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How the 'Avengers Infinity War' writers juggled all those superhero storylines

Stephen McFeely (L) and Christopher Markus attend the premiere of Disney and Marvel's 'Avengers: Infinity War' on April 23, 2018 in Los Angeles, California.
Stephen McFeely (L) and Christopher Markus attend the premiere of Disney and Marvel's 'Avengers: Infinity War' on April 23, 2018 in Los Angeles, California.
Emma McIntyre/Getty Images

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The superhero-stuffed 'Avengers: Infinity War' broke all sorts of box-office records in its opening weekend.

The sequel grossed $258 million in domestic theaters, and another $380 million in theaters overseas. 

It's easy to give Iron Man, Black Panther, Spider Man, Captain America, and Doctor Strange the credit for the record turnout — all of them along with many more Marvel characters are in "Infinity War." But someone had to come up with a story to give them a reason to be in the same film in the first place. 

That's where screenwriters Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely come in. Markus and McFeely have been writing partners for years. They collaborated on the first three "Narnia" movies and seven years ago wrote "Captain America: The First Avenger." 

Their next "Avengers" film, which comes out next summer, is a continuation of the current "Infinity War." 

Our host John Horn spoke with Markus and McFeely about their writing processes and how they crafted what is now the most popular movie in theaters worldwide. 

Interview Highlights:

On how fiction writing helped strengthen their screenwriting careers:

McFeely: We met at UC Davis. We were both going to grad school in fiction writing. And we both looked at each other and went what are you going to do when you get out of here? 

Markus: We turned ourselves into screenwriting students. We actually got the school to give us independent study credit to write our first screen play. It was terrible. Being in a writing program like that makes you very open to criticism. It's all workshopped. You begin to see the wisdom of other people's opinions and going you know they're right. That's the only way our writing has ever gotten any better. Is showing it to people and going does this suck? And then having them go, yeah it sucks.

On having to do 'crowbar' work when adapting books into films:

Markus: It means you're going in with a blunter instrument than you'd like. Against this beloved thing that's magical and is not obeying the demands of commerce. And it doesn't have a battle at the end and frankly isn't a commercial object. And yet there's a giant movie company behind you going we'd like it to be a commercial object. And so you get in there with your crowbar and you go I'm sorry, I'm sorry.

McFeely: Marvel's a little different in that the comic book readers are used to a lot of, we call them 'retcons' or different universes, different versions of the character. We tend to take all of the ingredients that interest us from those runs and then make a different soup out of it. 

On how they ensure their writing is consistent with the precedent actors and directors have already set in individual superhero movies: 

McFeely: We're not precious about this stuff. We collaborate. That's part of the reason why I think we've had a career. We are very confident and we know what we want to do. But we also know that there are people who have been invested in these things and worked with these characters in a way that we haven't. So that when James Gunn says I'm not sure that character would make that decision, or here are three songs that I didn't use before that you might like, we listened to them. Taika Waititi was re-toning how Thor worked. We really needed to know how that character was going to come out of that. 

Markus: And it worked. It worked like 'Gangbusters' to the point where this movie and the coming 'Avengers' movie really redefined what part of the story you could hand to Thor. It used to be very stolid, not particularly emotional, and you'd had him the heavy lifting of smashing things. He's utterly different now. 

On how they write an action sequence:

Markus: We're very specific, although it doesn't always result in that action being what you see on screen. We will take the battle through it's emotional beats and make sure that it feels like you're watching a sequence, a story, even though it might not have any dialogue and it's full of things being smashed. It's still evolving. It still has an arc. And if it doesn't, that's when the audience gets bored.

McFeely: Action can define character and we believe that. Even after we hand it off to other departments, it's important that those moments that define the character stay in tact, even if they change physically.

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