Welcome back to the newest feature here at DC World. For Director’s Chair we will be putting you in the hot seat and asking questions all about your cinema experiences and what you would like to see next for DC films.
For this edition we have our first real Director. Rob Ayling answers the questions this time out. Rob is the Director of the brilliant Batman short film Living in Crime Alley which if you haven’t seen yet you can watch here
If you would like to be involved and have a go then please get in touch with me on Twitter and send a message to @thefilmbloke. I look forward to hearing from you.
So let’s get in to it with Rob.
Here at DC World we are big admirers of your short film Living In Crime Alley, can you tell us a bit about how it came about for you and what the directing experience was like?
Living in Crime Alley was initially an award winning screenplay that I wrote back in 2017 and was a creative way of expressing my frustrations of being creatively lost and ﬁnancially poor. At the time of writing the screenplay, I had lost my job and was struggling to ﬁnd work. I submitted the screenplay to the Fan Fiction Festival where it won the best screenplay award, which was an amazing acknowledgement of not only my skills as a screenwriter but also my admiration for the world of Batman. At that time however I did not have any intention to adapt the script into a ﬁlm. Having shared the screenplay to many DC fans and creatives to read, I was ﬁnally persuaded to bring Living in Crime Alley to life in December 2018. Upon reﬂection; it was one of the best decisions I’ve made in my ﬁlmmaking career. I feel very blessed to have worked with a talented cast and crew who shared the same love and enthusiasm for the Batman character and universe as I do. Directing Living in Crime Alley was a unique, brilliant experience. It’s the most fun I’ve had making a ﬁlm. There were so many memorable moments. Witnessing Vincent Jerome’s emotional ﬁnal take in the ﬁlm; Danny’s ﬁrst costume ﬁtting; Bella’s wonderful improvised humour. But the deﬁnitive moment for me, which sums up the excitement and joy of directing this production, was when a 6ft 2 man dressed as Batman ﬁnally walked onto the ﬁlm set, me calling “action” cueing a machine to spray a room with smoke and that man to raise his cape as if to spread his wings with the crew and I in awe, (a direct homage to Batman ’89) will be a moment I will cherish forever.
Living In Crime Alley wasn’t your first experience on a film set, can you tell us a bit about your history and how you got to where you are now?
Since the age of 5, more speciﬁcally my ﬁrst exposure to cinema, I have always wanted to be a ﬁlmmaker. My background started with animation, hand-drawn and plasticine animation. At 16, I was trained by a comic book artist and I was learning photography. It was here I slowly realised my passion for live action ﬁlmmaking. I do hope to return animation again someday. I ﬁrst started out in the industry as a storyboard and concept artist for short ﬁlms, features and commercials while I was studying Film at university at UWE Bristol. With a few years of freelancing in various roles, editing, sound recording and camera assisting, I then studied a Masters in Film Directing at the MET Film School based at Ealing Studios. Since graduating in 2014, I have produced, written and directed a handful of award winning productions including short ﬁlms, TV pilots, non-proﬁt, web series episodes, commercials and music videos, some of which have screened at BAFTA qualifying ﬁlm festivals. I currently work for a creative agency in London and Bristol where I am a ﬁlmmaker for their corporate clients.
What are you currently working on and what’s next for you?
I’m currently working on a new short ﬁlm, a thriller, which I’m planning to ﬁlm towards the end of the year. In the meantime, I’m also producing a comedy/heist short ﬁlm for a Bristol based ﬁlmmaker and developing my feature ﬁlm screenplays’ a dark comedy/ drama and a superhero drama in hopes that one of these will be my ﬁrst feature ﬁlm production.
It’s always better to see a film on the big screen, how often do you get to the cinema and what is your snack of choice?
I try to go to the cinema twice a week. I’ll watch anything, even the critically unfavourable ﬁlms, even Cats! My snack of choice is salt and sweet popcorn mixed together, best of both worlds.
Outside of Comic Book films what other films and franchises do you love?
I love all sorts of ﬁlms. Anything with an engaging story that is entertaining and that has something to say. That last point is not always necessarily the case of course. At university and Flm School, I studied and learnt to appreciate all kinds of cinema. I’m a huge fan of the James Bond ﬁlms and Mission Impossible franchise. I would love to direct a ﬁlm in either one of the franchises. I’m also a huge fan of Star Wars. But the sheer craft of a movie such as Parasite also enthrals me.
It’s fair to say that critics weren’t blown away by Justice League but since then the likes of Wonder Woman, Aquaman and Shazam have all helped to get the DCEU back on track. What are your thoughts on the DCEU so far?
It was a rocky start, but I think the DCEU is now on the right track. I’m hoping that DC realise now that their USP has always been their DC characters and that they are not Marvel, which I felt that they were trying to emulate with their emphasis on interconnecting ﬁlms. As we’ve seen with Wonder Woman, Aquaman, Shazam and now the Oscar winning Joker, audiences aren’t always invested in interconnecting stories. They just want to see these characters and their stories on the big screen and done (pun intended) with justice. With the ﬁlms listed, in my eyes, giving the ﬁlmmakers a chance to put their own creative spin on these characters has been a success and I think audiences are becoming more open to different interpretations.
Have you seen Birds of Prey and if so what did you think of it?
Birds of Prey: And the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn was very entertaining. It’s funny how they’ve added the “And the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn” because it does feel more like a Harley Quinn ﬁlm than a Birds of Prey ﬁlm. Margot Robbie has made the role of Harley Quinn her own. Apart from Robbie, I thought the rest of the Birds of Prey were great, but notably June Smollett-Bell as Black Canary, I thought she was terriﬁc. Ewan McGregor looks like he’s having the time of his life in this ﬁlm and was both entertaining and disturbing to watch at times. I look forward to seeing where the Birds of Prey and Harley Quinn go next.
With Wonder Woman 84, Suicide Squad 2, The Batman and possibly the Flash movie all in the works how excited are you for the future of DC cinema?
I’m very hopeful for DC in cinema. There is always going to be an audience for superhero movies. It’s down to how much we can as storytellers reimagine and adapt to changing audiences tastes. If I’m to throw out a suggestion, why not create a DC Black Label Films brand where creatives can have the opportunity to tell else-world stories? Like what DC are doing now with their comics. The opportunity has been opened up for sure with the recent CW’s Crisis On Inﬁnite Earths with multiverse. Grant Gustin’s Flash meeting Ezra Miller’s Flash being a huge highlight and stroke of genius on DC’s part. The possibility of Ezra Miller’s Flash ﬁlm being The Flashpoint Paradox could easily help DC’s cinematic future as well.
Henry Cavill’s Superman almost seems to be the forgotten man of DC. The fans definitely want him back. What are your thoughts on a Man of Steel 2?
I’m surprised they haven’t made the ﬁlm already to be honest. Henry Cavill is a very good Superman, when given the right material to work with. With how the world is right now, Superman is perhaps one of the most relevant superheroes. Heck, the world already has their own Lex Luthor sitting in The White House currently, you can’t get any more relevant than that! But he lacks Luthor’s intellect and integrity. Superman has always been a fascinating character because despite him being an alien emigrating to Earth, he’s perhaps the most human of all the DC heroes. There are so many stories you can tell with Superman. Don’t get me wrong, Lex Luther and General Zod are great adversaries, but Superman has so many more great rogues to go up against. Man of Steel 2, Brainiac vs Superman, make it happen DC, it’s what the fans want.
A simple one now… Keaton, Bale or Affleck and why? (Maybe we should add Chase for you too)
Ha! Danny Chase should deﬁnitely be added to that list! This is a very difficult question! I will slightly cheat in my answer here. Michael Keaton is the best Batman but Christian Bale is the best Bruce Wayne. Keaton has incredibly expressive eyes which are needed when donning the cowl and he also delivers the line “I’m Batman” in probably the most epic way possible, apparently that line and moment was improvised by Keaton which makes that moment even more awesome. However I have always felt that there was something missing when he was Bruce Wayne. When casting for the role, you are ultimately casting for Bruce Wayne. You need that human connection with the character and that’s where Christian Bale shines. In The Dark Knight Trilogy, we see and feel the mental, physical toll that being Batman has on him as Bruce Wayne. So with that in mind, and from the names listed, I would say Christian Bale does take this win, despite his slightly over the top Batman growling voice. However I grew up with two Batmen that deﬁnitely need a mention. The late great Adam West and Kevin Connery, who for me IS THE deﬁnitive Batman and my personal favourite.
Now it’s time to take your seat in the Directors Chair…
Warner Brothers approach you with a huge budget of $300million to make a film that fits in with Wonder Woman, Aquaman and Shazam but which DC character are you making your movie about and how will the film play out?
Green Lantern Corps. An established set of Green Lanterns that bring in Jon Stewart. I grew up watching the awesome Justice League animated series. For me, he was THE Green Lantern. Of course later realising that Alan Scott and Hal Jordan were the ﬁrst lanterns to appear before him, it didn’t change my opinion on the Jon Stewart character. I would do an origin ﬁlm in the style of Batman Begins meets Star Trek (2009) but also focus on adapting his story into modern context. If they decide to reform the Justice League, I think Jon Stewart would be a ﬁtting new member to the league. Plus as a person of colour, I think it would be great to have more representation in superheroes onscreen.
Of course your film is a huge success and WB want more, only this time it’s a much lower budget and they want a film that will fit easily in to the world of Joaquin Phoenix’s Joker. Which Hero or Villains are you going for and what happens?
Working title; “Nygma”. The story of a man wanting to be recognised and acknowledged for his superior intellect. As the story unfolds and Gotham City becomes the city of lost hope, we witness Edward Nygma become the narcissistic persona known to citizens as The Riddler. My vision would be almost a psychological thriller in the style of Christopher Nolan’s Memento, where the audience are literally taken through a riddle or puzzle and the only way to solve it is by rewatching the ﬁlm, over and over again.
Your second film cleans up at awards season and now Marvel want to be involved and they offer you any of their characters to put in a DC film. Who are you bringing over and what team up or face off would we see with our DC favourites?
An easy answer for me, Justice League vs. The Avengers. Think big I reckon! It would literally be the most expensive, anticipated superhero movie of all time. I don’t know how you would be able to, story-wise, pull it off but the idea of having Batman vs. Iron Man, Superman vs. Captain America and Wonder Woman vs. Thor just to name a few showdowns sounds epic already. They’ve done this already in comics in the 90s, why not put commercial differences aside once again and put on a cinematic, operatic, roller coaster ride.
So that’s it. Some brilliant answers there from Rob. His passion for cinema and DC in particular is clear for everyone to see. There are two answers here that really stand out for me and they are the idea for DC Black Label films and the “Nygma” movie itself. This is something I would love to see happen and I’m glad I’m not the only one.
That’s the end of this edition of DC World Director’s Chair and remember if you want to take the hot seat yourself then please get in touch with me on Twitter @thefilmbloke. Thanks for reading.