“Hawkeye” marked Eric Steelberg‘s first venture into the Marvel Cinematic Universe and the cinematographer couldn’t have asked for a better show to make his MCU debut. “I loved that they were doing [a Hawkeye show]. I loved that they were kind of making fun of him in the show for being a forgotten character. ‘A branding issue.’ Such a funny line,” Steelberg tells Gold Derby (watch the exclusive video interview above). “There were lots of fun opportunities on this project that I never really had an opportunity to do — scale and scope and visual effects but even the storytelling was really interesting, focusing a character for ability and sharing their ability is something I don’t think I’ve explored in other kinds of films I’d done. I had just come off of ‘Ghostbusters’ right before I did ‘Hawkeye,’ so a very different kind of project, different kind of VFX, different kind of characters, different kind of palette for sure but equally fun.”
Unlike most MCU films and series, “Hawkeye” is very grounded in reality, as is the hero who bears the name. Clint Barton (Jeremy Renner) is just a regular guy who just so happens to be really good at using a bow and arrow. He has not taken over an entire town and created a family to deal with his grief nor has he unleashed the multiverse. On the six-episode limited series, the man just wants to get home to spend Christmas with his family, but he’s forced to partner with Kate Bishop (Hailee Steinfeld), who idolizes him, to take down the Tracksuit Mafia in New York City. Steelberg and director Rhys Thomas, who worked together on the first, second and sixth episodes, turned to some classic crime films for visual inspiration.
“Rhys is a big fan of the visuals of the mid-to-late ‘70s, movies in New York, as well as early ‘80s and the fun of the early ‘80s and even more current too. We created a shared iPhoto library of images, references from movies through the decades. We watched ‘Thief’ and ‘The Taking of Pelham One Two Three,’ and we even watched ‘John Wick’ for New York at night with the gangsters and how that works,” Steelberg shares. “There’s some references in Episode 2 when they capture Hawkeye in the abandoned toy store. And there are references to ‘Dead Poets Society’ with the campus at night and Kate sneaking around by the bell tower.”
He continues: “Hawkeye is not a superhero in the way the other Avengers are. He doesn’t fly, he doesn’t have an enormous amount of strength or an intellect that he lets him do things that other people can’t. He’s just a really good archer and he’s tough and he’s scrappy, which of course is an ability but it’s not superhero in that way. And it’s fun that Marvel is giving credit to a regular kind of guy can also be considered a superhero and he’s sharing that and mentoring another civilian with a similar ability that happens to be this young girl. And it’s fun and that kind of character asks for a very familiar and grounded visual style.”
Team “Hawkeye” did have to go big for the finale, which features an extended action sequence at Rockefeller Center. After shooting exteriors in New York, they recreated a partial 30 Rock set on their Atlanta soundstages and added visual effects to complete the look. “That was one of the hardest sequences I’ve ever shot,” Steelberg notes. “I would say half of the prep on the entire show was spent, for me, on that whole sequence. It was a monster undertaking between visual effects, pre-viz, second unit and what they’re going to have to do, the different cities. [We had conversations about] everything from how white does the ice have to be, how much tree do we need, how many Christmas lights are in the tree, what are the different kinds of fights happening. We have to explode this thing on one side of the ice rink, how are we gonna do that? Where in the plaza are the fights happening? Because we also had to be able to cut back and forth to these various parallel things happening in a way that you don’t see what’s happening in other places so we don’t have to tie them together even though we know they’re all happening at the same time.”
One major element of the sequence is the destruction of the famous Christmas tree. After Clint gets stuck inside the tree, Kate shoots it down and it crashes onto the ice. The team had to get permission from the city to fake-destroy the plaza. “As you can imagine, Rockefeller Center, especially at Christmastime with the Christmas tree, is a very sacred place in New York. It’s iconic. It’s kind of like a no-go. You’re not allowed to do anything detrimental to the tree or 30 Rock or the ice rink. Apparently we were the first production to be able to do something and to the tree, this very symbolic thing in New York, particularly at Christmastime. We, somehow, were able to get permission and we did it. All that was in Atlanta as the destruction happens,” Steelberg reveals. “It was really challenging, but the plan worked. We’re super happy with how it came out. Honestly, it’s some of the best visual effects I’ve ever seen.”
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