Steven Soderbergh: Warner Bros was just reacting to ‘an economic reality’

Steven Soderbergh at 76th Venice Film Festival

This week, Christopher Nolan spoke out about Warner Bros’ decision to dump all of their new releases onto HBO Max. While Nolan had some points – like WB should have informed all of the filmmakers/artists and theater chains ahead of time – most of what he said came across like an out-of-touch screed, like he’s mad that people don’t want to endanger themselves by going to movie theaters right now. Nolan thinks that because everyone has easy access to so much high-quality streaming content, there will be no going back to theaters once the pandemic is over. Well, writer/director/producer Steven Soderbergh also has some thoughts. He spoke to the Daily Beast to promote his latest film (which is on HBO Max as well) Let Them All Talk. Soderbergh sounds much more in-touch with what the actual priorities of the film and theater industry should be right now and going forward. The whole interview is worth a read, but here are some highlights:

Whether this is the beginning of the end for theaters: “No. Not at all. It’s just a reaction to an economic reality that I think everybody is going to have to acknowledge pretty soon, which is that even with a vaccine, the theatrical movie business won’t be robust enough in 2021 to justify the amount of P&A you need to spend to put a movie into wide release. There’s no scenario in which a theater that is 50 percent full, or at least can’t be made 100 percent full, is a viable paradigm to put out a movie in. But that will change. We will reach a point where anybody who wants to go to a movie will feel safe going to a movie.

Covid & theaters: “I think somebody sat down and did a very clear-eyed analysis of what COVID is going to do in the next year, even with a potential vaccine, and said, I don’t see this as being workable in 2021. Because let’s be clear: there is no bonanza in the entertainment industry that is the equivalent of a movie that grosses a billion dollars or more theatrically. That is the holy grail. So the theatrical business is not going away. There are too many companies that have invested too much money in the prospect of putting out a movie that blows up in theaters—there’s nothing like it. It’s all going to come back. But I think Warners is saying: not as soon as you think.

Whether the genie is out of the bottle & no one will return to theaters when it is safe: “No. I think it’ll finally push the studios and NATO (National Association of Theater Owners) to have some practical and realistic conversations about windowing. Because there needs to be more fluidity. There’s not going to be one template that fits every movie. Every movie is different. You need the flexibility. If you’re in a bad situation, and you’ve got a movie that you opened wide, and you know Friday at 3 p.m. it’s not working, you need to be able to get it on a platform as soon as possible. You spent so much money trying to make this work, and if it didn’t, you should be able to do whatever you want to do. Theaters are going to be pushing you out anyway because you bombed. They’re looking for the next thing that’s going to work. I just think we live in a technological world that allows for fluidity that we’re just not seeing right now. We’re still seeing this broad template that’s supposed to work for everything, and that’s not how it’s going to get solved.

[From The Daily Beast]

Yeah. he’s right. There will still be a hunger for theatrical experiences when the pandemic is over, and there will still be business models which heavily feature theatrical releases. But he’s on Warner Bros’ side, which is that the post-pandemic era won’t actually happen until well into 2021, hopefully, so everyone needs to be reasonable right now. He also suggests that some theaters become “repertory cinemas” screening “films from any period of the last 120 years for audiences who’ve never seen them in a theater. There are all these movies from the ‘70s, ‘80s, ‘90s, and early aughts that nobody has seen in a theater. Big hits, great movies.” He’s totally right about that, my God. I’ve just spent the past twenty minutes staring off into space, daydreaming about what old movies I would show at my repertory cinema. There would be a month devoted to Robert Redford’s best ‘70s and ‘80s films, for sure.

'Laundromat' film photocall, 76th Venice Film Festival, Venice, Italy 01/09/2019

Photos courtesy of Avalon Red.

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41 Responses to “Steven Soderbergh: Warner Bros was just reacting to ‘an economic reality’”

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  1. Astrid says:

    I agree with his assessment. Theaters will open in some form after the pandemic dies down. There will be an audience. And the streaming way is the new technology that is new way to access movies.

  2. LightPurple says:

    Yes, classic 70s Redford films. Three Days of the Condor is a Christmas movie. Seriously. Faye Dunaway has a Christmas tree.

    Soderbergh is right. Only one of the movie theaters in Downtown Boston has reopened and that chain didn’t open some of its theaters in nearby suburbs. From the sounds of it, the governor or mayor is about to close things down again so that will be shut down again too. Meanwhile, the film companies have all this backlog and eager audiences trapped at home looking for stuff to watch. Economically, it makes sense to release something somehow, even though they won’t recoup all their investments.

    As for Nolan, I did see Tenet in a theater. Big showy films like that do need a big screen but even still, it was not his best work. Far from it.

    • bobslaw says:

      I just watched Condor last night. Such a good film to revisit. And yes it 100% is a Christmas adjacent movie.

      Can’t wait until we’re all safely vaccinated and can go to the movies again and get annoyed at strangers for chewing popcorn too loudly and not putting their phone on mute. Fingers crossed!

    • Dee Kay says:

      Tenet was ridiculous. Not in a “fun ha-ha way” but in a “this is nonsense” way.

    • harper says:

      I don’t even think you’d have to stick with “classic” movies. Jurassic Park was close to 30 years ago. There’s an entire generation who’s only seen it on TV. Imagine THAT on the big screen again.

      The Matrix, the Star Wars prequels, Bond flicks, The Big Lebowski, Terminator 2, hell throw Die Hard back out there. Take all the movies that are popular for people younger than 35 and put them back in the theatres so they have a chance to see them on the big screen.

      • derps says:

        Yeah, my oldest got to see the original Jurassic Park for the first time this year. She loved it, but when the music swells as the 2 scientists see the brachiosaurs my heart ached a little that the huge dinos weren’t huge for her. I still feel the magic when watching that movie, even though I’m a 43yo who’s 90-something on the inside if you know what I mean.

  3. Claire says:

    I totally agree with him. Also I have to say, I love the streaming option at home for kids movies. I’d much rather streams Trolls or whatever at home instead of going through the hoopla of getting a six and four year old to a theater

    • derps says:

      Yes. I hope almost all kids movies become mainly streaming products and more theaters can let us adults (and teens) have a real date night with good food and maybe some alcohol.

    • Libby says:

      Yesssss! I have a toddler and he only watches stuff in 30 mins spurts so if MOM wants to see the movie, I would have to wait until it’s available for home viewing. I’m all for kids content being available for rent/purchase/streaming and all Disney movies going to Disney+.

  4. Solace says:

    Soderbergh is the real deal. He is not a pretentious twat like Nolan. His woman protagonists are empowered and well written unlike Nolan’s.

    • Sunny says:

      I can’t seem to forget that he cheated on his wife which resulted in a pregnancy and his wife stayed with him! Why?!

  5. Becks1 says:

    He’s right. theaters will come back. The experience may be a little different, especially before the vaccine is widely distributed, but they’ll come back.

    I love the idea of theaters streaming older movies. I would LOVE to see the original Indiana Jones movies on the big screen, or some of the classic Hitchcock movies (ooh Notorious on a big screen, that would be fantastic.) Rear Window would probably hit a little too close to home these days, lol.

    • Case says:

      @Becks1 Turner Classic Movies had a marathon of Hitchcock over Thanksgiving. I’m watching some that are on demand now because of that and it has been so much fun! I already loved his horror movies and now I’m watching his mystery/thrillers. Shadow of a Doubt was SO GOOD.

      • Tiffany says:

        Shadow of a Doubt is one of Hitch’s best but does not crack my top 5 in rewatch. Which is weird because it is so damn good.

      • Case says:

        @Tiffany What are some of your favorites of his? I’m still working my way through his catalogue, but I love Suspicion and of course Psycho and The Birds. Currently in the middle of watching The Man Who Knew Too Much.

      • BayTampaBay says:

        “He also suggests that some theaters become “repertory cinemas” screening “films from any period of the last 120 years for audiences who’ve never seen them in a theater.”

        Citizen Caine and A Face in the Crowd are VERY VERY much worth seeing in a theatre. The experience is totally different than when viewing on TV. I saw both at a Cinema Draft House that runs old classic movies over Memorial Day and Labor Day Weekends.

      • Tiffany says:

        @ Case.

        My Top 5 are:

        Rebecca
        The Birds
        Rear Window
        The Lady Vanishes
        Vertigo

      • LightPurple says:

        Rear Window is my favorite Hitchcock. Thelma Ritter is a hoot as Stella. And I want every piece of Grace Kelly’s timeless wardrobe, especially that green suit and that black and white gown.

      • Case says:

        @Tiffany – Vertigo, Rebecca, and The Birds are some of my favorites of his (I watched Vertigo and Rebecca for the first time this year and loved both). The only one I haven’t seen on that list is The Lady Vanishes – hopefully soon.

      • Becks1 says:

        @LightPurple – both of those – the green suit and the black and white gown – are in my top 5 movie costumes of all time. (also included in there is Audrey Hepburn’s dress for the ball in My Fair Lady and Ingrid Bergman’s black velvet dress in Notorious.)

      • Melody Calder says:

        My local theater is doing this, I’m not paying super close attention, but I did see Jurassic Park there over the summer. Maybe 7 of us in the whole theater. I bought a lot of snacks :) They are going through series I noticed, all the Indiana Jones, star wars, hunger games, etc. They did hocus pocus for Halloween…. they are trying for sure to stay open in my small town.

      • derps says:

        @Tiffany, is Shadow the one with skiing? Like, people are snowed in at an asylum or hospital and maybe someone is a murdering spy? Cause that one is soooo good and no one ever talks about it. Birds and Vertigo is all I ever hear.
        Dial M for Murder was excellent too.

      • Case says:

        @derps Shadow of a Doubt is the one about the relationship between a young woman and her uncle, and a mystery surrounding him. It sounds like you’re talking about Spellbound, which is on my list!

      • TIFFANY says:

        @derps. Case is right, it is Spellbound, and yes, that is good and Gregory Peck is smoking.

  6. Case says:

    Here’s someone thinking much more reasonably and realistically. Things should start to get better in 2021, but the reality is, getting “back to normal” will take much longer.

    The NYT said 160k more Americans will die in the 6 months after the vaccine is introduced if our case numbers stay as high as they are now. If we’d kept them at the level they were in September and the vaccine only had 50% efficacy, that death toll would drop to 60k.

    2021 is looking up because of Biden and an upcoming vaccine. But our expectations should be low.

  7. Esme says:

    Here in Europe cineteques (small non-profit arthouse cinemas, often owned by the local municipality/university/foundation, with their own actual film/tape archives) show old/classic movies all the time. Is this not common in the US?
    But for commercial cinemas to start screening old movies continuously seems a bit… sad. Like acknowledging HW is no longer producing new material of the same quality.

    • (TheOG) Jan90067 says:

      Esme, here in the West Los Angeles area we have about a dozen or so smaller “art houses”, one theater screens, that show old films. I rather like them for certain films; I’ve also taken film classes and gone to screenings that will show in these theaters and have discussions with the director, producers, writers, actors, etc afterwards. I really enjoy these.

      We also have a couple of theaters that only show foreign films, and sadly, those seem to not be doing as well (guess too many don’t want to read subtitles).

  8. Janiet says:

    I’m not sure anyone knows what the theatre experience will morph into, but they will go on. And blockbusters will come back, in fact I’d lay money that Marvel will open the first post-pandemic billion dollar event film. It’ll be 2022 though. And there will be changes, and some of them may be amazing! I’m not afraid of change, we’ll see what happens. THe important thing is to save as many lives as possible which Nolan didn’t seem to take into account with Tenent. Jst my opinion.

  9. Amber says:

    Ehh, I take a cynical view. I think movie theaters are more or less done. They were struggling before the pandemic, and once people become accustomed to getting new movies released on HBOMax or whatever, they will not want to go to the theaters as often. Movie theaters were already too expensive, too unpleasant (sticky, dirty, people on their phones all the time), for most Americans to do it super often. I got accustomed to seeing old movies a couple times a month at the Stanford Theater, where tickets are $7 for a double feature and popcorn is $2 for a large with real butter, and an organist plays the overture before the film just like they used to. A room off to the side features exhibits of collectibles/memorabilia associated with the films/actors from that week. Absolutely no one talks. I’ve heard a phone go off once and I went there dozens of times. Crucially, the Stanford Theater was a place where older folks could gather and find new friends. It functioned almost like a civic organization in that sense. It stayed open because it’s funded by a historical society.
    After several years of that, going to the local Regal Cinemas is like trading a fancy restaurant for a Burger King. It’s $14 for a matinee, popcorn is $9 and an Icee is $10, the bathrooms are disgusting, the chairs are so oversized I have to bring an extra pillow for back support, people talk the entire movie, most movies are superhero sequels now. I get tinnitus afterwards in my ears from how loud the speakers are. My point is movie theaters stopped providing value to their customers *a long time ago*. Honestly some of that is Hollywood consolidating around tentpole superhero movies and offering less variety especially compared to television, and some of it is the theatergoing experience. But the movie theaters are caught in this spiral from declining demand–because most people only go to the theater 4 or 5 times a year at most, they have to charge more and more, and they already operate on slim margins. And once the Paramount Decree expires, the studios will move back into distribution/exhibition. That will almost certainly affect the ability to do repertory style exhibition–remember how Disney’s put the 20th Century Fox archive in “the vault”? What if you want to show a Marilyn Monroe movie or Rocky Horror? You may not be able to unless you are a Disney-owned theater! Will only theaters owned by Warner Brothers be able to exhibit Casablanca? Etc Etc. A lot of the arthouse/indie cinemas survive from the revenue generated by Rocky Horror nights and stuff. Those revival screenings subsidize the foreign language films and indie films. If arthouse theaters get bought by particular studios, they will almost certainly have to contend with a smaller catalogue of options for generating revenue, and once the arthouse cinemas fold, it will be even harder to access indie/foreign cinema in this country, which in turn just homogenizes the movie landscape even more.

  10. Valiantly Varnished says:

    Finally a common sense POV about the movie industry and theaters in the time of Covid. And I completely agree with him in regards to windowing and how studios need to have the flexibility to move films that may not be performing well in theaters to another platform.

  11. bettyrose says:

    I don’t think I’ll ever go back to the theater, but I’m a homebody. I used to love taking myself on movie dates to see obscure indie films, but I haven’t needed to leave the house to do that in a decade.

    • Anne Call says:

      I agree. Everything I want to watch gets to streaming and the kind of movies I like don’t have special effects or need a gigantic screen. Also I need that pause button to use the bathroom or refill my wine glass :-)

  12. Marigold says:

    We LOVE to go see classics in the movie theatre. I love going to the movie theatre period. I really just love the whole experience. But, honestly, I haven’t felt that safe there since movie shooting became a thing. And certainly not with Covid. I will go again for a good blockbuster. I have to admit that the only “good” part of the pandemic is all the great tv we’ve watched.

  13. Shells_Bells says:

    I was already over the theater experience before this. People are just too inconsiderate… too much talking, cell phone usage, etc.
    I’m kind of hoping that this causes a resurgence of Drive-In theaters.

  14. Coco says:

    Nolan is directing his anger at the wrong place. Why not criticize the terrible government responses that have led to people not trusting public spaces. Maybe he could have donated some of his money to COVID research, like Dolly Parton, instead of throwing a fit that not enough people saw ‘Tenet.’

  15. cowboysfan93 says:

    Let’s be real, Nolan is only upset he isn’t getting the backend pay for Tenet he was expecting. I will not go to the theatre until I am vaccinated. Full stop.

  16. Notsoanonymous says:

    I miss going to the movies. My kids absolutely love it and having the experience with them is one of my favorite things. I will say on an adult level, I greatly prefer going to luxury theaters like iPix where you get comfortable chairs, order good food and get drinks. My favorite experience was Fast and Furious 7 of all things! I had champagne and a lobster roll and there were no kids… incredible. Some movies are absolutely designed for the theater experience and I will be the first in line to go back once I’m vaccinated and it’s safe to do so. In the meantime, give me ALL of the opportunities to stream content.

  17. Epic says:

    Theatres aren’t dead, we just need to move on Nostalgia is not a valuable commodity.