Monday, July 28, 2008

Holy Middle Management, Batman!

So I watched The Dark Knight and loved it, for many reasons but primarily because it successfully survived the poor business management style of the parent company.

Like most aspiring screenwriters, I psychoanalyze movie companies the same way I would psychoanalyze a future client. The whole idea is to build a product (i.e. screenplay) that this particular client would want to buy (i.e. give me a truck full of money).

This is one reason why screenwriters often get sidelined into conversation topics like, "What kind of films does Paramount make?" "Where is Universal investing their money this year?" and "How can I get Mark Cuban to give me some of his millions?" They are trying to put the different studios on the proverbial psychiatrists comfy couch and then bilk them for tons of money.

To add to my personal hubris, I have taken some Business Management 101 classes and do some consulting work. So I can pretend I know everything there is to know about large corporations as opposed to BSing like some other screenwriters do.

One of the basic management theories proposed by Hersey and Blanchard is called situational leadership. There are four styles of leadership and you are supposed to use the appropriate style in a given situation. And every time I've heard about this theory in class, I am told, "A common management mistake is to go straight from level 1 - Directing (i.e. micromanagement), to level 4 - Delegating (i.e. complete hands-off)."

Which makes me think of the Batman movies.

See, when I see Warner Brother movies in general and the Batman movies in particular, they seem waver between very this-is-so-corporate to who-the-heck-greenlit this? Allow me to provide some examples.

Tim Burton's Batman - No Tim, you can't cram in a hundred villains who look like characters from old German silent films. Just have Jack Nicholson do everything.

Tim Burton's Batman Returns - What the heck, Tim. You made us money once. Go ahead and have the penguin bite someone's nose and then drive a stupid-looking little Batman toy car. And Batman gets out of the situation by kicking the bottom out of the Batmobile? Sure. Sounds kooky.

Joel Schumacher's Batman Forever - No no no, Joel. You cannot make this into a musical. You can have your flashy costumes and muscled men and choreographed fight sequences and long discussions about, and I air quote, "partners," but pushing it into the arena of camp is strictly off limits.

Joel Schumacher's Batman and Robin
- What the heck, Joel. You made us money once. Do whatever you want.

Christopher Nolan's Batman Begins - As much as I appreciate your vision, Chris, it sounds very dark. Maybe if you gave Batman a love interest... that might lighten some things up a little, right?

Christopher Nolan's The Dark Knight - What the heck, Chris. You made us money once. We trust your judgment and your pitch-black vision of what this film should be. Kill them all.

The way information is organized betrays the bureaucracy behind the information and this is no exception. And to prove that it isn't Batman-centric, look at the Matrix movies also from Warner Brothers. Despite what your local philosophy student might tell you, the first Matrix is a straightforward sci-fi/kung fu/action film that follows a very established formula. It is only after the studio stands back and lets the "director's creative vision" flow forth that things go completely off the rails.

So it says something about Christopher Nolan as a director to have a competent and entertaining product once the training wheels come off and he's given carte blanche to do anything he wants. (The only thing that comes close to indulgent is hiring his brother to do the screenplay, but I'll take Jonathan Nolan over Spider-Man 3's screenwriter/brother Ivan Rami any day of the week). He has effectively broken the Batman self-indulgent-director's-sequel-curse, and for that he should be applauded.


Susan said...

Alright, I have to make myself go see this movie. I think I'm the only one in all the blogs I read that hasn't yet.

NoRegrets said...

Susan, you are not the only one. There's me. And I will not read this post until I see it.

M. Robert Turnage said...

Susan and NoR, there is a sort of minor spoiler that is between the lines and implied, but I don't give anything away explicitly. But you are right to come back after you've seen the movie.

NoRegrets said...

OK, I read it. but since I don' t know one director from another, for the most part, it didn't really matter.

great movie though!

Cyber D said...

My wife went out with the girls the other night and they saw the Batman movie! Can you belive that? I haven't seen the Batman movie but my wife has! Now that is injustice! I've heard nothing but good things. Well... almost. I heard that Nolan crammed everything he ever wanted to acheive into this Batman movie and while Bale would be on board for a third if Nolan did it... Nolan has no intention of doing a third. Enter Problem. You know WB is going to do a third. How can they not after the huge amount of cash they raked in? So who will take over an drop a giant turd on Batman 3: the Tight Pants.

M. Robert Turnage said...

If Nolan drops out, I would love to direct Batman 3: Night of the 10,000 Catwomen.