The More You Know


With apologies to this particular dead horse, it’s looking like Warner Bros.’ Green Lantern movie is going to wind up as the high-profile bomb of the summer – a bona fide, all fronts failure throttled by critics, ignored by audiences and despised even by fanboys. At this point, it’ll be lucky to avoid going down as the most openly loathed superhero movie since Batman & Robin.

So why is Warner Bros. making a sequel?

Well, they (probably) aren’t. So why are they saying they are? Well, they aren’t really doing that either. Confused?

This is one of those instances wherein “movie people” like myself often forget that, having spent decades immersed in the world of film language and movie industry doublespeak, we can sometimes end up “talking past” a lot of the people we’re supposed to be informing about this stuff. So, in the absence of anything substantially newsworthy to speak of in the post-July 4th lull, let’s maybe try to correct that with a brief selection of things most people probably don’t realize about The Movies but probably should. For starters …

A Movie Isn’t “Done” Until It Comes Out

In a 24-hour, 365-day news cycle, Hollywood studios are constantly working to keep their upcoming investments in the forefront of conversation as much as possible. Problematically, moviemaking is a very complicated and often lengthy process, so there can be a long gap in between “Guess what we’re making?” and “Here it is!” Hollywood’s solution to this problem? Breaking the filmmaking process into a series of largely arbitrary “steps” and giving each step a name that sounds very important.

For example: Every week, dozens of movies are “announced.” That sounds very official, but most of the time all “announcement” means is the studio declaring that they can make a movie (re: they have “the rights”) and that they aren’t actively opposed to the idea. In other words, it’s meaningless – but it gets the project mentioned in the press. In the case of Green Lantern 2, the announcement has the added intent of allowing Warner Bros. to not hurt their overall corporate value by admitting that they’re taking a bath on the film while they wait for Harry Potter to bring them better box office news.

Another example: A week or so back, Disney/Marvel suddenly “announced” a sequel to Thor. Now, this was somewhat unexpected – after all, everyone already knew that there was another Thor-related movie coming: The Avengers. And while Thor was a good-sized hit, it remains to be seen if audiences are seriously clamoring for more Asgardian action. So why announce it? Well, because on more-or-less the same day star Chris Hemsworth was also “announced” as signing on for an unrelated upcoming spy movie. Having that be news without some indication that Thor was continuing would’ve been bad P.R. for Marvel – they wanted to answer all “does this mean he’ll be abandoning Thor?” questions with a “No!” before they were even asked.

“Announcement” is usually followed by “developing,” which also sounds deceptively important but typically just means “we’ve had meetings about it.” After that comes “greenlight,” aka “we’ve allotted some money to it,” followed by “in production” which can mean anything from the construction of sets to the sketching of costumes, but does not mean “actively being filmed,” because that’s called “shooting” – which is itself still not the last step.

To give you an idea of how far along this can get and have no movie to show for it, way back before The Dark Knight had even come out, Warner Bros. (again) was big into a project called Justice League: Mortal. It was supposed to be both a live action iteration of the Justice League animated series and a possible launch pad for DC Comics films separate from the self contained Christopher Nolan and Bryan Singer Batman and Superman movies. They had a director (George Miller) a cast of actors (Armie Hammer as Batman and hip-hop star Common as the Jon Stewart Green Lantern, most notably) and a whole production set up in Australia. They’d made costumes, built sets, were all set to go … and then it was suddenly scrapped.

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At the time, a loss of hoped-for tax breaks from the Australian government were cited, but later (largely unsubstantiated) rumors suggested that Christopher Nolan himself had torpedoed it after he became enraged that the film’s story was attempting to tie in with the events of his Batman movies. To date, no one has actually come out and said exactly what led to the shutdown and ultimate cancelation of the project.

People Making Movies Do Not Always Tell the Truth

The big take away from that giant wall of text in the previous section should be that, because moviemaking typically exists in a state of flux, you can’t really take people with money and/or time invested at their word, particularly in the entertainment press.

To go back to Green Lantern again, the only thing less likely than Warner Bros. making a sequel to that movie is Ryan Reynolds – a rising star who most certainly doesn’t need his career hitched to this particular anchor – appearing in it. However, you will almost certainly not be hearing Ryan Reynolds himself say so for probably over a year. See, until everyone can say, “it’s not happening,” no one can say it.

But in a more general sense, one of the reasons you can seldom trust 100% of what you hear quoted from moviemaking folks in the press is the simple fact that they often don’t know what the truth is themselves. Again – the movie doesn’t exist until it’s been made and released, so as such nothing about it can be true or false until then, either. So when some enterprising journalist corners Jason Statham at Cannes and asks him if Transporter 4 is happening, and Mr. Statham says something that sounds vaguely like “I’d do it” or “maybe,” it’s probably best not to get overly excited. He’s not really the guy who makes the initial call on that (French mega-producer Luc Besson has that job), but he’s also not likely to openly write off his own moneymaking franchise in public even if he is done with it.

Hollywood Knows How to Work the Press

For a moment there at the tail end of the 1990s, Hollywood actually got terrified of the independent movie geek press. They were slow to adjust to the presence of the internet, and devoted early adopter movie fans like Harry Knowles of Ain’t-It-Cool-News were able to throw the once tightly controlled marketing/movie press alliance into a tailspin by publishing set photos, concept art, early script reviews and other things that the old guard film press would never have reported on in a kind of gentleman’s agreement.

When Batman & Robin failed to set the box office on fire, filmmaker Joel Schumacher made international headlines by blaming the negative pre-release buzz on the influence of websites, which caused an explosion in the field (and let’s be honest, kinda sorta creating the scenario wherein I can make a living doing this so … thanks, Joel!) but also clued Hollywood in that they needed to get on top of the new medium.

Today, marketing departments employ specialists in controlling the flow of news to certain audiences and demographics, particularly on the web where the demand for new content often trumps that whole “verification” thing. That’s not to say that the stories themselves aren’t true, but they’re often adjusted by studio sources in order to skew the buzz in the direction they want. For example, even though the scene itself was ultimately cut from the film, word of a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it cameo by the frozen body of Captain America in The Incredible Hulk – a huge deal back when fans were still wondering if Marvel Films was serious about The Avengers – managed to hit the online press circuit earlier than some of the casting or character designs did.

Think that was an accident?

Bob Chipman is a film critic and independent filmmaker. If you’ve heard of him before, you have officially been spending way too much time on the internet.

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Bob Chipman
Bob Chipman is a critic and author.