On Studio Oversight and Studio Interference

As I have been busy working on a piece about Zack Snyder’s Justice League (which hopefully you’ll be able to see over at CLAPPER at some point), I have inadvertently found myself following down the rabbit hole of fan theories, interview snippets, off-handed comments posted on social media by people associated with the production and a whole lot more pointing out just how much of a mess it was at the time. And still remains to this day, to be completely frank.

It’s an open secret that WB has been completely mistreating its DC properties for a number of years now and – with a few notable exceptions – their output in this department has not been well-received at all. And a good chunk of the reason why that might be could be associated with the studio’s ambition to create their own version of what Disney/Marvel have: a self-sustaining cinematic universe which generates continuous high profit and ensures a devoted fanbase. However, they have not been able to make it happen (and they likely won’t be, at this point). I have touched upon this when I appeared recently on ClapperCast, but I think this point is worth reiterating: WB is operating using a combination of force feedback and looking at Marvel’s endgame position (pun not intended), which basically means they willingly and knowingly put themselves in a position of playing catch-up with their competition.

This may also have something to do with the way they have historically allowed filmmakers associated with DC-related properties (Tim Burton, Joel Schumacher, Christopher Nolan) a fair degree of creative freedom and control over these projects, which arguably yielded net positive results. To this day Tim Burton’s Batman movies are loved by many, while Nolan’s The Dark Knight Trilogy has been considered iconic by the vast majority of fans. In fact, It was Nolan’s take on the DC universe that shaped the initial guise of what the DC cinematic universe was supposed to look like. There is a reason why Man of Steel looks the way it looks and that Zack Snyder was considered a perfect fit to formulate the artistic toolbox for any future films within this universe. WB moguls explicitly wanted (a) to capitalize on the clout generated by Nolan’s movies and (b) to differentiate themselves from Marvel, who were already cashing in on their painstaking and financially risky strategy of building up towards the Avengers tentpole in 2012. In contrast to Marvel, who were driven by their own long-term vision, WB was basing their entire strategy around a reactionary postulate of being not like them.

After Man of Steel brought satisfactory financial results and generated a considerable fan appeal, I distinctly remember the studio was vindicated in their strategy of differentiation and went on record as stating that any future DC movies would be dark, gritty and serious. This coincided with them giving Snyder a bit more freedom to do ‘his thing’, which is exactly what happened after Burton’s Batman became a hit and WB allowed him to go nuts with Batman Returns. This partially explains why the follow-up BvS became what it became: more stylized, denser and more messy (though somewhat loveable). Now, I don’t want this to turn into a historical account of how WB has conducted itself, though some of it may feature in that other piece I am working on, but I do want to point out what happened next. Because BvS was poorly received, WB moguls immediately changed tack and imposed drastic changes in their upcoming features currently in production: Justice League and Suicide Squad, a yet another example of reactionary thinking dictated by nothing more than short-term crisis management as opposed to calculated long-term strategic planning.

Da liegt der Hund begraben, as Germans would say. This is where the problem is. Although I have never considered myself a fan of what Marvel is doing with their idea of terraforming the blockbuster landscape, it has to be acknowledged that what they are doing is clearly working and generates immense profits. And it is most likely thanks to their central planning. Kevin Feige doesn’t hire directors and screenwriters to allow them any latitude to ‘do their thing’. He hires them to do a job and execute on the overarching vision which has been pre-planned, pre-written, and pre-visualised. There is very little room for individuality in the marvel blob (you can read more about it in my piece on WandaVision here) which is a philosophy big studios used to adopt prior to the New Hollywood era. They oversaw their project and retained the last word on anything, which is exactly what Marvel is doing now.

On the other hand, what happens in WB looks completely different because the studio would like to generate the same results while still leading their filmmakers to believe they have something to say about the direction of the projects they are hired to helm. However, when their approach doesn’t seem to work, they blatantly interfere. They don’t oversee. They meddle. Naturally, they probably have every right to do so, as I would imagine the contracts they sign with filmmakers are structured in such a way that allows them to step in at any point in time. Unfortunately, they do not have the CCP-esque three-decade plan that Marvel has, so when they do end up stepping in, they behave like a bull in a china shop. And that’s why we are here now with two Justice League films out there, David Ayer openly complaining his movie was taken away from him, Cathy Yan admitting she was locked out of the editing room and Wonder Woman 1984 looking like an ersatz Marvel production with its tacked-on sense of humour.

At this point it’s probably a good idea to ask yourself what you like more: a unified army of clones controlled by the iron fist of an autocratic studio oversight, or a colourful cacophony of styles resulting from a band of misfits being brought together under a collective umbrella of working towards the same goal. I personally prefer the latter even at the cost of the DC universe never materializing into a coherent vision capable of sustaining an overarching narrative stretched over a dozen movies. And I would like for WB to stop meddling with their projects or at least refrain from doing so until they formulate a vision for what they want to achieve. Though, at this point – judging how Zack Snyder’s Justice League performs vis-à-vis the theatrical cut, the fans would rather have the filmmakers at the helm instead.

On Criticism: The Death of a Review and Who Is a Critic These Days Anyway?

I’ll be honest here: I have been gearing up to write on the subject of film criticism for a long while now. Sadly, finding motivation to sit down and write is a challenge for me these days. In fact, I wanted to write an article on this subject (my problems with motivation) as well, but – ironically enough – I can’t motivate myself to write it. But that’s a topic for a different day.

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Thinking about 2021

I’ll be honest: I was half-heartedly thinking about writing a short summary of upcoming 2021 releases I am excited about the most, but it is a bit of a doomed endeavour. Nobody knows what the release slate will look like or when (if?) cinemas reopen worldwide at some point in the year. It’s all a bit of a mess especially when you factor in the differences between release calendars on various streaming services that may not be available everywhere. So I am not exactly sure when and how I will be able to see Dune or any other WB release, let alone smaller indie productions some of which might get lost in the shuffle only to reappear months later on Netflix or Amazon Prime. I still have no idea if and when I will be able to see Kelly Reichardt’s First Cow and it breaks my heart. But alas…

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Parsing the response to Wonder Woman 1984

Following how the critical consensus around Wonder Woman 1984 has evolved over time has been a treat. After months of delays, speculation and an impromptu revolutionary up-ending of the ‘traditional release model’, the world at large saw the Patty Jenkins-directed sequel to the 2017 Wonder Woman on Christmas Day. Which is when things got quite interesting because the initial glowing praise pouring from major critics ahead of the release turned sour essentially overnight.

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Cinemas must be saved!!!

I wasn’t intending on offering my two cents to the debate regarding the recent news about all Warner films slated for release in 2021 being made available to stream on HBO Max concurrently to their theatrical runs. After all, I feel I have already touched – if only in passing – upon this subject on at least three occasions (you will find them here [1], [2], [3]). However, seeing how the discourse surrounding this news is evolving needs some commentary.

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Wonder Woman, Christopher Nolan, and the Death of Hollywood

Following months of delays and all-encompassing uncertainty, Warner Bros have announced recently that their newest addition to the beleaguered DC Cinematic Universe, Wonder Woman 1984, would finally see the light of day this Christmas. Interestingly however, in contravention to widely acknowledged norm, it will be simultaneously released in US cinemas (where it is safe to do so) as well as on HBO Max, where it will be available to stream from the comfort of your home. This immediately invites a question: what does this mean for the future of theatrical experience?

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David Fincher and the Bifurcation of the Film Industry

History loves repeating itself. A little over a year ago, Martin Scorsese gave the now infamous interview (here) where he had the audacity to express a view that comic book movies are not real cinema, but theme park attractions. This naturally led to immediate backlash on social media where hordes of rabid Marvel zealots frothed at their mouths for months on end and threatened to publicly burn copies of Taxi Driver. Or something equally dramatic.

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