In the wake of Justice League, a film that’s caused great strife within the DC fandom while also serving as a regrettable cautionary tale for movie studios all over Tinseltown, there’s been a lot of discussion about how the leadership at DC Entertainment has evolved in reaction to it. Since early 2016, there have essentially been two changing of the guards with regard to who’s calling the shots for the WB’s DC Entertainment division, but the exact makeup of the second one has been unclear. Following a conversation with someone close to the situation, I’ve obtained some clarity on the situation over there and I think it bodes well for the fandom and the brand.
First, a brief overview of the changes that have taken place since early 2016 when Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice shined a spotlight on behind-the-scenes issues at Warner Bros.
The folks calling the shots at the time were a large group of producers, executive producers, and Kevin Tsujihara. While Tsujihara handled the logistics and technical aspects of the DCU- including green lights, production timelines, etc.- the collective of producers he worked with, which included Zack Snyder, Deborah Snyder, Charles Roven, Diane Nelson, Jon Berg, and Geoff Johns, handled the creative end of things. Mr. Snyder acted as the de facto creative architect for the franchise at the time.
But that seemingly changed when the studio was dissatisfied with Snyder’s three-hour cut of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. While they were apparently quite high on Ben Affleck’s turn as Batman, they were reportedly stunned by the way test audiences reacted to the film and realized that it would not be the “Universe Launcher” they’d been hoping for. So Tsujihara and the studio decided to chop 30 minutes off of its runtime, and some thought went into rethinking the script for Justice League– which was set to start filming mere weeks after BvS would arrive in theaters.
After BvS came out and did what it did, the pressure to tweak Justice League only increased. In the weeks and months following the arrival of BvS, the power structure shifted immeasurably. Jon Berg and Geoff Johns were suddenly elevated, while the Snyders and Roven were pushed out of the creative process. So the first changing of the guard left the leadership looking like this:
Diane Nelson, Jon Berg, and Geoff Johns- with Berg and Johns as the creative heads.
Under that regime, Justice League got completely rethought during its production. Since Tsujihara had opted to rush Justice League into production instead of delaying it, Berg and Johns were given the thankless task of majorly tweaking the film on-the-fly since the studio had lost all faith in director Zack Snyder’s vision. That involved two major script overhauls, the hiring of Joss Whedon, and the ushering out of Snyder.
The success of Wonder Woman in June of 2017, a film Johns had helped creatively oversee, gave the studio hope that he could help steer JL in the right direction.
When Justice League came out in November of 2017, it was clear that- despite their best efforts- they weren’t able to make a film that drove the masses wild with delight. In fact, audiences simply didn’t show up. It opened to a series low $94 million, despite the fact that the audiences who actually showed up liked it more than they liked Batman v Superman, awarding it a B+ CinemaScore (compared to the B they gave BvS); And despite critics also being more approving of it.
Having Justice League stumble out of the gate like this led to all kinds of changes up top. In the weeks and months to follow, Jon Berg was moved to another division of Warner Bros., Geoff Johns started being referred to as more of a consultant, Diane Nelson went on an “extended leave of absence,” and Walter Hamada was brought in as the new head of DC Entertainment.
This all came as the power of Warner Bros. proper also got rethought, with Toby Emmerich taking over as Chairman of the studio. Emmerich got this promotion after his stellar work guiding the New Line division to great success, which is why his installation of Hamada- who was a great producer for New Line- made a ton of sense.
Since January, there have been all kinds of questions about how the leadership will be structured at this newly rethought DC Entertainment. Will it be a large collective of people calling the shots again? Will it be two co-heads again? Is there going to be one single leader, an approach that’s worked great for Marvel Studios?
I was able to get some answers about this over the weekend, and it seems like the studio is intent on not repeating old mistakes so they are- indeed- going with the single leader concept for DC.
I was told that DC is now “Hamada’s ship.” But he’s a captain with a first mate, and that would be Geoff Johns, who I’m told has “creative input, but is not steering.”
This all implies that Hamada is the singular leader of DC Entertainment; That his is the desk where the buck stops. In much the way Kevin Feige is the understood Boss of Marvel Studios, Hamada is the Boss of DC Entertainment. Having Johns by his side makes sense, though, since he’s a comic book writer with deep knowledge of the DC mythology who can help creatively shape things when needed.
While Johns may have been a little in over his head when he was asked to make tough filmmaking decisions during Justice League– an area where his experience is limited at best- being a guy who can explain why certain DC characters and arcs should be presented a certain way makes much more sense.
Hamada, on the other hand, has plenty of experience growing and building brands. In the last five years, he’s been involved with the four movies in the Conjuring series, which have made $1.2 Billion on a combined production budget of $82 Million. Truly staggering. And he also worked on Stephen King’s It for New Line- which was a sensation last September when the $35 Million R-rated horror film made $700 Million- a figure that’s actually $42 higher than Justice League‘s lifetime haul.
While a background in horror may not seem like the best training to run a comic book movie franchise, if you distill what it takes to create a successful scary movie, you see there’s an important skill set there. Horror movies are all about selling a concept and an immersive world audiences will want to lose themselves in, regardless of whether or not there are big stars or bells and whistles involved. It’s about finding simple but effective stories and interesting looking characters, and giving audiences the impression that “this movie will be one heck of a ride.”
It’s a very streamlined way of looking at the filmmaking process, and one that could benefit WB/DC, as there’s been a sense that some of the early DCU output has been overly expensive, bloated, and lacking in mass appeal- with Wonder Woman being the only example of a film that was widely loved and embraced by the masses.
And, from a business perspective, a studio will always prioritize anyone with a history of producing films with low budgets that yield high profits. That’s exactly what someone like Hamada represents during this time where the brand is desperate to rebuild and move on from the mistakes of the past.
What do you think of this power structure? Sound off in the comments below!
Thanks for reading,