We need to be afraid of ‘Coyote vs. Acme’ getting shelved 

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On an August day in 2022, actor Leslie Grace found out that the DC Studio movie “Batgirl,” starring her as the title character, was not getting released from a news alert on her phone. No one had contacted her in advance.

“[The disappointment] was like deflating a balloon,” Grace would later describe in a Variety interview. “On that day, I was very much just taking it all in, but also so sure of the magic that happened — in my experience and what I saw in my cast, in our team — that I was like, ‘this must be some crazy thing that we have no control over.’”

The reason for the $90 million movie getting hastily canceled? So Warner Bros. Discovery could receive a tax write-off. 

Once this was found out, there was outrage from fans online and devastation from the people who worked on the project, which was already in post-production. 

Despite the backlash, the studio never backed down. Gunnar Wiedenfels, CFO of Warner Bros., claimed the controversy was “blown out of proportion.” 

CEO David Zaslav argued that the decision was made because of the film’s alleged poor quality, stating, “We’re not going to launch a movie to make a quarter and we’re not going to put a movie out unless we believe in it.” Two years later, Zaslav still stands by that statement to everyone’s detriment. 

“Coyote vs. Acme,” a $70 million Wile E. Coyote movie, was given the same fate last fall. This was despite featuring John Cena and James Gunn as a producer. Once again, there was backlash from fans, including congressman Joaquin Castro, who negatively compared the cancellation to “burning down a building for the insurance money.” 

This time, Warner Bros. listened, allowing a deal for other studios to buy the rights for the film at $75-85 million by the end of their fourth quarter in February 2024. By the time the deadline was reached, the studio refused all offers. According to the film’s producer Chris DeFaria, he received a disturbing phone call with one of the executives, saying that they “just want to get this behind them,” and “close the book.” 

As of now, “Coyote vs. Acme” is expected to be shelved for a $35-40 million tax write-off. 

Contributed by Warner Bros.

“Coyote” is the third reported film from Warner Bros. being shelved for tax reasons, which also includes “Scoob! Holiday Haunt,” which had a $40 million budget. Sadly, Warner Bros. is not the only studio doing this. 

Last May, Disney CEO Bob Iger ordered over 30 shows to be deleted from streaming services Hulu and Disney+ for a $1.5 billion write-down. These included the sequel series to 80s fantasy film “Willow,” and the sci-fi adaptation “Y: The Last Man,” Because these shows and films were made exclusively for these platforms, they are now lost media and no longer exist.

This behavior, while making sense from a business standpoint due to losses from the SAG-AFTRA and WGA strikes as well as COVID-19, is incredibly harmful to film as an artform. It disrespects the people who worked on the now-discarded shows and movies and leads to people thinking of their creations only as “content.” 

“In terms of being an artist, it’s discouraging to me because I want to put out full projects, and when those opportunities are being taken away from industry professionals, big names that everybody knows, whether you watch movies or not, it can be a little bit discouraging,” senior filmmaking student Jacob Lenharth said in response to the write-offs.  “Discouraging to put yourself out there and discouraging to share your art with people because at the end of the day, it’s not necessarily art.”

Balancing art and business is an ongoing debate in the film industry, with one and the other tipping over constantly in history. Authority in the 70s gave way to ambitious filmmaking only for studio control to be put back in charge by the 80s. It’s an ever changing relationship, but according to Associate Dean for School of Communications and film professor Aaron Aubuchon, Capitalism is winning. 

“If our society was smart, we would put up guardrails that would allow for money to be set aside for actual artistic endeavors” Aubuchon said. “But we don’t do that as much as we used to anymore. So it’s all business.” 

With that focus on making as much money as possible from entertainment, studios like Warner Bros. and Disney run into issues they created themselves. In the rise of streaming services, there are too many platforms that demand viewers to pay up from $8-$23 a month while studios greenlight more shows than they can support. 

It’s an unstable system where success is only seen through gaining subscribers. The lesson was learned with Netflix, which lost about 200,000 subscribers in 2022, leading to 20 shows on the service being canceled and a controversial anti-password sharing policy. Netflix managed to stay afloat after initiating the policy, but their reputation sank. 

These problems have also led to an increase in online piracy, with many consumers not wanting to subscribe to an overwhelming amount of streaming services, causing zero profit for everyone involved. 

“I think the cancellation of shows or the removal of exclusive items is also unethical because you’re creating lost media, which is anti-consumer and is also pushing piracy. Which I don’t think is good for anybody because nobody’s making any money, not the filmmakers, not the studios. The consumer gets to watch it but they shouldn’t have to go that far when they already paid for a subscription,” Lenharth said. 

So while Hollywood studios continue to cannibalize themselves to make ends meet, more films and shows will be abandoned. It’s depressing, but morbidly, there are some positives. 

Consumers, exhausted with the ways of mainstream studios, are showing an interest in independent films. Recent films like “Everything Everywhere All at Once” and “Skinamarink” were incredibly popular and financially successful during their run in theaters.

“There’s going to be more of a boom of independent filmmaking through [not working for major studios],” Lenharth said. “If you look at movies from A24 and Neon, who are independent distributors and studios, they’re having a huge renaissance since the 90s, where we had our big, independent film boom with Miramax.” 

Aubuchon, while agreeing that the cancellations were unethical, claims that “this is not the ugliest or worst thing that’s ever happened in Hollywood history.” For all we know, this can be a short period of film history, though the effects of it will still linger. 

We can only hope that “Coyote vs. Acme” and countless others will see the light of day, no matter their quality. That studios will stop axing their films for the sake of fixing their mistakes.

Hollywood cannot continue to go on like this. Between refusing to release media and acting indifferent to the people striking them, these ethical issues and financial problems aren’t just something that producers and executives can close the book on. 

There needs to be a better relationship between producers, filmmakers, writers, and actors that isn’t just lessening their pay or funding a film that thousands of people have worked hard to create only to be trapped in a vault. There will be success and also failure, as is usual with the business of filmmaking. People like Zaslav and Iger need to understand they can’t strike gold by screwing over their workers every chance they get.

Respect the art of film, and it will respect you back. 

 

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Ethan Tarantella
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