'Batman v. Superman' Fallout: Warner Bros. Shakes Up Executive Roles (Exclusive)

Jon Berg and Geoff Johns will co-run the newly created DC Films in an attempt to course-correct Warners' comic book movies.
Courtesy of Warner Bros.
'Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice'

The fallout from Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice continues to ripple through Warner Bros.

The Burbank-based studio is making changes to the way it handles its DC Entertainment-centered films, giving oversight of the feature projects to a pair of executives and creating a dedicated division for the films. Current executive vp Jon Berg and Geoff Johns, DC's chief content officer who successfully launched the comics label's foray into television, will co-run the newly created DC Films, according to multiple sources.

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.

Now, 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 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 was already working on BvS, Suicide Squad, Wonder Woman and Justice League. He also is a conduit to Ben Affleck, having worked with the actor-filmmaker on Argo and Live by Night, the crime thriller Affleck recently wrapped as director, writer and star for the studio.

Comics writer-turned-exec Johns, meanwhile, was key in working with showrunner Greg Berlanti on the ascension of superhero shows such as Arrow, The Flash and Supergirl and is the writer behind DC's upcoming Rebirth, the publishing side's reboot of its titles that will play out over the summer months. He is not leaving DC, according to sources, but adding film to his portfolio.

Johns will still report to DC Entertainment president Diane Nelson, while Berg will report to Silverman.

With Berg and Johns, Warner Bros. is attempting to unify the disparate elements of the DC movies with a seasoned film exec and a comics veteran that together hopefully can emulate the way Marvel Studios has produced its films under the vision of president Kevin Feige. But sources also say Warners still wants to remain a filmmaker-driven studio. As part of their new jobs, Berg and Johns will become producers on the Justice League movies.

The muted reception of BvS, from a box-office and critical point of view, is the flashpoint for the changes. The studio had high hopes for the movie, which pitted its top heroes against each other. The door was opened for director Zack Snyder to be involved in shaping the look and content of the entire DC line, which is scheduled through 2020. But critics and fans ripped into the first pic and especially Snyder for perceived missteps, including its heroes' unheroic behavior and the dark tone. BvS, which cost at least $300 million to make, has grossed less than $870 million worldwide since its March 25 release. Warners has said the film will be profitable but it was hardly the home run the studio had wanted. 

In stark contrast, Marvel Studios’ Captain America: Civil War is heading toward $1 billion in less than two weeks of release. The movie also pitted heroes against each other, but Marvel's lighter tone and bright colors (while tackling more serious themes) are clearly resonating with audiences. So Warners is attempting a course correction.     

The shuffle, as well as Berg and Johns' new positions, come as other changes are being implemented on the DC movies. For example, Affleck was recently made executive producer on Justice League, upping his creative involvement when it comes to all things Batman and perhaps beyond.

Warner Bros. parted ways with screenwriter Seth Grahame-Smith, who was to have made his directorial debut with The Flash. In another example of post-BvS fallout, the studio didn’t feel confident in a first-time helmer and is now looking for a more seasoned filmmaker who can not only handle a large, $150 million-plus movie but who can also have an authoritative stamp.

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 underwent major additional photography (multiple sources say it was not to add humor) to clear up the issues. Sources say it was Suicide Squad that escalated Johns’ involvement in DC movies (he was already co-writing the next Batman stand-alone with Affleck), and he is involved in the film’s postproduction.

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