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Why Warner Bros. has shelved another finished movie

AYESHA RASCOE, HOST:

Road Runner has dodged falling boulders, TNT, optical illusion traps and all sorts of fatal devices from the Acme Corporation. But the fleet-footed "Looney Tunes" character seems to have been thwarted by its own studio, Warner Bros. Discovery, but maybe just temporarily. Warner Bros. shelved a finished movie, "Coyote Vs. Acme." And, of course, it caused an uproar. Why has Warner repeatedly shelved its own movies? Matt Belloni is here to explain. He's a reporter with Puck News. Hi, Matt.

MATT BELLONI: Hello.

RASCOE: Last week, the studio, Warner Bros., backtracked and is now allowing filmmakers to shop "Coyote Vs. Acme" to other distributors. But did the studio give an explanation for why they shelved the movie in the first place?

BELLONI: This movie was greenlit with a $70 million budget, and it was supposed to be for their streaming service. The time between it was greenlit and now, there has been a regime change at Warner Bros. And the new regime has said that, we're not going to make $70 million movies for the streaming service. We're going to put all of our movies in theaters. So then they said, OK, we'll put this movie in theaters. But then as they looked at it - to people at the studio, it didn't feel theatrical enough for a $30 million marketing campaign that you have to give to make this movie a success. So they said, let's just not release it at all. We'll get some financial benefits from being able to apply the losses on our balance sheet. And that's where the creative community really responded negatively.

RASCOE: Matt, you were on NPR more than a year ago after Warner Bros. shelved "Batgirl" to talk about the strategy. And, you know, Hollywood has been under a lot of pressure since then, I mean, you know, with the writers and actors strike. How are studios looking at making these financial calculations now?

BELLONI: The economics of the studio business have gotten worse. The ad market has turned, which has put pressure on these studios to cut costs. There's been layoffs. The stock prices of many of these media companies, other than Netflix, have gone down significantly, especially Warner Bros. Discovery, which has lost about half of its value since April of 2022. And that is all weighing on what the ultimate decision is here because if this were normal times, the studio probably would have said, you know, yeah. It's 70 million. It's a little bit more than we would have spent on this movie, but you know what? We're in the business of taking risks on creators. We want our standing in the community to stay high. Let's just release the movie and see where it goes. These days, you don't get that luxury to make that decision.

RASCOE: Congressman Joaquin Castro, a Democrat from Texas, called for a probe into the Warner Bros. strategy, comparing it to burning down a house for the insurance money. What do you make of that?

BELLONI: I don't totally understand the criticism because, obviously, Warner Brothers paid for this movie. They can do with it what they want. The talent involved in the film is getting paid, so I don't see the argument there. There was also an antitrust argument that was thrown around by the congressman. I don't really see that, either, because this isn't really anti-competitive. It's just one studio having financial problems deciding that they don't want to release a product. But it seems wrong that these artists would put years of their lives into a movie that the studio would decide not to release for a small financial benefit.

RASCOE: Matt Belloni is the host of the podcast "The Town" and a reporter with Puck News. Thank you so much for joining us.

BELLONI: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF SOULS OF MISCHIEF SONG, "93 'TIL INFINITY") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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