How DC Studios Heads Plan to Rebuild a Brand ‘In Chaos’

Written by on February 1, 2023

“No one was minding the mint,” James Gunn said. “They were just giving away IP like they were party favors to any creators who smiled at them.”

“Why did I take this job?” James Gunn opened his remarks to a group of journalists on Monday, when he and Peter Safran unveiled the first chapter of their plans for next 10 years of DC Studios content. It’s a good question considering the gig came with more than a few headaches to deal with the very day they stepped on the Warner Bros. lot.

“The history of DC is pretty messed up,” Gunn said. He rattled off everything from the Arrowverse, the DCEU, two versions of “Justice League,” and several other series — it would be a heroic effort just to keep track of them. Even Gunn’s own “The Suicide Squad” and “Peacemaker” added to the clutter and confusion.

“No one was minding the mint,” he continued. “They were just giving away IP like they were party favors to any creators who smiled at them. What we are going to do is promise that everything from our first project going forward is going to be unified.”

The opportunity in front of Gunn and Safran, if they get it right, is to build DC Studios into a standalone production entity and studio that handles all creative decisions and development, giving a rag-tag bunch of creators and writers the keys to any character and story within the DC Comics library, to tell however they’d like.

“The stakes are enormous. We took a brand that was somewhat in chaos, and it’s an opportunity to build an extraordinary standalone studio with the best IP and stories in the world,” Safran said. “The opportunity to do that functionally from scratch and without limitations — the stakes are enormous.”

So how are they going to get it right where other regimes have tried and failed to find the perfect alchemy that Kevin Feige and Marvel have over the last two decades? Gunn stressed that the plan they have in store isn’t “Marvel 2.0.” In fact, it’s not even the “Gunn-verse,” where James Gunn would super-impose his own James Gunn-brand onto the next 10 years of DC superhero movies. Gunn and Safran explained that while there’s an interconnected story that runs through all the projects, they’re thinking more holistically.

DC Studios heads James Gunn (left) and Peter Safran

Art Streiber/Araya Diaz/Courtesy of Warner Bros.

For one, rather than making superhero movies that just flirt with different genres, Gunn said he wanted to specifically make movies that do belong to different genres, even if they’re all intended to intertwine down the road. Gunn and Safran also have oversight over not just the film, TV, and animated projects, but even the video games that come out. So you won’t see a rushed, branded “Superman” video game piggybacking off the movie, but rather will have a standalone game with its own story that exists between films or series.

He even vowed to not make a movie before the screenplay is finished, which can happen when a release date puts the cart before the horse. Gunn said the “degradation of the writer” has gotten significantly worse in the years since he started in Hollywood, often leaving writers “completely left out of the loop.” Restoring their prominence is a priority for he and Safran.

“People have become beholden to dates, to getting movies made no matter what. I am a writer at my heart, and we are not going to be making movies before the screenplay is finished, and if that means our plan is going to shift a little bit, it’s going to happen,” Gunn said. “We’re not going to be making movies and putting hundreds of millions of dollars into a film where a screenplay is only two-thirds of the way done and we have to finish it while we’re making the movie. I’ve seen it happen again and again, and it’s a mess. And I think it’s the primary reason in the deterioration of quality of films today versus 20-30 years ago.”

Gunn is taking some cues from Feige. Both he and Safran recognized their “diamond” characters, including Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman, among others; but like how Marvel started with Iron Man rather than flagship characters they didn’t own, like X-Men or Spider-Man, DC too is introducing smaller characters they hope can one day be the flagship properties, You know, sort of how Gunn evolved the Guardians of the Galaxy characters. Of the 10 projects revealed to be development, there’s a new Superman movie and Batman film, as well as a series set within Wonder Woman’s homeland, but there’s also projects based on the lesser-known The Authority, Booster Gold, and Swamp Thing that they’re hoping still resonate with fans.

THE BATMAN, Robert Pattinson as Batman, 2022. ph: Jonathan Olley / © Warner Bros. / Courtesy Everett Collection

THE BATMAN, Robert Pattinson as Batman, 2022. ph: Jonathan Olley / © Warner Bros. / Courtesy Everett Collection

©Warner Bros/Courtesy Everett Collection

The 10 films and series Gunn and Safran announced on Tuesday do not include the previously-ordered movies still in the works, like the next “Joker” film and “The Batman Part II.” Those will not connect to the larger universe. Those two movies and other properties, like “Teen Titans Go!” or Ta-Nehisi Coates’ long in-development Black Superman movie, will be tagged with the DC Elseworlds moniker, an outside-of-canon branding with which DC Comics fans are already familiar. Though all the series announced as part of Chapter 1 are intended as HBO Max series, Warner Bros. Discovery CEO David Zaslav has expressed a willingness for DC properties to be shopped around and made available to other streamers. Gunn and Safran weren’t shy about touting the big boss when it came to saying how much of a budget they’d have to work with, calling Zaslav’s content spend “spectacular.”

And yet a 10-year plan was always an ambitious idea. No matter how much autonomy they have today, or how committed Zaslav is to this vision, rumors have persisted about whether Warner Bros. Discovery gets sold in another few years, or whether Gunn and Safran will be able to maintain full creative control at DC Studios.

“I hope this isn’t just a honeymoon phase,” Gunn said.

“There are things that are beyond our control, so no concerns whatsoever. All we’re trying to do is put our heads down and trying to create content,” Safran added. “One of Zaslav’s big guiding principles is One Company. He talks about it, but he really lives it, so we’ve found television people there to help us, gaming there to help us, publicity there to help us. Everybody is pulling together and looking at the bigger picture as One Company.”

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