgame, it was nonstop, it felt like.
And then, once we have the script and we’re ready to go, and we’re into production, I’m on location every day with the team. We fly from one place to another, and I’m on set with them every single day at village, and with the Russos and making sure that Marvel’s vision is coming to life. So, every day on set, and then once we get back, we’re in editorial. We’re in the darkroom with our editor, and the Russo brothers again, and with Kevin and Lou, and we’re sitting in there working away on the cut every single day until that movie is done.
Each period of time is very different; there are days where we’re in the darkroom, there are days where we’re on location, treading through the mud of Wakanda’s exterior set, and there are days where we’re brainstorming in the conference room, but every day and every section of the process of the movie is just so different, and I think that’s what’s great about being a producer. There’s never a dull moment.
I’m fascinated by your whole process, how Marvel has so many balls in the air and still keeps delivering these great films. Given what you just said, what’s the most satisfying part of that long process?
It’s really being involved the way we are. It’s not just I’m going to check in every once and a while, and I’ll come, and I’ll visit for a week, and then leave and then just check on you for another two months. The best experience is being so involved on a day-to-day basis and making every creative decision with the team and with the Russos and going, “What about if the detail on the shoulder of this costume… do we want this colour versus this colour?” Every single detail that comes into play, every creative aspect of making the movie, from the hair, to the makeup, to the costume, to the story. I think that’s the most rewarding experience.
And then it’s all the people that we get to meet and experience. I mean, it takes a village. Everybody says it takes a village to make this movie, these types of movies, and in general films like this and it is really true. Every day we’re meeting new people, and there are so many people involved that I’m truly grateful for everybody’s involvement in it because it’s teamwork.
I think it’s movie magic that you guys get anything done considering all the moving parts you have. So, I’m thinking, and I’m saying this as a fan of the Marvel movies and someone who thinks they’re well-made, how do you improve on the formula? What’s the best version of a Marvel movie look like?
I think it all boils down to characters. And we have great resources, we’re deriving a lot of our characters from the comics, that is part of Marvel. What’s great is that we have something to base off of, but we also need to really focus and work on the character moments. That’s what I think a lot of audiences gravitate towards. It’s like, what are those moments?
In Endgame, we have – I feel personally – one of the most emotional Marvel movies that I’ve experienced and worked on because there were a lot of moments that we really seeded in to. For example, with Thor and Frigga, being able to reunite with his mom one last time and have a conversation with her. Tony getting the experience with his dad. Those are key moments that really we wanted to end the saga with. It’s that we seeded these characters in the past and some of these characters might not have got the chance to have just a conversation, have something to say that they didn’t get a chance to say, and we wanted that to be impactful with Endgame.
I think those are the moments, as we’re sitting around the conference room, hashing out the stories; what are those rather than the focus being on a huge battle? Because in every Marvel movie, there are always battles, but what are the unique moments from the characters’ perspectives that we can integrate into each of the films is important.
If you never made another Marvel movie, the series would still be beloved for all time. Fifty years from now, people will be returning to these stories and these characters. You can have small, intimate character beats, where as you said, Thor reunites with his mom. You couldn’t get away with that in other franchises because people aren’t so attached to the characters.
But I would venture to say it’s not because these characters have been around ten years, there’s something in your formula for making them. What is it about Marvel characters that make them so beloved, because there are lots of studios out there putting out films with characters that don’t connect. How does Marvel get it right?
Time spent, to be able to give characters enough time out there. I started with Marvel over ten years ago, I wasn’t an avid comic reader. I didn’t grow up a huge reader in that sense, but I remember sitting in there and watching Iron Man for the first time and seeing RDJ become Tony Stark in front of my eyes, and I connected, I grew. It’s growing up with the characters, and spending the time with the characters and I think that’s what we really value in creating these movies and giving them each, the franchises and the stories that they can get.
With the number of characters that we have in Endgame, we can’t dedicate [a large] amount of time to each of the characters. By the time that we get there, and we have the 64 heroes standing all there together, we’ve already established a relationship with the audience that we can get away with the fact that some of them only have a minute of screen time. So, it’s really the time spent with each and every one of these characters, like you said, with Thor, and how audiences can connect with his personal story from the beginning. So I think time is the key to allowing that to happen.
Hindsight is 20/20. But go back to 2014, there’s a strong chance a film like Guardians of the Galaxy could flop, now it seems like it was an obvious thing to do…
We definitely weren’t 100% that everything like Guardians was going to succeed. Yes, like you said, in hindsight, yeah, it seems like the obvious choice to make, but this was a completely new group of characters that not a lot of people – the general audience – didn’t really know about, so we were taking a chance on introducing a group of new characters into the MCU.
As we go down the line and you see these titles that we’ve introduced, we’re taking chances on these characters because we see potential and we want to be able to tell a story, and each and every one of their stories have a personal journey that we feel can be a part of the MCU. It is a chance that we’re taking, but we’re still passionate about each of these characters from the last ten years that we’ve created and the future ones that we’re thinking people are going to love as much as we do.
My outlet is called That Shelf. We’re all about that nerdy, passionate, and sentimental item you’ve got on your shelf. What would be that nerdy thing you’re passionate about?
Oh my god, I’m looking at it right now. There’s a lot of small items that have a lot of sentimental value, but I think for Endgame specifically, I came out of that four-year process and we were given a Captain America shield with all of our talent’s signatures on it.
And I think that I will always remember [this] because it was such a journey for all of us and to be able to see all of these signatures and all of the characters that I’ve spent so many years with and had such great memories with… I’m literally looking at the shield right now, and I see the six signatures, our original six Avengers are in the middle and you kind of go around and it’s just every single character from the movie signed there. It’s bringing up so many great memories that we had on set with each other.
Avengers: Endgame will be released on DVD and Blu-Ray on August 13, 2019.
Trinh Tran (Executive Producer) is a development executive at Marvel Studios and served as associate producer on “Captain America: Civil War” and as a creative executive on “Captain America: The Winter Soldier.” Tran served as executive producer on the third installment of the “Avengers” franchise, “Avengers: Infinity War,” which was released on April 27, 2018.
This interview has been edited for clarity.