Disney CEO Bob Chapek Dances Around ‘Black Widow’ Lawsuit, Gets Real About Theatrical Releases

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Variety 12 August, 2021 - 04:25pm 69 views

By Matt Donnelly

Disney CEO Bob Chapek is doubling down on his film studio’s decision to release Marvel’s “Black Widow” in theaters and on Disney Plus at the same time.

Speaking on a Thursday earnings call with investors, Chapek grazed the company’s ongoing salary drama with actor Scarlett Johansson. The on-screen superhero sued Disney last month, saying she was deprived of millions in compensation she would have earned if the film was given an exclusive theatrical run.

Bob Iger and I, along with the distribution team, determined this was the right strategy to enable us to reach the broadest possible audience,” Chapek said in his opening remarks, invoking his predecessor during a reverent speech about DIsney’s ongoing commitment to storytelling.

The newly minted Disney CEO also made a point of depicting the Johansson legal fight as an anomaly.

“Since COVID, we’ve entered into hundreds of arrangements with talent…by and large they’ve gone smoothly,” Chapek said.

He also suggested that when Disney has had to alter its release plans for movies, it has come up with ways to reward stars whose bonuses were tied to box office performance. That was a sticking point for Johansson, who claims the simultaneous release of “Black Widow” depressed ticket sales. But it was a conflict that Disney is believed to have avoided with “The Jungle Cruise” star Dwayne Johnson by changing his compensation structure when the film also bowed on the streaming service at the same time it debuted in theaters.

“We’ve figured out ways to fairly compensate our talent so that no matter what the business model … everybody feels satisfied,” Chapek said.

Chapek said decisions on release strategies will be “made on film by film basis based on global marketplace conditions and consumer behavior,” adding that his team will take a bespoke approach to each individual project to do “what’s best for the movie and our constituents.”

While it’s unsurprising that Chapek would bring Disney elder statesman Iger into the conversation, given his decades-long relationships with top talent and ongoing role as executive chairman, this is the first time Iger has been mentioned since Johansson filed suit in late July. Earlier this summer, Variety reported that the once-warm relationship between Chapek and Iger had cooled in the days following a major reorganization that placed significant power in Disney’s media and entertainment distribution group.

“We’ve said from the very beginning that we value flexibility in being able to make as last minute calls as we can,” Chapek told one analyst when asked when all upcoming Disney releases will not see day-and-date premieres. Both Ryan Reynolds’ “Free Guy” and the latest Marvel title “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings” will exclusively premiere in theaters before heading to VOD.

Chapek said that planning in the age of COVID-19 has been challenging, especially as consumer confidence in returning to movie theaters has waned recently, upending distribution strategies executed only months ago.

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Read full article at Variety

Disney Boss Bob Chapek Dismisses Any Conflict With Bob Iger In ‘Black Widow’ Hybrid Release With Swipe At Scarlett Johansson’s Suit

Deadline 13 August, 2021 - 04:20am

Senior Editor, Legal & TV Critic

UPDATED with additional details from Disney earnings call: The revenue for Black Widow wasn’t to be found in Disney’s last earnings report Thursday, but the fallout from Scarlett Johansson’s explosive lawsuit against the House of Mouse certainly was.

Showing a surge in Disney+ subscribers from the same time last year, the Bob Chapek-led media giant exceeded expectations with its Q3 2021 report. However, as strong as the after-hours stock jump was, the public dust-up with one of its longest- serving and biggest stars was on the table early in the subsequent analysts call with CEO Chapek and CFO Christine McCarthy.

Stressing that Disney “needed to find alternative methods” for distribution because of the lockdowns of the coronavirus, Chapek made it clear in his opening statement that despite rumors to the contrary, there was no dispute between himself and the soon-to-be departing Bob Iger and that “distribution decisions are made on a film-by-film basis.”

“Bob Iger and I, along with the distribution team, determined this was the right strategy to enable us to reach the broadest possible audience,” said Chapek, allowing no difference of opinion between himself and his predecessor, both of whom were called out in Johansson’s suit for their big-bucks compensation.

After making a point of praising Black Widow as “the top performing film at the domestic box office since the start of the pandemic,” the velvet-ish glove over an iron hand Chapek laid down the law loudly for Johansson’s attorneys, CAA agents and all other talent to hear. Going forward, Disney will always do “what we believe is in the best interest of the film and the best interest of our constituents,” he said.

In other words: straight to theaters, straight to streaming or hybrid — that’s up to us.

Later in the call, Chapek implied that Johansson may be flying solo on her complaint, literally and figuratively.

“We’ve figured out ways to fairly compensate our talent and since Covid has begun we have entered into hundreds of talent arrangements with our talent and by and large they have gone very, very smoothly,” he said.

Johansson filed her high-profile lawsuit on July 29, after the Disney+ Premier release of the Covid-delayed Black Widow on July 9, the same day it debuted in cinemas. The action came after behind-the-scenes talks with Disney brass supposedly ended in the corporate equivalent of falling in a ditch.

Not naming Marvel as a defendant nor sticking to a straightforward breach of contract dispute, the two-time Oscar nominee and her Kasowitz Benson Torres LLP attorneys alleged that releasing the Marvel movie on the streamer at the same time it was released in theaters sliced deep into her potential profit participation.

Within hours, Disney hit back to call out the legal action as showing a “callous disregard” to the Covid-19 pandemic. In a scorched-earth move that hints at their defense strategy and a likely push to have the whole thing moved out of the public eye and into arbitration, Disney took the rare jab at Johansson’s compensation proclaiming that the top-paid female actor in Hollywood had been paid $20 million from Black Widow to date and could see more money from the strong performance of the flick on Disney+.

The unusually harsh response from Disney saw an outcry from Johansson’s agent Bryan Lourd and others. “Disney’s direct attack on her character and all else they implied is beneath the company that many of us in the creative community have worked with successfully for decades,” the CAA boss said on July 30.

Disney has not responded in Los Angeles Superior Court to Johansson’s suit, but today’s remarks by Chapek make it apparent the studio is not in a forgiving mood.

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Spaceballs 2: The Search for More Money!

With Scarlett on this one, but I can understand Mouse House tactics. If I was at the top of the studio food chain I’d probably look at the talent as hired help too.

Disney is a dumpster fire. They’re no longer the darling studio that once was.

A garbage company that always puts profit before people says what?

well I’m sure that will be good enough for Bryan Lourd

Disney’s public image is a disaster. They claim wokeness but at every turn go out of their way to attack or steal from creators. Horrible company with no creative direction

Disney just canceled Scarlett’s previously announced “Tower of Terror” movie today. The hate her now.

It is not rocket science.

F9, a film that got an exclusive theatrical run, will finish in the 700M range worldwide.

Black Widow, a film with a considerably more four-quadrant brand (Marvel) and much better reviews / audience scores, did NOT get an exclusive theatrical run and will finish in the 375M range worldwide.

Considering latter was much better positioned for BO success than former, if it got the exclusive theatrical run the former got, it most likely would have delivered that 700M and frankly, probably a lot more.

As in at least double of what it is expected to end with on the global theatrical circuit right now. So if Johansson’s bonuses were BO-dependent, yes, Disney IS trying to stiff her at the moment. Big time.

What is even more infuriating that they are doing this at the same time when Chapek is bragging about getting more Disney+ subscribers than expected as if that wasn’t directly linked to the company’s decision to sacrifice the full BO potential of Black Widow in order to boost Disney+ by offering this long-anticipated film there, as well, on the same day it was released in theatres.

And Chapek not only didn’t apologise nor disowned that disgustingly gendered attack the company released after the lawsuit was filed but is now doubling down ? I sincerely hope she will take him to the cleaners. Big studios are no longer getting away with stuff like this, the days of “Coming to America turned no profit y’all, I can’t give you a backend !” are over. Just ask the BONES team (settled out of court (with Johansson’s lawyer btw) for how much again, 180M ?) or Frank Darabont (how much did he get after AMC tried to screw him out of The Walking Dead profits ? 200M ?).

Long story short, Chapek should just settle out of court, write a big fat check and apologise, and yes, the apology will be needed because talent and talent reps won’t soon forget (nor forgive) that gendered attack on her and how they tried to shame her with the pandemic and her upfront salary, stunts they would have never in a million years pulled on RDJ. Never. Both him and Johansson were deemed crucial enough for the success of the MCU that they were asked to star in 9 films each, yet Johansson only got a single solo film after a decade in the franchise and was nowhere near his backend bonuses throughout that same decade. And now when she finally got her solo film, they not only sacrifice its full BO potential in order to boost their streaming service, but also try to screw her out of her BO-related bonuses. As deplorable as it gets.

“F9, a film that got an exclusive theatrical run, will finish in the 700M range worldwide.

Black Widow, a film with a considerably more four-quadrant brand (Marvel) and much better reviews / audience scores, did NOT get an exclusive theatrical run and will finish in the 375M range worldwide.

Considering latter was much better positioned for BO success than former, if it got the exclusive theatrical run the former got, it most likely would have delivered that 700M and frankly, probably a lot more.”

Pretty strong conjecture. I guess we’ll never know?

Totally understand the grounds for the lawsuit, but I’m not convinced that releasing it exclusively to the BO would have made that big of a difference. Black Widow was, in all honestly, not that great. IMO, BO sales likely tapered off precipitously due to the movie itself, not just because it was available on D+. Not saying it had zero effect, but don’t think streaming it on D+ affected BO sales as much as they think.

So the numbers for the box office used are misleading. F9 earned 200 million in china. Black widow hasn’t been released there, nor would it likely have done very well there (most solo marvel films don’t). Removing that, black widow made 361 worldwide vs F9 462. However, Disney takes home vastly less internationally at the box office than domestically. Domestically black widow actually outperformed F9. I think at most the Disney plus release cost black widow about 50 million at the domestic box office and maybe 100 million at the world wide box office (it has about a 50-50 split). I don’t know the specifics of her contract, but there is no way she was seeing like more than 2-3 million or so of that. I can also guarantee she got a solid chunk (say a million) of the over 60 million from the Disney plus access.

This is going to settle out of court, and Disney will pay her some sum, but I think she made a huge mistake cutting ties with Disney.

Black Widow is at 360 and F9 is at 660 so there’s not a lot of conjecture involved.

As the line in ‘Animal House’ goes … “Don’t get mad, get even”. Ms. Johannson can get even in the best Hollywood way possible … go make a movie in the DC Universe for WB, or any movie for WB for that matter. I’m sure the new ‘Mogul in Residence’, Mr. David (Robert Evans) Zaslav, would love to have Scarlett hanging around Bob’s old house, sipping a cocktail or two while playing a few sets of tennis?

The loneliest hill to die on. I guess that 50 mil beach house on the Hamptons was a bit much for your income, honey.

This continued tone from Disney about ScarJo and the suit MUST be a huge turn-off for other talent about joining Marvel projects. Although, MARVEL has generally taken the view that the IP is the star, not the talent, for decades when it comes to the comics… wish Feige would do more to stand up for a key player in building that behemoth.

IP is the star, look at suicide squad. Rave reviews, atrocious box office.

they aee not crative, nor nice people. widget makers, people fakers. played the filmmakers. plus scarjo

Disney ruined STAR WARS, now it’s going to run the MCU into the ground.

It would blow your mind to realize that scores of other films with exciting original ideas are still being produced around the globe! That’s right-Marvel and Star Wars junk isn’t all you can consume

Obviously the only thing Johansson is looking for is more money…

She is looking for respect – for her contract to be honored. Not to be told, “You’ve earned enough, honey.”

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