DC Boss Diane Nelson Talks Superhero Strategy Vs. Marvel at Variety Summit

Diane Nelson DC Entertainment Variety Entertainment
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The big boss of DC Entertainment is committed to keeping the story arcs of its many characters separate across its film, TV and digital properties, in contrast to the singular universe approach taken by its biggest rival, Marvel.

Diane Nelson outlined DC’s creative strategy and the growing components of Warner Bros.’ DC Entertainment division during a wide-ranging conversation Wednesday at Variety’s Entertainment and Technology Summit, held at the Four Seasons Beverly Hills. Nelson’s mouthful of a title — president of DC Entertainment and WB Consumer Products and president-chief content officer of Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment — underscores how important DC has become to fueling business throughout Warner Bros.

DC has a big year in store at the box office in 2016 with the highly anticipated “Batman vs. Superman” coming in March followed “Suicide Squad” later in the year — the first wave of 10 DC-branded movies expected to hit over the next five years. But she emphasized that there is no push for creative crossover among the films or with DC’s plentiful TV series, including CW’s “The Flash, “ “Arrow” and the upcoming “DC’s Legends of Tomorrow”; CBS’ “Supergirl”; and Fox’s “Gotham.”

DC leaders have opted to keep its character worlds highly distinct in order to offer maximum creative flexibility to the writers, producers and directors that Warner Bros. works with in translating new and vintage DC properties in all manner of media. Creatives would otherwise be limited in tailoring projects for specific buyers. She noted the wide tonal differences between “Gotham” and “Supergirl,” not to mention “Teen Titans Go” on Cartoon Network. DC’s focus has working with Warner Bros.’ exec teams and creators at the various division levels, in recognition of the expertise they bring to developing products for their markets.

“We’re so talent driven,” Nelson said during the Q&A with Variety co-editor-in-chief Andrew Wallenstein. The focus on a single universe of characters with connected storylines “could end up handcuffing our creators into trying to work with the same storyline or force them to hold back characters or introduce certain characters. Ultimately it hinders the ability for someone like (showrunner) Bruno Heller to come in and create ‘Gotham.’ “

She noted that Fox’s Batman prequel has no creative constraints regarding “Batman vs. Superman” and vice versa. The single universe approach “has worked beautifully” for Marvel, she added, but didn’t make sense for WB.

Nelson credited Warner Bros. chairman-CEO Kevin Tsujihara with pushing DC Entertainment’s various executives to “push out” projects and properties with the potential to be leveraged by various studio divisions — similar to Disney’s franchise-driven approach.

Since Tsujihara took the reins of the studio in 2013, “we have broken down a lot of walls among the various (WB) businesses. We’ve had interaction across every business at Warner Bros.”

DC-related properties have driven some $8 billion in consumer products sales for the studios and more than $3 billion in home video titles. It also drives about 50% of the video game business at Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment.

But at its core, DC is a publishing company. The titles published by DC Comics and the Vertigo imprint are the “foundation of the (DC) business,” she said. She credited DC publishers Jim Lee and Dan Didio with reinventing the publishing business starting in 2011 when the pair instituted “a total reboot of our publishing line — it’s been hugely successful in the past four years.”

The print comics — which are increasingly paired with digitally published titles — are a vital content source for DC and Warner Bros. at large. Vertigo, which focuses on stand-alone fantasy stories, is an engine “for getting original IP into the company and feeding other businesses as well as our publishing business.”

Nelson acknowledged that the are growing concerns about whether Hollywood is becoming oversaturated with superhero fare. The growth in the amount of comic-based fare only heightens the pressure to ensure that the storytelling at the heart of DC properties is strong and distinctive.

“We do believe we’re in a period time where comics and superheroes are really the driving force within pop culture,” Nelson said. “We have to be really sensitive to making sure were not creating any stories that don’t feel like they’re ready to be told… We have to make sure we’re getting the right story and the right content from the talent we work with. Ultimately we think if it’s a great story people will go out to see it.”

Among other topics Nelson touched on:

  • Nelson called CBS’ upcoming “Supergirl,” which is a departure for the Eye, “a really special show” designed to work for fans of the Superman milieu as well as general audiences.
  • Nelson was effusive about the contributions of uber-showrunner Greg Berlanti, master of “Arrow,” “Flash” and “Supergirl,” and Warner Bros. TV chief Peter Roth, to the success of DC’s TV series.
  • The venerable Mad magazine remains an important asset under the DC umbrella. But it’s been challenging to mine the magazine’s topical humor in other media. “We have more work to do on the publishing side to make sure we’re feeding enough (material) to leverage into other media,” she said.

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  1. teresa waters says:

    DC on TV: they brought in Constantine, to unite the magic aspects of the DCu, then ditched it. Why go back to boring? DC suddenly decided to (yet again!) to solely focus on aliens and metahumans. Ugh. again with this boring crap. How many times do we need to see the Supes family on TV?

    When we have a DCu of magical dimensions filled with heroes like the humble and powerful sorceress Zatanna, crazy intelligent warlock Constantine, and dimension hopping godess Wonder Woman in the background protecting the Earth via the comic book runs but have to suffer to boring retellings of Superman and Supergirl on TV you know it’s time to go seek other comic book publishers for your entertainment. People don’t want multiple scattered DC dimensions. They do want you to fill in the blanks, like how Catwoman was recruited by Steve Trevor and joined the Justice League. More about WW, ditch the 70s TV version; bring the public up to speed with Chiang/Azzerello’s WW story line, and keep up the amazing character development we all love and support in TV’s Arrow … and then you will have a fan base and money making jackpot for decades, not just a couple of years.

  2. Civil wha? Huh?

    RIP Marvel.

  3. bsbarnes says:

    Diane Nelson has done an impressive job of keeping DC publishing current with Marvel comics while building a live action movie platform for DC characters. Nelson had worked on the Harry Potter franchise for Warner Bros before joining DC, and she had a steep learning curve. Yet by changing the front office staff at DC and relocating the DC offices from NYC to Burbank CA, she has demonstrated considerable “out of the box” thinking while maintaining the editorial integrity of DC characters: no small feat. Particularly with THE FLASH television show; arguably the best live action superhero TV adaptation ever; Nelson has successfully brought together the creative talent needed to make comic book “logic” work on the small screen. The upcoming SUICIDE SQUAD movie promises to bring welcome diversity (Viola Davis as Amanda Waller is a far more complex character than Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury) as well as Oscar calibre talent (Jared Leto as The Joker could be remarkable) to what could have been just another THE DIRTY DOZEN remake. I applaud Diane Nelson’s efforts at DC so far!

  4. This was a foregone conclusion, bound up in DC’s editorial structure and its prior history of getting its properties adapted into other media. I think Marvel’s approach to media works b/c it meshes well with their approach to comics. Nelson’s approach also meshes with what DC does in the comics. For the past month, I’ve been examining the factors behind these different approaches at superadaptoid.wordpress.com.

  5. Abhishek says:

    She knows what they are doing. They don’t want to make easy money like Marvel does, without any creativity, all things thrown at one place and only 1 plot to carry. I like DC’s approach already.

  6. I finally get why comics suck. A woman is in charge. Light bulb.

    • Johnny DC says:

      That doesn’t hold up. DC created some of its best work when run by Jeannette Kahn (e.g., Watchmen, Dark Knight Returns, The Shadow, Superman vs Muhammad Ali, Crisis, Byrne’s Superman).

  7. Jolene says:

    She doesn’t know anything, Warner should hire someone else who understands cinema and especially comics, it was a mistake to put that person in that position.
    She is a disaster.

    • grooviegoo says:

      @jolene

      Based on your comment it looks like you assume you know a lot more than her already. I wonder why you’re here making retarded baseless statements like “she is a disaster” when in reality, Jolene, your life is a disaster while she is sitting pretty on top. You can suck on sour grapes all you please :)

    • lairdriver says:

      Did you even listen to her speech? That’s all you can do is just blubber ‘she doesn’t know anything’? Do you think Warner Brothers being part of the biggest media company in the world AOL Time Warner is going to go and just hire anybody off the streets? I like that everything is separate. Marvel is one big predictable ride around an action comedy toilet.

  8. Eric says:

    Arrow and Flash have a great fan base that would follow them to the silver screen. By recasting the Flash for the movies, DC is just gambling and wasting the momentum created by successful the TV show. The X-Files is a past example of a TV property that can exist on the big screen with success.

    The cape and cowl genre is hot right now. DC is just making it harder on themselves by separating the TV and movie universe. They are also confusing the audience and annoying the fans. If Marvel can do it then WB/DC can do it.

    • grooviegoo says:

      @eric

      Taking small time TV actors who are relatively unknown faces outside the US in key big screen box-office contributing markets is not such a smart idea. The US only accounts for 40-50% of total revenue for a Hollywood film. Investing 100m+ into a production and casting TV actors instead is digging your own grave. Rare exceptions would be taking the cast of friends or Seinfeld but none of the DC/Marvel shows you’re referring to are of that calibre yet.

      • teresa waters says:

        Constantine had 4 x more viewers than Arrow. It’s all about money. They expected DCu’s top selling Constantine / Hellblazer comic book character to blow Arrow out of the water, but put it on NBC. It did, but they wanted even more.

        Big mistake. It was huge. It would have brought in all the magic and dimension hopping that everyone uses into the public eye and DC botched it big time by eliminating that aspect of the DCu. Money rules this – just stick to the comics. Because DC on tv just sucks, and now that they have given up on uniting the story lines and admit that each of the TV shows will go its own separate way… more chaos. ugh.

    • lairdriver says:

      Sorry but they don’t make Superhero films where they take the TV actors and put them in Hollywood roles. Ezra Miller as Flash will be more then fine. These are big budget films and they cast higher profile actors. I am extremely happy that DC is not just shoving everything into one big pot. Marvel puts out action comedy movies with superheroes in them. They don’t have anything in common with DC. Everything Marvel does is stained with Disney.

      The TV show Universe can cross over if it needs to. WB controls all of the characters. Constantine is showing up on Arrow and there would be no reason why Supergirl couldn’t show up in Flash.

    • SAMURAI36 says:

      X-Files has a lot less moving parts than a superhero universe does. Bad example.

      • jbjones07 says:

        A better example would be the Star Trek universe. They have a lot of legacy. Even the last couple of films have a multi-universal connection to nearly 50 years of Trek lore. Eric’s right. It could’ve been done; just needed to be coordinated.

  9. Dunstan says:

    All of the “blockbuster” superhero/comic book films are pretty much the same. Evil entity wants to destroy a city, the planet etc. and X comes to the rescue. I’ve given up on these movies for the most part. Even the Nolan “Batman” trilogy was bloated beyond belief.

    The only comic book adaptation I’ve really thought nailed it was the Netflix “Daredevil” series.

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  11. gdk says:

    “She credited DC publishers Jim Lee and Dan Didio with reinventing the publishing business starting in 2011 when the pair instituted ‘a total reboot of our publishing line — it’s been hugely successful in the past four years’.”

    DC’s New 52 “reinvented the publishing business?” I guess she doesn’t expect Variety readers to be familiar with the comics industry, or maybe she’s just not familiar with it herself, but this is a laughable claim. DC’s market share in comics has gone from about 30% in 2010 to about 25% now, and the books have not been critical successes, either.

    I thought part of journalism was fact-checking? WRONG! It’s all just PR and free advertising.

  12. Scott says:

    I don’t care about crossovers between the movies and TV, but let the DC TV part of the multiverse use all of DC’s many characters. I want to see Superman and the other “banned” characters show up in the Arrow/Flash universe. No money will be lost at the box office if this happens, and no one will be confused. A few hours per decade of live action appearances from these great DC heroes is not enough and we can sure use some brighter takes on them than the current movieverse versions.

  13. solletaire says:

    It’s surprising that a compony lauds it’s diversity in TV series and yet went through a 4 year period of tonal and artistic house style in the comics which are it’s bedrock of creativity. And seems to be going the same route in term of its movie universe. I am excited to see what they come up with, of course.

    I don’t think Lee and DiDio have done much to improve DC Comics and the total reboot they imposed has been frustrating for old fans and disappointing for new fans alike. IMO!

  14. Loincoth Larry says:

    I’m pretty sure that Marvel comics do not share a universe with the Marvel Cinematic Universe. For example, when Thor became a woman in the comics, they didn’t fire Chris Hemsworth and replace him for the Avengers sequels.

    Or maybe they DID and we just don’t know about it, but I kind of doubt it.

    Point being, get your facts straight, Variety!

    • SAMURAI36 says:

      That’s false. There have been numerous attempts on Marvel’s part, to bring their comics more in sync with the movies.

      Such examples are:

      •The acrobatics they performed, to make Fury black in the comics.
      •Bringing the Inhumans to prominence, usurping the position that the X-Men once held in the MU.
      •Retconning the origins of QS & Scarlet Witch, to no longer be mutants.

      Just to name a few.

    • therealeverton says:

      Yup

      • Irving Forbush says:

        Fury was black–and played by Samuel L Jackson–in the comics before he was in the movies (thanks to Mark Millar and Bryan Hitch). Marvel’s making the comics resemble the films more to a certain extent, not syncing them with the films.

  15. 85wzen says:

    I’d be more ‘concerned’ about creating an actual MOVIE of a comic book, if I were Marvel or DC… so far there hasn’t been one creatively… very dull is a movie without any antagonist…

    • Dennis Lamb says:

      Watchmen is 95% accurate :)

      • JoelR says:

        The Ultimate Cut version of WATCHMEN is probably the best costumed hero movie made to date, and probably the best adaptation of this hard-to-film graphic novel that we could get. Whatever you think of Snyder, this was bravura filmmaking in the best way. (the theatrical version, not so much.)

      • Charlie says:

        And Watchmen is 95% unwatchable Snyder bleh

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