Christopher Nolan believes that we should think long term about the theatrical business.
We reported last week that Warner Bros. would dump some of its most popular titles onto HBO Max in 2021 in a deal that would release them on the streamer for 30 days, while simultaneously putting them in theaters. This was an unprecedented move that aimed to make HBO Max a more relevant streamer and position them for the future. It gave the company a boost in its stock and repositioned it in the market. It made its parent company, AT&T, very happy as well.
In fact, WarnerMedia CEO Jason Kilar told CNBC, “If we start our days and end our days focused on the customer, we’re going to lead the industry.”
Now, ET Online has posed the change to Nolan, who reacted to Warner's move. Here's what Christopher Nolan told them:
"Oh, I mean, disbelief. Especially the way in which they did. There's such controversy around it, because they didn't tell anyone. In 2021, they've got some of the top filmmakers in the world, they've got some of the biggest stars in the world who worked for years in some cases on these projects very close to their hearts that are meant to be big-screen experiences. They're meant to be out there for the widest possible audiences... And now they're being used as a loss-leader for the streaming service—for the fledgling streaming service—without any consultation. So, there's a lot of controversy. It's very, very, very, very messy. A real bait-and-switch. Yeah, it's sort of not how you treat filmmakers and stars and people who, these guys have given a lot for these projects. They deserved to be consulted and spoken to about what was going to happen to their work."
Obviously, Nolan did not mince words.
If anyone can be sympathetic to filmmakers, it's him. Tenet was supposed to be the biggest blockbuster of the summer, but the movie shifted when the pandemic reached highs, and while it still played some theaters, many were not able to enjoy it in traditional theaters. It's going to VOD on Dec. 15 and only did around $300 million at the box office, making it a Nolan low for the decade, and maybe the last 20 years.
As far as the bait-and-switch angle, it's a very weird time in the business. According to multiple reports, WB made these decisions without calling agents, managers, directors, or stars. So people literally woke up and found out they were part of this deal.
That made people furious and might have burnt a lot of bridges in the industry.
While the movies WB mentioned will still have theatrical windows, they won't be exclusive—and that will affect how much people are paid. Without knowing how filmmakers will be paid, I can see most blockbuster participants being sad they won't get a huge box office. And also being angry the experience was taken away with no warning.
Still, there will undoubtedly be millions of people watching online, because we have been starved for content. That has to make people feel good, even if only slightly.
Playing devil's advocate here, it's hard to predict when the majority of people will be vaccinated and ready to return to theaters. So this is really a rock-and-a-hard-place decision by the studio. But we should not kid ourselves—WB was always trending this way and accelerating it has to be part of an internal plan. Too bad they didn't see fit to let anyone else in on the decision.
Still, I wonder how it affects their relationship with Nolan, who has been fiercely loyal to theaters in the past, and you can assume will be in the future. For his part, Nolan thinks theaters will bounce back in a big way and need big movies like this to help them.
"Long-term, I think all of the studios know that the movie theater experience will bounce back and be a very important part of the ecosystem long-term. What you have right now in our business is a lot of the use of the pandemic as an excuse for sort of grappling for short-term advantage. And it's really unfortunate. It's not the way to do business and it's not the best thing for the health of our industry. But when the theaters are back and people are going back to the movies, when the vaccine has been rolled out and there's an appropriate health response from the federal government, I'm very bullish on the long-term prospects of the industry. People love going to the movies and they're going to get to go again."
This is all interesting, and we will have to wait and see if this marks the beginning of the end for theatrical or just a bump in an ever-changing road.
Let us know what you think about that and about Nolan's words in our comments section.