YesAmblers and other types of investors are aware of the extreme need to avoid the “fad cost fallacy,” to reject the irrational belief that even if a long-planned action is now clearly impractical, you just have to keep doing it. Because you have so much money immersed and sweated in it. Officers demonstrate their virility by ruthlessly cutting their losses. This is what Rupert Murdoch did by closing News of the World, and this is what Wayne Enterprises did to the DC Comics world in the 19th century by abandoning the old merchant branches of their business.
But does this – does that – apply to movies?
Clearly, David Zaslav thinks so: The new CEO of the merged Warner Bros. Discovery Group has brilliantly pulled the plug on a $90m new Batgirl film during post-production. Even though “shelving” movie projects are fairly common in the early stages, it’s rare to actually throw a finished film into the vault. Zeslav publicly made it his business to reverse Warner Bros.’s current strategy of prioritizing streaming services, instead focusing on premiering iconic films in movie theaters – only to find that the Batgirl Cinema rollout. The extra publicity for the film wasn’t enough to justify the cost, yet somehow too big to dump on the small screen. It’s a new iteration of the classic “mid-budget” nightmare that has been a perennial Hollywood problem. What to do with a mid-range film that was once a solid bread-and-butter cast in theaters of the 1970s and ’80s, and still cleans up awards season, but now falls between two stools of blockbuster and indie Is?
Reportedly, Zaslav has strategically decided to “depend” on Batgirl for a tax write-down, calling its budget a dead loss to reduce the company’s tax liability, and by that token generally But profits grow – a strategy that will certainly be stronger than this spectacular and much hyped failure. Do we hear those haunting laughs from legendary producers Max Blystock and Leo Bloom…?
This is when studios treat movies as pure, unobtrusive corporate “content,” a Gazprom pipeline of superhero mush that can be shut down when accountants say it makes sense to do so. Yet this can happen even with the most famous—and iconic—seemingly indie films. The industry still whispers about the disappearance of the hippie hippie shack, the indie British film about the counterculture of the ’60s and Louise Ferrier with Sienna Miller as Richard Neville’s girlfriend The Oz Trial – a film that is both legal and Stuck in contractual disputes and still has not been seen apart from testing screening.
Batgirl may eventually emerge on screening services that were denied by Warner Bros. Discovery: Like the much-discussed “Snyder Cut” of DC’s Justice League, after the lawsuits are settled, it will probably emerge to great fan enthusiasm.
Critics can smile at this latest display of corporate altruism and heartlessness regarding the work of directors, writers, actors, cinematographers and other actors. But hasn’t Hollywood always been an insensitive business? Do you think Harry Cohn or Jack Warner or Sam Goldwyn would have fainted from shock at the news of what Zaslav is doing? Or will they just shrug and say, OK, yeah, this had to be done…?
Perhaps. But viewing movies as separate artifacts isn’t just cinephile behavior or quixotic romance. If you fail to maintain the confidence with treating movies as artwork, it will hurt your bottom line. The public will understand the cynicism and emptiness and they will turn their backs on these films: there will be a big crisis, a kind of colony collapse disorder in cinema.