The Flash is finally coming to theaters, and you can thank Barbara and Andy Muschietti.
Warner Bros. originally planned to release a Flash movie in 2016, but struggled with the project for years. The Flash took off when the Argentinian filmmaking team of the Muschietti siblings — she’s a producer, he’s a director — boarded the movie in fall of 2019, hot off the success of their hit It and its sequel, It Chapter Two.
Obviously, the release was not without issues. Ezra Miller, who first played the speedy superhero in 2016’s Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice, spent months in the headlines over a series of arrests involving erratic behavior after principal production on The Flash was complete. In August, Miller apologized to “everyone that I have alarmed and upset with my past behavior” and promised to seek treatment for “complex mental health issues.”
Barbara Muschietti says that in 138 days of production, “Ezra was perfectly professional, incredibly giving as a performer, and disciplined.” The Muschiettis told us there was never any consideration of replacing Miller as The Flash, who’s secret identity is Barry Allen. But to keep focus on the film, Miller is not part of the film’s press tour.
The Flash unites the worlds of Tim Burton’s two Batman films and Zack Snyder’s DC films, Man of Steel, Batman v. Superman and Justice League. The Muschiettis combines the past films with screenwriter Christina Hodson’s vision of an eccentric comedy-drama rooted in the death of Barry Allen’s mother Nora, who is played by Y Tu Mamá También star Maribel Verdú.
In the film, out this Friday, The Flash realizes he can reverse time to bring his dead mother back to life — but Batman (Ben Affleck) warns that altering time could create irreversible consequences. Batman is right, as usual, and soon Barry meets his younger self. The two Flashes unite to take on General Zod (Michael Shannon), the villain who Superman (Henry Cavill) memorably defeated in 2013’s Man of Steel. They get plenty of help from Michael Keaton’s Batman from the Burton films, and a new hero, Sasha Calle’s Supergirl.
MovieMaker spoke with the Muschiettis about the power of the mother-son dynamic, juggling a lot of recent superhero history, and why recasting the two Barrys was never an option.
Joshua Encinias: You ground The Flash with an emotional center based on Barry’s relationship with his mother Nora. What would have become of the movie if that relationship didn’t work?
Andy Muschietti: The whole movie wouldn’t have worked. It was essential to me to create a strong emotional foundation. The story already implied a child wants to reunite with his dead mother. That emotional core is very valuable. My pitch to the studio was I want to make the movie’s heart very big. I want to magnify the emotional aspects of this movie.
And everything that happens around all the battles and chases and explosions are a bit of a ripple effect of the things that come out of this impossible quest to be with this mom again. If the emotional center of this thing didn’t work, this movie would have just been one of many.
Barbara Muschietti: Well, we wouldn’t have made it.
Joshua Encinias: When Batman v. Superman came out, people dragged Zack Snyder for making Bruce and Clark connect over their mother’s names, Martha Wayne and Martha Kent. But The Flash centers the mother-son relationship in an even bigger way. Do you think audiences have changed since Batman v. Superman and want more realistic motivations in superhero movies?
Andy Muschietti: I don’t think there’s a change in audiences. I think it’s about how you treat it. There’s nothing inherently cheesy about a mother-son relationship. It’s about how you approach it, how much love you put into it. And by no means am I undervaluing Batman v. Superman, but in the case of The Flash, I did everything I could to keep that relationship and that heart alive and real.
One of the things that got me there was casting Maribel Verdú, who is an actress that is incredibly talented, but also has a heart and warmth that just appears from the second she’s on screen. That was like a super weapon that I thought I needed and I was lucky enough to get her.
Joshua Encinias: How did you make the relationship feel authentic?
Andy Muschietti: I tried to be delicate and realistic about it, but with sentiment. Sometimes it’s not easy, but you have to use everything at your reach. Casting the right people is one of those tools that you have, and casting Ezra and Maribel in those roles really paid off because the chemistry between them is fantastic.
Joshua Encinias: I think there are 14 characters who have appeared in the comics as versions of The Flash. Why did you make the hero’s cinematic first outing a Barry Allen story?
Andy Muschietti: My feeling was Ezra was the perfect Barry Allen. In early discussion, I could see a comedic genius in Ezra that I didn’t actually confirm until I started working with them. It’s one of those things, and it really paid off. It actually exceeded my expectations. They’re a very good actor, but when I saw them performing, I was like, “They are an excellent actor, but also an incredible comedian.” [Editor’s Note: Miller uses they/them pronouns.]
Joshua Encinias: Ezra’s performance echos the humor and physical comedy of Jerry Lewis. I don’t know if others will make the same connection, but I did immediately. They give a big comedic performance that wreaks havoc on movie’s reality, just like Lewis’ most popular comedies, but it’s also rooted in Barry as a character.
Andy Muschietti: Yeah! Humor is a very important part of this movie, especially the humor that comes out of Barry’s flaws. I’m a slapstick maniac, so whatever I do, I try to put silly things in it. Apart from being silly and funny, they also connect you with being human and the flaws of being human, not being perfect and doing like clumsy things. I think Ezra loved that and as we made it more and more stupid, Ezra was game for it.
I don’t pull punches during the shoot. When we’re shooting, I say, let’s do it the way we want it. We can finesse and calibrate it in the edit.
Barbara Muschietti: I don’t know if Ezra drew from Jerry Lewis for their performance, but I know definitely that Andy was inspired by him, because we grew up watching everything that Jerry Lewis did. Our mom was a huge fan.
Andy Muschietti: Lewis made an imprint on me that’s not conscious but it’s there. One of my favorite movies of all time is Jacques Tati’s Playtime, which doesn’t involve Jerry Lewis, but The Flash has a lot of that feeling.
Of course, you have to be very careful with slapstick these days and it’s a matter of balance. I think it’s not only funny, but it bring you a little closer to the character.
The Ezra Miller Question
Joshua Encinias: I’m going to address the elephant in the room before we go into more details about the movie: Did it ever feel like The Flash was falling apart when Ezra was in the news last year?
Barbara Muschietti: No, you know, as filmmakers, you have to put your head down and just do your work. Of course, we take that stuff very seriously, but we were focusing on the movie.
Andy Muschietti: We really believed in the movie from the beginning. Over the course of two years, our confidence grew higher as the script was developed, as actors started falling into place, as the execution started to happen in production, and in the edit. Our love and confidence and trust of this movie only grew.
Joshua Encinias: Did you ever consider doing reshoots without Ezra?
Barbara Muschietti: No, it would have been absolutely impossible. When we started reading in the news that Ezra would be replaced, we laughed, because we didn’t know where it came from. That rumor definitely didn’t come from us or the studio.
Joshua Encinias: What’s your favorite superhero movies?
Barbara Muschietti: Mine is the 1978 Superman.
Andy Muschietti: That’s one of my favorites, as well as Batman and Batman Returns. I love Batman Begins too.
Joshua Encinias: Aside from the fact you’re siblings, how did your filmmaking partnership come together?
Andy Muschietti: Practice. [Laughs.] We’re siblings, so our love for movies developed a very long time ago. Our love of movies was strong from the very beginning when we were three and four. I think we knew that we wanted to make movies from very early on. We picked different paths in our teenage years. I went to film school, she went to another film school in another country, and we ended up doing something that we promised we would never do: advertising. I directed a bunch of short films but I slid into the commercial directing business and we did it for almost 15 years. We had a production company, so that’s where the practice began, and we developed a dual skills that we have today. It took a lot of fighting.
Barbara Muschietti: We still fight, but we fight about sibling stuff. Andy loves to put his chewed gum in my coffee cup, he’s my little brother. But we are a fine-tuned machine at this point.
Andy Muschietti: I think the strongest thing is that we’re family. We can trust each other and know at the end of the day we’re gonna have each other’s back.
Barbara Muschietti: We complement each other very much. Andy is very much a director and I’m very much a producer. And, you know, it works. We don’t step on each other. We-
Andy Muschietti: Except for the end of the day. She’ll say we have to stop filming and I’ll say no, we have to keep shooting.
Barbara Muschietti: And I have to tear the camera from his hands.
Andy Muschietti: We did a lot of improvisation and some funny lines stayed in the final cut. But audiences can lose empathy for character if they say too much. They can become annoying or a d—. It’s funny because some of these things are undetectable on the page. Then you shoot the movie and you people will love a character and suddenly you lose a little bit of empathy because of a certain word they said.
I used to hate test screenings, and eventually, I learned to accept and love and embrace. People teach you things about those little details. If you listen, eventually you trim a word that makes a character look like a d—, and then the needle moves and everybody loves that character again. It’s crazy.
Joshua Encinias: The quote-unquote “baby shower” during the opening scene is relentless and kind of horrifying, but it made people around me laugh. Were you going for both kinds of reactions?
Andy Muschietti: Yes. [Laughs.] I wanted to create a strong statement to test Barry’s powers. If a hero can do anything because they’re the fastest man alive and can almost be in two places at the same time, I wanted to put that to a test. Even if you’re the fastest man alive, you have to make decisions, and that’s where the whole “baby shower” was created.
Babies are so fragile and probably the most delicate beings on Earth. We all want to care about them, and I wanted audiences to see how Barry would care for these poor babies on the brink of death. That’s where you see him use his wits more than his speed. That’s where he starts doing all this crazy s— mid-air.
Joshua Encinias: In the time travel scenes, everything looks more cartoonish than photorealistic. Will you talk about the look of those sequences?
Andy Muschietti: The idea was that it’s a bit of a stadium made of frozen people. So I made a bit of a wax museum feel to it.
Barbara Muschietti: It was intentional. You have to give it a different treatment to signify time travel.
Andy Muschietti: I created a few rules about how we see things from Barry’s perspective. External observers see a literal flash when he’s running, but in close ups he won’t appear to be moving faster. He looks like he’s moving at normal speed, but he’s covering enormous distances. The other is Barry’s perspective during his run to Gotham City. Everything distorts and there’s a watery quality to the image. Everything turns bluish and there’s stuff flying in the air.
The Flash Timelines
Joshua Encinias: You’re working with multiple directors’ aesthetics along with the ones you created. Barry’s timeline is influenced by Zack Snyder and Justice League production designer Patrick Tatopoulos’ take on the characters, and The Flash features some of the same actors from the Snyder movies. But you inject your style of humor into Snyder’s portrayal of the characters. Was that a conscious choice to shift how dialogue is written for Snyder’s aesthetic?
Andy Muschietti: Humor for me is something that always comes from character. It shouldn’t be funny just to make people laugh. The idea was to bring a little more light to certain characters just to make them more human. Being a Flash movie where the central character is Barry Allen, who is neurotic and anxious and quirky, it comes from his childhood trauma.
So I think with humor, it’s obviously a benefit for the entertainment aspect of the movie, but it all comes from, in my case, an honest approach to the characters. I understand the differences you’re talking about, but every filmmaker has their own sensibilities, their own vision, and everything you see in this movie reflects my sensibilities.
Joshua Encinias: The other aesthetic and tone you integrate comes from Tim Burton, Anton Furst, and Danny Elfman’s version of Batman, which is prevalent in the second half of The Flash. Did you work with Tim or Danny to reignite their visions? [Editor’s note: Anton Furst was an English production designer who won an Academy Award for creating Tim Burton’s Gotham City and the Batmobile. He died in 1991.]
Andy Muschietti: I talked to Danny Elfman many years ago because I wanted him to do the score for It. I love Danny. But we didn’t talk specifically for this project. I wish I could have met Tim Burton at some point. He’s a cinematic hero of mine. So yeah, I hope he’s pleased with this if he sees it.
Barbara Muschietti: I think it’s clear in the movie we’re honoring Tim Burton’s work on Batman. We admire it and that was the fun of getting Michael Keaton in our movie.
Andy Muschietti: Of course, it’s not about mimicking his style, because there’s elements of design that obviously are taken from Burton’s original design for the Batcave, his suit and gadgets. For me, it was more difficult to try to replicate the aesthetics, because the tone just throws you places that are hard to blend with the rest of the movie.
Joshua Encinias: Is Bruce’s bandana a nod to your friendship with Peter Bogdanovich?
Andy Muschietti: It’s funny because the first time I met Peter a few years ago, I mentioned the ascot, and he said (doing a Peter Bogdanovich impression): “No, it’s a bandana.” I looked at it, and yeah, it’s a bandana. We loved Peter so much and it was very tough when he departed.
I think Bruce’s bandana is more of a bohemian rag that’s the result of conversations I had with Michael. We tried to define his look after basically 30 years of not having seen this Bruce Wayne. We had a lot of conversations about aesthetics, about how we find Bruce, what happened to him. Everything you see about Bruce, from the long hair, the bandana around his neck and the flip-flops, are a result of those conversations.
Joshua Encinias: How did Michael Keaton like the wearability of the batsuit this time around?
Barbara Muschietti: It was a lot more comfortable than it was 30 years ago. It was definitely looser. He could move his neck. Alexandra Byrne, who was our costume designer, did an amazing job. It took a lot of effort to make it comfortable. I think it was very emotional for Michael to put it back on.
Andy Muschietti: I think he was also excited about the changes that we made to the suit. Considering that in our mythology, this Batman was active for a few more years after Batman Returns. So he would have done alterations to suit, added gadgets. The Batwing looks different. It’s a three seater. And he has more advanced technology, but not too advanced because he quit.
Filming The Flash
Joshua Encinias: Will you talk about working with your cinematographer Henry Braham? He also just did an incredible job lensing James Gunn’s Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3, which I loved.
Andy Muschietti: Henry brought a lot of things to the movie, and he used an incredible system on set. He used a rig that he owns that allows the camera to be very portable, very fast, very liberated. It’s a stabilizer, small RED camera. Henry operates it, so basically 80% of the movie is handheld.
Joshua Encinias: One of the movie’s central ideas is to live your life instead of living in the past. Will you talk about what you hope audiences will take away from it?
Andy Muschietti: I think my wish is that people walk away with the feeling that it’s okay to make peace with the things that you cannot change. The Flash is a bit of a parable of what happens in our minds every time something horrible happens to us.
Our minds try to go back in time. We create the situation with a happy ending. It’s the mechanism that our brain has to stop us from going crazy. It’s a survival mechanism, but it’s not real. You solve it in your mind with a happy ending, but it’s never real. I think, if anything, it’s an encouragement to make peace with the things that you cannot change.
Joshua Encinias: Did you de-age Ezra for their performance as the younger Barry?
Andy Muschietti: What do you think?
Joshua Encinias: Well, younger Barry looks a little smaller to me. That’s the only thing I noticed.
Andy Muschietti: One of the magical things about Ezra’s performance is that it’s all in the performance. We did not do a single de-aging on their face. They’re just acting younger.
Barbara Muschietti: We talked about it in prep, but then when it came to actually do it, we didn’t need it.
Andy Muschietti: Of all the notes and comments I received, nobody mentioned that Ezra needed to look younger.
Barbara Muschietti: Their initial performance seemed a lot younger than the character actually was. They could have been a lot more juvenile in the final movie, but we had to trim it because sometimes Ezra took the performance to an even younger place. So it was quite a balancing act.
Joshua Encinias: I understand you used a volume capture screen — the huge screens with very realistic-looking backgrounds — to help Ezra play scenes where both Barrys are present. How did it work?
Andy Muschietti: Some days Ezra played the older Barry live and other days they played the younger version. It changed every day and it depended on the importance of each character in each scene. Basically, the character that had more screen time, Ezra would play it, and the other character would be played by another actor, Ed Wade — he’s an incredible actor, by the way. Then volume capture was performed months later after the movie was edited. We knew it was not the way it was gonna work. We needed those scenes to be edited to know what performances we were using and condense the work that we were doing with volume capture. So Ezra would play one or the other character, and the way that they switched from one character to the other was instant. It was like so great.
Ed Wade, the Other Ezra Miller
Joshua Encinias: I would love to hear more about Ed Wade’s performance as Ezra’s stand-in.
Andy Muschietti: It was quite the search. We needed someone that physically resembled Ezra because there are many shots where we only replace the head. On the other hand, it was ever changing because Ezra was hitting the gym hard the last two months. So they really became a little more muscular. We had to basically calculate these things and we found this guy Edward Wade, who is a phenomenal actor, dancer, and a rugby player in England.
The other part we needed was chemistry with Ezra. Ezra was very much part of the election, let’s say, of choosing the actor. Another thing was the adaptability and the ability to mimic Ezra’s mannerisms. That was a job that Ed took very seriously and he just excelled at it.
Barbara Muschietti: You get to see him once in the movie because we included him as the journalist who asked Barry the spaghetti question at the end. It was hard when we were done because Ezra and Ed played together for basically 138 days. It was like watching twins separate.
Joshua Encinias: The Flash and another upcoming DCU movie show their lead actors undressed from behind. I’m not totally caught up on every superhero movie, but I don’t remember a lot of nudity in other superhero movies.
Andy Muschietti: I have no problem with nudity. Of course, it’s a PG-13 movie, so it’s not like full frontal or anything. It’s part of the story, there’s no intention to show our hero [undressed], except for that his clothes burned because he doesn’t know how to use his powers. He’s in the middle of the street, butt naked, having created a terrifying mess with fire and people running and all kinds of disasters.
Joshua Encinias: At the end of the movie, you tease a new version of a big aspect of the DC universe. Why not reveal it?
Andy Muschietti: Well, I guess you have to watch the movie when it comes out. There might be a surprise there.
The Flash is in theaters Friday, from Warner Bros. Pictures.
Main image: (L-R) Ezra Miller as Barry Allen/The Flash, Ezra Miller as the other Barry Allen/Flash, and Sasha Calle as Kara Zor-El/Supergirl in Warner Bros. Pictures’ The Flash, a Warner Bros. Pictures release. Courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures/™ & © DC Comics.