When Marvel goes searching for the next director to helm a project, they tend to look in places that surprise most fans. Certainly, Kari Skogland may not have had much experience with the big set pieces and major action sequences which are trademarks of the MCU, Skogland was brought for a bigger purpose. As we head into Phase 4, the depth of these characters seems to be a focus, and that something that Skogland has been able to bring out of her actors in every project she’s tackled.
It’s no longer just about flashy technology and massive explosions, we are now digging deep into what makes these characters who they are. Skogland certainly got the best of her entire cast while managing to still tackle some pretty tough themes in Falcon and The Winter Soldier. That’s not to say that this series was devoid of action, quite the opposite, in fact, Skogland’s series is one of the most balanced entries into the MCU to date.
We were lucky enough to speak with her about his experiences working on Falcon and The Winter Soldier just after she had spoken at the 2021 BANFF World Media Festival, which has attracted some of the biggest names in entertainment. We also discussed the changing landscape of entertainment and the biggest challenges she had when filming Falcon and The Winter Soldier.
Dewey Singleton: With BANFF, what attracted you to want to be a part of it?
Kari Skogland: Well, it’s a great forum for creative exchange, and particularly, I think this year of all years is kind of the first of the, well, I guess it isn’t, but it’s certainly one of them, as the beginning of the year is rolling out and things are now changing quite dramatically. It seemed like a really great place to talk about the various things that they’re talking about streaming and creative change. And what’s happened over the last year, all of which, Falcon and the Winter Soldier, are very much a part of, we were very proud and pleased with the relevance of the show which is about the first black Captain America. So particularly after this last year and some of the themes within the show and some of them, I guess the topics that we were tackling seemed to be even more relevant as a result of the year. So I guess BANFF being a place, we could actually talk about that because we had just finished streaming it on Disney+, it seemed like a really great place.
DS: The landscape is definitely changing, you’re absolutely right. Is there anything that you’ve taken from this event that kind of enlightened you in some way or just the whole discourse as what invigorates you from the other creators?
KS: I think it was a combination of the whole discourse. I watched a couple of… What is great about what’s happening now with the festivals of it is that you can be remote and you can… Arguably being in person is better, but for the panels of it, the stuff where you’re not really interacting directly with people, you’re listening to them talk about stuff, we’ve become so used to the Zoom experience, I guess, that it actually feels very interactive. And you do feel like even if you haven’t been there, physically, you feel like you’ve had an exchange of ideas and you’ve watched some sort of cutting edge information come out of the event, and what you’ve been a part of. What is missing, of course, is that that sort of cocktail atmosphere where you meet people anecdotally and you exchange ideas in a much more ad hoc way and less formal, that is hard to do in a Zoom environment. So it’s going to be a hybrid of that in the future, how in particular BANFF has navigated that terrain and has managed to pivot and go fully digital. And I’m sure next year it’ll be some kind of a hybrid so that you can attend without attending, it used to be, you had to physically be there, which wasn’t always possible. Particularly if I’m shooting or if I’m in another country on a project prepping, I can’t necessarily get there.
So we’ve opened up the doors to much more, I think, interaction. And that’s how the business has to run because we only are as good as the information that we have. And the information we have is changing minute by minute. And we rely heavily on an anecdotal conversation about, “Oh, they’re buying that, oh that deal’s happening.” We look at industry newsletters and such. We talk to people and it’s these forums that allow us to get sort of the latest, greatest news, which can inform a decision that we’re making on whether we option a book, or whether we talk to that person about a project that we know that we suddenly find out, “Oh, they’re looking for something in this space.” So, that’s what these forums are so important for. And then on the creative side, to hear the creative mindsets of people who are doing cutting edge work, I think is really interesting because, as a creator myself, I often feel kind of isolated, and so it’s very, I think, empowering to hear other people talk about the same insecurities, the same issues, the same walls that they were having to climb so that you feel a little bit more a part of a community. And you also feel like, “Okay, it’s not just me, they’re experiencing something similar”, or in the anxiety of it, “Oh yeah, we all have a very similar story.” So, that, I think is also a community.
DS: I find it hard to believe that you’re looking for these new ideas, when I’m looking at the person who came up with the best opening action sequence of anything I’ve seen this year in the first few minutes of Falcon and The Winter Soldier.
KS: Wow! Well, thank you for that. It’s a wonderful team at Marvel and the stunt coordinators and fight coordinators and the v-effects folks, they all weigh into making a sequence it is that terrific. And I think we all can learn… We exchanged ideas. I learned from them, they learned from me. One of the goals of that particular sequence, which, from the beginning, I said, “You know what? I looked at a lot of extreme videos on”, wherever you could find them YouTube and places like that and wanted to have the experiential feeling that we were really… These new cameras, little go pro’s and such, you slap all over and they’re very lightweight, and so if you’re jumping out of a plane or you’re kiting through the mountains or whatever it is, you can feel really like you’re right with the person because there’s a new aesthetic. I think once we all embraced that aesthetic, and so that’s learning for everybody, because at the same time, as we are getting hopefully better at what we do, technology is offering up so many other new things, new toys, new ways to perceive.
It’s also important for us, I think, as creators, whether it be in the writing or the visualization or the actualization to be very aware of what the popular culture and what people are getting used to aesthetically, because if we can mirror that, then we can be ahead of the curve and that we can feel with them, we can be up to date with how they’re looking at things. So, in that case, it was looking at extreme videos to inform us, “Oh, okay, this is the aesthetic of what they’re looking at. So let’s capture that within how we’re going to do this”, which then meant a whole new… We had a team that jumped out of planes. We put cameras all over them and nobody had done that before. So I think it’s fair to say, no matter what you’re doing, whether it’s stunted, whether it’s in the writing, whether it’s set design, you’re always learning. And that’s the exciting thing about this business and why we are all so hooked on it is because that’s kind of an adrenaline rush every time. When you pick up the new book on something go, “Oh, I can use that. I’ve never done that before.”
So I think, again, the BANFF is a great forum for hearing how people have done certain things. And you sort of put that in your little toolkit of references. “Oh, I remember they were talking about this”, and I’ve gone so far as to call people up and go, “Okay, so I saw this amazing sequence. How did you do it?” Just shamelessly just ask for it for info so that I can capitalize on something that they’ve learned.
DS: How did your paths cross with Kevin Feige leading to you helming this series?
KS – Well, the first project they came to me, they’d come to me for another project earlier on. And so I pitched on that project and what you do, they come to you with the idea of a project. You don’t have a script necessarily because they’re very careful with releasing scripts because often they’re a work in progress and various things. And so you come in and give them your ideas on how you’re looking at the snippet of the creative that they presented to you. So, I came in on that project and didn’t land that one. And then this one came along and they asked me, so I was actually working in New York and classic thing, your batphone rings. My Avenger phone rang. And they said, “Would you be interested in coming in to give us your ideas, and thoughts on this one that we’re doing, which is a mini-series, and it’s our first mini-series.”
So I was thrilled to come in and do that. So I put together a presentation and flew in and went into the Avengers hallway, which is fabulous. It’s full of all these suits, all the different, I mean, it’s really quite something. You feel the history of this universe. And I was terrified of course, but meeting Kevin he’s terrific and the team the whole gang is unbelievably welcoming. And they’re just very welcoming and collaborative as well. So I think I can say that the experience from top-down is really super positive. And so I think that’s what I was also able to… It always flows from the top mountain down.
DS: I know you’re not going to tell me, and I don’t expect you to tell me, but I could certainly guess that they wanted you to pitch Eternals.
KS: No, I can tell you, it was Black Widow.
DS: I have a feeling you’re not done with Marvel.
KS: I certainly hope not. I hope my Avengers phone will ring again, but you never know.
DS: If they come to you and they say, are you ready to do Captain America 4, what is your answer?
KS: Yes, yes, and yes.
DS: What was the toughest part of putting this whole series together for you? Was it the story, making sure you hit the tones right at the tone of the story or was it making sure to, for lack of a better word, those action sequences were kick ass?
DS: Well, I think it was all of the above, and I don’t want to say it from a tough place because it was a very… I tackle every, I want to say challenge, with the same kind of a methodology that is kind of breaks it down so that I don’t get overwhelmed with the vastness of it. So with the tone of it, most importantly, that was to make sure that we were leaving no stone unturned and particularly as the year went on and we were, first of all, we shut down for a little while because of COVID and then the world was going through some very interesting and important movement, which we were already into with the story. And it only made us recognize how relevant we were and how long overdue the conversation we were having within the narrative was. So that just meant us really making sure that we were getting not only at right but pushing the envelope as much as possible and making sure that these themes and topics that were big, important themes and topics they were going to land, even within the sort of light-hearted comedy of it, that we were still tackling them with and pulling no punches. That, I think, was a constant ongoing heart check as we were doing post-production and even shooting.
I would calibrate stuff as well because we would go a little more fun with a take, and then we pull it back because, in post, you get to look at it again in sort of in the cold light of day, without the pressures of time in the onset, which is a very pressurized place because time is money and you only have so much time to get everything done. So, you’re able to look at it and post and kind of recalibrate, and you want to be able to have the toolset with you, like a slightly funnier line or a look over here, or all that stuff. So, you’re able to in post-mix it up a little bit. And then the action sequences in and of itself was a huge challenge because first of all, I wanted each sequence to have its own story and character story. It had to be driven by character. If it wasn’t going to be driven by character, then you’ve just got a bunch of people punching each other and who cares. And they also want it to have unique settings so that they looked really different and felt very different. So, there was the opening, which had to be kick-ass and like we’ve never seen Falcon fly before. And then there were the truck tops, which I regretted terribly because it was the hardest sequence to pull off.
KS: We managed, Oh, it was hard. A bunch of people on trucks hitting each other, oh, my God. It was complicated. And it took us a long time to… And it’s seven people, no eight, what was it?
DS: Eight People.
KS: Eight people coming and going, and keeping track of where they were and what physically was happening. And what’s happening over there while they’re over here. And so that was a very complex sequence to pull off. And then each one of them wanted to have its own thing. So then we called the one, we knew the big one in that square that public decapitation. But prior to that, there’d been a big sort of confrontation between all of them who wanted to but didn’t want to repeat what we’d already done. So, I was like, “Oh, let’s make it a horror story. Let’s make it”, so we’re in a creepy place and we don’t know where anybody is and it’s got its eerie noises and what’s going on here and there. So that had its own. And then we had the big one at the end, which was this sort of denouement between our three major characters who had it had to feel like a Clash of the Titans and that had to have its own look and feel and emotion mostly. So, if we started with the truck tops, which was a bit irreverent or in terms of the Bucky and Sam of it fighting with each other to the final, where they were like much more of a well-oiled machine and they were together. That became the spectrum. So just the challenge of keeping track of all of that was quite complex in a good way. But that was, I would say the two biggest challenges.
DS: I am now convinced even more and in fact, I would bet money you’re going to be involved in Captain America 4, or maybe you already are and you can’t tell me because of some paper you had to sign.
KS: (laughs) I know nothing. I know nothing!
DS: Oh, I’ve heard that before.
KS: Let me put it this way, if I did know something, I wouldn’t tell you. (laughs)
DS: This has been very enlightening and was a brilliant time.
KS: Thank you.
The first season of Falcon and The Winter Soldier is currently available to stream on Disney+. Kari Skogland is Emmy eligible for Outstanding Directing for a Drama Series for the episode “One World, One People.”
Photos: Chuck Zlotnick/David Leyes