james gunn spent his summer thinking about the future.
Three months before Tuesday’s shock announcement that he and the longtime manager turned producer Saffron Stone would take the reins DC Moviesthe director showed up at San Diego Comic-Con in July as a Disney employee, in town to give a first look at the sequel “Guardians of the Galaxy: Vol. 3.” As he walked on the red carpet, Variety asked him to expand his Marvel superhero realm beyond Chris Pratt and the company’s galactic misadventures.
“All I care about is that when I take on a project, I have to say it’s something that’s going to excite and delight me for the next two to three years…I don’t want to bored,” Gunn said.
Boredom won’t be an option as Gunn and Safran now hold the titles of co-presidents and general managers of DC Studios, where they’ll control the creative direction of the company’s arsenal of comic book villains and heroes across the board. cinema, television and streaming. , animation and beyond. The work is enormous and success is far from assured despite the impressive CVs of Gunn and Safran. Both will have to find new ways to compete with Marvel, the studio that propelled Gunn to the A-list and created the gold standard for cinematic universes, while also finding ways to control costs at a time when the company DC’s mother, Warner Bros. Discovery, is increasingly focused on staying on budget.
Many Hollywood players Variety spoke with announced the decision as “bold” on the part of David Zaslav, the CEO of Warner Bros. Discovery, which has made it clear that it wants nothing less than its own response to Marvel guru Kevin Feige. In Gunn, he found a renegade (and, at one point, incendiary) filmmaker steeped in geek culture and who has shown a talent for coloring outside the lines without alienating the general public.
“If Marvel proves anything, you need someone with fanboy chops and producer chops. That’s what they seem to have here, for the first time, in DC,” said one. energy broker, speaking on condition of anonymity Safran and Gunn will both report to Zaslav, known as a demanding manager with little difficulty in digging into details.
Talks with Gunn and Safran began over the summer, according to insiders, and overlapped with talks the studio had with prolific producer Dan Lin. Gunn and Safran are now among the most powerful personalities in Hollywood. Although the pair’s compensation package is currently unknown, industry insiders have speculated that a job of this size would require a package of $6-8 million each in salary and incentives.
At Safran, DC gets an amiable setting with the charm and finesse needed to navigate the corporate world. Safran was described as “sleek” by a top talent representative, who spoke on condition of anonymity, and “solid as oak”. Raised in the UK and trained as a lawyer before landing an assistant desk at United Talent Agency, Safran spent years running the management company Brillstein-Grey (during that boutique’s heyday, when clients included Brad Pitt and Jennifer Aniston). He cut his teeth building James Wan’s ‘The Conjuring’ universe, which became one of Warners’ highest-grossing film franchises, then showed he could handle superhero tents by producing “Shazam!” and “Aquaman”. Gunn and Safran worked together on ‘The Suicide Squad,’ which was a critical hit but a box office flop — though many attribute that to the studio’s decision to simultaneously release it on HBO Max. The pair scored a hit with “Peacemaker,” a spin-off series that demonstrated the kind of cross-platform approach, one in which movies feed into streaming shows and vice versa, that Zaslav was eager to see more of at the studio.
But Zaslav and company will need patience. The two men start work on November 1, but it takes months or even years to put together a slate. They will inherit management of several projects left over from the previous regime of Walter Hamada, the beloved DC executive who left after Zaslav shelved “Batgirl” in favor of a tax deduction, and Toby Emmerich, the former head of Warner Bros. . These include “The Flash”, which is complete, and “Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom”, which is currently in post-production. Michael De Luca, who lobbied for Gunn’s hiring and made the introductions to Zaslav, according to insiders, and Pamela Abdy, the new heads of the Warner Bros. film group, lit ‘Joker: Folie à Deux’ , but that movie will exist outside of any cinematic universe that Gunn and Safran will build. A sequel to “The Batman” is also in the works, but writer-director Matt Reeves has yet to deliver a finished script, so the movie won’t hit theaters until 2025 at the earliest. There are also lingering questions about what to do with the Man of Steel, with a Chuck Roven-produced Superman sequel currently seeking proposals from writers. Henry Cavill recently announced that he plans to don the Superman cape again.
So what will this mean for Gunn and Safran? Several senior executives and dealmakers said they were curious to see how incoming filmmakers would view Gunn, a brash and distinctive voice that will now cut checks and enter cutting rooms.
“Imagine if Todd Philips went tomorrow to present ‘Joker'”, said a producer, “Is he going to want to work for James Gunn?” Other actors familiar with the studio said this specific scenario was where Safran would ideally be most effective, and speculated that De Luca and Abdy could serve as important ambassadors. As part of the four-year deal, DC can still put Gunn behind the camera. The pact simply means he can no longer take his particular set of skills across the street in Burbank to Marvel.
Hiring Gunn also signals loud and clear that Zaslav is willing to bet on style over four-quadrant security. Gunn’s voice is clearly meant for adults and is never afraid to be mocking or meta. After all, “The Suicide Squad” ended with the team impaling a giant starfish – it’s a step into rococo that seems a far cry from Thanos and his infinity gauntlet.
Gunn rose to prominence as the creator of slyly subversive genre films such as “Slither” and “Super,” films made with a rebellious scream, and those made outside of the creative constraints of the blockbuster industry. But with ‘Guardians of the Galaxy,’ he also showed a knack for retaining some of that flavor while meeting the needs of a corporate giant who needs to make films that spawn toy lines and rides of theme parks.
Not everything has been easy in space. After all, Gunn was fired from the “Guardians” franchise in 2018, following backlash to social media posts in which the director shed light on pedophilia, AIDS patients, the Holocaust and sexual assaults. Alan Horn himself, a beloved former industry statesman who, ironically, now advises Zaslav and Warner Bros. Discovery, decried Gunn’s jokes as “indefensible and inconsistent with the values of our studio”. Gunn apologized and spent his time in Disney jail making “The Suicide Squad” for DC Films. In 2019, Gunn was reinstated as director of the third film “Guardians” following statements of support from key talents like Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista, Bradley Cooper, Vin Diesel, Karen Gillan and Pom Klementieff. Those who know him said he was chastened by the experience and grateful to have had a second chance.
Ultimately, Gunn and Safran will be judged on their ability to continue introducing new heroes, while keeping old ones relevant. But for today, at least, Gunn and Safran are both winners, having emerged from one of the most closed job auditions in recent Hollywood history with the keys to the DC realm.