By Jon Herskovitz
AUSTIN, Texas (Reuters) - Actor, director and screenwriter Jon Favreau traded the high-flying super hero antics of his "Iron Man" movies for a quieter new film about a celebrated chef who quits his job at a top-flight restaurant and takes to the road in a food truck.
"Chef," a small-budget, independent comedy with a big-name cast, including Iron Man veterans Robert Downey Jr. and Scarlett Johansson, made its premiere at the South by Southwest film festival in Austin this weekend.
It will open nationwide in the United States on May 9.
For Favreau, "Chef" helped cleanse his palate after directing the first two of the three Iron Man films, which have a combined world box office of more than $1 billion. The movie also comes ahead of what will likely be his next expensive project, an adaption of "The Jungle Book."
"If you are spending in excess of $100 million on something, you better make sure that you make that money back," Favreau told Reuters.
"When you are doing something for a fraction of that, the smaller you make the movie, the smaller the risk, and the more specific the audience can be."
His new movie is more of a personal story about a chef named Carl Casper pushed out of his kitchen due social media gaffes that spiral out of control and conflicts with the restaurant owner, played by Dustin Hoffman.
At the heart of the film is the troubled relationship between Casper and his son, who has been living with his mother after a divorce.
"This movie deals with issues that coincide with the stage in life where I am, specifically fatherhood and the prioritization of family over career," Favreau said.
To keep costs down, the A-list actors were paid the bare minimum and the special effects of his previous films have been traded for close-ups of the knife work used in preparing food for the kitchen.
Gratuitous shots of mouth-watering dishes take the place of massive explosions.
To get the feel of the movie right, Favreau enlisted the help of Roy Choi, who rose to fame by starting up a food truck that served Korean influenced tacos.
"Maybe the food truck does not have as much money as being a big chef, but you never have to compromise your visions," Choi said.
Choi helped Favreau learn the tricks of the trade and said by the end of the film, the star was cooking all the food for the scenes in the movie.
Favreau said putting the script together for this movie brought back memories of "Swingers," the 1996 comedy he wrote about unemployed actors and a swing dance revival that helped propel him and co-star Vince Vaughn to prominence.
"I have a lot of really, really good eight-page scripts and then you forget what you are doing," he said.
On both films, Favreau kept going - plugging away for about two weeks each and coming away with an entire story.
"The big movies have to appeal to everybody, young or old, male or female, every market around the world to get their money back," Favreau said.
"But little ones like this you can make for you and an audience that can connect with it more personally," he said.
(This version of the story was refiled to add dropped word "are" in paragraph five.)
(Reporting by Jon Herskovitz, editing by G Crosse)