It might have started on a bit of a back foot but the DCEU is having a bit of a renaissance. After Wonder Woman was a storming success, both critically and financially, Aquaman became the first DCEU movie to break a billion and the studio’s latest, Shazam!, has opened to strong box office and rave reviews bringing a completely new 80s vibe to the wider universe.
The producer behind the latter two is Peter Safran who seems to be steering the DCEU in fascinating directions. A long time collaborator with Aquaman director James Wan, while Marvel was building its massive head of steam and DC was going through super dark times, Saffran, with Wan, was stealthily building an unexpected cinematic universe of his own and one that’s proved highly successful. The Conjuring universe, which, with Annabelle Comes Home now stretches to six films, is a horror franchise of interlinked spin-offs prequels and sequels initially constructed around real life ghostbusters Ed and Lorraine Warren (played by Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga). It’s reportedly taken $1.568 billion worldwide, against a combined budget of $103.5 million, and become the second highest grossing horror franchise of all time, following only the Godzilla movies of which there have been 34. Pretty impressive stuff.
“It is the director or writer/director’s vision,” he says. “You better hope that they have the right vision and then you do everything you can to support them.”
Aquaman’s had amazing success both at the box office and in terms of response – how did you and James react to that?
Obviously we were thrilled. You spend all this time and blood and sweat and tears making a film and you always hope that it’s going to be embraced by the audience in a big way. And I think it couldn’t possibly have had the success that it had without the audience genuinely loving it. And that truly is the most gratifying part of it. We knew we had made what we felt was very reflective of the vision that James had from the get go with the film. And the fact that audiences embraced that vision was fantastic.
Are there any kind of deleted scenes on the Blu-ray we can expect that didn’t make it to the final cut?
There are a ton of great special features on it. I don’t recall exactly what we did in terms of deleted scenes or additional scenes but what I do know that everybody at Warner Brothers was really excited when we saw all the material coming through.
Is giving people a bit of insight into that process and what goes on beyond the cameras something that excites you as a filmmaker?
I love it. I absolutely love it. I mean these pieces that you know they cut together from the B roll and just everything else they collected over the course of the prep, the production and the post- I love seeing it all come together. It’s like a little bit of a love letter to the film but also just a great souvenir for all of us of what we went through to make it. You know it just reminds you of: oh yeah that’s that’s the concept art that we started with you know two and a half years ago. And here is the scene up on the big screen and wow it’s really reflective of what we what we intended it to be.
Was there anything from fans’ reactions that surprised you, anything you perhaps weren’t expecting fans to pick up on?
No not really it was just gratifying that they called out the things that we really spent a lot of time on and you wonder are people going to notice and appreciate the craftsmanship and the work that went into, for example, Aquaman’s gold and green hero costume where every little curve and detail was so lovingly crafted and created by James Wan and the work of the specialty costume people. You wonder are people really going to notice? Was it all worth it? You know when we saw the reaction to the Black Manta outfit for example the first time we revealed that people went bananas for it. So it is kind of great to see that happen.
You’ve also got Shazam coming out. As a producer, how important is it to protect the director’s voice in this wider universe?
I think you can’t argue with the idea that it’s a filmmaker’s medium. And you know it is the director or writer/director’s vision. You better hope that they have the right vision and then you do everything you can to support them, to give them the tools that they need to make the film. And so you know it was the same process with James Wan as it is with David Sandberg and as it will be with James Gunn on The Suicide Squad. It is an opportunity to work with great filmmakers and giving them that opportunity to have a clarity of vision and to see that vision end up on the screen.
Jason Momoa really seems to be having a moment and he seemed to really succeed in selling a character that perhaps wasn’t as well known as Batman or Superman. He’s really turned that character around in a way…
Yeah I mean I think the superhero movies that work the best are those where the actor and the character they’re playing are so well married. You know I think Gal Godot is just amazing as Wonder Woman and you know Ryan Reynolds – perfect Deadpool. And I think that Jason Momoa fits in that category of beautifully blended from the human to the superhero. You know Arthur Curry is a guy who doesn’t know his place in the world. He doesn’t know where he really fits. And Momoa is a Hawaiian who grew up in Iowa. He never felt like he fit in in Iowa there was no one who looked like him and when he’d go home to Hawaii he felt like he was a mainlander so he shares a lot of the issues and all the vulnerabilities that Arthur Curry actually embodies in the movie. And I think that authenticity that Jason brings to the role is something that people react well to.
One of the standout scenes in the film and was the Trench scene – it really felt like we were seeing a bit of James’s horror side coming out. There’s been rumours about the spinoff in development. Is that a world that you’re excited to return to and what might that look like?
Yeah you know when we went to make Aquaman we knew that it was an amazing standalone world that had never been explored and we knew that there would be a lot of different stories you could tell from that world. One of the areas that we always loved right from the beginning was the idea of the Trench, we loved that real sense of jeopardy and danger that they embody, so we always thought of it as a place where we could explore other stories. And I think we have a great idea of what one of those stories could be.
One of the good things about the superhero world is there’s a lot of different genres that can live under that large umbrella. Shazam is a really fun and funny action comedy with great wish fulfillment at its heart, but you have other movies that are just an action adventure and you have others that are heist movies and you can have ones that are horror. And I think there’s a lot of room for a lot of different genres underneath that broad umbrella of superhero.
In terms of Aquaman himself, it was teased quite heavily at the end of that film of the return of Black Manta – he’s the main arch nemesis in the comics, is that something that you guys are looking into for a sequel?
I loved what Yahya did with the character of Black Manta I think he was just a fantastic piece of casting and really embodied that character beautifully so you know there are so many different stories and different ways you can go in the in the Aquaman world and we have yet to determine exactly what the sequel will look like.
Aquaman is out now on DVD and Blu-ray