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Matt Reeves was 8 when he made his first movie. By 13, he was on the festival circuit, where he met fellow film wunderkind J.J. Abrams. At 15, the pair caught the attention of Steven Spielberg.
As the story goes, Reeves and Abrams were tasked, via Spielberg’s then-assistant Kathleen Kennedy, with restoring the director’s early work, which had been found in his childhood home in boxes labeled “Stevie Spielberg.” Their compensation: $250. “The great thing about Super 8 films is it’s pretty much a great equalizer,” says Reeves, seated in his cozy high-rise office on Sunset in Hollywood. “There’s no way to make a beautiful-looking Super 8 film, so his movies looked a lot like ours, and we thought, ‘Maybe we have a shot!’ ”
Turns out, they weren’t wrong. After dipping his toe in as a writer-director on 1996 rom-com The Pallbearer (produced by Abrams), Reeves, 52, and his childhood pal reteamed for the TV hit Felicity and, later, the Cloverfield franchise. On his own, Reeves successfully relaunched Planet of the Apes, with his two installments grossing well over $1 billion at the global box office.
Now, the married father of a 7-year-old son is focused on building out his six-employee 6th & Idaho production company (which he runs with Adam Kassan and Rafi Crohn). Out front is Fox’s freshman entry The Passage, which brought in nearly 10 million multiplatform viewers in its first week. Also in his pipeline: the comic adaptation Mouse Guard, which he’s producing for Fox, Netflix’s Jason Katims-produced space drama Away, Tales From the Loop for Amazon and his highly anticipated stand-alone Batman film, which he’ll write and direct for Warner Bros.
On a crisp January afternoon, the L.A.-reared filmmaker opened up — his interview has been condensed and edited for clarity — about a forthcoming collaboration with Shonda Rhimes, the upside of a Netflix movie deal and what’s really happening on The Batman (save Ben Affleck’s status, on which Reeves is staying mum).
You were making films by age 8. What were your earliest subjects?
I did one that was influenced by Star Wars called Galactic Battles. We had Planet of the Apes stuff in it because I had those masks. I was obsessed with Spielberg and [Martin] Scorsese and how they would tell stories that affected you in a way you never expected. That’s how I met J.J. We were in an 8mm film festival, and the guy who [ran it] had a public access show called Word of Mouth Productions, and he’d offer to air shorts. He introduced me to J.J. because he was my age and doing the same thing I was. We hit it off right away. We felt like we’d had these weird parallel childhoods, where in our own spaces we’d been the kids asking others if they wanted to be in our movie.
So much of your work is genre or horror, but your big break came with Felicity. What inspired it?
J.J. said he always wanted to do this movie about what became the opening scene of Felicity: getting a love letter inside a yearbook on the last day of school and that changing a life. He was the Ben Covington [Scott Speedman], and he had a crush on this artist but didn’t know her at all. That started bringing up all these experiences for me. As we were in season two or three, J.J. was like, “What are we going to do? How do we create more stories? We need her to be in the CIA.” We all thought he was crazy, and so he said, “Forget it, that’s my pilot.” That [became] Alias.
If you could go back and do it all over, is there anything you would change? Maybe Felicity’s infamous haircut?
The haircut is totally our fault! But I don’t think we would’ve changed it. It was the right story idea.
The Felicity actors have said they’d be open to a revival. You?
We haven’t had any conversations. I love working with J.J. … but I think there’s probably zero chance that we would ever do it.
The Passage is your first series since Felicity. You were attached to direct it back in 2011, when it was a feature. What’s been the draw?
Ridley Scott and I tried to crack the film for two years. It’s a beautiful novel that wasn’t a genre piece. Then I figured out what the problem was: It was a TV series. Fox [the film studio] laughed at me. They felt strongly that it was a movie, and I ended up doing the Apes movies, and as a result of that I got to start 6th & Idaho. I got in touch with Fox, who by this time had no plans to make it [as a movie] because they couldn’t crack the story.
You recently inked a film deal with Netflix. Your mentor, Spielberg, is among those who has taken aim at the streamer’s distribution model. Do you share any of his concerns?
I don’t feel that way. The movies I grew up watching and imagined myself making don’t get made anymore. But now they are starting to again by streamers like Netflix, Amazon and Apple. Anything that allows the middle to come back so you can do humanist stories in addition to these bigger stories is a good thing. I understand the love for a movie on the screen, but you also want to stay with the times.
Have you talked with Netflix about theatrical distribution for your films? Any guarantees in your deal?
It’s all a per-film basis. They want to be able to [release films theatrically] as much as it makes sense. There are certain projects we are involved in that I think it will happen and then others where it probably won’t. It will depend on the final products and the filmmakers involved. I binge-watched the first season of Handmaid’s Tale, and it was a very powerful show. It wasn’t like I didn’t have a profound experience with that show because it wasn’t on the big screen. So I’m willing to be open to the experience, but it would be tragic if we ever lost that part of the moviegoing thing.
Your last TV overall was a two-year pact with 20th TV. Do you intend to stay put or are you tempted to add TV to your Netflix deal?
We’re feeling it out now, so I’m not quite sure what we’ll do. I’m excited to have the option to go to all different places. I like being able to have that flexibility because I like making sure that the home is right for the project.
Netflix is looking to you and Shonda Rhimes to develop Recursion as an “innovative” film and TV franchise. How did it come together?
We sent the book to her. She read it in a night and fell in love. We’re doing it together. It’s not like she’s doing TV and I’m doing the movie. It needs to be thought of as one organism. Because of the way it’s told, it presents so many opportunities to go into tangents. There’s a broad shape that could be a movie, but then that movie could beget a TV series. This was a book that felt like it might have a movie in it, it might have three movies in it and it also might have several TV series in it. That we could do all of that and that they could be concurrent and all be developed at the same time felt very innovative.
Recursion comes as many streamers and networks alike are looking to build and expand franchises. Having worked on so many — Apes, Cloverfield and now Batman — what’s the hardest part about reworking big IP?
Finding something that feels fresh that resonates emotionally. I was a huge fan of Apes as a kid but those stories were told from such a different perspective. The Caesar cycle of the Planet of the Apes stories is different from anything they told, though it touches in all these different ways on the originals. In Rise, [we had] the opportunity to take that story but to tell it in a way that related to our times. What’s exciting about Batman is how it relates to now and also how personal it can be.
You launched your production company, 6th & Idaho, in 2015. What’s the larger goal for the company?
I want it to be a home for people who, like me, want to find a way to tell stories, whether they be in genre or whatever form, but they have something personal to say. The secret of everything I’ve done, including the Apes films, is that they were personal to me. When I did Dawn, my son was just learning how to speak, and Caesar [Andy Serkis] was like a child coming into articulation. Those two movies were about family, in addition to other mythic structures that really resonated with me. I want us to be a place that supports stories that use metaphors and the cover of genre to do personal things.
Will there be another Planet of the Apes movie?
I would love to but I’m so deeply embedded in getting Batman on its feet. If the opportunity ever came back around for us to be involved in that world, I would. There are definitely stories I could see doing.
So, Batman. Tell us about your take.
It’s very much a point of view-driven, noir Batman tale. It’s told very squarely on his shoulders, and I hope it’s going to be a story that will be thrilling but also emotional. It’s more Batman in his detective mode than we’ve seen in the films. The comics have a history of that. He’s supposed to be the world’s greatest detective, and that’s not necessarily been a part of what the movies have been. I’d love this to be one where when we go on that journey of tracking down the criminals and trying to solve a crime, it’s going to allow his character to have an arc so that he can go through a transformation.
Do you have a title yet?
(Laughs.) Right now it’s called The Batman. What it will be called ultimately, I don’t know.
Have you begun the casting process?
There will be a Rogues Gallery. The casting process will begin shortly. We’re starting to put together our battle plan. I’m doing another pass on the script and we’ll begin some long-lead stuff to start developing conceptual things.
What’s your goal as far as a release date?
We haven’t been dated. I wouldn’t commit to this, but we’re thinking the movie would probably be for 2021, late spring or summer. Warner Bros. has been incredibly supportive and given me a lot of time and shared the same passion that I do for this story.
How involved are you with the other films in the DC universe, be it Harley Quinn or Batgirl?
Right now, I’m involved in The Batman. What it will be called ultimately, I don’t know. Aquaman is going to be very different from the Todd Phillips Joker movie, and that’s going to be different from Shazam and Harley Quinn. Warners believes they don’t have to try to develop a giant slate that has to have all the plans for how it’s going to connect. What they need to try and do is make good movies with these characters.
Final question: If you could spend a day shadowing anyone in the industry, who would you pick?
Alfonso Cuaron. I’d love to be a fly on the wall to watch how his shots develop.
A version of this story first appeared in the Jan. 30 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.
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