Marvel is back on top at the box office after its latest film, Ant-Man and the Wasp, pulled in about $76 million in its opening weekend. And it’s thanks, in part, to one Germantown Academy graduate.
Andrew Barrer, Class of ’02, cowrote alongside usual partner Gabriel Ferrari, as well as Chris McKenna, Erik Sommers, and star Paul Rudd. Marvel fanatics may recognize Barrer’s name from 2015’s Ant-Man, on which he and Ferrari did the final round of rewrites.
>> READ MORE: ‘Ant-Man’ and the Wasp review
This time around, Barrer and Ferrari worked on the film’s script from the beginning of the project, and managed to snag a first for the Marvel Cinematic Universe in the process. As it turns out, Ant-Man and the Wasp is the first Marvel film to have a female character’s name in the title, making it as much about actress Evangeline Lilly’s character as Rudd’s.
An Ambler native, Barrer got started in entertainment after a screenplay he cowrote with Ferrari, Die in a Gunfight, made it into Hollywood’s Black List — a list of the best unproduced screenplays — in 2010. The film has yet to be made, but has since led to other work for Barrer, including the 2011 short The Crisis of Being Dr. Adam Porter and the 2014 horror flick Haunt.
We caught up with Barrer last week on the release day of Ant-Man and the Wasp, and talked his time at Germantown Academy, working for Marvel, and whether we’re likely to see any fellow GA grads pop up in his future work.
What was the writing process of the film like?
It’s not “Sit down, brainstorm, and write,” the way you generally think of it. It’s a committee approach in the sense that you’re building a concept with your fellow writers. You have all these pieces, and you sit down at a roundtable and just discuss. Throughout the process, you’re cooking this big story. That took months because once you get past the conversation stage, then you start outlining. These aren’t your regular three- to five-page outlines, these are 50-page outlines that cover every detail. The goal there is to take a step back, look at what you’ve got, and for everyone to say, “This is our movie.” Then, you go off and you write.
Ant-Man and the Wasp is the first Marvel Cinematic Universe film to have a female character’s name in the title. Was that on your mind in the writers room?
That was huge for us. At the end of the first movie, when Ant-Man reveals the Wasp suit, [actress] Evangeline [Lilly] says “It’s about damn time.” She’s not just speaking for her character, she’s speaking for 50 percent of the population. So we really challenged ourselves to make sure she was not just this flimsy “the female hero” backing up a dude, or a sidekick. She is a fully realized, badass character. The fact that she is a woman is incidental to her heroism — it’s not the first and last word on her. She emerged as a character that will end up being a fan favorite.
Even with that element, you were under a time crunch because there was already a release date attached to the movie before you signed on.
These things are mapped out far in advance. We’re in this tent-pole arms race where you have Marvel and DC, and you have movies like Star Wars and Jurassic Park, and all these studios are aware of each other. They plant their flag in a weekend, and it’s like, “OK, that’s Ant-Man weekend.” The other tent poles go and find their weekend because it doesn’t make sense for the business for these big studio movies to land on top of each other. The strategy of knowing your weekend far in advance is a logistical concern from top to bottom.
Ant-Man isn’t the only project you have going. What can you say about the Stephen King-based TV series you’re working on now?
It’s based on a short story called N., which is a story about a guy who goes into the woods and sees something that makes him go mad. The story unfolds in the relationship between him and his psychologist, who at first doesn’t want to believe him. We took that general concept, and turned it into a story about a small town that has been haunted by this thing.
King is typically unhappy with adaptations of his writing. Is that something that weighed on you?
Absolutely. The whole reason we wanted to do it is because I’ve been an enormous fan of King’s for a while, but also I have felt that he is an underappreciated writer. I don’t think he has gotten the critical respect he deserves because his work is pop fiction. Underneath the first layer of every story, there’s a ton of interesting depth and interwoven story lines, and metaphysical elements going on. I really wanted to write something that made audiences feel about King’s work the way I have always felt about it.
You also have a few film screenplays in the works, as well.
We are working on a thriller with [renowned screenwriter] Scott Frank, who is one of the best in the business. He was nominated for an Oscar for Logan last year, and he did that [Netflix] show Godless. We’re writing a thriller for him and Fox, and working with him has been amazing. You always want to look for those opportunities to learn from the best.
Who were some influential teachers in high school for you?
Mr. Rittenhouse was my biology teacher, and he is a close family friend. Robynne Graffam and Peter Drewniany stand out to me because of these moments where you’re sitting in class and you actually start to, at a pretty young age, get an inkling of what you want to do with your life. It was their classes where that started to come together for me.
Were you a good student in school?
I ended up being a good student — I didn’t start that way. I was kind of a hopeless rebel in middle school, and there was a moment where the faculty told me, “You can do this, but you better start trying harder. I don’t know how long you’re going to make it at GA.” In seventh grade, it was a gut-check moment — “What do I want to do here?” I started studying and aced all my exams, and next thing I knew, I developed a taste for it.
When did you know you wanted to become a writer? Was writing screenplays part of that vision?
Writing is the only thing I ever wanted to do. When I was a kid, before I knew how to write, I would make my mom write down stories as I told them. As I got older, it remained the only thing I was ever 100 percent certain of. As far as movies, it’s funny because I didn’t necessarily know I was going to be a screenwriter, even though I wanted to be a writer and was obsessed with movies. It wasn’t until after college where I said, ‘I’m going to sit down and really master writing this format and see where it takes me.’
GA has produced a few notable Hollywood people. Any chance you might work with, say, Bradley Cooper, a 1993 alumnus?
It’s always possible. I’d absolutely love to work with him. I do know that he is very patriotic about GA, so if I ever get the chance, that will be the icebreaker.