Someone Needs To Tell David Zaslav What Actual ‘Courage’ Looks Like
Someone needs to help Warner Bros. Discovery CEO David Zaslav learn what courage is. He seems deeply confused as he claims canceling Batgirl for a tax writeoff took “courage.”
Zaslav and Warner Bros. Discovery have come under intense scrutiny twice for canceling films in post-production. One of the first and most controversial moves Zaslav made as CEO was to shelve the highly anticipated Batgirl movie. Filming had already been completed with a $90 million budget, and viewers were eager to see the hero return to the big screen in live-action for the first time in decades. Then, Warner Bros. revealed it wouldn’t release the completed film. Conflicting reports have arisen about its quality, with the likeliest explanation for the move being the company’s desire for a tax writeoff.
Warner Bros. also shelved the completed Scoob! Holiday Haunt film alongside Batgirl. It has been over a year since these decisions were made, and fans are still asking for Batgirl. Then, Warner Bros. announced last month that it was shelving the fully completed Coyote vs. Acme for a $30 million tax writeoff. The outcry was swift and brutal, with U.S. Representative Joaquin Castro even calling for an investigation into the “predatory and anti-competitive” cancellation. He likened what Warner Bros. Discovery was doing to someone intentionally burning a building down to get insurance money.
The backlash led to the studio backtracking on its decision and allowing the film to seek another distributor. However, Zaslav is still trying to defend his decision.
Apparently, securing tax writeoffs takes courage
While speaking at this year’s DealBook Summit, Zaslav claimed that canceling multiple films in post-production took courage. He started his speech about courage by saying that Warner Bros. Discovery’s mass layoffs were also courageous. Zaslav stated, “These are companies that have never really been restructured for the future. And so we really decided that we have to have courage; we’ve got to figure it out.”
Meanwhile, he deflected a question about the tax writeoffs associated with Batgirl and Coyote vs. Acme, claiming, “The accounting piece is really a misnomer.” In his mind, the studio didn’t gain anything from canceling the films it spent $100 million on and was simply reluctant to spend another $30 or $40 million on marketing and promotion, so it decided to scrap them, which apparently took “real courage.”
If we produce a show, a $100-million movie…We’ve spent the $100 million dollars and if we don’t release it. It’s gone. We don’t have any real benefit from it. The question is, should we take certain of these movies and open them in the theater and spend another $30 or $40 million to promote them? And Warner Brothers team and HBO made a number of decisions. They were hard. But when I look at the health of our company today, we needed to make those decisions. And it took real courage.
It’s very odd that Zaslav claims the studio got no benefit from scrapping its movies. I guess for a company as rich as Warner Bros. Discovery, a $30 million tax writeoff is the equivalent of nothing. However, it’s interesting how $30 million does become something if that amount would go towards promoting a female-led film. He needs to clarify where the courage comes in, though. According to him, Warner Bros. Discovery made a $100 million movie and then balked at advertising it, so it was scrapped. Wouldn’t it have been braver if the studio took a chance on a film they weren’t certain would profit and released it anyway?
It seems Zaslav doesn’t know what courage actually is, so let’s give him a few reminders. Courage was when Hollywood’s writers and actors went on strike to better their profession, even as wealthy studios plotted to refuse negotiations until winter in an attempt to get the strikers and their families to lose their homes and starve. Courage is when directors like Bilall Fallah, Adil El Arbi, or Nia DaCosta charge ahead and make female-led superhero films, even when they know studios will likely treat their movies horribly and sexist trolls will harass them. It took courage for all those filmmakers to refuse to do business with industry giant Warner Bros. Discovery after the unfair axing of Coyote vs. Acme.
Meanwhile, it is not courageous to cancel a film so that the studio can sit back, get a tax writeoff, and not have to lift a finger for advertising. It is not courageous to let a whole cast and crew shoulder the devastation of canceling their fully completed film. There’s nothing brave about a studio reaping benefits while all its employees pay the price for its terrible decisions. If Zaslav actually wants to do something that takes an ounce of courage, he should give us Batgirl.
(featured image: Leon Bennett/Getty)
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