Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness: How Sam Raimi and Michael Waldron cleared the impossible bar

Even with the pandemic mucking up productions, Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness still had it harder than most.

Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness didn’t have the easiest ride to release.

Like many of its fellow TV and movie productions, its schedule was beset by the pandemic, but it had to deal with another layer of drama.

When the sequel was confirmed, the director of the original film, Scott Derrickson was expected to return, along with his writing partner C. Robert Cargill.

By January 2020, Derrickson and Cargill both left the project, citing creative differences with Marvel Studios about the movie they envisaged it to be. Derrickson reportedly wanted to make Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness a full horror movie, Marvel did not.

When Marvel Studios boss Kevin Feige looked for a replacement director he tapped Sam Raimi and Loki writer Michael Waldron to rework an important chapter in the MCU, one which had to follow existing titles, drive the momentum of Phase Four and also have complete, satisfying character journeys.

That’s a near impossible task for Raimi and Waldron, who were under the pump from the get-go. The change in personnel in early 2020 didn’t mean a change in the production schedule – although Covid would wreak havoc with that more than once – which was still slated, at the time, to start filming in May.

Waldron, who came up under the tutelage of Dan Harmon on Community and rick and morty, was writing pages days before the scenes were to be filmed. Sometimes changes were made on the fly, especially as Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness had to follow setups in Wanda Vision and Spider-Man: No Way Home.

Waldron said it wasn’t so much a case of deadlines as “just dead”.

“It was dead, it was just dead. We transcended deadline,” he told news.com.au. “But I was never really all that worried, I knew we’d pull it out and, in fact, some of those days that we were writing a scene right before we shot it, those are some of my most treasured moments in the movie .”

Waldron said Raimi radiated confidence and belief in him, which helped him to do what he needed. “He always made me feel like I was going to pull through, and I think that’s what a great director does, he empowers his crew and team.”

Reciprocally, Raimi is full of praise for Waldron, especially for the writer’s nimbleness in navigating the demands of a Marvel title.

“[Michael] saved the day a number of times when we were in jams,” Raimi said. “Either information might come from one of the other movies – Spider-Man: No Way Home gold Wanda Vision in post-production – that something had changed.

“And Mike would have to make sure that this ripple effect was handled through the picture that we had, and sometimes he had to go back and make changes in things we had already shot.”

Waldron added, “I came up working on Community as a PA where Dan Harmon was delivering pages down to the actors as they were rehearsing on stage at two in the morning. I was born out of that chaos.

“I think it’s important to state that it never felt like we were rewriting or fixing something that was broken. It always felt like the work we were doing was taking something that worked and interrogating it and saying, ‘how can this be excellent, how can this be even better?’.

“When that’s the kind of under the gun you’re dealing with, it’s a lot easier to do that kind of frenzied work.”

For many, Raimi is a master of horror and schlock, having started his career with The Evil Deadbut for others, he’s the man who ushered in this current era of superhero movies.

A vociferous fan of comic books, Raimi saw the possibilities of bringing to the screen his favorite characters and made Spiderman with Tobey Maguire. Twenty years later, you can’t walk into a cinema without a superhero flick on the marquee.

Despite the sheer volume of comic book movies that have been released since Raimi shot the first frame of Maguire slinging his webs, the filmmaker says the fundamentals of the genre remains the same.

“It’s more striking to me the things that have stayed the same than changed,” Raimi said. “And that is the audience, even today, maybe more than ever, needs positive heroes to look up to.

“Characters that are human, have faults that perhaps you could identify with more than me, and despite these faults, find the inner strength to do the right thing, to use power responsibly, to maybe learn a modicum of restraint, whatever the lesson is .

“We show characters grow as human beings, what they’re capable of and that’s important for the fans of motion pictures. It’s uplifting. If you can do that and really do it honestly, you can really move or sometimes inspire an audience because they say, ‘You know what, I’m capable too’.”

He name-checked Feige, who Raimi called a “friend”, as the reason he stepped back onto a comic book movie soundstage. When Raimi made SpidermanFeige was a twenty-something associate producer on the film, proof that it always pays to be respectful to everyone you work with, no matter how junior burger they may be.

Even though Raimi’s last superhero flick, Spider Man 3, came out 15 years ago to middling reviews, he doesn’t feel like he has anything to prove. He’s done this before and he knows how to do it again.

Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness is in cinemas now

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