Over the course of just a few minutes in 2012's The Amazing Spider-Man, Andrew Garfield, Emma Stone, and Denis Leary sit around a dinner table eating branzino—which, unlike Garfield’s Peter Parker, we can confidently tell you is a kind of fish. The scene really isn’t all that remarkable aside from the word “branzino” being said emphatically and Garfield having a heated argument with a ’90s stand-up comedian about Spider-Man’s intentions.
And yet, in order to make the awkward dinner scene work, around 90 branzino sacrificed their fishy little lives at the altar of superhero cinema.
This is one of the most notable facts mentioned in a Vulture article by Nate Jones about both The Amazing Spider-Man’s fish supper and the apparently mind-rending art of “food styling” in general. While researching a memorable scene in an otherwise not-that-memorable movie, Jones tracked down food stylist Jack White (who, he notes, is “not that one”) to learn more about what it takes to get a close-up of a fish that lasts for about a single second.
White, who’s contributed to “almost 100 projects” over a 25-year career, seems to have one of the most bizarre, frustrating jobs in show business. He describes working with a script for the dinner scene that “originally called for Peter to be unnerved by the fish’s eye staring back up at him,” which isn’t possible since branzino eyes “melt in the oven.” The script also wanted a little boy—the younger brother of Stone’s Gwen Stacy—to humiliatingly de-bone Peter Parker’s fish “as if he were a Michelin-starred chef.” To accomplish both requirements, White had to remove fish eyes before cooking then put them back in place afterward. He also found a way to allow a child actor to look like a fish expert by making “a few tiny imperceptible cuts” with scissors that would allow the bones to be quickly, easily removed.
After all of this, the final scene ditched the fish eye moment and didn’t show the kid actually de-boning Peter Parker’s food for him anyway. Nonetheless, even accomplishing what did make it into the movie—an initial close-up and the actors eating as they talk—required White’s crew to go “through about 90 branzinos in two or three days.” They also used a painstaking process of both icing and cooking these fish to avoid potentially giving the cast food poisoning. The result of all this is a little under three minutes of background eating and an establishing shot. The 90 or so dead branzino must, we imagine, wonder if it was worth giving their lives for this purpose.
Read the rest of the article for more on White’s career and to learn about the trials and tribulations of the humble food stylist. You’ll never look at a throwaway dinner scene the same way again.
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