Acclaimed director Christopher Nolan has weighed in yet again on the controversy surrounding Warner Bros. Pictures’ plans to release all of its 2021 films concurrently in theaters and on HBO Max.
Appearing on the NPR program “All Things Considered,” the director elaborated on a previous scorched-earth statement criticizing the studio for disrespecting Hollywood talent and compromising the health of global movie theaters.
NPR host Ari Shapiro asked the “Tenet” director if he was “satisfied” with how he learned of the decision to roll out tentpoles like “Dune” and “Wonder Woman 1984.” Nolan expanded on how the dramatic move will hurt Hollywood’s working-class artisans and performers.
“The economics of it are unsound unless you’re purely looking at movements in share price, number of eyeballs on the new streaming service. Theatrical is really only one part of what we’re talking about here. You’re talking about your home video window, your secondary tertiary windows. These are things very important to the economics of the business and to the people who work in the business. And I’m not talking about me. I’m not talking about Ben Affleck,” Nolan said.
The director expressed anguish for members of unions like the Screen Actors Guild and the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees.
“I’m talking about the grips, the electricians who depend on, you know, IA and IA residuals for pension and health care. I’m talking about SAG. I’m talking about actors. I’m talking about when I come on the set and I’ve got to shoot a scene with, you know, a waiter or a lawyer who has two or three lines. They need to be earning a living in that profession, working maybe sometimes a couple of days a year. And that’s why the residuals structure is in place. That’s why the unions have secured participations for people down the line,” Nolan continued.
The director called the decision by WarnerMedia, owned by tech giant AT&T, as devaluing billions in film assets “by using them as leverage for a different business strategy without first figuring out how those new structures are going to have to work, it’s a sign of great danger for the ordinary people who work in this industry.”
Dealmaking in the age of streaming has been a tenuous proposition. Market leader Netflix crafted a model that would compensate filmmakers and talent for projected backend participation based on box office performance, one that HBO Max has only been in the nascent stages of iterating since it launched. The lack of structure on these streaming deals has serious impact on long term compensation for lesser-known working actors, Nolan said,
“There is a danger with that that needs to be addressed through appropriate negotiation with unions, with talent and all the rest. There are enormous number of questions that come out of that about the economic structures that allow working people in Hollywood to maintain, you know, their lives and raise their families and have health care and all the rest. And I’m saying these are all things that haven’t yet been thought through and they need to be,” Nolan said.
Finally, and not surprisingly, Nolan lamented for the health of movie theaters.
“It’s very important that everybody remember the exhibition business provides hundreds of thousands of jobs for ordinary people. And my work has only ever got out there in the world because of the hard work of people working in those businesses,” the director said. “They need to be taken into account as we’re looking at how our work is shown and where it’s shown and how the business moves forward.”
Nolan is joined by a chorus of creative voices to question the Warner Bros. decision — from a fiery missive by “Dune” director Denis Villeneuve, to an incredulous Judd Apatow, and the fearful Aaron Sorkin and Patty Jenkins.