Stan Lee in The Incredible Hulk

Marvel Studios

Journalism isn’t what it used to be. That’s what any old hat will tell you. In this 24/7 world of interconnected data tubes and hashtags, it’s easy for a small rumor to become a big story in a matter of hours, sometimes minutes. Me personally, I still wait for things to show up in my local newspaper.

I’m kidding, what’s a newspaper? Earlier this week, a perfect example presented itself in the form of a story about the year’s highest grossing film, Guardians of the Galaxy. According to reports, a planned cameo for Stan Lee was axed by the overlords at Disney due to its somewhat racy nature.

As many of our friends around the web reported, the plan that director James Gunn had for Stan’s appearance was as follows: In the scene where the Guardians meet The Collector (played by Benicio Del Toro), there was to be a little bit more panning around to the glass cases in his collection. In one shot, Groot was to look to the side and see Stan Lee sitting still in a case. Stan would then proceed to flip him the bird.

Collider reported the information from an appearance by director James Gunn and his brother Sean at Dragon*Con in Atlanta, adding, “James then went into a story regarding working with Disney and how he couldn’t believe he was able to get the line referencing Jackson Pollock into the film.  This also led into a story about discussions Gunn had with Marvel, going more in-depth into which decisions he won and which he lost.  One of the losing battles regarded Stan Lee’s original cameo in the film.  Originally, Gunn had planned to have Lee in one of the Collector’s exhibits.  Groot would then look at the exhibit aghast, to which Lee would flick off the large tree creature.”

From that, (one corner of) the Internet was set (mildly) ablaze, with sites jumping to the assumption that Disney had forced Gunn to cut out Groot’s bird-watching. And as the scene sounds like it would’ve been funnier than seeing Stan drink some soda or canoodle with a young alien gal, some people got upset. It’s what happens online these days when everyone isn’t staggering around looking for leaked nudes of kittens (or whatever else happened this week).

Cut to our hero, Mr. Gunn. He took to Instagram on Wednesday to set the record straight and share a new photo from the set:

“At a panel on Sunday at Dragoncon, I talked about a deleted @realstanlee cameo in Guardians, and promised the folks there I’d post a photo on Instagram – so here it is! As you can see, this is not Stan, but a double. In the original cut of the film, when the Guardians enter the Collector’s museum, Rocket looks over and sees Cosmo the dog in one display case, Quill looks over into another display case and is surprised by a tentacle slapping against the glass, and Groot looks over and sees, in another display case, Stan Lee. In one take, Stan Lee just slowly turns up his finger, flipping off Groot. We shot this footage with a Stan Lee double because Stan wasn’t able to come to the UK at the time. The plan was to shoot Stan in the same lighting when I was back in LA, and we’d digitally replace the double’s head with Stan’s actual head (not quite as difficult as it sounds). Although I thought the cameo was funny, I thought the flipping off joke was too similar to the moment earlier in the film where Quill flips off the Nova Corps, so I excised that part of it immediately. A couple of the guys at Marvel thought Stan Lee in a case was too broad of a joke in general, and that it took the audience out of the movie. I argued about it for a bit, but we ended up not keeping it in the film. In a pretty typical case of Internet-journalism-telephone, articles online yesterday said that Disney forbade the scene because of standards . However, that’s incorrect – no one at Disney ever even saw the scene, and it was cut solely for creative reasons.”

Credit: James Gunn

Credit: James Gunn

Gunn is one of a few directors that has embraced this world of social media, using it to his advantage when it comes to promoting his films. Throughout the release of Guardians of the Galaxy, Gunn has used Facebook, Twitter and Instagram to share behind the scenes images, fan creations and pictures from the worldwide press tour. With over 37,000 followers on Facebook and 120,000 followers on Twitter, his reach is strong.

That kind of reach can be used for fun — see this retweet of someone who made a Groot chocolate cake:

Mmmm, cake.

It can also be used for damage control, as was the case with Stan Lee’s cameo. It isn’t the first time Gunn has taken to social media in a time when Marvel Studios and/or Disney were under scrutiny. When Edgar Wright left the Ant-Man director’s chair, Gunn wrote at some length about the situation, likening it to being caught between friends in a troubled relationship.

We live in a new era of accessibility and it’s great to see filmmakers who embrace that. Twitter veterans will note that it’s not just Gunn, but the likes of Duncan Jones (currently working on Warcraft), Rian Johnson (who is making some kind of Star Wars film) and can’t-wait-to-see-what-he-does-next Edgar Wright who are making these connections with fans. Giving the Internet a place to go when real answers (and maybe a little bit of damage control) are required. Are there dangers to this amount of mass access to such filmmakers? Yes. They could get bored with us (a la Jason Reitman for a while after Up in the Air). They could become insular with their fan base and lash out at the establishment, for better or worse (see Kevin Smith). They could also get bombarded with negativity, the likes of which no one is truly built to handle, and have to leave social media as Damon Lindelof did.

The Internet is a big, scary place. There will always be examples of how this kind of filmmaker-to-audience engagement can be good or bad. But through all the worst moments in the saga of Celebrities and The Internet, there are shining examples of why it’s still a very good thing. From Ice Bucket Challenges to showing us pictures of Stan Lee’s stand-in about to give a walking tree the bird, there are reasons why we keep following. And buying tickets. And dancing baby Groot bobble heads.

Now where can I get some of this chocolate Groot cake?


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