After years of attempting to chase after the successes of Marvel Studios with an all-in, all-connected cinematic universe, at this point it seems Warner Bros. and DC Entertainment are willing to admit the rush to an interconnected movie slate was not its particular strength. But in acknowledging that, the studio has found itself with a great opportunity.
“I think that’s the wonderful thing about DC now—we can tell standalone stories with their own unique point of view, their own contained world that doesn’t necessarily have a relationship or a connection to anything else in the universe, and the movie stands on its own,” Birds of Prey producer Sue Kroll recently told io9 at the film’s world premiere press junket in London, England.
“It’s very free, creatively,” she continued. “It allows you to bring in an array of filmmakers and voices with different points of view about the material. I think all those connections and relationships aren’t necessary, so [now] the idea is always ‘let’s tell the best story for this particular movie that we’re making.’”
DC has clearly not abandoned the characters set up in its race to establish and unite a cinematic Justice League, of course. Wonder Woman 1984 will arrive later this year off the back of Diana’s incredibly successful solo debut; sequels and spinoffs, from movies to streaming TV, are in the works for Aquaman after the smash-hit success of his own self-titled film; and The Flash movie is still on the way, despite many a setback. Birds of Prey itself is predicated on coming in the wake of the same world Suicide Squad was in, albeit in a radically different tone. It is that tonal variety, supported by the filmmakers Warner Bros. now courts for DC movies, that Kroll believes is the key to their resurgent critical success.
“Todd Phillips had a very specific vision for the Joker,” Kroll noted of the film that’s riding high on award-season buzz. “Birds of Prey was always going to be told in a very unique, warped, crazy madcap irreverent perspective of Harley Quinn. This is her story. This is her view on the world. And it was important that it took on that tone.
Kroll added, “There were creative decisions, you know, that were made very early. We wanted to show a different version of Gotham people hadn’t seen. I think everyone’s used to a very sleek kind of Gotham, you know? Manhattan, dark, sleek. This is much more scrappy, rounded—more the bowels of what Gotham might be. So you make creative choices and it exists in that world. These elements don’t need to be carried over to another movie. Another filmmaker can come up with their own world. And I think that benefits. The audience gets very different stories each time.”
That willingness to court a variety of perspectives sits at the heart of Birds of Prey, not just in the decision to bring aboard director Cathy Yan—who had her Sundance-winning debut, Dead Pigs, under her belt before boarding the wild world of comic book blockbusters—but in one of the major driving forces for the film both in front of and behind the camera: Margot Robbie. She, of course, stars as Harley Quinn, but also played a major role in bringing Birds of Prey from its earliest conception to its box office debut at the end of the week. “I think we’re actually very lucky, Margot is very unique—not everybody can do this,” Kroll said of her working relationship with Robbie as a producer. “She’s a fabulous actor, obviously, but she also has a really great business sense. And she knows Harley and Harley’s world better than anybody. And she’s very organized, very methodical. Very intuitive. Very creative.”
“Our process was very interesting—we would develop lists of potential people for all our department heads and research them together. We did everything together,” Kroll explained, full of praise for Robbie’s ability to bring both her acting and production experience to Birds of Prey’s table. “She was involved in all of that early prep. All of those meetings, conversations, decisions, planning, bringing up the crew, auditions, cast, and she would jump into a session, and we’d talk about the strategy. She was able to be very facile with those decisions. She could take off her producer hat and put on her actor hat. She had the same responsibilities that Bryan [Unkeless, Kroll’s co-producer] and I had.”
Robbie’s dedication to Birds of Prey persisted even when the rigors of actually filming the movie shifted her priorities. “Obviously, things evolve and she was working every day acting—and still be [with us] in her trailer in the morning. Or at night after we wrapped. We’d figure out what we needed to be doing the next day. She was literally involved in absolutely everything,” Kroll continued. “Now what that meant was that she worked a ridiculous amount. We all worked long hours, but, she had a lot she had to think about.”
Ultimately, Kroll believes’ Robbie’s insight into the creative process on the film didn’t just speak to DC’s new commitment to bringing varied voices to its movie plans, but helped shape Birds of Prey’s own spin on Harley Quinn. “I think [Margot]’s very valuable because her perspective and desire—particularly to how it informed Harley—it was important to have that. She’s the most familiar with it and the most passionate,” Kroll concluded. “It was her idea, initially, to have a girl gang movie. We were able to have a very unique kind of point-of-view injected into everything that we do. Because you see Harley’s point of view, Margot’s point of view, and that duality was very interesting. But she was there with us, every step, watching dailies, the whole thing. Not everybody can do it. But she can.”
Birds of Prey is in theaters now.
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