Q&A with Kevin Feige

“My USC journey has been nothing but optimism and potential. And I want to be able to impart that to everybody.”

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Kevin Feige, USC alum and the mastermind behind the Marvel Cinematic Universe, will deliver the keynote address at USC’s 140th commencement ceremony. Feige, who graduated from USC School of Cinematic Arts in 1995 is the President of Marvel Studios that has produced some of the highest grossing movies, with “Avengers: Infinity War” and “Avengers: Endgame” collecting over $2 billion each.

With graduation right around the corner, Feige talked about his relationship with USC, SCA and his hopes with the university for the future.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

USC Media Relations: Do you want to talk a little bit about what it was like for you to go to USC? And did you have any experiences that you want to highlight or moments?

Feige: USC for me was like Star Wars, Back to the Future and Robert Zemeckis. And it was this dream to attain. I was a big nerd. And one of my strongest memories of this might have been the very first convention I ever went to, somebody was wearing a USC hat, which is a long winded way of talking about how enthusiastic I was about the school itself and the legend it was when it came to people’s careers in filmmaking.

I grew up in New Jersey, so we came all across the country and we went to the grocery store and got a few supplies. And then they dropped me off and drove away. And now I was on the other side of the country by myself.

I had not yet been accepted to the film school and I used to longingly walk past the film school on my way around the campus and the George Lucas building at the time, hoping to one day get in. And eventually, after many attempts, I finally did get into the film school and that was the next step in sort of dreams coming true.

Daily Trojan: If you could tell us more about the connections you’ve made with students over the years.

Feige: USC alumni group was made up of people that I admired and were the reasons I wanted to go to USC. Many of whom I now serve with on the USC School Cinematic Arts Board. And I still can’t quite get over being either in the room or on zooms with these icons, who were the reason I wanted to go to USC in the first place.

It’s that shared experience of going to this place because you have a dream of going into a career in film. And there’s no better place than ‘SC to set you up for that, both when you’re going there and after you’ve left.

Annenberg Media: If you could talk about what it means to you to be speaking as the keynote speaker at the commencement at USC.

Feige: It is an honor. I mean, I want to be self-deprecating and funny about it and say there must have been some mistake or somebody else wasn’t available at the last minute. But they actually asked me a long time ago, so maybe it wasn’t last minute. It is amazing. And it does make me think of my early days walking around that campus and right there between Boulevard and the library.

I did have dreams of making movies. And I never had dreams or expectations of, you know, wearing an honorary doctorate outfit and speaking to however many people are going to be there. That is above and beyond anything I dreamed of when I first stepped through those gates. And now I just don’t want to embarrass anybody or myself. I just want to be honest and straightforward. And my USC journey has been nothing but optimism and potential. And I want to be able to impart that to everybody.

AM: During your speech, what is something that you want to particularly highlight or emphasize to the students?

Feige: Dream big, which is generic but true. And the notion that if I could do it, anybody listening to that speech could do. I did not have a lot of contacts in the business. I didn’t have a parent that ran a film studio. If you do, you can also do good work.

But I didn’t have any of that stuff. I was a kid from New Jersey who luckily got into the school and PA’ed on student films and then worked on my own student films with my friends and then was an intern, a receptionist, a production assistant, an associate producer and really climbed the ladder and I’m proud of every rung. I enjoyed every step along that climb up the ladder, because at every part of it I was participating in the industry I had always dreamed of being a part of.

DT: What are your memories from your commencement ceremony and what was your experience like? And then any kind of impact on the way that you’ll be approaching the keynote speech?

Feige: This will be my first attendance at the giant graduation ceremony at USC. I did not attend the giant ceremony on the campus there. My parents, now, nearly 30 years after over 30 years since I graduated, are very excited to attend the commencement address with me so they can actually see me in a graduate outfit at USC for the first time.

AM: If you were to look back and choose one thing from USC that you feel has had maybe a profound impact on the work you do now. What would that be?

Feige: I was a production major undergrad at the film school. But I took a lot of critical studies courses. We watched a lot of movies and analyzed them and studied them and discussed them and the various ways to use the medium to tell stories or to evoke an emotion out of an audience. Those ended up being much more helpful as my career progressed.

One of the reasons I try to make a point of bringing as many of our films as I can back on the week of opening and do a Q&A with students is that it really was insightful for me even before I had been accepted to the film school.

Media Relations: Your story lines at Marvel are full of heroes. Is there a hero in your past or that even still exists that really drove you into filmmaking? And focusing on these hero stories.

Feige: I wasn’t particularly a good student early on in my school career. I decided I wanted to go to USC and a very smart teacher said, “Well, you know how you get into USC?”

I said, “Yeah, I don’t know… you apply, you send a letter, something.” They go, “Yes, and they look at your grades.”

And then I buckled down and started getting good grades solely so I could get into USC. But she was one of the first teachers that I found quite inspiring who took an interest in my interest in being behind the camera. And she was very good at inspiring me and saying that that’s something that one could actually do so she was a hero to me.

AM: What are your hopes from USC and SCA for the future?

Feige: Every time I come back to the USC film school campus, I can’t believe how beautiful it is and nicer than many actual movie lots. I hope we continue to grow like that and continue to bring as many different types of kids from around the world as possible because we need the storytelling and we need those storytellers from everywhere. And I think USC is the best place that they can come and train and learn how to tell stories.

I talked with Dean Daley about this a lot. Yes, it’s about everybody imparting information to them. What I’m particularly interested in is them getting that information and reinterpreting it and teaching us things. Lots of new technologies that we want new eyes and new minds to teach us how to utilize. And to me, the more people that go through those gates at ‘SC and at the cinematic arts school in particular, the better. So they can come into our business and keep it as cutting edge as it is today.