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Bloodshot Executive Producer Dan Mintz On Superhero Filmmaking, Universe Building, And The Valiant Cinematic Universe - Exclusive

For more than a decade, moviegoers have been living in a world of superhero universes. What began with Iron Man and the formation of the Marvel Cinematic Universe soon led studios everywhere to search for their own shared universe concepts that could become blockbuster tentpoles. Whether they're following superheroes or monsters or giant robots, we live in a shared universe age.

But while Marvel and DC Comics have already each taken their own cracks at shared universe storytelling, they're not the only superhero games in town. Over at Valiant Entertainment, a group of creative minds have spent the past few years working on a shared universe of their own, which began with the release of Bloodshot on the big screen in March of 2020.

At the center of Valiant's efforts is Dan Mintz, whose company DMG Entertainment acquired Valiant in 2018 with a mission: Take Valiant's vibrant superhero universe to the "next level" in big-screen superhero cinema. We sat down with Mintz to talk about his superhero producing roots in the MCU, his turn to Valiant, and what's next for the budding Valiant Cinematic Universe.

From Marvel Studios to Valiant Entertainment

Were you a fan of Valiant from the '90s or is it more of a recent thing for you?

I think it's the whole thing. It's all just layers on top of layers and I think that's what gives it the depth that it has really more than just the next version, reinvented version of it.

You previously worked on movies like Looper and movies like Iron Man 3. I'm wondering from Iron Man 3 in particular if you have any good Robert Downey Jr. stories to share.

Oh gee. No! [Laughs]

But I'll tell you, the interesting thing is this, and this is kind of everything: There's a real trajectory to bringing us to where we are today [with Valiant]. Obviously Iron Man 3 and Valiant, there's such a connection there in a sense of the genre and the way to express it. It's really an amazing process because going through Iron Man 3, it really hammers home, as a fan, what the real essence of that connection in the connected universe is. I mean, Iron Man 3 was, when we started on it, it was pre-Avengers. I mean, it wasn't at the level, anywhere near the level it is now. There's always fear that the third one is going to be the nail in the coffin, so to speak, because normally, a lot of those things kind of start to get old, right?

Now it turned out well and everything worked out. But it could have gone other ways, right? One thing you realize that a connected universe really delivers is the ability to experience your favorite character in films long after they can support their own. Iron Man is the perfect example of that because again, Iron Man 3 was the last one, but continuing on, Robert could fly around and say snarky lines and collect his fee for every movie that goes forward and he was in most of the films and he's really been an anchor for that.

It really is the ability to connect to those fans that you really love. Lots of learning from that.

What else did you take from working in the MCU that you were able to bring forward into your current work?

Actually, there's so much in that. First of all, process is everything, and if you have a process that you can hone over time, that gives you a certain amount of consistency. I look at four companies, four teams, that are kind of in control of their creative future — not necessarily their financial future, but creative. One is Marvel. Pixar, which is great. Cirque du Soleil and Saturday Night Live. Those four companies to me and those four teams share a very defining element that leads to their consistent success. That is their process of culling. It's culling. It is something that's built over years. It becomes legendary after Cirque du Soleil brings in an acrobat and turns out an artist, Saturday Night Live brings in someone who has a great sense of humor and turns out a sketch comedy god. I mean, the process that they have and the years they've been at it, 45 years of that talent that's come out of that. It just speaks to something that is honestly rare.

It is a process that's very different than actually the standard Hollywood process. When you look at those [companies], that's really fascinating, and being able to understand that, internalize that, and build that is also what makes this so amazing. After finishing Iron Man 3, I realized, "well I don't own Iron Man, I don't own Marvel and I certainly don't own DC, and to be able to build a platform, build on something, there's only one [universe] left." That's it, there's only three of these and Valiant is just the tip of the iceberg as you guys know. There's so much there to really develop and it's an amazing platform.

Getting into Valiant now, what was the catalyst, what was the thing that drew you to making Valiant movies?

Well, I think first of all, looking at it just from the perspective of [Valiant being a] product of its time, DC obviously is kind of the '30s, right, when it was really incepted. Obviously it's been reinvented many times, but it's kind of got those roots that are kind of authentic to who they are. Marvel is the '60s and Valiant is the '90s. Right from the beginning, the outlook is very different. It's much more of a worldview. The characters are much more diverse. They're much grayer for sure. I think one thing that I'd very much like to focus on in films in general, and the things that drew me into films, is the dilemma. I sit there and I look at a dilemma and I say, "If I can look at the screen and go 'What would I do? I'm not exactly sure what to do,' then I'm in the story."

If I look at something and I go, "Just run out of the house!" or something like that — "It's chasing you, don't fall down!" — then it kind of takes you out of it a little bit. I think dilemma is a big part of that. I think what's relevant actually to Valiant and what's happening right now today, what we're going through, right exactly this moment is very much of a Valiant dilemma. This COVID-19 is a Valiant dilemma. What do I mean by that? We're in the middle of it and we have these two sides. One side is, "Hey, we need to open up, save the economy, otherwise we're going to be in trouble." The other side is, "Hey, stay hunkered down really, really tight, shut everything down. Otherwise we're not going to live as human beings."

The information comes fast and furious from both sides, both are making points. You're not always sure exactly what that fuel to air mixture is. I mean it's probably neither extreme, right, but you're not a hundred percent sure. You're living it by the moment. You look at that and that is a dilemma that [feels] very much Valiant. A Marvel dilemma to me is we know who's right, we know who's wrong, now let's watch them go and take care of business. It's a little bit different, and so when I look at Valiant films in the future, I really see kind of Inception meets The Wire. Something that's big, something that is very broad, something that grabs you, but also that has a certain amount of grit, has a certain amount of anchor in what's happening in the world and really delves a little bit deeper on some characters.

Launching a movie universe with Bloodshot

Was Bloodshot always going to be first out of the gate? Was it just kind of a thing that was ready first? How did that come together?

Well, I think Bloodshot is interesting when you look at [the beginning], and I'm very fortunate to have two amazing trailblazers to look at. One of them is Marvel, one is DC, and so when you look at how things were rolled out, you can learn a lot, understand a lot, but also put your own spin on it and what's authentic to you as a group of characters and as a universe. If you look at the scale, if I'm going to put it in some sort of a timeline for you, you look at Marvel's first movie, which was Howard the Duck in the '80s, right? Didn't do particularly well, but their turning point film was probably around Blade. Bloodshot is kind of our Blade. Now, of course for me, I look at what it took Marvel — 20 or so years, right — from Howard the Duck to when they really started doing it themselves and made Marvel Studios in 2006, 2007 and compressing that time down [for Valiant].

I look at the films that were done, I look at how they were rolled out and you look at the first films after Howard the Duck, the second film was pretty interesting. I don't know if you remember this, it was David Hasselhoff as Nick Fury. You look at those beginning ones and then you look at DC at that time, Tim Burton was making the first cinematic Batman with Jack Nicholson and Michael Keaton and it was an incredible thing. I think if you and I were looking back at that time, we would say Marvel really isn't there, DC is kind of the future, and see how that shifts and how that changes. You look at the early days and you look at Blade, which was a turning point, then obviously Spider-Man, those X-Men movies. Then the real turning point, the real value that was given to the fans, I think obviously was when they connected the universe and started MCU. For me, Bloodshot is our Blade, if that makes sense.

We talked to Dave Wilson about Bloodshot, and one thing he mentioned was that Vin Diesel is a franchise thinker in that even in individual scenes, he is seeding ideas that can grow things for future installments. What did he bring to the table for you as the star of Bloodshot that helped you along that maybe another movie star just didn't have because he has such franchise experience?

Well, I think one of the things that he brought just in his tone and manner to the character, I think, was a really important weight to the character. What I mean by that is he was able to embody that character in a way that I think made it very authentic. In that respect, I think that it was straight on. Obviously he's got a lot of franchise experience. Universe is a little bit different, but franchise is very important. The ability to think through something and say, "Hey, you know what, this has got legs." I'll tell you one thing that is 100% important and very much part of this process, is the fact that Vin Diesel looks at this thing and he knows it right away. He knows this is something that's worth his time to be involved in. He's very passionate about it. He understands. When you talk to people who understand how these things are put together and how they're built, it makes the process so much better.

Was there a lot of time spent working on little ideas in Bloodshot that could grow in future installments or was it more of a focus on no, let's just do this one?

Well, I think there's always the looking forward. Especially when you step into something that has this much material already established, I think definitely conversations are about what goes next. However, the job is always to make the best film you can and do what's in front of you. As the first out of the gate, I mean, I think it was a very strong first showing even though the timing maybe wasn't in tune.

Speaking of the time, you had a good first weekend in theaters and then things shifting to on-demand, where Bloodshot also did well. What's it been like watching the response from all these people at home who are still finding the film all these weeks later?

That obviously makes you feel good. I think the response to the film has been very strong. Look, nobody could have predicted anything in these particular circumstances. However, under the circumstances, the fact that it has done so well — I think it was number one on Amazon when it first came out — shows that there's a real want for [these movies]. And also, remember, we're planting seeds. These are not one-off standalone films in that respect. They're all building a kind of overarching umbrella understanding of what Valiant is, and a viewpoint. This is not easy to do, right, but I would say as a goal, something we work for: If someone was to see three films and no logos came out, they would be able to say which is a Valiant film, which is a Marvel film and which is a DC film. I think being that defined about who you are and who you're not is really something that I believe is important.

How do you find that balance between making sure something looks and feels like a Valiant film and also giving a talented filmmaker room to run?

I think this is what comes back to process, too. It's fortunate in your life if ever you do hit a franchise, but a universe even more so because there's a certain consistency in the team that you have. And the team needs to understand the story, needs to understand the characters, needs to understand the universe really better than any single person coming in [to make one movie]. Setting up the platform and setting up a director to succeed is the most important part. You have the team that comes in, because remember they're going to come in and out and they'll do this filming, and our job is to connect them to have the overarching understanding of where it's going to be over many years, because it's a long term relationship with the fans that we have. Being able to bring in these wonderfully talented people and have the platform to support them and have them bring their point of view into things, at the same time holding true to who Valiant is — it's not an easy thing to do, but it is something that we spend a lot of time on.

You have a movie on demand right now that's doing well, but it also did well in the small theatrical window that it had. Do you see this industry shifting more to on demand viewing in the future?

Well, I'll tell you this: If there's one thing that this unfortunate situation has taught us, it's that we really, really crave to have interaction with each other. We're social animals and to think that we're never going to go and go to a concert or watch a film together, I don't think that's realistic. I think that we will come back and it will take its place in theatrical releases. Having said that, obviously technology is always changing, it's always adding to the landscape. It makes an ability for us to reach people that we wouldn't have been able to reach before. I think slowly there will be some shifts in windows, but it's definitely not going to be that dramatic.

Defending superhero cinema and finding Valiant's place in pop culture

Martin Scorsese made headlines last year when he compared superhero movies to theme parks. Now that you've entered the superhero movie business, how do you feel about that? How do you feel about what Valiant has to offer in terms of that debate?

Well, as a New Yorker, first of all, and as a fan of Martin Scorsese, as I think all of the comic book guys are of him, I would say this. I would say that if he was to make a superhero film, it would be a Valiant film. Because we are grittier, we are more real and more three-dimensional in that respect. No disrespect to anybody. They obviously have great characters, but I'm just saying that I think it's definitely more in [his wheelhouse]. It's not going to be just kind of a huge space opera of two superheroes hurling planets at each other. It's going to be definitely a lot of three-dimensional characters and great characters and things that are very much, I think, up his alley as a filmmaker. I think he would respond a lot more to that.

What's interesting is this: I think that Hollywood in general and many people outside of the industry kind of get comic books a little wrong. What do I mean by that? I think that you hear a lot of talk, especially a few years ago, like "Oh, this is a fad and it's going to peter out." I think what throws them off is the format. I think they look at it, people who don't read comic books and kind of aren't into that whole thing, they look at it and they go, "Oh, it's like drawing a bunch of pictures and people talking bubbles and oh, it's just kind of a fad." What they don't realize is that comic books are the serials of our time. They're like the westerns and the gangster movies back in the day when they would just pump out these things, people would just devour them. They are the anchor of pop culture.

That keeps it fresh, that keeps the ability to constantly reinvent itself because at the core of it is what we all are attracted to as filmmakers, which is story, including Martin Scorsese. It's just about what is the temperament of that type of story and what is the sensibility in that. I think once you get past that superficial, "Oh, I don't get it. It kind of looks like cartoons with little bubbles in it," You push it off to the side and you say, "What is this really about as a narrative art form?" That's what it secretly relays.

From a universe-building standpoint, in terms of putting movies together and creating one big world, what do you think Valiant offers that Marvel and DC don't?

Well, I think, first of all, I'm extremely fortunate on a number of levels. Having experienced things I've experienced, very, very fortunate. I look at it as a differentiator. It isn't about who's better, who's worse. This is really about where's your lane? The superhighway of superhero cinematic worlds has been built by Marvel and DC, that's for sure, and our lane is very specific. What is that lane? It really comes back down to what's authentic to who you are. If you are a product of your time. The differentiator is going to be the diversity of the characters. So for instance, if you look at someone like Faith, a plus-sized superhero. This is a 25-year-old character that I mean, back in those days, maybe people weren't reacting to it quite like they would today.

All of a sudden it becomes very topical, but it was there 25 years ago. You can't just take a character and do whatever kind of makes you feel more popular at the time. It has to be something that you did when no one was looking, when no one cared. That, you cannot hide and I think that's a huge differentiator.

Valiant had a very impressive comic book universe relaunch in the 2010s. What did you learn from that that you're hoping to use as you bring these characters to the screen now?

Standing on the shoulders of giants. That's what we all do. The relaunch was based on characters that were already there from the early '90s. You know what works, you know what resonates because again, you have so many stories out that you can kind of look at and go, "Why didn't that work? Why didn't this work? Why did they respond to this?" You're talking to people at Comic Cons and you're constantly getting feedback and you're beginning to shape that in such a way that it delivers a huge amount of confidence, and definitely depth of understanding the characters and what works and what doesn't. Whether you're relaunching or launching a cinematic universe, all of the people that come before us were all standing on the shoulders of giants. I mean, Marvel stands on the shoulders of Stan Lee and people who [made those comics]. We're all part of that lore.

Bloodshot is very recognizably a comic book movie. It's got a lot of superhero ideas in it, but it also has its own very interesting kind of military sci-fi action style and tone. What are some storytelling influences and movie influences that you're hoping to bring to this universe that are outside of the realm of superheroes? What else inspires you?

Well, I think again, [in terms of] originality and ability to dive into other dimensions and other worlds, obviously we have The Faraway, we have Deadside, we have G.A.T.E., there are a lot of these things [in Valiant Comics. To me [the Faraway] is the Grand Central Station of dimensions and time. As I mentioned a little bit maybe before, it's kind of an Inception meets The Wire in the sense of the grandness of vision and the adventure of it, but also kind of very much of a gritty kind of overlay on it, and something that's very real and you kind of feel the life outside your window, so to speak. Those are very defining elements.

You can, obviously, as Marvel did, overlay genres onto it. Remember, we've seen so much content and it's only growing with Netflix and everything. There's so much content out there that our visual vocabulary and the ability for us to take in certain things quickly [has grown]. So, for instance, for us, if we have a character sitting there in spandex with ray beams coming out of their eyes, we don't need to talk about the backstory. You pretty much get it right off the bat. I mean, it's like one shot and you're there. Twenty years ago, that wasn't the case; 15 years ago it wasn't the case. The visual vocabulary of what we see allows us then to mash up even tighter overlay, go deeper, take more time because we're not explaining some, I don't want to say basic elements, but people pick up on things much quicker and are therefore able to, I think, get into characters deeper and explore new twists and new overlays.

What's next for the Valiant Cinematic Universe

Let's talk a little bit about what's next. Are you looking at a Bloodshot sequel right now?

I mean, definitely, Sony and Vin are all about it. I think what's obviously next in the bin here is Harbinger at Paramount and so that's moving. Again, all of this, what we're going through right now with COVID-19 changes schedules. It's going to be tough to really talk to anything specific, but that's definitely on track.

How is Harbinger going right now? What can we expect in terms of kind of the tone and style of that?

Well, I think it's a very defining piece because you are defining yourself up against kind of an X-Men or these types of groups. I think that for sure it has an edgier tone, more three dimensional characters who are troubled. And I mean you can see that a lot in the Harbingers in general, where they come from, the background. What's fascinating for me also about these characters is the idea that it's within you and it needs to be brought out. There's a few very unique things obviously Valiant kind of brings to it. That's one within the Harbingers and the ability that it could be in you and never brought out, so it needs to be defined and brought out. How that happens and the trouble that you have as you go through that, I think just takes [that story] to the next level. It really opens up and makes the characters a lot deeper.

Is a Faith movie also in the works?

Absolutely. Yeah. Faith is a character I think that has got a lot of attention. As I said before, it's just the idea of where it came from and how it came about. You can't replicate something that... I keep using the word authentic, but you know what I mean? It's very organic. It comes from a real place. It's something somebody really wanted to say, not something that someone said, "Hey, this would be cool. It'd be popular right now." I think that character resonates for sure. There's also going to be some YA novels coming out on Faith. It's going to be quite an interesting character.

Now you've got some stuff at Sony, some stuff at Paramount. Is there still a possibility of crossover between those two or is that something you're having to compromise on?

Well, we're trying. Again, learning from the masters of the past, we try to avoid spreading this out too much because there are pros and cons to it, right. I mean obviously we saw what happened at Sony with Spider-Man and then obviously before Disney acquired Fox, those characters were over there. We're trying to definitely navigate through that and definitely I think that we're looking towards connecting everything for sure. That's got to be the big push after this.

After Harbinger, you mean?


What about the other characters? Are there any concrete plans for X-O Manowar, any characters like that?

Absolutely. Again, I can't really talk to that specifically, but I can tell you that moving forward, the connected versions and the connected universe is really, really key. I mean, that's just got to happen now. For us that is a huge focus, and that brings you through all of the Immortal Brothers and everyone who just has these incredible stories to tell and the team ups you'll see and the dilemmas that they get into. Definitely that's the future.

Every once in a while, Kevin Feige will come out and say, "Well, we have a five-year plan, or we have an eight-year plan," or something like that with regard to Marvel Studios. You said you can't get into specifics, but how far ahead are you thinking right now?

Oh, with the characters we have, we're definitely in that five-to-eight-year area right now for sure.

Are you still working on the Quantum and Woody show that was announced?

Yes. I mean, we're working on obviously all of the [Valiant projects], but I think this is the right time, and I think we're in a very, very unique position — again, learning from where things have come from, where they're going — to actually connect things even on the TV level. That I think is a big push for us, connecting both vertically and horizontally in a sense of across TV, across film, and through those two. Which I think we're in a very unique position to do just because of our size, the nimbleness of what we're doing. We're not conflicted with a lot of different ownership and I think that that'll help speed that process up quite a bit.

Now, in terms of TV, are you looking at the kind of interconnectedness between big and small screen or will they be standalone stories?

No, absolutely. Big and small. You know what's interesting, and again we tip our hat to all the people who've come before us and who are building new roads, but I often think about different people's approaches to things. I mean, one question I ask is if Marvel were starting today, how would they launch differently? I think it's a completely different landscape. Obviously there were no streamers back then. Social media wasn't quite what it is today, and I think that the advantage and the differentiation is the ability to connect things earlier than they would have, right? I mean, when they started, they had to fight through that whole [process].

Some of this is 3D chess that we're playing and to really understand it just takes a lot of time. It's really up to us to do that. To answer your question, for sure. I mean, if you were starting today and with everything that you knew and you see what's happened over the years, you would do the same thing. You would say, "Hey, I'm going to connect TV and connect film. I'm going to connect through film. I'm going to connect through animation and everything because that's the way." We see that I think very, very clearly. Now, executing on it and making it happen and having the ability and having the green light in the sense of just internally... obviously I think we're at an advantage again, because of ownership and because of the way it's laid out, so that's helping us to expedite that.

Is there room in Valiant for R-rated films as well as PG-13?

I think there is. It's really [about], is it warranted? Joker obviously is very specific, darker and amazing. It's warranted to different characters. I don't think you should be as premeditated as to say this is not right for this and we'll never go there. I think you have to say, is this authentic to who we are? Would this character make this kind of decision? That I think is how you, in my opinion, you make successful films as opposed to some just sort of corporate strategy, which then they have to kind of wiggle through a little bit, if that makes sense.

Every time one of these big super films gets released or whenever there's a cluster of them during the summer, you get those articles: Is this superhero fatigue? Is it going to set in now? Is this the moment? And it never seems to really happen. Some films do better than others, but it's always a part of the conversation whether we want it to be or not. Do you think there's a trick to avoiding superhero fatigue? Do you think it's a real thing?

Again, I think this comes back down to the lack of just understanding of the format in general. They look at it as a fad, like comic books are going to go away. They don't understand that it is a platform for narrative storytelling, and once you have that paradigm shift, then you never have these questions anymore. Right? No one ever says our stories about people are going to go away. I've seen a lot of movies about people. Nobody would say that, right? Because it's so diverse. They look at the diversity and understand that there's so many different ways to play and deal with those kinds of films. Again, like we were talking a little bit before, what throws them off I think is the format, the artwork and the way that the speech is played out. And also the fact that it's the serials of our time, which means that there's so many of them, that there's a volume of work as you really need to go through, which means you really need to understand it.

The good thing about having such a volume is there's so many different ways you can see the character going and you need to pick the right way, and this is obviously just the job of the cinematic world, right? It's almost like Lord of The Rings, and you take all the books and you kind of bring them down to films. You're taking things out you could never have in there. It's really about choosing the best and figuring out that road. When they look at something and they go, "Well, this is fatigue and this is blah, blah, blah." they don't get that this is hitting a chord constantly. The films will always change.

If you look at a superhero movie, you look at the first Christopher Reeve Superman. I mean, there's a little bit of a difference between that and what's happening now, right? Not only just technology-wise, but just, like I said, the visual vocabulary that we've built up. It continues to be innovative and drives forward. It's almost like [talking about] the technology bubble. Now there's a bubble there, but it's not like a real estate bubble. The real estate bubble is just "there's so much finite real estate available. This is the way it is." But technology is really infinite. It's as much as you can imagine. If you can imagine it, you can make it, you can grow it, it will continue to change. Whereas real estate, the earth is only as big as it is, right, it's a finite place. Stories are like that too. I mean, you look at comic books, it's similar in that respect. It continues to grow.

One last thing, since you're so passionate about this universe: Do you have a particular favorite Valiant character?

That changes and shifts all the time, I have to say. It's just a mood and kind of what you feel like. It's almost like [asking] do you eat steak every day? No. I like this, I like that, [I like] other things as well. But I will say this, I think that the Immortal Brothers anchor the universe because they're 10,000-year-old characters that have seen everything, and of the three immortals, the Eternal Warrior has traveled through all of the stories in and out. You see him the most of any character through cameos and moving in out of everything, horizontally across the characters [like] Shadowman, Ninjak and et cetera, and the places such as Faraway and Deadside. But you also have then the vertical, which is time, 400 to 4,000 and what happens when they go through that. If you follow the character, if you follow someone [that will] take you into the universe and really tell you what the universe is, if I had to choose that character, that would be the Eternal Warrior.