Back in early December when WarnerMedia announced that its entire 2021 film slate would be simultaneously released into theaters and onto its HBO MAX streaming platform–a practice known as day-and-date release–shock waves reverberated throughout Hollywood, with every stakeholder being forced to question the viability and future fate of the film industry.
2020 had already begun to chip away at the long-established 90-day theatrical exclusivity window. In July, AMC and Universal reached an unprecedented agreement that shortened the streaming lockout period to as little as 17 days in return for revenue sharing.
Then WarnerMedia’s day-and-date release announcement hit, smashing the paltry remnants of the exclusivity window to bits.
Many filmmakers were in a furor, but none more so than Warner’s very own goose that lays the golden eggs, Christopher Nolan. It was Nolan–one of Hollywood’s staunchest supporters of the theater-going experience–who questioned the ethics of a company that would treat filmmakers so poorly.
“It’s about what the French call droit moral,” he said in an interview with The Washington Post. “Do they own it absolutely, because they paid for it or they financed it? And that is not a purely legalistic question; it’s a question of ethics as well. It’s a question of partnership and collaboration. They did not speak to those filmmakers. They did not consult them about what their plans were for their work. And I felt that somebody needed to point out that that wasn’t the right way to treat those filmmakers.”
Now it appears that Nolan is willing to put his money where his mouth is and walk away from his long-time studio, one that’s been his home for the past 20 years. The last film that the director released without Warner Bros. was 2001’s “Memento.”
According to a report from the Wall Street Journal, Nolan is “unlikely” to work with Warner Bros. in the future due to the schism between the filmmaker and the studio over streaming.
To be clear, there can be no winners in this scenario.
Due to the pandemic, the box office is an outright disaster. Warners is a company that is fighting for its survival. Streaming is the medium of the present and the future. For Warners to put movies into the few theaters that remain open only to have next to nobody watch them, then wait 90 days before putting them on their own streaming platform is as ridiculous as it is unreasonable.
Nolan, meanwhile, is fighting for the preservation of movie theaters and the theatrical experience, the crux of his entire existence.
Warner Bros. needs to stay afloat. So do cinemas. Neither entity is flourishing right now. As a result of the pandemic, the entire industry is being pushed to the brink. And whatever the studio and Nolan do from here on out is out of necessity and desperation.