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  • Writer's pictureAndy Ross

Trouble in Burbank




Over the years there have been many studio executives who have managed to fail upward and mismanage things. But over this year the CEO of Warner Brothers Discovery, David Zaslav, has managed to develop a reputation as maybe the worst person to ever run a major motion picture studio. If you follow film chatter online then you’re no doubt aware that earlier this month Warner Brothers announced a completed movie starring Jon Cena called “Coyote vs. Acme” was to be shelved for tax break purposes. 


Almost immediately, people who worked on the film shared their heartbreak on Twitter by also sharing pictures and behind-the-scenes footage of what we were going to be missing out on. The film was to be a live-action movie featuring the characters who have been the crown jewels of the Warner Brothers lexicon, the Looney Tunes. “Coyote vs. Acme” is premised around our old friend Wile E. Coyote finally suing the Acme corporation after decades of their products constantly backfiring on him in his endless pursuit of the Roadrunner. 


Among the highlights shared was a reel of impressive practical effects, stunt work, and a very fun clip from the film’s composer who showed an entire choir singing classical music but all in “meep meeps.” It sounded like it was going to be a fun movie and potentially a big box-office hit. Yet, Warner Brothers shelved it for a 30 million dollar tax break. It’s not the first time they’ve done this under the Zaslav reign. Notably, a film based on “Batgirl” that was close to completion was shelved, and a new movie with the characters from “Scooby Doo.” 


I can not think of a time this has ever happened, it’s downright like the plot out of Mel Brooks’ comedy classic “The Producers” where an unscrupulous Broadway producer purposely tries to make a stage show that will flop so he and his partner can keep all the money they over raised for it. It’s also heartbreaking to me to think of all the people who worked hard on these films, only to have their work placed on a shelf to rot. 


Perhaps the most famous example of this strange management is how Zaslav earlier this year made an appearance at the Turner Classic Movies film festival and talked of his love at being the head of Warner Brothers, and his love for movies. Turner Classic Movies is the fiercely beloved cable channel owned by Warner Brothers which has been the north star for years in celebrating the rich heritage of movies and, to a larger scope, film literacy and preservation. 


This is why it was very odd after reissuing the protective fan base of TCM how much he cares, he then promptly began to gut the staff, including Charles Tabish, the longtime programming director who shaped the network into what is today. The backlash to this was fierce and vocal. David Zaslav was requested to speak on the phone by Steven Spielberg and Martin Scorsese, who feared what it meant for the network. 


Can you imagine failing so badly at your job that two of America’s greatest filmmakers sent you a note that said “See me?” Though much of the TCM staff didn’t return, Tabish was rehired. Fans still fear for the future of TCM, but as of now, it appears to be holding on. So what of the reaction to the shelving of “Coyote vs. Acme?” For one thing, several filmmakers contacted their representatives and told them to cancel planned meetings with the studio, as why work hard on a movie just to have some suits in a stuffy office and stick it on a shelf forever? 


However, WB has reversed its position on “Coyote vs. Acme” and is allowing the filmmakers to shop the movie around to another distributor. This is, frankly, a massive embarrassment. Warner Brothers is going to allow another studio to release a movie starring their most iconic characters, the Looney Tunes. When you think of Bugs Bunny you think of Warner Brothers. Art and commerce have always clashed, but I’ve never seen, or read, of a studio being run like this before.


We live in a weird time when it comes to American movies. That’s one reason why I advocate so passionately for education, physical media, and igniting a love of movies early. The tapestry that is movies is wide and varied. You can love “Casablanca,” “Halloween,” and “Plan 9 from Outer Space” equally. You can be OK with one of them being an Oscar-winning defining classic, and the others being cult movies. There is room for it all and one does not cancel out the other. 


I’ve talked of how the mainstream’s “abandonment” of physical media means that the nerds are taking over and we are having a blast with it. This is true, but I do fear the day when we just are OK with movies being on some nameless streaming service for maybe a week if we are lucky. I love movies, and I want to see them thrive, I don’t like it when a studio celebrating it’s 100th anniversary looks like it’s being gutted for a quick buck by someone who previously ran HGTV. It’s a sad state of affairs, and I hope it changes soon. See you next week


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