For its first four series for Disney Plus, Marvel Studios hired a single filmmaker to direct every episode of the season (including Matt Shakman for “WandaVision” and Kate Herron for “Loki”). On “Hawkeye,” however, Marvel split director duties between Rhys Thomas (“Documentary Now!”), who helmed the first, second and sixth episodes of the season, and the team of Bert and Bertie (“Troop Zero”), who helmed Episodes 3 through 5.
The process meant that Bert and Bertie had to step to the head of a train that was already stocked and well on its way — and the duo’s initial episode, “Echoes,” starts with a bang, involving a lengthy car chase sequence in which Kate Bishop (Hailee Steinfeld) and Clint Barton (Jeremy Renner) fend off goons called the Tracksuit Mafia. The sequence opens with an extended, unbroken take — a “oner,” in industry-speak — as Kate and Clint unload a quiver of Clint’s trick arrows, including one that grabs onto a bevy of nearby Christmas trees and another with a Pym Technologies tip that causes a third arrow to grow to the size of a telephone pole.
That’s all on top of the job of introducing the character of Maya Lopez (Alaqua Cox), a new major character in the Marvel Cinematic Universe who is already set for her own spin-off show on Disney Plus. As a Native American who is deaf and an amputee, Maya — and Cox — are forging into rarely explored territory for a major studio project, and in an interview with Variety, Bert and Bertie make clear they took the responsibility of telling that story to heart. The directors also break down how they put together the car chase sequence, as well as the long awaited appearance, in Episode 4 (“Partners, Am I Right?”), of Yelena Belova (Florence Pugh), who was given the mission of taking out Clint in the post-credit sequence for July’s MCU feature film “Black Widow.”
The car chase sequence in Episode 3 is so much fun. Was that something that you know you wanted to do from the start?
Bertie: It was the thing that we read that we were most excited about, opening the script for [Episode] 3 and going, “Wait, there’s an action sequence that’s basically half of this episode.” One of the standout moments people are talking about is that opening shot of the 360-revolving camera. That’s something very early on we decided we wanted to do, because we wanted to stay with Kate and Clint in the car on this journey as the Tracksuit Mafia are chasing them. Then it was just like the journey of how we achieve that and pre-vizing that and the camera team figuring out the rig. From start to end, that was just joyful.
Was there ever a time where you were thinking you’d do the entire sequence in a oner?
Bert: Yes, there was! You go in with these huge ambitions, but we very quickly realized that the essence of the oner is that we stay with our characters. The action is kind of happening around them, but we wanted to stay with them. So the moment Kate gets out the car, if you’re following that rule, then the camera goes out of the car with her. And so that’s what happened. We just had to figure out how to get it out of the car.
There were so many trick arrows in that sequence. Was there a brainstorming session where you tried to come up with all the different kinds of trick arrows that you could think of?
Bertie: Constant brainstorming. That’s what’s amazing about the Marvel process. They’re all about plussing. “How can we plus this?” From “What other arrows can we put in the car chase,” came “What would be the arrow that could be used to stop Kazi in his truck and the Christmas tree lot.” So the situations led to new arrows. The smoke arrow [appeared] earlier on in the chase, and it was too much there. It didn’t really serve a purpose. Then it came back later, when Kate was trying to get Maya’s car to to crash on the bridge.
How early was the Pym arrow introduced into the mix?
Bert: Way, way earlier. That was that was one of the things that was in the script very early on. Then the challenge was figuring out how we were going to do it so it was believable, because the tone of the show is so real that something like that [giant arrow] really stood out for us. We needed to ground it with the emotion of the guys inside of the truck.
Bertie: And here’s something we haven’t spoken about yet. When we first were going to do the Pym arrow, the [giant] arrow was going to go straight at Kazi’s truck and split it down the middle. That sounded great on paper, but we pre-viz’d it, and you couldn’t quite figure out what was happening. Once we decided to do the up-and-down apex [of the arrow], you could see the whole thing. It was just staking this huge arrow on Manhattan Bridge, and it meant that the truck literally broke in half. That was fun to make that change.
You also introduced Echo in Episode 3 and showed the audience her experience as person who is deaf and an amputee. What were the conversations like about how you wanted to approach that character?
Bert: It was a huge learning curve for us; Alaqua brought so much to this. We just went in asking to be taught how to do this because we want to represent her wholly and correctly on screen. So there were a lot of discussions ahead of actually filming, but then every day on set was learning with he, and she was very gracious.
Bertie: Maya’s story, for obvious reasons, mirrors Alaqua’s story in many ways. I think for us, and with Alaqua, it was about looking at these things that people might term as disabilities in Alaqua, and actually using those as her superpowers. So the fact that she’s a non-hearing person means that her sense of observation — a heightened awareness as she walks into a room and observes things — is a superpower. Her prosthetic leg, we see that Clint tries to hockey stick [it] out the way, and then she swings that metal leg at him, and it takes his hearing aid out. Using what could be considered her weaknesses as her strengths was a huge part of that character formation.
You didn’t know when you were shooting this necessarily that Echo was going to get her own spin off.
Bertie: [Scrunches up her mouth]
Or did you? Bertie, I see a look on your face!
Bert: No, you wouldn’t have changed anything had we or hadn’t we. I mean, I cannot possibly comment.
Bertie: “Echo” was announced halfway through our filming. So it was something where it didn’t particularly change the script. But it made sense of why there was such depth to this character, because she was going to have longevity in the world.
Finally, you also directed a major moment in Episode 4, when Florence Pugh’s Yelena finally appears on her mission to take out Clint. What did you want to accomplish in bringing in a character that most of the audience already has a relationship with, but your other characters don’t?
Bertie: So much of “Hawkeye” is seeing the world through the characters’ point of view of it. So if we look at the end of [Episode 4], we are with Kate Bishop as she’s seeing this person, who she has no concept of who she is, actually, and how she’s going to fit into the story. But there’s this connection, and you can see and feel the presence of this new character. It’s actually a balance between what the audience feels about this character and what Kate’s feeling that makes that ending so special.
Bert: When you’re directing actresses like Florence and Hailee, they bring so much to it. There was this immediate natural chemistry between them, which — I can’t say anything else. But you know, when they give you that, it’s this gift, and all you want to do is take care of it and unwrap it slowly.