That thud you just heard was official confirmation of the other shoe dropping after the extremely mixed success of Batman v Superman. The last few weeks rumors have been flying about a shake-up at Warner Bros. Pictures and The Hollywood Reporter’s Borys Kit has all the juicy details.
The big news is that Geoff Johns, DC Entertainment’s Chief Creative Officer has been tapped to co-run DC Films, one of three “divisions” within WB Pictures. Johns will oversee the unit along with Jon Berg, a current executive VP at the studio. Although Johns will continue to report to DCE head Diane Nelson, he’ll add keeping an eye on the ever expanding DC cinematic universe to his other duties. Berg, who is already involved with Batman v Superman, Suicide Squad, Wonder Woman and Justice League will report to WB Pictures president Greg Silverman. Both will be producers on the upcoming Justice League films. As heads of DC Films the duo will not so much be involved with hirings and casting, but how the movies fit into the overall tone of the DC Extended Universe.
Johns has been heavily involved with the very successful WB/DC TV arm – Arrow, Flash, Gotham, Legends of Tomorrow, etc — and is also, I’m told, very VERY hands on with DC Rebirth event back at the comics division. No time for sleep here.
It’s all part of an overall reorganization at WB:
This move is part of a broader refinement of executive roles at Warners, which has suffered a disappointing run of movies and has vexed producers and filmmakers, some of whom complain about a murky greenlight process.
Instead of a broad range of movies to oversee, executives will be charged with managing “genre streams” while reporting to Warner Bros. Pictures president Greg Silverman. In many cases, these streams formalize interests and specialties for specific executives. Courtenay Valenti, for example, will now oversee all Lego Movie projects as well as the Harry Potter line that begins with November’s Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. Senior production execs Jesse Ehrman and Niija Kuykendall will focus more on comedy/family and sci-fi/action, respectively, according to sources.
Further executive changes are anticipated, including a potential hire at the senior level.
Berg is reportedly tight with Ben Affleck, who has emerged as a popular alternative to Zack Snyder as the creative voice for the DCEU. Affleck was recently named co-executive producer on the Justice League movie and he will co-write and direct his own Batman film. Who is he co-writing it with? Oh, Geoff Johns.
It’s been hard to keep up with all the news leaking out of WB and the DC movies since BvS opened. We all knew it was key to the future of the franchise (and the studio) but despite making $870 million worldwide, the $300 million price tag and poisonous buzz arising from the movie washed away all the positives. Idle chitter chatter from Hollywood observers saw a struggle emerging between Affleck and Snyder. Snyder shoots a lovely movie but Affleck has a bunch of Oscars, including one for Best Picture, so the struggle may not have been all that even. And as the sad Affleck meme (above) shows, the star must have sensed a potentially gloomy future. The DC movies — including the eagerly awaited Suicide Squad and just announced solo Harley Quinn movie — are just too important to the studio to let them founder.
And of course, everyone has to measure themselves against Marvel’s Kevin Feige, although that really isn’t fair. Feige is a there-can-be-only-one visionary who manages to make multiple movies that cost hundred of millions of dollars as enjoyable and addictive as some show you’re streaming on Netflix. To try and replicate that would be madness.
And the WB won’t even try, wisely. WB had reportedly taken a more “Filmmaker driven” approach to the DCU, which works when it’s Christopher Nolan, but…not as well when it’s Zack Snyder. And first-time director Seth Grahame-Smith got bounced from the Flash movie when execs got cold feet over letting a newbie make such a key film. All the TV shows have an interlocking continuity that mirrors the success of the filmic Marvel and X-men worlds, but that hasn’t really been the case with the movies…yet. Johns would certainly seem to be the right person to bring some sense of continuity to the films.
There also the possibility, raised by several twitter observers, that this is more a cosmetic change than anything, as Berg and Johns were ALREADY overseeing how the DCEU fits together. True that may be, but after fans reacted to BvS as if they’d just been served a big bowl of liver/cauliflower/okra puree, some kind of change was probably necessary.
One more salient tidbit from the THR piece regarding the now-crucial Suicide Squad movie:
And the studio is working to smooth out the third act of Suicide Squad, its big August movie from director David Ayer that could change the perception of its DC line. The pic’s trailers have generated massive positive interest in the all-star actioner that features DC villains, and the studio wants to make sure audiences’ expectations are not only met but exceeded.
Suicide Squad recently went under major additional photography (multiple sources say it was not to add humor) to clear up the issues. Sources say that it was Suicide Squad that escalated Johns’ involvement in DC movies (he was already co-writing the next Batman standalone with Affleck) and that he is involved in the film’s post-production.
Interestingly, both Johns and Feige got their start working with Richard Donner, director of the 1978 Superman movie. Johns was an assistant to Donner and Feige was an assistant to producer Lauren Shuler Donner. While there, the two young superhero fans hung out, as Johns once recalled in an interview:
I met Kevin about a month after I moved to Los Angeles. We used to talk about superheroes non-stop. I always wanted to see Green Lantern and a new Superman. He was always talking about Star Trek and Star Wars. But more importantly, Kevin’s just a very smart and very creative guy. Like Dick and Lauren, one of the best.
Who could have imagined that all these years later they’d be matched up at the helms of two of the biggest comic book movie franchises ever?
Heidi MacDonald is the founder and editor in chief of The Beat. In the past, she worked for Disney, DC Comics, Fox and Publishers Weekly. She can be heard regularly on the More To Come Podcast. She likes coffee, cats and noble struggle.