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End of Week Production Notes 12/11/20: Walt Disney Announces Upcoming Plans, HBO Max Backlash and More News


It’s been a pretty crazy week that began with almost unanimous backlash to last week’s decision by Warner Media to put its 2021 releases day-and-date onto its streamer HBO Max at the same time they open in theaters.

Walt Disney

We’ll get to that in a sec, because the biggest news that broke yesterday was about Walt Disney Pictures‘ “2020 Investor Day” where it announced projects both for theaters and for its own streamer service, Disney+, covering the next few years. While many people were excited about some of the announcements, particularly for Star Wars and the Marvel Studios offerings, what will probably be the most important for Below the Line readers is that it means just one great thing… MORE WORK.

Yes, this will be a good time to dust off your resumé and prepare to get yourself out there and onto some of the many Disney projects announced or mentioned yesterday. We won’t go through all of them but here are a few of the highlights.

The big news was that Wonder Woman director Patty Jenkins, who was also in the news for that Warner Bros./HBO Max deal, will be directing her very own Star Wars movie that follows Rogue Squadron, the fighter pilots that first appeared in the original 1977 Star Wars. Jenkins even taped a video explaining why she was excited to take on that project.

There will be a lot more Star Wars series on Disney+, as Lucasfilm head Kathleen Kennedy confirmed the Obi-Wan Kenobi series, starring Ewan McGregor, which has him fighting against Hayden Christensen‘s Darth Vader from Episode 2 and Episode 3, so it’s obviously taking place in the same timeline as George Lucas‘ Star Wars prequels. Fans of the breakout Disney+ hit The Mandalorian will get two new series in that timeline, Rangers of the New Republic and Asohka, starring Rosario Dawson as the popular character Ahsoka Tano.

Marvel Studios President and Chief Creative Officer Kevin Feige announced the line-up of Marvel-related projects both for theaters and for Disney+, the latter getting a trio of series next year, beginning with Wandavision on January 15, 2021, The Falcon and the Winter Soldier series starting in March — both releasing new footage — and then Tom Hiddleston‘s Loki series will begin two months later in May.

The planned What If animated series will debut next summer and then the Ms. Marvel series starring Iman Vellani as Kamala Khan will debut in “late 2021,” as will the Jeremy Renner/Hailee Steinfeld Hawkeye series. (Vellani will also be appearing in the Captain Marvel sequel, directed by Nia DaCoast.) Other series will include She-HulkMoon Knight and a newly-announced Secret Invasion movie, starring Samuel L. Jackson and Ben Mendelsohn (continuing a storyline begun in the first Captain Marvel), and Ironheart, starring Dominique Thorn as Riri Williams, a fairly recent comic creation. Other series like Armor Wars will bring back Don Cheadle‘s James Rhodes aka War Machine. James Gunn will write and direct a Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday Special to hit Disney+ over the holidays in 2022 and there will also be a series of related I Am Groot shorts. So basically, almost all of the actors from Marvel’s The Avengers and its sequel will be back in some form or other.

Black Widow
Black Widow (photo: Marvel Studios)

Feature films remain as planned with a little shuffling but beginning in May 7, 2021 with the delayed Black Widow movie, starring Scarlett Johansson, and running through 2022 with sequels for Doctor Strange, a fourth Thor movie, and sequels for Black Panther and Captain Marvel. 2021 will see Guardians of  the Galaxy Vol. 3 and Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania bringing those characters back.  Most of Marvel’s 2021 movies like The Eternals and Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings have already filmed and are in post.

The big announcement on the Marvel side was that Spider-Man: Homecoming and Spider-Man: Far from Home director Jon Watts will be helming Marvel’s first in-house Fantastic Four movie after finishing the third Spider-Man movie, currently filming.

Instead of listing everything else, which includes live action, animated and Pixar movies and series both for theaters and Disney+, you can read the full Investor Day program right here. Still, it’s a very optimistic way to end what’s been a pretty horrible year for production and movies in general.

You can keep up with all of these projects by subscribing to Below the Line‘s Production Listings.

Christopher Nolan
Christopher Nolan on the set of Tenet (Photo: Melinda Sue Gordon/Warner Bros.)

Let’s get back to that Warner Bros/HBO Max story, which was announced last week, and was hit by a string of backlash that began with Christopher Nolan himself, saying, “Some of our industry’s biggest filmmakers and most important movie stars went to bed the night before thinking they were working for the greatest movie studio and woke up to find out they were working for the worst streaming service.” Ouch.

Dune director Denis Villeneuve jumped in yesterday, writing a Variety op-ed that was just as pointed. “With HBO Max’s launch a failure thus far, AT&T decided to sacrifice Warner Bros.’ entire 2021 slate in a desperate attempt to grab the audience’s attention,” he wrote.

But it wasn’t just filmmakers who weren’t happy, as some of Warner Bros’ production partners, like Legendary Pictures, who co-financed Villeneuve’s Dune and Godzilla vs. Kong, were blindsided by the HBO Max deal, and they might even sue about their movies getting a day-and-date release. The Directors Guild of America (DGA) also criticized WarnerMedia for the decision, saying that it was “unacceptable.” In a letter to WarnerMedia, the DGA’s national executive director Russell Hollander stated, “We intend to take appropriate actions to protect the rights and interests of our members and request an immediate meeting to discuss this matter.”

Then there’s the agencies like William Morris Endeavor and Creative Arts who were also blindsided with a decision that might affect their clients’ pay  in terms of royalties, unhappy that Wonder Woman 1984 director Patty Jenkins and star Gal Gadot were paid $10 million each to make up for the lost theatrical revenue. No other deals have been made at the time of writing this.

And of course, there were also the theaters that weren’t happy about consumers being given an option to watch all of Warner Bros’ new movies at home. National Association of Theater Owners (NATO) CEO and President John Fithian told Box Office Pro that they were neither notified nor negotiated with to get rid of the theatrical windows that have been in place for decades. The Independent Cinema Alliance was similarly “disappointed.”

So to recap: Everyone loves Disney. No one is happy with Warner Bros. This story is still evolving and maybe there will be some negotiations after Wonder Woman 1984 is released in this same day-and-date theatrical-streaming model on Christmas Day.

Let’s get to some better news, shall we? Let’s talk Oscars.

It was announced this week that Oscar-winning filmmaker Steven Soderbergh, Oscar-nominated producer Stacey Sher and Jesse Collins would be producing the 93rd Annual Academy Awards, taking place on April 25, 2021, the latest date ever for the Oscars. Collins has the most experience, having received an Emmy nomination for producing the 2019 Grammys, and who is already producing this year’s Grammys and the Super Bowl half-time show, both in early 2021.  The first challenge for the trio will either be to find a host or go host-less like the Oscars did last year.

Some production news from Down Under with the news that filmmaker George Miller has reunited most of his Mad Max: Fury Road collaborators to begin shooting his next film, Three Thousand Years of Longing. In fact, the show is already almost three weeks into production. Oscar-winning Cinematographer John Seale has come out of retirement to reunite with Miller after winning the Oscar for his work on Fury Road. Others resuming their collaboration include Oscar-winning Fury Road Editor Margaret Sixel, Oscar-winning Hair and Makeup Designer Lesley Vanderwalt, Oscar-winning Set Decorator Lisa Thompson, Composer Tom Holkenborg aka Junke XL, Casting Director Nikki Barrett, first AD P.J. Voeten, Stunt Coordinator Guy Norris and prosthetics designer Sheldon Wade. Miller is reuniting with his Oscar-nominated Babe Production Designer Roger Ford and brining on Costume Designer Kym Barrett (The Matrix) and VFX Supervisor Paul Butterworth (Captain Marvel).

Miller has praised the crew he has put together as one of his best, but he also said that Three Thousand Years will be very different from Mad Max: Fury Road. The movie stars Tilda Swinton and Iris Elba.

You can keep up on projects like this one by subscribing to Below the Line‘s Production Listings.

ABC also a six episode back order for the David E. Kelley drama, Big Sky.

Below the Line friend Zoe Hewitt wrote a piece for Variety‘s artisan section, discussing getting back to work under COVID safety protocols, something we’ve been covering a lot since August, talking to a number of artisan and crew about their concerns with the changes being made on set. You can read her full article here, in which she speaks with camera operators, a costume designer, people in transportation, as well as Mario Ramirez, the President and CEO of Reel Health & Reel Security Corp, the largest entertainment security company in the biz.

Speaking of changes for COVID, we noticed that the Stan Winston School is now offering a “Covid-Safe Makeup Application” course with Eryn Krueger Mekash, who Below the Line recently interviewed for her work on Hillbilly Elegy.

Edward Douglas
Edward Douglas
Edward Douglas has written about movies for print and the internet for over 20 years, specializing in box office analysis, reviews, and interviews. Currently, he writes features for Below the Line and Above the Line, acting as Associate Editor for the former and Interim Editor for the latter.
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