A Rope Of Sand
“The title is meant to draw the reader in without giving too much away” – Mr. Butlertron
Anyone familiar with The Batman would be able to see that something changed for Ben Affleck. Especially when it came to his role as the Director and Writer of the film. Even to this very day, the question of ‘Will Affleck continue being Batman?’ looms over the project.
I came into contact with a source near the beginning of 2018 and was told that they had some information about what truly happened with The Batman. So I waited for the right opportunity to divulge the information without it being linked directly to them. I combined what I learned with some interviews around the same time that the dates correlate, and hopefully you see the real story about why Ben stepped away from Directing duties.
So How Did It All Start?
In July of 2015, it was announced that Ben Affleck would be co-writing the film with Geoff Johns. Don’t get me wrong, he’s a very well established Comic Book writer in the Pantheon of greats. But they were hopeful about getting the film released in the latter part of 2018. There was even mentions of a script being turned in by the end of the summer that year, 2015, which meant Affleck had a fairly planned out idea of how the film would be.
Now, I’m not one to make huge claims, but I saw an interview of Zack Snyder during the release of Batman v Superman, where he talks about Ben potentially directing his own Batman film:
“I keep working on him. He always says he’s a one-movie-at-a-time kinda guy, so…Yeah for sure, I think that’s the pre-requisite I think, hopefully, for him doing it.”
How Affleck Chose The Role
Ben knew that Snyders take was going to be an incarnation of Frank Miller’s seminal ‘The Dark Knight Returns’. So it makes sense that those two thought of ideas of what kind of story to tell for a Batman film. Maybe that could’ve been the reason for Affleck ultimately taking on the director role as well as writing the script with Johns. Even before he was writing the film, he told EW in July of 2015 his thoughts on Zack casting him as Batman:
“My first reaction was, ‘Are you sure?’ ” Affleck says. “At the time I was 40, 41, and had just finished Argo, and I felt like ‘This seems like a strange way to get to Batman.’ But Zack convinced me.”
What Happened To The Script
Things progressed further once we knew Affleck and Johns were pinning the script and were working on it near the end of 2015. April of the next year, 2016, Affleck and Johns submit their story outline to Warner Bros. which begins the negotiations of Affleck to direct the film. They both begin writing the draft of the script, but with the ramifications of Batman v Superman, things began to shift in a downward spiral. Johns is named Co-Head of DC Films in May of 2016 and what looked like a phenomenal match, started to show signs of discourse.
In August of 2016, Affleck and Johns hit a roadblock on their script. My source informed me that this was the beginning when both men were not seeing eye to eye when it came to scripting duties. Just recently, Jay Oliva, who was working with them at this time, had been working on an earlier draft with both Affleck and Johns in London. He was unable to see later drafts due to working with Patty Jenkins on Wonder Woman. Ironically, around this same time, is when Ben shows us the test footage of Deathstroke on Twitter.
This is purely speculation on my part, but maybe the reason Affleck released his teaser/test footage of Deathstroke was to prove a point: That people would love to see Batman and Deathstroke face off in a film. But maybe that’s where Johns and Affleck were starting to disagree on where The Batman was going? What other reason would Ben have shown that, if not to make a point?
Let’s assume Snyder had a much bigger role for Slade in Justice League (rumors have said he broke out Lex from Arkham while also breaking his finger). Why wouldn’t Snyder release a teaser or test footage of him on his own? He obviously wanted Slade to have a bigger role in Justice League, since they filmed his scene in Morocco on a Mega Yacht. That much was evident from Snyder himself showing behind the scenes photos. That’s not something you work in for a scene that last a few minutes. Something major was supposed to happen. It was an expensive scene, hence the Goût de Diamants (a $2.07 Million Dollar bottle mind you) Lex popped open to celebrate gods return. Hopefully, we’ll know someday.
Two months later, October 2016, my source says Johns began to make his own rewrites of the script without Afflecks approval. This is also the same time that Rick leaves The Flash, citing creative differences. The odd thing here is that at San Diego Comic Con a few months prior, he was casting several people for his film. In Ricks statement, he says:
“… I wish Warner Brothers, DC, Jon Berg, Geoff Johns, and Ezra Miller all the best as they continue their journey into the speed force.”
That’s almost exactly what Junkie XL said when he was let go from scoring the Justice League film (June 2017):
“It pains me to leave the project, but a big thanks to Zack for asking me to be part of his vision, and I wish Danny, Joss and Warner Bros. all the best with Justice League.”
You’ll notice that neither one of them wish Zack a farewell. That sounds like everyone was on board with Ricks film until certain people became involved. They both acknowledge as much in their ending speech, but that’s my own thought. The odd thing about that is in an interview where Affleck mentions his title for the film. He says:
“I think it’s going to be called ‘The Batman’ … at least that’s what we are going with now. I might change it, I think that’s about it right now, that’s all I got”
Why was he so uncertain about the title of his own film? Speculation again, but maybe that was his way of making it known that he wasn’t happy about what was happening to the script of his film.
Now, I want to make it clear: I am not blaming Johns in any derogatory way about what happened with the fallout of Ben stepping down to direct The Batman. My source informed me of what transpired between the two. The level of blame is really on the studio for allowing these poor decisions to fester in the first place. Johns was put in the position to make the DC Films successful and it was all riding on him.
I’m sure most of us would have done the same thing if we knew our jobs were on the line. We know we’ve written amazing story arcs that have been popular among the Comic Book fan-base. Johns has written amazing work with Green Lantern and Flash, while crafting one of my favorite arcs with Flashpoint.
What I learned next, I leave for interpretation on how you feel. Especially since it had been a few months since Affleck was unhappy about the way Johns was crafting the script. In December of 2016, my source tells me that Affleck disapproved of Johns’ script. He wanted to bring in Terrio to do a page one rewrite of their original script they wrote. He then tells EW:
“I’m still working on the script, I’m not going to write and direct anything that I don’t think is good enough to be made. I’m definitely going to make sure I have something is special — there’s not enough money in the world to make a mediocre version of Batman worth it.”
Hope & Optimism
Let’s look at that from a business stand point. The co-head of DC Films had been making changes for ‘Hope and Optimism’ to be present in all of the future DC Films. The fall out of Batman v Superman was evident with how things started to unravel.
From an outsider looking in, one could surmise that Johns was actively wanting to have a lighter tone with The Batman. These films were now going to be under his ‘Legacy’. He wasn’t just co-writing the film, he was responsible for how this Universe was going to take shape from here on out. Maybe that’s why he rested on his laurels when it came to help develop The Flashpoint (the title the film had once Rick left but is no longer the title) and The Batman. I, for one, would have LOVED seeing Flashpoint on the big screen with Jeffery Dean Morgan as Batman. But that wouldn’t have fallen in line with what the studio had in mind.
The New Year
January 2017, would prove to be the toughest for The Batman. My source informed me that Warner Bros. allegedly demanded a script in hand since filming was planned for later that year. Affleck spoke to the Guardian for his upcoming film Live By Night and talked about the script once more:
“That’s the idea. But it’s not a set thing and there’s no script. If it doesn’t come together in a way I think is really great I’m not going to do it.”
But then, doubt became very evident when he told IGN:
“It’s the same thing as any other movie. When I’m excited about it, we’re working on the scripts, when we get there we’re gonna make it. I’m really excited. There’s great stuff in it now, it just needs to get better and better. And it’s the same way I felt about [Live By Night] when I was prepping it, it’s just that no one was asking me questions because nobody gave a s***, because there wasn’t any click-throughs. But it took me a year plus to get this movie ready to launch. Hopefully it won’t take me that long for Batman. But we’re working, I think we’re ahead of the curve, and we’re excited.”
January 30th, Affleck announced he was stepping down from directing duties.
“There are certain characters who hold a special place in the hearts of millions,” Affleck said in a statement. “Performing this role demands focus, passion and the very best performance I can give. It has become clear that I cannot do both jobs to the level they require. Together with the studio, I have decided to find a partner in a director who will collaborate with me on this massive film. I am still in this, and we are making it, but we are currently looking for a director. I remain extremely committed to this project, and look forward to bringing this to life for fans around the world.”
If I had to guess, I would say that Ben felt control slipping from his hands. Not having the script perfect to his liking, so much so that he brought in Oscar-winning writer Chris Terrio was evident enough. Add that in February of 2017, Warner Bros. removed Johns from writing and producing duties for The Batman, the studio was intent to start from scratch.
In comes Matt Reeves, who, for a brief moment, actually walked away from the negotiations. He was wanting full creative control of not only the script but of the final cut (in hindsight, do you really blame him?). Johns was in charge of the DC Films at that point, so it was obvious that directors coming into the DC Universe would not have free reign to create the type of film they wanted.
A ‘director driven studio’ not allowing their directors full creative control and final cut? That sounds odd. I mean, this is a studio that allowed Snyder to make an R-Rated film with Superman and Batman. The gravitas Snyder showed to the world proved that you can have a serious take on these characters without having quips every five minutes.
What I Think Happened
So now, we see a potential third director leave or not be involved. The reason? Because the creative choices would not be their own but someone who was involved with all three of those decisions. But maybe Reeves demanding that he wanted full creative control on the script and final cut was the turning point. It actually highlighted just how much the co-head of DC Films was managing things, for better or for worse.
Rick gets hired to direct The Flash and obviously shared what his story was about for the studio to agree with it. Then, he somehow has a falling out months before pre-production was starting? Now, add The Batman losing director and writing duties from Affleck when he obviously had a story the studio liked. It starts to make sense of why Reeves walked away at that time.
Feige runs a tight ship over at Marvel Studios, and if a director doesn’t play well with his vision, they part ways. Johns also said that Feige was an inspiration for him. Am I the only one seeing a correlation here?
So, with Affleck relieved from duty on directing The Batman, things were starting to feel right again since he could now focus solely on acting. But there was another hurdle he would have to jump over very soon.
Oh, did you forget the whole Justice League catastrophe in the Summer of 2017? My source told me that Affleck was upset with how Warner Bros. was handling the re-shoots and were retooling the entire film in a different way. He was worried that other films would continue to be affected if he continued playing Batman –I read that and thought ‘Happy Face’ Batman when he sees Superman come back to punch Steppenwolf and smiles like a 5-year-old–and you can see why he may have felt that way (my thought at least).
I truly believe Affleck seriously over played most of what he had to re-shoot in spite of everything. He was a completely different character as Batman in Justice League. I think he knew what was happening. He saw someone come in and rewrite his friends script with amateur (my own opinion) dialogue. So much so, that he was credited as another writer of the film. That’s ludicrous when considering Terrio himself told The Wall Street Journal that he was reading Diodorus for inspiration for Justice League.
“I have written Justice League Part One, but I won’t necessarily write Part Two. This has been the most rigorous intellectual exercise I’ve had in my writing life. For Batman v Superman, I wanted to really dig into everything from ideas about American power to the structure of revenge tragedies to the huge canon of DC Comics to Amazon mythology.
For Justice League, I could be reading in the same day about red and blue shifts in physics, Diodorus of Sicily and his account of the war between Amazons and Atlanteans, or deep-sea biology and what kind of life plausibly might be in the Mariana Trench. If you told me the most rigorous dramaturgical and intellectual product of my life would be superhero movies, I would say you were crazy. But I do think fans deserve that. I felt I owed the fan base all of my body and soul for two years because anything less wouldn’t have been appreciating the opportunity I had.”
So naturally, I feel Affleck may have un-enthusiastically parodied his own role for the re-shoots. They were making him do things he wasn’t happy about. Plus they took Terrios dialogue of Justice League and added boob jokes to replace it; 33%+ of it, that is. Even from Suicide Squad, it’s safe to say he was a more menacing figure as Batman, compared to “I don’t not..[like you Superman]”. Gross. But I digest. (Family Guy humor)
David Ayer paid a tremendous amount of respect to Affleck and Batman. Why was it so difficult for those involved with re-shooting Justice League to adhere to the same level of respect? They didn’t need him being a poor-mans ‘Tony Stark’. Did they think, by changing that much and departing from the Batman in Batman v Superman, that would turn this film into a Billion dollar hit? Or maybe because Whedon was now in charge, it would get favorable reviews?
I’m not really sure what they were thinking. But it was clear that what they thought would work for DC Films, clearly was doing the inverse of it. The films we had thought were certain were coming out soon, The Flash, The Batman, and Cyborg, were all now on the back burner for Warner Bros.
The New Regime
December of 2017, Affleck was informed that new leadership was about to take hold of the DC Films Division. Then, the introduction of Walter Hamada as the new Head of the department in January of 2018. Affleck is now said to be taking his time with what he truly wants to do with Batman.
As of now, Affleck has one more film on his contract to play the titular role. The current plan for the DC Films are expendable for the Batman actor. The plan is still in the works. If Ben likes what he sees, he’ll come back as Batman and renegotiate his contract with Warner Bros.
What that means is, if he likes the direction for the film, then he’s ready to continue playing Batman. If not, the studio is prepared to move forward with another actor taking on the role. You can hear more of my thoughts on this entire subject on our Podcast Show below:
Talk about a True Hollywood Story.