Jeff Katz: Leaving Fox and Boldly Going...er...
Jeff Katz on Leaving Fox & the Future
When the Hollywood Reporter ran the news earlier this week, the guesses began. After more than a decade working his way up in the movie business, rising to VP Production at Fox, Jeff Katz left his job in a mysterious move that "involves comic books and movies."It's not surprising that Katz would want to do more in comics. After all, Katz found success as co-writer with Geoff Johns on Booster Gold for DC Comics and as writer of the Freddy vs. Jason vs. Ash mini-series for Wildstorm and Dynamite that was adapted from the screenplay he originally wrote for film. But what is surprising is the exit from 20th Century Fox, with no word of where he's going next. Doing comics on the side is one thing. Quitting a successful high-profile job in the movie biz is another. After playing important development roles in movies like Wolverine and The A-Team, Katz is leaving behind a successful movie career for ... well, for what? Newsarama talked to Katz to get the scoop on what he's doing, but he's not saying much. What Katz will say is kind of like watching a twist on the film Jerry Maguire - though we’re still unsure if he’s taking a fish and an assistant with him. In the 1996 film, the lead character has an epiphany and writes a mission statement about how his industry should do business, leaving his big-time agency and starting a business on his own. With today his final day at Fox, Katz used language in this interview that both righteously declares a "geek independence" while also shouting "show me the money!" While the explanations of his career move are all very cryptic, Katz makes it clear that he believes now is the time for comic book creators to take advantage of their power in the entertainment business, and he's claiming to have a new way for them to do it. Newsarama: Jeff, let's talk about why you left Fox. This involves comics? Jeff Katz: I left Fox for a reason. Comics are a part of that to a large level. In what form and who's with me -- that's the stuff I can't talk about. But I didn't walk away from a job with steady pay, doing something I like, to do something I didn't think was worth it. I recognized, ultimately, that I was in something of a unique position given my day job and my night job. NRAMA: Because of your work in both movies and comics? JK: Yeah. Booster Gold, for me, was like a life-changing experience. It was a dream-come-true experience. I grew up on that character. Both that and Freddy-Jason-Ash, for me, have sort of put things into focus for me, to a large level. Because of the nature of my job and the fact that I was out of the country for four-and-a-half months this year on Wolverine, I didn't get to go to a convention or signing or anything until San Diego. Even though I knew my head was in a certain place, and I knew what the end game was, it wasn't until I was there in San Diego that it all congealed and made me realize, yeah, this is the right thing to do. NRAMA: Jeff, that sounds a lot like you're switching your career to comic books. JK: Comics are a part of what I'm going to do. They are not the be-all, end-all. Part of the reason I want to talk to you about this is that everyone in town is speculating. "Oh, he's going to DC. Oh, he's going to Marvel." Or I'm running Shia LaBeouf's company. Or I'm teaming with this guy or that guy. They're all wrong. And the other big speculation is, "Oh, he's going to go write his comics and turn them into movies." But to think that I would leave Fox just to go do that is misguided and short-sighted. I would argue that I'm a bit more ambitious than that. I wouldn't leave a job that I really enjoy and I've spent a decade in that career building unless I thought it was worth it. NRAMA: OK, so, what are you leaving Fox to do? JK: Realistically, a more formal announcement about exactly what I'm doing is not due for at least a month. I've got to go to New York for some meetings, I've got to nail down who's involved and who isn't -- I'm not coming alone; I'm bringing friends with me, from across a wide variety of spectrums. And what I'm about to go do is something that's a little bit different -- something that hasn't been done, per se. Look, I saw Robert Kirkman's video. I thought it had merit to it. I kind of admired his chutzpah for going on and doing that. While I don't necessarily agree with the nuts and bolts and pieces of it, I think it's impressive for him to go and state his mission statement in that form. NRAMA: Wait, are you saying you're wanting to shake up the industry in a similar way to the "call to action" from Robert Kirkman? JK: What I'm saying is, because of this unique position that I've been put in, both making the movies I make and writing the books I write and kind of crossing over these two worlds, I'm starting a clarion call to my comic peers. Many of them have come to me and spoken to me on their own accord, while I've spoken to others just socially or over X-Box. I think that they're starting to recognize that the era of the six-figure exclusive contracts being their best way to make money in the business may not be the answer at all times. I say that with respect to everyone who's got the exclusive. They're great things -- you've got to pay your bills and feed your family. But ultimately, I think what they're all realizing, as they sit in Comic-Con and they watch the way they're courted and the way they're treated in Hollywood, is that they have more power than they thought they did. They have clearly tapped into something that my day job business wants to have -- something that Hollywood wants to tap and get a piece of. What you need to realize, and this is on all sides -- in film, in comics, in television, and the fans themselves, quite frankly -- what we all need to realize is that we've won. The geeks have inherited. And it's time to start acting like it. We're still doing this in a business-as-usual sense. And I would argue vehemently, there is another way. There is a better way. And that's where I'm trying to go. NRAMA: So it's going to integrate movies and comic books, right? Is that what you're saying? JK: I would say to you very frankly, I love comics... and I love movies. I intend to be very involved in both. Is that the full extent of what I'm doing? I would say no. NRAMA: So... are you wanting to create new properties? JK: I didn't say that. NRAMA: Well, you're not going to DC or Marvel, you said. JK: Hey, I've got to leave some things to mystery. NRAMA: Is it existing properties? JK: It's ... Look, I've spent 10 years in the studio system building bits and pieces to what this is ultimately going to be. I'm in a fortunate position where my peers on the film side know my passion for comics, and, surprisingly so, they respect it. I would argue that Booster Gold did more for me in the movie business than it did for me in comics. My film industry peers recognized the "tweener" position that I'm in, and I've been approached multiple times over the past year plus, with opportunities to do things I couldn't do because of my professional situation. Well, I'm in a position to do some of those things now, and some of them may be on properties that you're aware of. NRAMA: OK, I'll take that last bit about the "properties you're aware of." So this may actually involve existing properties. JK: I didn't say all of them. But there may be a couple things in there. NRAMA: Getting back to this statement that "we've won," as a Hollywood insider, do you really think that the movie industry values this audience that much? JK: In a world where Frank Miller's transitioned from comic creator to feature film director, and a brand name in Hollywood, the game has changed. The rules are off. I'm of the opinion this space -- the "fanboy" space, the comic book space that we all love and that we're part and parcel of -- we have the opportunity to lead the way. We are, by our very nature, the early adaptors. We are, by our very nature, ravenous when it comes to our niche. Fans do it because they love it. And they watch Lost and these shows, and they go to The Dark Knight 12 times, because they love it. And Hollywood -- and I would argue the global marketplace -- is very aware of the power that this buying group has, this group as an audience. And I would argue to my peers that there's a way to leverage this and to give them a new approach to how they both write with creative freedom and capitalize on what they write. There's always going to be a comic audience. We all know they're getting older; that's hardly a debated question at this point. And there's always that question of how are you filling the till? How are you getting a new audience? All the old rules go out the window. I think it's high time that we declared geek independence. NRAMA: FREEDOM!!! JK: You're god-damn right. And I feel I'm in a unique position to help contribute to that. And that's what I intend to do. I'm in a position as a 29-year-old guy who's not married, who doesn't have a mortgage, who doesn't have kids and responsibilities, that I can afford to take a little risk and bet on myself at some level. And frankly, I'm trying to put out a clarion call to my peers in the comics community and tell them to come with me. I think we have a unique way to do this and a unique way to grow the brands and the things they create across a wide spectrum of levels, while not forgetting that first and foremost it starts with the fact: Are the comics good? They've got to be good. As a comics reader, nothing pisses me off more than something that's obviously a reverse-engineered thing designed to be a movie. It drives me insane. And I think there's an opportunity to hit 'em where people ain't. NRAMA: Aside from this business move, will you be writing comic books anymore? JK: I'll never stop writing comic books. You're going to get two things that will be announced shortly that I'm involved in that are predating this thing. Writing re-ignited a passion in me. And I love DC Comics. I wouldn't be in a position to do this without them or Dynamite and Wildstorm and the opportunities I've gotten. Geoff Johns afforded me the opportunity to go do this. I'm not naive in thinking I could have done this without them paving the way. I have nothing but love for those companies, and I intend on still working for them when I can. But the bulk of what I do now is going to be part of this other thing. NRAMA: When you say you're putting out this "clarion call" to creators. Do you want them to get in touch with you? JK: I've talked to a lot of them already. And I'm findable if someone really wants to talk. But it's not about opening the floodgates right this minute. It's about starting a new approach. And above everything else, I just want to work with my friends. And I want to help my friends and myself, and if I can help comics at large at some level, then that's all the better. I want to give my friends an outlet to do things that are interesting to them creatively and, more importantly, that they can pay their rent and support their families through. And I think there's a unique way to do that.