Denis Villeneuve has criticised a deal between Warner Brothers and HBO Max which will see the simultaneous release of films in cinemas and online.
The agreement, revealed last week, ensures that all of Warner Brothers’ film releases in 2021 will be available to stream on HBO Max on the same day they come out in cinemas, a move the Dune director has said “is all about the survival of a telecom mammoth”.
Villeneuve has written an article in Variety on what he calls a “hijacking (of) one of the most respectable and important studios in film history”. In it, he acknowledges that streaming services “are a positive and powerful addition to the movie and TV ecosystems,” but is adamant that they alone “can’t sustain the film industry as we knew it before COVID.”
“Warner Brothers’ sudden reversal from being a legacy home for filmmakers to the new era of complete disregard draws a clear line for me. Filmmaking is a collaboration, reliant on the mutual trust of team work and Warner Brothers has declared they are no longer on the same team,” he wrote. “Streaming can produce great content, but not movies of Dune’s scope and scale. (This) decision means Dune won’t have the chance to perform financially in order to be viable and piracy will ultimately triumph. Warner Brothers might just have killed the Dune franchise.”
Villeneuve’s impassioned prose appealed to Warner Brothers’ owner, AT&T, who he accused of “sacrificing” the film studio’s entire 2021 slate in order to survive on Wall Street, after a challenging year financially due to the coronavirus pandemic. “Economic impact to stakeholders is only one aspect of corporate social responsibility,” he writes, “finding ways to enhance culture is another.”
Fellow director Christopher Nolan also chimed in last week to criticise the deal, which he claims is borne of arrogance. “Some of our industry’s biggest filmmakers and most important movie stars went to bed the night before thinking they were working for the greatest movie studio and woke up to find out they were working for the worst streaming service,” he told the Hollywood Reporter. “Warner Brothers had an incredible machine for getting a filmmaker’s work out everywhere, both in theaters and in the home, and they are dismantling it as we speak,” the Tenet filmmaker added.
Ann Sarnoff, chair and chief executive of WarnerMedia Studios, said that the pandemic called for “creative solutions”. She added: “No one wants films back on the big screen more than we do. We know new content is the lifeblood of theatrical exhibition, but we have to balance this with the reality that most theatres in the US will likely operate at reduced capacity throughout 2021.”
Dune has already suffered its fair share of difficulty this year after its release, originally slated for December 2020, had to be pushed into next year following several disruptions due to the coronavirus. It’s currently due for an October 2021 release.