I’m a big proponent of physical media. If streaming has taught us anything, it is that no one owns the things they download. You pay for it. It goes to a service. At any time, the people running the service can decide they don’t want to host the thing you “own,” and boom, it’s gone. One executive, in particular, seems hellbent on getting out of the movie-making business and into the movie deletion one.
Few names elicit ire from the core of my being the way David Zaslav’s does. Since taking over Warner Brothers Discovery, Zaslav has seemed intent on stripping it for parts. He’s licensed off legendary properties, shelved completed movies, removed works to avoid paying modest residuals, and overseen a disastrous response to a reasonable strike. The man is the physical manifestation of the “content era,” where art is seen as little more than dollar signs.
Back in November, the response to Zaslav’s decision-making grew so deafeningly negative that it appeared a change might happen. The CEO had decided to shelve a live-action animation hybrid called Coyote Vs Acme. The movie starred Will Forte and John Cena and was completed. It was ready to be shown to the masses. Instead, Zaslav decided to turn it into a $40 million tax write-off. The people weren’t having it.
The general public, radicalized by a strike that played out before their eyes in a way like never before, thanks to social media, felt deeply for the cast and crew of the Looney Tunes theatrical vehicle. They insisted that the film be released, and it looked like Warner Brothers would try. News began to spread that they were looking to sell the movie instead of deleting it forever. According to The Wrap, those stories may not have been accurate.
Months removed from the announcement of the sale, a story has broken alleging that Zaslav and crew not only never intended on selling the film short of an exorbitant return, they wouldn’t even hear counter offers. Zaslav himself didn’t even watch the movie. Paul Scheer did. He saw it at a friend and family screening and told The Wrap, “What was so exciting was that it felt like the film captured the voice of the Looney Tunes that we love in a way none of the other feature versions have ever done.”
Coyote Vs. Acme got fantastic test scores. The want for it to be released was a swelling of support. Current Co-Chairman and co-CEO of DC Studios, James Gunn, helped with the story. Yet, Zaslav is keeping his eyes on the bottom line. It makes one curious as to why any creative would want to work with Zaslav or WB going forward.
Gunn announced a slate of DC films, with more to come. They were mostly Director and Writerless. How will they get anyone to sign up going forward if they know their work may never see the light of day? Zaslav can tell them their work will be released, but he also claimed to try to sell Coyote Vs. Acme, and seem to have been doing anything but. Heck, what happens if, after Superman: Legacy is finished, he decides that they could save $150 million by canning it? It may seem extreme, but it feels more possible than ever.
I don’t know what the future of movies and television will be. This is certainly a foreboding sign. I know that this morning, my sons and I played pretend pirates for a while. I can’t explain why, but it felt very appropriate.