Earlier this year, WarnerMedia dealt a devastating blow to the theater industry by announcing that all their upcoming movies will be streamed on HBO Max at the same time as in theaters. Since then, several notable filmmakers from Christopher Nolan to Denis Villeneuve and Judd Apatow have come out in open opposition to Warner's new release strategy. In an interview with The New York Times, WarnerMedia CEO Jason Kilar described such reactions from the filmmakers as "painful".
"We clearly have more work to do as we navigate this [health emergency] and the future alongside [the filmmakers]... There is no situation where everyone is going to stand up and applaud. That's not the way innovation plays out. This is not easy, nor is it intended to be easy. When you are trying something new, you have to expect and be ready for some people who are not comfortable with change. That's OK."
The most criticized part of WarnerBros.' new strategy is that the studio did not consult with the creatives and production partners who were going to be affected by their decision. Kilar admits his company should have been "more sensitive" to the way the news was going to be received by talent but added that, "a very important point to make - something I should have made a central part of our original communication - is we are thoughtfully approaching the economics of this situation with a guiding principle of generosity." Kilar then hinted that even talking about and debating the new release strategy for months would ultimately not have affected his company's final decision.
"There are some things that you can talk and talk and talk about, but it doesn't necessarily change the outcome. I don't think this would have been possible if we had taken months and months with conversations with every constituent. At a certain point you do need to lead. And lead with the customer top of mind and make decisions on their behalf."
Despite the criticisms, Warner appears to be going ahead with their new release strategy, at least for now. Wonder Woman 1984 will debut in theaters at the same time as it releases on HBO Max near the end of December. A bigger question is raised by Warner's decision to release Godzilla vs. Kong on HBO Max, even though Legendary Entertainment was the main producer for that movie, and the latter studio only learned about Warner's decision after the news became public.
It will be interesting to see the way in which what many insiders see as Warner's high-handed approach to their filmmaker partners affects the talent the studio manages to attract in the future. Both Nolan and Villeneuve have already blasted Warner publicly and in no uncertain terms. If Warner continues to lay greater emphasis on streaming rather than theatrical releases, it will be in danger of becoming a Netflix knockoff rather than a prominent Hollywood movie studio. Only time will tell if that is the path the company chooses to embrace. This news originates at NYTimes.com.