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Directors come in all shapes and sizes – each possessing his or her own signature style. Some develop trademarks for their ability to craft intimate indie darlings, while others become characterized by loud, bombastic set pieces. It takes a certain type of director to craft a proper superhero adventure for a major studio, and according to indie filmmaker Jeff Nichols: it’s not an experience every filmmaker relishes.
During a recent interview with Screen Crush, Jeff Nichols opened up regarding his indie science fiction film Midnight Special, and explained why he didn't wind up directing Aquaman, as he was rumored to at one point. According to him, working on a superhero movie for a major studio such as Warner Bros. is not something every director is cut out for. He said:
The trick with ‘Midnight Special’ is even though it was made at the studio, they gave me a lot of control over the process. And I don’t just mean control over final cut, but it felt like we were making one of my movies. I had my team. I had my family there. My crew. We made the movie we all wanted to make. With the DC universe, so many parts of it had been activated and so many decisions had already been made that it felt more and more — and Warner Bros. agreed — that it was me trying to jump on a moving train. That’s not so much what I’m good at. I’m more of a ground up kinda guy.
In layman’s terms: Warner Bros. unsurprisingly likes to keep a firm sense of control over directors who adapt their DC characters. Numerous vital decisions for the film had already been made prior to Jeff Nichols becoming involved, and as such he felt a distinct lack of input in that regard.
That’s not necessarily something we can blame the studio for. Their DCEU needs a sense of cohesion in order for all of the films to properly mesh. If the studio gave an auteur director carte blanche to create any superhero film that they wanted, then the end result could be something that lacks broad appeal, and subsequently costs the studio money. For a perfect example of this phenomenon one needs to only look at the recent fiasco between Josh Trank and 20th Century Fox following the unequivocal failure of last summer’s Fantastic Four.
This doesn’t mean that directors known for their work on indie movies cannot find success in the world of superheroes. Christopher Nolan started off his career on incredibly low-budget indies and eventually went on to craft one of the greatest superhero franchises of all time with The Dark Knight trilogy. All Jeff Nichols is saying with this statement is that directing a major superhero blockbuster is not for everyone, and luckily he found that out before Aquaman started production.
It’s probably for the best. Jeff Nichols realized that the type of movie he wants to make allows him to have greater control over every aspect, Warner Bros. eventually brought in James Wan to take the reigns on 2019’s Aquaman, and it seems like an amicable enough split. While we will never know what Nichols would have done with the character of Arthur Curry, we will finally get to see James Wan’s take when Aquaman hits theaters on July 27, 2018.