As the industry blowback against Warner Bros. continues over its controversial hybrid release strategy, in which all films set for 2021 will debut in theaters at the same time they are available to stream on HBO Max for 31 days, WarnerMedia chair and CEO Ann Sarnoff tells The Hollywood Reporter that fear of the news leaking is what propelled the studio to announce the strategy December 3 without consulting with filmmakers and producing partners ahead of time. The decision not to inform directors their films would be shifting to HBO Max has generated scorn from the likes of Christopher Nolan and “Dune” director Denis Villeneuve.
Per The Hollywood Reporter: “Sarnoff says the studio announced the 2021 strategy before talking with its partners because they feared the news would leak. ‘I wish we could have had more time to speak to our partners and talent,’ she says. ‘We are very conscious of paying a fair price for the HBO Max 31-day distribution of the movie, and we think they’ll be happy to see how much effort we will put behind successfully launching these movies.'”
Nolan, one of Warner Bros.’ most prized directors, openly criticized the studio December 7 and has doubled down on his stance in the week since. Speaking to The Washington Post this week, the director said, “It’s about what the French call droit moral. Do they own [the film] absolutely, because they paid for it or they financed it? And that is not a purely legalistic question; it’s a question of ethics as well. It’s a question of partnership and collaboration. They did not speak to those filmmakers. They did not consult them about what their plans were for their work. And I felt that somebody needed to point out that that wasn’t the right way to treat those filmmakers.”
Even non-Warner Bros. directors like Judd Apatow have come out against Warner Bros., calling it “disrespectful” how the studio did not warn filmmakers their films would be shifting to a hybrid streaming release model. In an essay written for Variety, “Dune” director Denis Villeneuve said he found out his science-fiction epic would be moving to HBO Max when WarnerMedia went wide with the announcement December 3.
“There is absolutely no love for cinema, nor for the audience here,” Villeneuve wrote about the HBO Max decision. “It is all about the survival of a telecom mammoth, one that is currently bearing an astronomical debt of more than $150 billion. Therefore, even though ‘Dune’ is about cinema and audiences, AT&T is about its own survival on Wall Street. With HBO Max’s launch a failure thus far, AT&T decided to sacrifice Warner Bros.’ entire 2021 slate in a desperate attempt to grab the audience’s attention.”
Legendary Entertainment, which financed approximately 75% of the “Dune” production budget and “Godzilla vs. Kong,” also had no warning these franchise properties would be moving to HBO Max. The studio is reportedly set to challenge Warner Bros. over the decision. The issue Legendary executives are worried about is whether or not moving these films to streaming will threaten “the long term viability of the franchises.”