Warner Brothers and All of Hollywood Appear Very Clueless About How to Make Money

So the Zack Snyder’s Justice League got released on HBOmax and a dozen other services throughout the globe. Critically it appears to be Snyder’s strongest showing ever, and early number from several out of US services suggests this might be one of the biggest streaming events to date. Certainly, we don’t have all numbers in yet, but it does appear that all the hype around the Snyder Cut is translating into high and repeated viewership numbers.

So, of course, Warner’s almost immediate response from WBmedia CEO, Ann Sarnoff, is that they’re not looking at continuing Snyder’s vision.

Huh?

One might assume this is because they just didn’t make that much money on Snyder and his more operatic and Shakespearean takes on superheroes, and thus, while it might be more artistic, it just doesn’t make money. And these are businesses; after all, they have to make money.

So let’s put that to that test. Keep in mind profit on a movie is usually somewhere in the ballpark of half the box office take (the theater keeps the other half) minus the budget. (Numbers taken from Wikipedia)

Movie Budget Box Office Take Profit

Batman Begins 150m 373m 36m

Dark Knight 185m 1b 315m

Dark Knight Rises 230m 1.08b 310m

Man of Steel 258m 668m 76m

Dawn of Justice 300m 873m 136.5m

Suicide Squad 176m 746m 198m

Wonder Woman 150m 822m 269m

Aquaman 200m 1.15b 374m

Whedon’s Shit 300m 658m 29m

Birds of Prey 100m 201m 100m

Shazam 100m 366m 83m

Wonder Woman 84 200m 165m -117.5m

Now, at no point can you call Snyder unprofitable. Everything done when he was in control made a profit. Even more so when you adjust for inflation. Aquaman’s director seems to have sympathies for Snyder, so it’s hard to determine which category to put that film in. But it’s pretty clear that putting movies with the least amount of Snyder input are the ones that make the smallest profit margins.

The fact is that WB wants the levels of money that Disney is raking in with Marvel…but the problem is that Disney is already over saturating their own market with their brainless, pew-pew-pew, quippy nonsense, and phase 4 of the MCU is probably going to begin to show that their fans stuck it out with them through the end of the Infinity Gauntlet saga and are just tired of this dreck.

A great movie from yesteryear, Other People’s Money, warns, “And you know the surest way to go broke? Keep getting an increasing share of a shrinking market. Down the tubes. Slow but sure.” Disney has already cornered the market on dumb superhero market and ensured that it is long-term to see lower and lower profit margins. Warner wanting to get in this already dying market is just dumb. Especially because this method has shown to get them lower profits than the more serious take that Snyder and Nolan have taken.

Doesn’t it make sense to take over the market for more serious films than to just compete with a juggernaut you can’t compete with? Pepsi knows it can’t beat Coke, so instead of trying to it by popular fast-food chains, and ensures that they have a steady revenue stream. What Warner is trying to do in competing with Marvel on their own grounds is like Pepsi wasting billions in trying to convince Mcdonald’s to switch to Pepsi. It’s never going to happen.

Also, you notice that for whatever the style is, one of the reasons that Marvel works is that Kevin Feige has been in charge, and his vision is carried through. He might not be directing the individual films, but it is his vision that continues. And Disney had enough faith in him even when Phase 2 churned out some of the worst entries in the franchise. It’s amazing how letting someone carry out their vision to an end pays off. But heaven forbid WB take that lesson. Disney couldn’t even learn that themselves in allowing the last three Star Wars films to be a mess of bizarrely conflicting themes and visions.

Notice also the difference in how Nolan’s films also start off weak, but when he fuller control over them, their profits go up, but the more studio interference in the DCEU, the fewer profits are made.

If nothing else, the statement from Warner should have been, we are still waiting to see what the response to the Snyder Cut is before we make any decision based on the future of more Snyder movies. But no, they just declared that the director that traditionally has made them a lot of money is just something they’re not going to do.

Now to say that Hollywood is full of stupid people, nothing new. To say it is not full of unethical people…names like Whedon, Weinstein, Geoff Johns come to mind. But you would think, even with all of that, there was still the basics of profit motive. That they do what makes money and drop what doesn’t. You hear so much about people being told to keep costs down or productions failing for not having enough money to finish the director’s/producer’s vision.

But who knows, maybe the returns from the Snyder Cut will makes them do the intelligent thing and call Snyder in and say: “Look the film industry is dead, we all know it, and streaming is the future. So we’d like you to finish your Snyderverse for HBOmax, somewhere in the realm of 8-12 episodes (6-12 hours). Like Game of Thrones we’ll give you about $15 million per episode ($120-180 million). Obviously that is less than you’ve had before, but all film makers will have to get used to this. Your fans like your character development, so maybe in addition to figuring out how to do more practical (cheaper) effects, you can have a lot more time with them talking. Actors will have to take pay cuts. We doubt any of your fans will complain. Can you finish your Knightmare and final battle with Darkseid with that budget.” That would be a reasonable offer that would be in the best interest of both Warner and Snyder. And the lower budget isn’t a problem. The best Star Trek films were often the ones with the lowest budget that forced a more character-driven story. And while Cavill’s subtle but deep acting has been shown brilliantly well through excellent control of his face, it might be time to give him longer speaking roles to show how Clark has become more comfortable with who he is. If Snyder can’t do it on that budget, if the actors refuse to take cuts, if it is not a labor of love as they have all indicated…then the blame rests on them. But as it stands now, the fault is on the producers who are not making a reasonable offer.

But at the moment, such sanity is nowhere to be found.

And HBO still shovels money into drivel like a Game of Throne spin-off and His Dark Materials.

But let’s talk about how this is indicative of a more significant problem in Hollywood and is systemic, and I believe hurting them at multiple levels.

Hollywood has an inability to have follow-through.

It is becoming self-evident that long-form storytelling through streaming is becoming the preferred method of this nation consuming media.

They are seeming to get this.

They are also getting that the ideal season is 8-12 episodes long. The fact is that no TV show in the history of network TV did not have filler episodes that served no purpose. In the days before Deep Space Nine, Babylon 5, Buffy the Vampire Slayer (great because of its writers, not because of its shitty executive producer…what was his name?) showed that you can tell a story through TV shows, in some ways every episode was a filler episode. Still, even then, the best shows trying to put out 22 episodes per year were churning out about 5 absolutely crap episodes every season. And the less said about clips shows, the better. So Hollywood has learned this lesson, but there is a bigger one they have not learned.

Actually, finish what you start.

How often have you not started a show because you know it seems a bit niche, and you’re worried that if you get involved, you’re going to have the problem of starting, loving it, and then having it canceled? The obvious example is Tim Minear’s great shows like Wonderfalls, Firefly, and The Inside. Great shows. Had the network just let them get over the hump of building an audience, they would have lasted for a long time…but we all knew they wouldn’t, so nobody took a chance, the ratings were low, and thus, it died. Granted, streaming reduces some of the pressures to build an audience, but not entirely. And this problem could easily be fixed.

If a network, be it Amazon Prime, HBOmax, FOX, NBC, or anyone, just made a statement as follows:

“We have realized that shows are best when they last 5 to 6 years. From now on any submission to us will have to include the expected plot for 5 years of a show, including a satisfying ending. They will update on what that ending is at the end of every season as they become more comfortable with the characters and story, and the plot naturally evolves. They may request a sixth year if we deem it economically viable. If they have lots of stories that go beyond that we will have a spin off show with its own beginning and ending. If we feel that a show is not economically viable to continue for the full 5 seasons we will make a decision to release a single movie to wrap it up, a graphic novel or series of graphic novels, or just a quick novelization of where the story was to go. It may not be ideal but you can trust that every story you start will have an ending and will not drag on for forever and a day.”

Any studio that promised its audience an ending for anything they started would have people far more invested in those stories from the first moment, and thus people would be more willing to watch them.

You’ll also notice that in that I dealt with the fact that some shows go one for too long, far too long. Yeah, the last season of a lot of shows are good because the writers are wrapping it up, but how many shows that are seven or more years have their second to last season be even watchable. Very few. Because while the ending may be epic, if you take too long to get there, you’re just limping along trying to fill up space.

But common sense ideas like that never come up in Hollywood because Hollywood is clearly not based on reason or even profit motive. It’s based on petty egos that say, “we’re not going to give into fan demands for a Snyderverse, we know better and how dare they question us.” Possibly the strangest attitude of any service industry I have ever heard of. And it’s not a very intelligent take.

The Snyderverse movies, even the early ones, will sell much better if the story has an end. That’s why it was always the point that shows needed to get to 100 episodes to be in syndication, people want an end to a story, and a show that can make 100 episodes obviously is going to be able to make it to an end.

We are rapidly approaching the point where the great movies of the early days of Hollywood will be in the public domain. When Casablanca, the comedies of Howard Hawks, the love stories of Tracy and Hepburn, and the oeuvre Cary Grant will be streaming on YouTube without copyright claims taking them down. Hollywood should realize that very soon they need to cater to the needs of people who want quality because soon quality will be available for free, and the hoi polloi who demand brainless crap are also the people who foolishly think their low education jobs won’t be taken by machines in the next 20 years. Might want to start investing in the cinema for the people who will have money because very soon we won’t need you if you don’t have anything to offer.

So, in short, RELEASE THE SNYDERVERSE.

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