On Sunday, Nomadland filmmaker Chloe Zhao became the first Oscar-winning director to helm a Marvel Cinematic Universe project, though it's a project we haven't actually seen yet. After spending part of the pandemic completing Nomadland, an intimate drama that also won Oscars for Best Picture and Best Actress Sunday night, Zhao is now at work completing Eternals, her first big-budget filmmaking effort and a sprawling epic adaptation of Jack Kirby's Marvel Comics saga of the same name.
Now, with two Oscars under her belt, all eyes are on Zhao and how she'll translate that same filmmaking energy to the Marvel Studios machine. Speaking to Variety the morning after her big night, Zhao addressed what it was like to move from the indie world to the blockbuster world, and noted that while the scale of the project might be different, Eternals is still very much a Chloe Zhao Film.
"It’s just been such an incredible experience working with the team at Marvel. I want to be careful saying 'my vision,' even though I do want people to know they did support what I wanted to do," she said. "I want people to know that. But I also want to make sure they know that I got the support of this incredibly talented team, some of the most talented artists in the world. And it really is a village to make this film, but they did let me lead. Yes."
Zhao's transition to mega-budget Marvel filmmaking has earned her raves from studio head Kevin Feige, who was reportedly often astonished at dailies which showed epic beauty she managed to capture without a single visual effect, and she's used that acclaim to her advantage. From the beginning she pushed for inclusion on the film, and as a result Eternals will introduce characters like Marvel's first gay superhero and first deaf superhero, but she also pushed for a more intimate set environment, something Feige and company were also willing to help with.
"Props to Marvel — from early on, they knew the way I wanted to make this film, how I wanted to shoot. It can’t be hundreds of people standing around. So they very much adapted how to run the set the way that I wanted to work," Zhao said. "I’m still surrounded by 25 people. They just have armies, and each of them knew they needed to keep the army away."
Zhao noted that she's in the "final stretch" of "sculpturing" Eternals right now, working with outside editors for the first time after years of cutting her own movies, and while she couldn't reveal anything new about the film's story or characters, she did speak to the kind of influences she's hoping to bring to this very different Marvel project.
"Jack Kirby and his imagination, his incredible work, is really the foundation of it," she said. "On top of that, there is what Marvel Studios has built, this incredible journey they have going on. And then on top of that is me as a fan of the MCU. And then, me as a fan of the genre, but also growing up with sci-fi and manga and fantasy films. And how can we have this big melting pot and cook up something that may just taste a little bit different? It was just an exciting thing; all of us went in wanting to do that. We’ll see."
We will indeed see, when Eternals finally hits theaters Nov. 5.