Michael Kurinsky was supposed to make his directorial debut alongside co-director Bill Haller with “Scoob! Holiday Haunt.” That is, until the film — starring Iain Armitage, Mark Hamill, Cristo Fernández, Ming Na-Wen and Frank Welker — was abruptly pulled from release by Warner Bros. Discovery on Aug. 2, terminating Kurinsky’s two years of work on the film.
Three months later, the film is completely finished — but it seems unlikely any Scoobaphiles will get to see it.
“I’ve been working in this industry for 27, 28 years, something like that,” Kurinsky tells. “This is the thing that I have worked my whole career for, and it finally happened. And then eight weeks before we were done, things changed.”
“Scoob! Holiday Haunt” was shelved alongside the DC superhero film “Batgirl.” The animated feature film, which reportedly cost $40 million, was a follow-up to the 2020 film “Scoob!” At the time of its shelving, “Holiday Haunt” was in post-production and set to be released directly to HBO Max on Dec. 22.
“We had a few hundred shots that needed to be finished, lit, rendered and then approved,” Kurinsky explained. “We had a certain amount of time to finish those shots, and we did. I heard numbers like it was about 95% finished. That’s pretty close.”
Kurinsky was in a meeting making the film when the news broke. He received a message on Twitter from a person he had never met before asking him if the news was real. Kurinsky had no idea what they were talking about.
“According to Warner Brothers, news had gotten leaked,” he said. “And they weren’t able to call us by the time this news had leaked. So, we found out in a shocking way.”
Warner Bros. then explained the situation to Kurinsky, apologizing that he found out this way. According to sources with knowledge of the situation, “Batgirl” and “Scoob! Holiday Haunt” were shelved due to financial considerations including tax write-downs. By not releasing the films either theatrically or on HBO Max, Warner Bros. can take a tax write-down on both films, recouping a portion of the production costs. Kurinsky heard the same reasoning in his phone calls.
“In our phone calls that we had with people, they explained that this is what’s happening,” he explained. “And because we are taking this tax write-off, we can’t monetize it. That’s how it was explained to me.”
Production on the film was already difficult for Kurinsky and his team thanks to a highly accelerated timeline.
“We had two years from start to finish,” Kurinsky said. “And when I say that I don’t mean we had a finished script and then we were gonna start production in those two years. No, we started from a, like, two-page outline. And we said, ‘You have two years to make this movie. And it needs to be done by this date. Go.’ And we got it done by said day.”
So, what was “Scoob! Holiday Haunt” about? According to Kurinsky, the film would pick up two months after the opening Halloween scene of “Scoob!” The mystery gang are still young kids getting to know each other, and they go on a Christmas trip to meet a new character in the Scooby-Doo franchise: Fred’s uncle, Ned.
“The plot was basically Scooby-Doo’s first Christmas,” the director explained. “The gang takes Scooby up to this [holiday themed resort] that Fred’s uncle owns. And of course, just like every other Scooby-Doo episode, they go up to a place, a mystery presents itself and the gang now gets involved in the mystery. And we’re off!”
The film, part classic Scooby mystery and part Christmas tale, allowed Kurinsky and Haller — who both credit Scooby-Doo for inspiring them to go into animation in the first place — to tap into their inner fandom and explore a new timeline of the mystery gang.
“This was a dream come true,” Kurinsky said. “It’s very bittersweet that I got to realize so many goals in my life, and then to not have it come out is, as you can imagine, incredibly disappointing.”
Once the film was shelved, though, Kurinsky and his team weren’t done. They finished the movie.
“The reason we were able to finish this movie is because it was already paid for,” he explained. “I can’t say it was [Warner Bros] saying, ‘Please finish this movie, we want you to.’ I think it was more like, ‘Finish the movie because we’ve paid to finish the movie.’”
He continued: “At the end of the day, I don’t care why and how it got finished. I’m glad it got finished because so many people worked so hard to make something so beautiful and really great.”
The team toiled for weeks to finish, all the while knowing the finished product would likely never be seen.
“We’re working with seasoned professionals here, and I was trying to be the best cheerleader I could,” Kurinsky said. “I mean, I was really hurting inside. And yet I’m in these meetings and I have to inspire and keep this enthusiasm up for finishing this movie. I was doing everything I could to keep the bravest face because I wanted to keep everybody’s enthusiasm up… I’m so thankful for everybody that, even though they knew this thing doesn’t have a chance of coming out, they still worked like it was coming out.”
Last Friday, the team finally completed the picture. All of the shots were rendered, lit and finalized by the directors and producers. Despite this, though, the chances that “Scoob! Holiday Haunt” will be seen by general audiences is slim to none.
“The thing that has not changed here, regardless of us being done with picture, is that Warner Bros. Discovery cannot monetize this movie now,” Kurinsky explains. “To get that $40 million tax write-off, they cannot make money from it. So, there is no scenario where they can sell it, stream it, anything. They just can’t because any move they would make would monetize it, and then they would lose their tax write-off.”
Is there any hope for it to see the light of day, though? Kurinsky isn’t sure.
“This is me speaking, not knowing anything about how finances and things like that work in studios,” he said. “But I think as long as Discovery owns Warner Bros., I don’t think anything can and will happen with this movie. To me, I feel like as long as it’s Warner Bros. Discovery, it does not seem likely that there’s a way around it.”
Despite the entire rollercoaster of emotions, though, Kurinsky is proud of his work.
“Regardless of the outcome, I would go through this whole experience again,” Kurinsky said. “Being able to direct is something that I’ve wanted to do for a long time now. Now having gone through it, I know I’m a better filmmaker. I’m a better storyteller. And I wouldn’t trade that experience for anything.
“It’s got me thinking about that saying, ‘If a tree falls in the forest and no one’s there to hear it, did it make a sound?’ And the answer after this experience is a resounding yes. It absolutely makes a sound. Just because the public doesn’t see it, there are people who have seen it and people who have worked on it. And it absolutely makes a sound. This movie made a beautiful sound that one day I hope everybody can hear.”