Warner Bros streaming controversy: directors speak out on the future of cinema in wake of studio decision

Patty Jenkins, Judd Apatow and more have weighed in on Warner Bros decision to release their entire 2021 slate of films on streaming the same day as at the cinema

Reactions to the news that Warner Bros will release its entire 2021 slate of films on its streaming service, HBO Max, have ranged from the Hollywood studio being accused of banging the final nail into the cinematic experience coffin, to the declaration that no A-list stars will ever work with the studio again.

Although, as with everything 2020-related, only time will tell regarding the long-term impact of Warner Bros' decision, it’s safe to say that neither of these hyperbolic reactions are true.

Cinema-going will likely bounce back and, like every other industry on Earth that has to evolve to survive, stars will go where the pay cheques and scripts are, just as they always have.

But as the backlash to Warner Bros' decision continues to reverberate across the industry, directors, producers and writers are sharing their thoughts on the implications for the future of the business …

Patty Jenkins, director of ‘Wonder Woman 1984’

Wonder Woman 1984 director Patty Jenkins will see the film she made starring Gal Gadot and Chris Pine debut on HBO Max on Christmas Day, at the same time as it hits US cinemas. Jenkins and Gadot are said to have negotiated deals prior to the news, securing payouts of $10 million apiece.

"Some studio is going to be smart enough to be an outlier, and all the great filmmakers in town are going to go there, and the theatres are going to favour their movies," Jenkins told fellow director Aaron Sorkin during Variety's virtual FYC Fest.

“Because right now, if there are studios that announce that [same-day releases at the cinema and on streaming] is what they’re going to start doing, every filmmaker’s going to head to the studio that promises they’re not going to.”

Denis Villeneuve, director of ‘Dune’

With the remake of Dune slated for release on HBO Max on October 1, 2021, director Denis Villeneuve told Variety: "I learnt in the news that Warner Bros has decided to release Dune on HBO Max at the same time as our theatrical release, using prominent images from our movie to promote their streaming service. With this decision, AT&T has hijacked one of the most respectable and important studios in film history.

"There is absolutely no love for cinema, nor for the audience here," added the French-Canadian director, who also helmed 2017's Blade Runner 2049 and 2015's Sicario.

"It is all about the survival of a telecom mammoth, one that is currently bearing an astronomical debt of more than $150 billion. Streaming services are a positive and powerful addition to the movie and TV ecosystems. But I want the audience to understand that streaming alone can't sustain the film industry as we knew it before Covid-19. Streaming can produce great content, but not movies of Dune's scope and scale."

Judd Apatow, producer of ‘Girls’, ‘Knocked Up’ and ‘The King of Staten Island’

The prolific producer, director and screenwriter saw his film with Universal Pictures, The King of Staten Island, become one of the first films in 2020 to skip a theatrical release and go straight to the small screen via premium video-on-demand.

Revealing that he and Universal Pictures came to a mutual understanding about the decision, he told Variety's virtual FYC Fest of the Warner Bros furore: "It's somewhat shocking that a studio, for their entire slate, could call what appears to be nobody. It's the type of disrespect that you hear about in the history of show business. But to do that to just every single person that you work with is really somewhat stunning."

Adding: “It creates a financial nightmare, because most people are paid residuals – they’re paid back-end points. What they get out of it for years and years of hard work is usually based on the success of their films. And so now what does it mean to have a movie go straight to streaming? How do they decide what to pay you? Do you even have a contract that allows you to negotiate, or is it really just up to them at this point? It raises thousands of questions, which I’m sure are very complicated.”

Christopher Nolan, director of ‘Tenet’, ‘Dunkirk’ and ‘Inception’

Nolan has emerged as one of the most vocal critics of Warner Bros' decision. Initially declaring HBO Max as “the worst streaming service”, the 50-year-old British-American director has now dubbed the switch to streaming as “a sign of great danger” for unions and artists.

“I’m not talking about me. I’m not talking about Ben Affleck,” he told NPR while discussing the economics involved in the decision. “I’m talking about the grips, the electricians who depend on, you know, IA (International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees) and IA residuals for pension and health care. I’m talking about SAG (Screen Actors Guild). I’m talking about actors. I’m talking about when I come on the set and I’ve got to shoot a scene with, you know, a waiter or a lawyer who has two or three lines.

"They need to be earning a living in that profession, working maybe sometimes a couple of days a year. And that’s why the residuals structure is in place. That’s why the unions have secured participations for people down the line. It’s a sign of great danger for the ordinary people who work in this industry.”

Aaron Sorkin, director of ‘The Trial of the Chicago 7’

Turning his hand from screenwriting (The West Wing, The Social Network) to directing, Sorkin's second directorial effort, The Trial of the Chicago 7, is currently streaming on Netflix.

"We're all scared that everything's going to change now," he told Wonder Woman 1984 director Jenkins on Variety's FYC Fest. "That movie theatres are basically going to become, like, art houses, and that the films that you and I make will only be seen on streaming services.

“I don’t think that that’s going to happen. I think that for 4,000 years, nothing has replaced the experience of being part of an audience. That shared experience – being in a theatre when the lights go down, everyone laughing at the same time, gasping at the same time, being silent at the same time, and having the final moment of the film reverberate at the same time.”

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