Louis D’Esposito escorts guests through the offices of Marvel Studios like a proud father.
Meet the directors of “Captain America: The Winter Soldier”! Check out this test footage for “Ant-Man”!
Now Marvel’s co-president can say, “Look at my movie!”
After about 25 years as an assistant director and producer on mainstream movies including “Ishtar,” “Basic Instinct” and “S.W.A.T.,” and six years overseeing Marvel superhero adaptations such as “Thor” and “The Avengers,” D’Esposito has fulfilled an ambition to make his own film.
His 10-minute short “Item 47” ships next week with the “Avengers” Blu-ray disc. It tells the story of a young couple who live in the same world as Thor and Iron Man — the perfect material for a man who brings home comic books to research superheroes but seems to be friends with every person he passes.
“Lou is involved in every decision we make and his demeanor puts us at ease when we’re on edge from the trials of making these movies,” said Marvel Studios President Kevin Feige. “He’s also a really creative guy, which is why he directed this short for us.”
D’Esposito is Feige’s No. 2, despite the “co-” in his title, and the pair travel together to movie sets around the world and make key decisions together.
But their Marvel offices speak to their differences. Feige’s corner office is full of action figures, boxed toys and movie props.
D’Esposito’s office wall is covered by an enormous calendar — a symbol of his expertise in planning and budgets — showing the shooting schedules for every upcoming Marvel production from next year’s “Iron Man 3” through 2015’s second “Avengers.”
A bust of Iron Man covered with a pink ski mask behind his desk shows his creative side. The mask is an “Item 47” prop worn by actress Lizzy Caplan, who wears it while kissing her screen partner (played by Jesse Bradford) before the pair use a purloined alien “Avengers” weapon for a spree of bank robberies. Soon they’re hunted by an agent from super-spy agency S.H.I.E.L.D.
“I love being at Marvel because my opinion is valued, but with ‘Item 47′ I realized how much I love directing,” said D’Esposito, a stocky 51-year-old with a smile that rarely leaves his face.
Though Marvel has included short films on two previous Blu-rays, “Item 47” is the most ambitious, featuring multiple locations, special effects and new characters who could continue in the company’s fictional universe. It was shot over four days with a $325,000 budget and help from D’Esposito’s former colleagues.
“Lou pulled in every favor he could — and he has a lot,” said Feige.
D’Esposito’s career began in the early 1980s when a friend who directed commercials offered him a job as a production assistant. Though he had never taken a film class or been on a set before, the Bronx native fit in perfectly.
“People said, ‘You have a great personality, you’re well-suited for this,’” D’Esposito recalled. “I said, ‘That’s what you need, a great personality? Sign me up!’”
He learned how to operate a camera, rising to the position of second and then first assistant director on big-budget pictures. He developed a reputation as a master organizer and a man who could be trusted to run the “splinter units” that shoot additional scenes.
“Lou believes in every movie he works on,” said director Jon Favreau, who worked with D’Esposito on “Zathura” and “Iron Man.”
“He’s one of the few people I trust to go out and accomplish any work that needs to be done.”
In the mid-’90s, however, D’Esposito was frustrated he hadn’t helmed his own film. “I said to myself, ‘There’s something I’m not getting, a mystery I need to unlock,’” he recalled.
To find the answer, he took several years off to hone his creative skills, studying screenwriting with story guru Robert McKee and acting and directing at the Beverly Hills Playhouse.
The break was important because he was finally not in a supporting role. Directing a scene for instructor (and “Arrested Development” star) Jeffrey Tambor was a key moment. “For the first time, I was completely naked. It was just me,” D’Esposito said.
When the “Avengers” Blu-ray goes on sale Tuesday, he’ll be more exposed than ever. Given the $1.5 billion the movie raked in at the worldwide box office, sales expectations are sky-high for the disc. Outside of Marvel’s offices, “Item 47” has been seen by only a few hundred fans at Comic-Con International in San Diego and earlier this month at the LA Shorts Fest.
D’Esposito is already excited enough, though, that he’s planning to make another short for an upcoming Marvel picture.
He also could make a mark on the small screen. After D’Esposito showed “Item 47” to several senior executives at Marvel parent Walt Disney Co., including Chief Executive Bob Iger, the short was passed to the media giant’s television group. It served as a key inspiration for a series in development at ABC about S.H.I.E.L.D. agents.
Should the series get picked up, D’Esposito hopes to direct an episode.
“I’m proud that the same things that inspired my film inspired them,” he said, “which is that you can have interesting stories and characters in the Marvel universe without our superheroes.”
— Ben Fritz
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