Warner Bros. Film Chief on 'Wonder Woman,' J.K. Rowling's 'Fantastic Beasts' Script and How DC Will Compete With Marvel
Greg Silverman, president of creative development and worldwide production at the studio, also talks to THR about why he moved the big-budget 'Pan' out of summer.
This story first appeared in the June 12 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.
Nearly two years into his job as gatekeeper of Warner Bros.' film production efforts, Greg Silverman finally is ready to live and die based on movies that he — not former Warners film chief Jeff Robinov — generated.
After Silverman, 42, is done sweating through a summer in which Warners will release a whopping 10 films, including at least one hit (Mad Max: Fury Road) and June 3's Entourage, he is charged with executing CEO Kevin Tsujihara's vision of basing the studio slate on three pillars: DC superheroes, beginning with Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice (March 25) and Suicide Squad (Aug. 5, 2016); J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter spinoff trilogy Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them; and Lego Movie follow-ups (he championed the first film).
Warners has serious ground to make up: In 2014, it fell to No. 3 in domestic market share with $1.57 billion after coming in No. 1 or No. 2 for eight years. It made up ground internationally, with a record $3.17 billion, second to Fox.
Silverman, married with four boys ranging from 5 to 14, is no novice in the superhero sphere. The Robinov protege was the creative exec assigned to Christopher Nolan's The Dark Knight series. And he's developed relationships with such filmmakers as Zack Snyder (300, Man of Steel), who is leading the DC charge, as well as Todd Phillips (The Hangover, the upcoming Arms and the Dudes) and Ben Affleck (Argo, The Town). He also has a close relationship with Clint Eastwood (American Sniper) and helped Warner Bros. secure the director's next movie, the tale of how Capt. Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger successfully landed U.S. Airways flight 1549 in the Hudson River in January 2009.
Still, Silverman is dealing with such challenges as putting together the high-profile Wonder Woman, whose director, Michelle MacLaren, was replaced by Patty Jenkins. Silverman, who lives in Sherman Oaks, boasts a unique upbringing; his parents are South African Jews who immigrated to San Diego when he was a boy. The low-key executive recently sat down with THR to talk DC vs. Marvel and why he moved the big-budget Pan out of summer.
Producer Modi Wiczyk, co-CEO of Media Rights Capital, gave Silverman the flak jacket when he got the job. “He told me, ‘Everyone will shoot at you.’ ”
You are part of a power trifecta with worldwide marketing president Sue Kroll and New Line president-COO Toby Emmerich. People are wondering how the executive structure and greenlight process are working at Warners now.
It's Kevin, Sue and myself. We don't really vote. Kevin is the CEO of the company, so he has final authority, but if you asked him, he would say we all get together and decide. If there is anything I feel would be great for the company, Sue and Kevin would back me. And then Toby sits with Kevin and Sue for his movies.
After Harry Potter and Dark Knight, Warners seems to be in a period of transition. Is it difficult watching other studios claim box-office wins?
It can be, but it also provides for opportunities. I don't think anybody anticipated how big The Lego Movie would be or American Sniper. And now we are trying to spawn new franchises with Pan, King Arthur and Tarzan. It gives you a chance to try some new things while the big guys wait to come around.
A Lego Oscar statuette created by artist Nathan Sawaya when the film wasn’t nominated.
How will you differentiate the DC Universe from what Marvel is doing?
We have a great strategy for the DC films, which is to take these beloved characters and put them in the hands of master filmmakers and make sure they all coordinate with each other. You'll see the difference when you see Batman v. Superman, Suicide Squad, Justice League and all the things that we are working on.
There were some complaints that the Batman v. Superman trailer was too dark. Is this a trademark of a DC superhero film in the post-Dark Knight era?
There is intensity and a seriousness of purpose to some of these characters. The filmmakers who are tackling these properties are making great movies about superheroes; they aren't making superhero movies. And when you are trying to make a good movie, you tackle interesting philosophies and character development. There's also humor, which is an important part.
Given the debate about the low number of female directors on studio films, how important was it that a woman direct Wonder Woman?
We had a very intensive process looking at everybody. Patty and Michelle were really the ones who came to the forefront the first go-round, so when things didn't work out with Michelle, we all knew we had someone great who had expressed interest before. She came back and is doing a great job. But it was never about the best female director. She has demonstrated doing amazing work with female characters, such as in Monster.
You've ruffled some feathers hiring competing writers to work on some projects at the same time, such as with Wonder Woman. What's the strategy?
Every project is different. On some projects, we have multiple writers working together. In some cases, we put writers together who have never been a team together. And sometimes, there is only one writer whose voice is right. In the case of Wonder Woman, the right approach was to have writers pitching different scenes within the framework we created.
In addition to photos of his sons, Silverman’s “family wall” includes a photo his father-in-law, Ken Heyman, took of Marilyn Monroe and Arthur Miller and a shot of Stanley Kubrick taken by Heyman's brother-in-law, Bert Stern. Silverman's wife, Amanda, decorated his spacious office on the Warner Bros. lot.
Without knowing what the others were up to?
Correct. They came to me and said they wanted to try this approach. I don't know how much collaboration and noncollaboration was going on. Treating writers well is a massive priority at this studio. I'd be very shocked if writers weren't treated with respect and grace.
Why is Entourage a theatrical release and not HBO?
I believe the idea is high-concept and should appeal to everyone — the fantasy of sharing success with your closest friends is very broadly resonant. The theme of loyalty also landed in a powerful way through all of our test screenings. We definitely need to get people who were not fans of the show. And then those folks can go back to HBO and become fans of the show, too.
"I had a bottle of scotch out, and I guess people didn’t know what to send as gifts so they started sending me liquor," says Silverman.
Lego Movie directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller are attached to tons of projects. Will their attention be too divided?
The only problem is that we need four more of them. So far, they have been delivering amazing work for us. They have a TV show [Fox's The Last Man on Earth] and movies at Sony [the Jump Street franchise, a Spider-Man animated project], and we see them delivering triple-A work every day at WB. If they can do all of it, great.
J.K. Rowling has never written a script before, but she wrote the screenplay for Fantastic Beasts. How big a gamble is this?
There's a great industry history of authors being great screenwriters. She's so talented, and no surprise, she wrote a brilliant screenplay. Also, she had an amazing collaborator in Steve Kloves, who worked on many of the Harry Potter scripts. He's not writing, but he's around to help her if she ever needs anything.
After moving Jupiter Ascending from last summer, you recently moved a very expensive movie, Pan, from July to Oct. 9. Why the eleventh-hour switch?
The October slot just felt right. The movie is fantastical and beautiful and big. We had a lot of success with Gravity, which was also visually stunning, in October. I would like it be a big hit so we can make more while [star] Levi Miller is still the right age to play Peter Pan.
You've got Jungle Book: Origins scheduled for 2017, a year after Disney opens The Jungle Book. How can there be enough room for both?
Our approaches are so different. Disney is doing a musical; we are not. And we have Andy Serkis [directing]. He did second unit directing on the last two [Hobbit films]. He's an expert in motion capture, and the cast is insane, including Cate Blanchett, Christian Bale and Benedict Cumberbatch.
The original sculpture for Batman in Nolan’s 'Batman Begins.'
You said Warners is expanding its relationship with controversial producer Joel Silver, whose deal with the studio ended famously in 2009. How so?
He doesn't have a first-look deal here, but he and I figured out a few projects we would try to make happen, including Logan's Run. It's the original YA property. And there's a project we both love, Ben 10, a Cartoon Network property. If we can make that work, it would be a big win.
Are star salaries creeping up? Sony is paying Jennifer Lawrence $20 million for Passengers.
It's different for every movie. That's a Sony project, and I'm sure they have their reasons, and she's a huge star, but it's hard. I would prefer to have stars succeed with us and be our partners.
Did Bradley Cooper get a big check for Sniper?
Yes, and he deserved it. He took a lower fee on the front end, and he killed himself on that movie and did a perfect job, and the audience showed up, and he made a lot of money. The Magic Mike guys bet on themselves, and so did Todd Phillips on The Hangover.
You got your first job in the film business working for craft services. What was that experience like?
I met someone who was in the business and he said the only job left on a movie he was producing was craft services. I told him, "That's so weird because that's what I want to do." And he said, "Really?" I got in the car, and I called my one friend and asked, "What's craft services?" Weirdly, I would highly recommend it. I still really care about what people eat.
Silverman’s father and brother run L.A.’s BeSpoke Furniture. "My brother made the table out of scripts," he says. "It’s his latest thing."