For some reason, this post has been trapped as a draft for 11 months. I’m publishing it, unedited.

I’ve been getting involved in the io9 discussion about the (as I’ve named it) Hasbro Cinematic Universe (HCU)[1], and discussing my views on how to go about creating a “cinematic universe” that could actually see the same sort of success as the MCU.

My Background

Before I start, I think it’s important to give a little bit of background on myself in order to put all of this into context.

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I’ve been creating things since I was a wee lad. In grade school I was drawing underground bunkers in my notebooks, and building spaceships with my Legos[2]. I was creating alien races in high school. In college I wrote a game supplement[3] (and ghost-wrote the narrative for an expansion pack by the same publisher). I have a degree in communications (theatre emphasis) with one produced play. And, for most of the past 15 years I’ve been working in marketing (including 6 years in China doing international marketing and business consulting).

All of this is to say that—while certainly not an expert—I do have some academic and professional experience to bring to the table.

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On Carts and Horses

The success of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) has gotten the attention of... well... pretty much everyone. Anyone with an IP that can be turned into a movie or two is looking to create their own “cinematic universe”.

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That’s the first mistake.

Everyone is rushing to the penthouse before they’ve built the lobby.

Marvel established 4 distinct characters (Iron Man, Hulk, Captain America, Thor) in 5 distinct movies before they brought them together. While there were a few thin threads tying them together (almost exclusively in post-credit scenes), they existed as distinct stories. This is the foundation.

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First, Tell a Story

This is where Marvel got it right from the get-go. They told stories (“monster within”, “redemption”, “hero within”, “fish out of water”). They hired great creative teams to tell new and unique stories. Each of those stories stood on its own. If the MCU never happened, they would still have 4 very solid stories (and IM-2 which was kinda lame).

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DC leapt into the ring with the idea of creating the DCCU (and they did it with Zack Snyder). After the universally panned “Man of Steel”[4], they went straight to... Frank Miller’s “Dark Knight 2" for inspiration? Our first introduction to Batman[5] is as an opponent to Superman? So... He’s a villain?

The first introduction of (this iteration of) Batman should have been a stand-alone movie that told a good story. Not an origin, just a good solid story. Establish the character.

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This is where the creative team on Wonder Woman excelled. They—under the helm of Patty Jenkins—told a solid, self-contained story.

Universal—before they’d even released a movie—said “Hey! We’re creating a cinematic universe!” And then they forgot to tell a good story.

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Everyone wants the trophy; nobody wants to run the race.

One Ring to Rule Them All

Creating a coherent system requires a strong leader with both a sense of vision, and a degree of flexibility. This is true for finance, manufacturing, retail, and politics just as much as it does for movies.

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Marvel chose a very good leader with Keven Feige. He just gets it. He’s not perfect, and there are some places he’s dropped the ball (Black Widow movie?), but he’s done a rather good job of shepherding an incredibly diverse group of creatives (that makes herding cats look like teaching a turtle to “stay”.)

Any CU is going to need someone at the helm to be a shepherd. Choosing that person is vital to the health of the overall project. Giving that shepherd the authority to control things is essential.

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[1] I keep wanting to spell that “Hasboro”—which, I guess, is better than “Hazborough”, which would probably make it a suburb of Memphis or Atlanta or something.

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[2] This was back when you could actually buy a generic “big box of Legos” instead of all these pre-designed “build this thing we licensed” stuff you get today.

[3] I don’t get any royalties from that, so it’s not a plug. :)

[4] And that’s such a shame. The cast was stellar and the story was 90% there—then they tossed in forced angst, over-the-top battles, and design aspects that boggle the mind.

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[5] Okay, this is the 3rd rendition of Batman in movies, and they’ve all been so very different.