Bruce Timm—Wonder Woman, Green Lantern—2/27/09

/content/interviews/275/2.jpgBruce Timm is the face of DC Universe Animation. Timm has shepherded Batman: The Animated Series, Batman Beyond, Superman: The Animated Series, and Justice League through successful runs. Timm also oversaw four Batman animated features, including the theatrical release Batman: Mask of the Phantasm. Now the producer of DCU Animated Movies, Timm has lent his experience to Superman Doomsday, Justice League: The New Frontier, Batman: Gotham Knight, the new Wonder Woman and the upcoming Green Lantern. We chatted at San Francisco's Moscone Center during WonderCon 2009.

Groucho: I’d like to start by asking you for just a “state of the DCU Animated Universe”—are sales good, are they great, are they variable, and what have you learned over the course of these first few shows?

Bruce Timm: Ummm, the sales are really good. Some of them have sold better than others. I don’t know the exact numbers. I mean, Doomsday came out of the gate, it was like gangbusters—sold like hotcakes. New Frontier, not quite as well, and then Gotham Nights was, like, way up there again; it was, like, huge. So: so far, so good. Everything’s going great...

G: What were some of your first or earliest impressions of the character of Wonder Woman? What was essential to you to represent about her in this film?

BT: Umm, probably the thing that shaped Wonder Woman, to me, more than anything else, weirdly enough, was the Lynda Carter TV show. I was a comic book fan from an early age, but again, showing my gender bias, I was not that interested in Wonder Woman comics. I mean, I would occasionally look at them on the stands, but for some reason I’d be, like, too embarrassed to go buy it, ‘cause I’d think the guy taking my money would think I was a little girly man or something. And so I never really read a lot of Wonder Woman comics. But when the Lynda Carter show came on, I really enjoyed it. I mean, I knew—I was like 16, so I was already old enough to realize that it wasn’t as serious as I’d like my superheroes to be done, but it wasn’t quite as goofy as the old Batman show. And Lynda herself was, like, perfect casting as Wonder Woman. So I did get a lot of influence on my version of Wonder Woman from that. And later on, as I got older, I did read more Wonder Woman comics and became familiar with the character through not just her own specific title, but, you know, her appearances in Justice League and other DC comics. And then, it’s just like anything: you just kind of absorb stuff from the zeitgeist, you know, kind of like the whole popular culture version of the character. Knowing that she needs to be taken a little more seriously than what they did on the Lynda Carter show, and absorbing stuff from what George Perez had done in the comics and some of the other writers who have worked with the character since. Just kind of mushed it all together and came up with our version...

G: In breaking the story for this film, what were some of the more spirited debates, and what ended up in the recycle bin?

BT: Oh, God. It’s—I’m trying to remember what got cut out. It’s tricky, ‘cause—and I’ve said this before, but it’s a perfect example: someone once asked Quentin Tarantino, “Well, you’re a big superhero fan— how come you haven’t made a superhero movie yet?” And his basic answer was “Because superhero fans are too picky, and you’re never going to please everybody.” And, you know, God knows I’ve been there; I know that’s absolutely the truth. These characters are so iconic and so big, but weirdly enough, everybody’s got a completely different idea of who they are. I mean, all you gotta do is go on the DC Comics message board and read the Wonder Woman threads. You know, they’re all super-passionate, but they’re all talking about a different Wonder Woman, and it’s like—I mean, they have threads arguing about whether she should have heels or flats, and they argue about it. They’re, you know, to the point of getting angry. So it’s like "Oh my God!" So, internally, we had some of those same debates, you know, when—every one of these that we’ve done so far has been a really direct collaboration with us at Warner Brothers Animation and DC Comics. DC’s been much more involved in these than they are in the TV stuff. And, you know, we get in these super-huge geeky debates sometimes about “Oh, Steve Trevor would never say that” or “So-and-so would never say that” and “That’s completely out of character,” and it’s like, who says, ya know? So, it gets silly sometimes. I honestly couldn’t tell you… (Sighs.) I got nothing that’s really a juicy, you know…There’s a lot of little stuff. And nothing really got left out that I wish got kept in, so...

G: Part of the event that you’re heading off to is going to include an unveiling of a preview of Green Lantern. Can you tease a little bit about that movie for us? What would you want people to know about it?

/content/interviews/275/4.jpgBT: Uuummm, what can I say? That’s a tricky thing. Once again, it’s his origin story—even though we did do a version of his origin story in The New Frontier, it seemed to us kind of the best story to tell. Because that was one of the things in New Frontier that we didn’t get to do is we didn’t get to see him meeting the Guardians for the first time and actually getting inducted into the Green Lantern Corps and meeting all the other Green Lanterns. So we thought that was just kind of a natural thing to do in a movie. It’s a big, huge, intergalactic spectacle. Very little of it takes place on Earth. I mean, after the first ten minutes of the movie, the rest of the movie takes place in outer space. So, that was a lot of fun. It was a chance to do something 360 degrees away from what we just did with Wonder Woman, which was all mythology meeting the real world. Once again, we assembled an amazing cast: Christopher Meloni from Law and Order: SVU as Hal Jordan, Victor Garber from Alias is playing Sinestro, Michael Madsen—Virginia’s brother—is playing Kilowog,Tricia Helfer from Battlestar Galactica is playing Boodikka. So it’s a really, really good cast, and it’s—once again, it’s just a kick-ass adventure film, you know, hopefully treating the source material with a certain amount of respect and at the same time throwing enough new twists on it so that even die-hard long-time fans will be surprised and excited...

G: I’m curious how the course of the films matches up with sort of the DC master plan: priorities get shifted to tie in with other projects sort of to advance the course of the live-action films?

BT: Sometimes. Sometimes. Yes and no. It changes all the time—every week it changes. Like, for instance, the Green Lantern thing: it’s pretty well known that they’re developing a Green Lantern live-action movie. Fortunately, we got ours started long enough in advance that we didn’t have to worry about not stepping on their toes or doing—because a lot of times that’ll happen: if there’s a live-action film in development, they’ll say, “No, you can’t even do that yet, ‘cause we’re going to leave the market open for the live-action film.” But in some cases where it has been—where we’ve done them simultaneously, they’ll say, “Oh, you gotta make sure you don’t do this, ‘cause that’s gonna step on what they’re doing in the film,” and yadda yadda yadda. So that has happened. Um, we kinda have a rough master plan of what we want to do, but a lot of it really depends on—because we always have four to five scripts in development at a time because we just never know which ones are going to come out workable when we need them, and, um, we’re kind of at the mercy of that, you know? But yeah, we do try to dovetail with upcoming films and even sometimes upcoming videogames or big TV events or whatever, so—

G: I imagine to some degree they look at you guys as sort a farm team for getting ahead of—

BT: Mmmm, I don’t know that they actually think that way. I think we actually—fortunately, I think, we kind of fall a little bit under the radar. I think the live-action—the people over on the lot—I’m not even sure they’re that closely aware of what we do. I mean, ‘cause in the scheme of things, in the broad range of the entire entertainment spectrum, we’re kinda low on the totem pole. But in a way I kinda like that, because it means we don’t have to take as many notes from all the different executives. You know, the higher profile you have, the more executives want to get their fingers on it, so so far we’ve been good...

G: Again, I’m kind of curious… a few of these are under the belt, so to speak. What have you learned from the early ones of these that you’re taking forward about what works and what doesn’t with the process, or with the audience?

/content/films/3273/1.jpgBT: Well, if I had one criticism of both Doomsday and New Frontier is that we probably bit off a little more than we could chew in the timeframe. Because we are kind of a little bit restricted by budgetary reasons to keep these movies under a certain length, and both of those stories probably need at least an extra half-hour or more to tell those stories properly. So it’s easier when you’re doing a movie like Wonder Woman or Green Lantern that’s based on a comic book and not on a specific storyline, so you don’t have to worry about “Oh yeah, if we leave that scene out, the fans will be mad,” or you do this or that. So both Wonder Woman and Green Lantern—I think both actually feel paced properly; they don’t feel like anything’s missing. But even so, some of the films we’ve got in development right now, or the ones we’ve already made, are based on existing, specific comics. So it’s always trying to figure out what to leave in and what to leave out. (Laughs.) I wish I could say, "Yeah, now that we’ve done all these, we’ve learned this or this or that," but each one of these is hard. Every time we start one of these, it’s like starting over from scratch. That’s another thing: when you’re on a series, you get on a roll. After a while, you know who the characters are, you know what you can do in the time frame and everything. Each one of these is starting from scratch, so [for] each one of these [it] is really, really hard to break the story...

G: I think I asked this last time to someone on your team, but is it a dead issue to push getting more time? I mean, I know it’s a budgetary concern, but do you think you might ever break down that wall of 76 minutes—whatever it is—convince them to—?

BT: I doubt it. It is a budgetary concern more than anything else. And, um, frankly, I’m fine with the time length that these things are. I mean, like I said, when you see Wonder Woman, I think you’ll agree with me that it feels the right length. I don’t think—I’m one of those guys that, when I hit the two-hour mark in a movie theater, I start squirming—my butt hurts. You know, it’s like—as much as I enjoyed The Dark Knight, when I got to that two-hour mark in The Dark Knight, y’know, Harvey Dent just became Two-Face and I went, "Oh my God, he’s just now becoming Two-Face? We got another half hour, forty-five minutes to go? Oh my God!" So—and I love that movie, but, you know, most movies, I think you probably could trim ‘em by a half-hour, forty-five minutes. King Kong, I think, would’ve been one of the best movies of recent years if it just trimmed a half-hour out of it. You know, Watchmen is one of the few movies of that kind that needs to be—I can’t imagine the two hour cut of—in fact, I’m looking forward to the extended version when it comes out on DVD.

G: Give us a picture of what your workplace is like: if we were to walk in on a given day, what kind of a scene would we see? And what is your leadership style?

/content/interviews/275/3.jpgBT: Uhhh, right now, my leadership style is very hands-off. It’s tricky, because when I’m doing a series, I‘m very, very—I have my fingers in all the pies, and I work with the writers and I work with the artists very, very closely and a lot of the times designed a lot of the characters myself. On these, it’s tough because I’m involved, but at the same time if I start giving too many notes then it suddenly starts becoming, you know, my style again. So fortunately, knock wood, I’ve been really, really lucky to have people like Lauren who have loads and loads of talent, and this is the first movie that she actually art-directed on her own. So I kind of oversaw her a little bit in the beginning—you know, I was kinda there to double-check, make sure everything was going all right. But really soon, early on in the game I realized that she’s got it covered, it’s a lot of work but she’s handling it, nothing’s slipping through the cracks. She’s got a great sense of taste and a great design sensibility, so—I don’t want to say that I’m superfluous, but on one hand it’s kind of nice to not have to be involved in every single aspect of the production. I can kind of get to pick and choose what I want to do and what I don’t. So, it’s actually been kinda nice.