Warner Bros. Town Hall: John Stankey Fields Bugs Bunny Question, Promises Better Cell Coverage

John Stankey, the man tasked with integrating WarnerMedia into the AT&T family, tried to sell employees at the company’s film and television studio on the virtues of being part of a global telecommunications giant. He promised to enhance cellular service on Warner Bros.’s studio lot during an hour-long presentation to staffers on Wednesday, receiving sustained applause from a group of Valley-toilers who have long been frustrated by dropped calls and dodgy signals.

The meeting is one of a series of sit-downs that Stankey, the newly minted WarnerMedia CEO, is doing this week in the wake of AT&T’s $85 billion purchase of Time Warner. The company has been rechristened WarnerMedia, but so far AT&T has taken pains to stress that it wants its new employees to continue making movies, shows, and other entertainment products despite having new corporate parents.

Stankey did just promise that Warner Bros. staffers will be able to make and receive calls, he also acknowledged that the corporate changes have caused some anxiety. He noted that the merger “might create some discomfort,” but said the deal will be seen in retrospect as “a time of accelerated learning and career growth.”

“Prepare yourselves mentally,” he urged the audience. He was joined on stage by Warner Bros. CEO Kevin Tsujihara and communications chief Dee Dee Myers, who moderated the “no holds barred” discussion.

Stankey also proved he’s able to make fun of himself. After Tsujihara noted that every profile of Stankey mentions his hulking 6 foot, 5 inch frame, the WarnerMedia chief rose to his feet and jokingly stared down the assembled staff and Tsujihara. He stressed that despite his size, he should not be seen as intimidating, telling staff that he likes ask lots of questions and can handle robust debate.

He also noted that the lengthy approval process — AT&T had to battle a Justice Department anti-trust suit — meant he had time to have hip replacement surgery. As Stankey gets his hands around a business that includes not just Warner Bros., but also HBO and Turner, he had a message for staff.

“You have a job to do — keeping the plane flying while you’re changing the engine,” he said.

Tsujihara also sought to comfort employees worried that AT&T will institute a set of layoffs and cost-cutting measures, stating that the “assets of Warner Bros. are our people.”

“It all begins and ends with the quality of the content we create,” he added.

Before Stankey took the stage, Warner Bros. played a sizzle reel narrated by “The Big Bang Theory’s” Kunal Nayyar, showing clips from film classics such as “Casablanca” and “North By Northwest,” as well as upcoming releases like “A Star is Born.” There were also clips from the studio’s gaming and television division, which produces the likes of “Arkham Asylum” and “Two and a Half Men.” The sizzle reel closed with the tagline “The Future Looks Epic”

Stankey’s first question came from someone dubbed as the studio’s most “senior employee,” and up popped Bugs Bunny on the screen.

“What’s up, John?,” Asked Bugs. “What’s your favorite thing about Warner Bros.?”

Stankey answered by saying, “I love the history and have a strong degree of respect for the legacy… It’s a tremendous honor to be part of the future.”

The charm offensive appeared to work. Stankey noted that most cuts will come at the corporate level, and won’t impact employees at the studio. He was described by two people in the room as “impressive” and “articulate.”

But Stankey also alluded to a media landscape that remains in flux. He noted that even before buying Time Warner, AT&T considered investing in developing its own shows and movies as a way of differentiating itself from other phone companies like Verizon and device makers such as Apple that aspire to create premium content. It is important to move early and move fast since “the battle lines are being drawn” in the industry, he noted.

Part of that coming clash for consumers began to take shape on Wednesday, as Disney increased its bid for much of 21st Century Fox’s media empire to $71.3 billion in an effort to outflank Comcast. Both companies are trying to strengthen their arsenal as they, like AT&T, eye a future that’s being driven by Silicon Valley disruptors.

Popular on Variety

More Film

  • German Cinema Is Diverse, But Is

    German Cinema Is Varied, But Is It Too Risk Averse?

    One of the strengths of German cinema is its diversity, says Simone Baumann, managing director of the national film promotion agency German Films. As well as the three films at Toronto directed by female German helmers, there was also German filmmaker Thomas Heise’s documentary film essay “Heimat Is a Space in Time.” Then there were [...]

  • Female Filmmakers in Germany Make Progress

    Female Filmmakers Surge Forward in Germany, But Still Face Obstacles

    Four feature films by German filmmakers screened at the Toronto Film Festival, and three of them were directed by women – Angela Schanelec’s “I Was at Home, But…,” winner of the Berlinale’s best director prize, Ina Weisse’s “The Audition,” and Katrin Gebbe’s “Pelican Blood,” the latter two both starring Nina Hoss. Germany’s Oscar entry this [...]

  • Bull

    Annie Silverstein's 'Bull' Takes Top Awards, Robert Pattinson Starrer 'The Lighthouse' Wins Jury Prize at Deauville

    Annie Silverstein’s feature debut “Bull” swept three awards at the 45th Deauville American Film Festival, including the Grand Prize, the Revelation Prize for best first film and the Critics’ Prize. “Bull,” a portrait of a rebellious teenage girl from South Texas, world premiered at Cannes’s Un Certain Regard and marks Silverstein’s follow up to her [...]

  • Constance Wu and Jennifer Lopez star

    Jennifer Lopez's 'Criminal' Striptease: How 'Hustlers' Landed the Fiona Apple Hit

    Contrary to what you might be expecting, the number of songs by Jennifer Lopez, Lizzo and Cardi B in “Hustlers,” their newly released acting vehicle, adds up to … zero. Meanwhile, the standout music sync in a movie that’s full of them belongs to no less likely a choice than Fiona Apple. The scene in [...]

  • Game of Thrones Season 8

    'Game of Thrones,' 'Avengers' Win Big at 45th Annual Saturn Awards

    As Jamie Lee Curtis picked up her first trophy ever at the 45th Annual Saturn Awards Friday night, she had a good luck charm on her arm: former manager Chuck Binder, whom she said was the reason she became an actor. “I was in college and had no thought of being an actor,” Curtis told [...]

  • Jennifer Lopez and Constance Wu star

    Box Office: 'Hustlers' Dances Toward $32 Million Opening Weekend

    “Hustlers” is eyeing the biggest opening weekend ever for STXFilms, following a Friday domestic ticket haul of $13.1 million from 3,250 theaters. If estimates hold, the stripper saga could take home around $32 million come Sunday, marking the best live-action opening of Jennifer Lopez’s career. “Hustlers” follows a group of former strip club dancers, led [...]

  • Hustlers intimacy coordinator

    Meet the Stripper Consultant Who Gave 'Hustlers' Authenticity, Dignity and Sexual Freedom

    At last week’s Toronto Film Festival premiere of “Hustlers,” an audience of Hollywood heavyweights and Canadian locals applauded as a statuesque woman strutted on stage, rocking six-inch platform heels and a pastel tie-dye bodysuit. This adoration was not for stars Jennifer Lopez, Constance Wu or Keke Palmer, nor was it for the film’s acclaimed writer-director [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content