EXCLUSIVE: Through his work on the Dark Knight, Blade and Ghost Rider series, David S. Goyer has spent more than his share of time in the superhero trenches. At a time when studios are betting bigger than ever on spandex, Goyer is evolving his film and TV production company Phantom Four in the direction they are avoiding. He’s hired as president Kevin Turen, whose background has been with indie films like A Guide To Recognizing Your Saints, Arbitrage, the Robert Redford-starrer All Is Lost and most recently the Toronto film 99 Homes. While Goyer’s got plenty of mainstream projects through his film deal with Warner Bros and TV deal with Universal Television, he wants to devote his resources to empowering makers of the kind of films that are being honored tonight at the Gotham Awards. That includes raising a fund.
“Everybody talks about how it seems like studios increasingly are relying on these big tentpoles and some micro-budget horror films, and that’s the majority of the slate,” Goyer said. “I’ve been a benefactor of that movement, but there are a ton of films out there I’ve really admired over the last few years that studios aren’t making, and I wanted to see if I could help get more of them made.”
Goyer started in that mode, making his directing debut on the small indie drama Zig Zag. Most films he’s written, produced or directed since have had catering budgets bigger than that debut, but he found that the films that left the biggest impact with him as a moviegoer have been pics studios probably wouldn’t consider. Two favorites this year were Whiplash and The Babadook.
“This was an incredible film by an emerging Australian director named Jennifer Kent, this psychological horror film that is scary as well and probably the best psychological horror film that’s been made in the last decade. Another Earth, Snowpiercer and St. Vincent were others that weren’t done in the traditional studio system,” Goyer said. “Kevin made one I admired with Richard Gere, Arbitrage, and it’s the most successful film on VOD, and then All Is Lost. I have a deal at Warner Bros and we talked about bringing on an executive and I met with a lot of people you might characterize as the usual suspects, people who came up in the studio system. I liked that Kevin didn’t come up that way, that he grew up in the independent financing world and has made six or seven films that are the kind of quality pictures I’ve become excited by. We can still do the tentpoles but also cultivate some of these emerging filmmakers; Kevin has raised so much money for these kinds of films, and we’re exploring raising independent money so we can help finance some ourselves and be a port in the storm for some of these emerging filmmakers.”
Turen, who started at Capital Entertainment/First Look Studios and then headed production for Infinity Media and Treehouse Pictures, will help the forward progress of bigger commercial projects as well. On the feature side, that includes the Lionsgate novel adaptation Breach which Justin Rhodes has adapted for Goyer to direct, and which will go out to actors next spring; Sandman, which Joseph Gordon-Levitt will direct and star in. He’ll produce with Goyer and involved as exec producer is Neil Gaiman, who created the classic comic that Jack Thorne is adapting. The story is a mix of horror and fantasy, and the central character is Morpheus, the personification of dreams who, after being held captive 70 years, escapes, gains revenge and rebuilds his crumbling kingdom. “I hesitate to definitively say when it might go before the cameras, but the one thing different between other iterations and ours is that Neil Gaiman has been in the room with us and is a vital part of the team,” Goyer said. “We have a draft Warners is very happy with and we’re moving forward, knock on wood.”
There is also the adaptation of the Vertigo Comics title Federal Bureau Of Physics that Justin Marks is scripting; a Fox adaptation of the Dash Shaw graphic novel Doctors; and Goyer is partnered with Lava Bear on The Forest, which Jason Zada is directing and Natalie Dormer starring in for Focus. Goyer said he has also become one of the many writers to take a swing at the Fantastic Voyage remake for James Cameron.
On the TV side, Goyer is exec producing the John Hlavin crime drama pilot Most Wanted for Amazon, and just set an adaptation of Peter Straub’s dark fantasy novel Shadowland at NBC as an event series, and The Birth Of A Nation, which Nate Parker will direct and star in with Armie Hammer, about the slave-turned-revolutionary Nat Turner. Then there is the Starz series Da Vinci’s Demons and Constantine, which Goyer said is very much in the running to return at NBC despite after having its season abbreviated. Some reports sounded taps.
“I want to give your colleague Nellie [Andreeva] credit for an eloquent piece that exactly described the situation,” Goyer said. “It’s not dead, at all, it’s solidly in contention for a second season of NBC, which is still supporting it. Constantine got caught in the midst of a change that is happening at the networks. It gets big numbers on DVR and online views, but it is sort of a tweener that doesn’t fit the traditional viewing box at the big networks. It’s not State Of Affairs, it’s just not that kind of show, but NBC likes it. It’s frustrating what happened because creatively we’ve really started to hit our stride and people are responding to that. If I were a betting man, I would say there’s an excellent chance for a second season.”