The Final Days of ‘Coyote vs. Acme’: Offers, Rejections and a Roadrunner Race Against Time | Exclusive

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Warner was seeking $75 – $80 million but rejected offers from Netflix, Amazon and Paramount, insiders tell TheWrap

coyote-vs-acme-image
An exclusive image from "Coyote vs. Acme" (Warner Bros.)

In early January, “Coyote vs. Acme” producer Chris DeFaria got a startling phone call from a Warner Bros. executive. “They just want to get this behind them,” the executive told DeFaria. “They want to close the books.”

In the words of the Roadrunner: Meep.

The movie, a live-action/animated hybrid that stars Will Forte and the “Looney Tunes” gang, had been earmarked for demolition on Nov. 9. But following the announcement that the movie would be canceled, a firestorm of outrage and indignation erupted. It was heightened by a friends-and-family screening that had already been planned before the cancellation announcement was made. The screening brought more goodwill and an even louder public outcry.

“What was so exciting was that it felt like the film captured the voice of the Looney Tunes that we love in a way none of the other feature versions have ever done,” Paul Scheer, who was at that screening, told TheWrap. (The last movie to feature the characters, 2021’s “Space Jam: A New Legacy,” was pilloried by critics and lost money.)

Warner Bros., reacting to the hubbub, walked back its initial decision. Instead of canceling the movie outright, the studio would give the filmmakers the chance to shop it around. If another studio wanted to pick it up, they could.

Now, months later, Warner Bros. had had enough. The call to DeFaria made that crystal clear.

With Warner Bros. Discovery’s fourth quarter earnings call scheduled for Feb. 23, “Coyote vs. Acme” is running out of time. Many on the film’s team feel that the studio will use the ending of the quarter to get the movie off the books for good. “Coyote vs. Acme” is running up against something worse than a tunnel painted into the side of a mountain or a falling anvil. It will finally be silenced by a movie studio’s balance sheet.

In a truly inglorious end, a source close to the movie doesn’t believe Warner Bros. would even announce that they hadn’t found a home for the movie. They would unceremoniously delete it. Never to be seen again.

Chris DeFaria
“Coyote vs. Acme” producer Chris DeFaria (Valerie Macon/Getty Images)

Offers and rejections

Following the death and potential resurrection of “Coyote vs. Acme,” there were screenings for interested parties. According to several people familiar with the situation, Netflix, Amazon and Paramount screened the movie (which was received well) and submitted handsome offers. Paramount even proposed a theatrical release component to their acquisition of “Coyote vs. Acme” that would allow for Warner Bros. to save face and, more importantly, let audiences see the movie the way it was meant to be experienced.

Warner Bros. did not respond to requests for comment from TheWrap.

But Warner Bros., which stood to make $35 – $40 million on the tax write-down, wanted something in the ballpark of $75 – $80 million from a buyer. And what’s more, they wouldn’t allow the interested studios to counter Warner Bros.’ offer. It was a “take it or leave it” situation, one that the other studios didn’t even know they were entering into, insiders told TheWrap.

Information about the potential sale of the project got to Eric Bauza, an actor who provided the voice for several characters in the film. In late December he felt so optimistic that he shared a photo from the movie (of Forte and the Coyote, see below) on social media and said: “See ya in 2024!”

Behind the scenes, though, the noose around the movie’s neck was tightening.

Coyote vs Acme
Will Forte in “Coyote vs. Acme” (Warner Bros.)

Executives skipped the screening

What made the situation even more appalling is that, according to a source close to the project, the four Warner Bros. executives responsible for making this decision – CEOs and co-chairpersons of Warner Bros. Motion Picture Group Michael De Luca and Pam Abdy, along with Warner Bros. Pictures Animation president Bill Damaschke and embattled CEO and president of Warner Bros. Discovery David Zaslav – hadn’t even seen the finished version of the movie.

Zaslav never saw the movie at all. De Luca and Abdy saw a “director’s cut,” and Damaschke saw the first audience preview. Significantly, “Coyote vs. Acme” was developed and greenlit by a previous regime; the only executive that worked on the movie that is still at the company is Jesse Ehrman. These executives, who trumpet a filmmaker-first approach and have recently signed big deals with directors like Ryan Coogler and Paul Thomas Anderson (who conspicuously made their deals after the filmmaker-led backlash to Warner Bros. had subsided), were apparently prepared to trash a movie that they’d never even watched.

Even so, the reason for “Coyote vs. Acme’s” cancellation remains damnably unknowable – even to those who made the movie. Publicly, Warner Bros. blamed the decision on a shifting “global strategy to focus on theatrical releases” and initially indicated it would take a tax write-off on the film, which is based on a New Yorker article by Ian Frazier from 1990. The problem, it seemed, was the movie was not strong enough for a theatrical release, and didn’t fit anyone’s streaming strategy in the WBD universe.

But there was a precedent. When Warner Bros. announced that “Batgirl,” a $90 million superhero movie based on a beloved DC Comics property, would be deleted from existence, a new avenue opened up for the studio. According to a source close to “Coyote vs. Acme,” getting rid of a wholly finished movie became “an acceptable means of dealing with a problem.”

When they weren’t sure what to do with “Coyote vs. Acme” — which originally had a release date later claimed by “Barbie” — the option to simply disappear it was taken, at least for a few days.

What makes the situation with “Coyote vs. Acme” more baffling is that unlike “Batgirl,” the film consistently received great scores from test audiences. Several Warner Bros. executives have gone out of their way to claim that “Batgirl” was un-releasable; that simply wasn’t the case with “Coyote vs. Acme.”

But Warner Bros.’ proclamation that the filmmakers could take it elsewhere was dubious at best. Back when the announcement was made that the movie wasn’t totally dead, a source close to the production remembered thinking, Maybe they’ll try to run out the clock.

Throughout the process, Warner Bros. refused to share specific details with the filmmakers about the proposed deals (and Warner Bros.’ rejection of those deals). Everything was captured through a hazy fog of secondhand phone calls and conversations. There were champions of the project, for sure, but they couldn’t force Warner Bros. to properly communicate with the filmmakers.

Intent to not only offload “Coyote vs. Acme” but to make a profit while doing so, the studio insisted on a price tag that would cover “negative cost plus” — what the movie cost the studio and additional fees that Warner Bros. had incurred.

“They made a short-sighted choice based on dismal third quarter projects,” said a source close to the movie. And reversing the decision to cancel “Coyote vs. Acme” was simply not possible.

Now, 90 days later, with the #SaveCoyoteVsAcme hashtag still present on social media, it feels like the end of the line for Coyote and all of his “Looney Tunes” friends. And barring a similar outpouring of support or without a big offer in the next few days, that-that-that’ll be all folks.

Comments

31 responses to “The Final Days of ‘Coyote vs. Acme’: Offers, Rejections and a Roadrunner Race Against Time | Exclusive”

  1. Jas Avatar
    Jas

    No one can tank good money making ideas quite like Zaslav’s Warner Bros.

    1. Lawrence Ashba Avatar
      Lawrence Ashba

      The idea to scrap this film is an egregious fail!! Warner bros used to be a good studio, now apparently run by know nothing’s who don’t care about anything but money! The viewing public needs to push back hard on this and force Warner bros to straighten up!

      1. Jan Hunt Avatar

        Hi Lawrence,
        I couldn’t agree more! How can we “push back hard”? Can we start a petition?

        Thank you,
        Jan Hunt
        jan@naturalchild.org

  2. James Rustle Avatar
    James Rustle

    Zaslav should be tarred and feathered on live TV and forbidden from running anything more than the late shift at an airport Burger King. I’d call him an idiot but he’s not, he’s just unethical.

  3. Eleanor Avatar
    Eleanor

    If I were the filmmakers and it was clear this film was going to be buried, I would anonymously release it on a torrent. At least that way it would get seen.

    1. Paulie Avatar
      Paulie

      Then you’ll be arrested and imprisoned for illegally downloading and releasing copyrighted property. Don’t think the FBI won’t find you, and enjoy no freedom over a simple movie.

      1. Bob Avatar
        Bob

        Maybe the FBI will like the movie.

      2. floyd Avatar
        floyd

        If it was ANONYMOUSLY leaked, how would they know who did it? Or are you suggesting they would prosecute everyone who came into contact with the film even though they’d have no clear evidence?

  4. Jimbo Avatar
    Jimbo

    Movies cancelled for a tax write off should immediately become public domain. This would at least give them pause before deciding to destroy works for a quick buck.

    1. Morty Avatar

      That’s a really good point. After all, it’s costing the public, i.e., taxpayers, money in terms of lost revenues. We should get something for it.

      1. Peter Collister Avatar
        Peter Collister

        Thank you for making the point that the tax write-off is being paid by US taxpayers which seems like fraud, intentional or not. 
        I cannot find words for studio film execs who on the surface say they love the film business and films did not even SEE the film. The original studio execs might have been jerks sometimes but they all loved movies and put their fortunes on the line often. 
        Sad

    2. Robert Carriere Avatar
      Robert Carriere

      I have not been to a theater since the pandemic. There has been nothing released in the last few years that I could not wait a while until I could watch it from the comfort and safety of my own home.

      And with that in mind; I am dead serious when I say I would make an exception and see Coyote vs Acme in theaters.

  5. JeffC Avatar
    JeffC

    Studio profit-making centered on making crap movies, and not releasing them for tax write offs. Sounds like a winning strategy. Where has all the talent and quality gone?

  6. Lorenzo Jones Avatar
    Lorenzo Jones

    Zaslov belonged at Discovery, not at Warners. He has zero clue about films, and his recent grab at a few big names was only defense against his incompetence. Now, Warner’s name is a joke everywhere, when once upon a time, all looked forward to the WB slate.

  7. Heisenberg Avatar
    Heisenberg

    WonderBoy Zaslav has a legacy of enriching himself at the expense of employees and shareholders.  Never gave a crap about creative talent and chased after flavor of the month, public be damned. 

    If you invested $1000 in Discovery when he took over. You’d have $980 a mere 17 years later while he banked half a billion+. 

    The fish stinks from the head down. 

  8. Mark Hannon Avatar

    If this movie doesn’t get released, audiences can still read the New Yorker short story it’s based on.

    It’s a fun read.

    https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/1990/02/26/coyote-v-acme

  9. BK Avatar
    BK

    I’m not a tax expert, but is it legal to write down an asset as worth $0 when there have been firm offers that value it far above that? Again, not a lawyer, but I’d be interested in the IRS’s opinion on whether that is something that is allowed vs. something that maybe feels more like tax fraud.

    1. Kaos Avatar
      Kaos

      Except big names are somehow still getting attached, PTA, Ryan Coogler, Tom Cruise to name a few. WB still has deep pockets, and its historic name in its recruiting corner…

  10. TF Avatar
    TF

    I have a pitch, we could make a sequel to “The Producers” substituting “Acme vs Coyote”, get Mel Brooks to write it and get an AI version of Zero Mostel to star. Then never release it for tax purposes. You could make a fortune.

    1. Rick Avatar
      Rick

      Springtime for the coyote!

    2. Rick R Avatar

      Springtime for the coyote!

  11. Tyrone Avatar
    Tyrone

    Would be a shame if a copy got loose on the Internet…

    1. Ian A Neumann Avatar
      Ian A Neumann

      That would be a blessing.

      Provided it can uploading on The Pirate Bay.

  12. Ian A Neumann Avatar
    Ian A Neumann

    It’s time we fight back against WB and David Zaslav’s decision!

    #ReleaseCoyoteVAcme

  13. cadavra Avatar
    cadavra

    Pretty soon no filmmaker worth his/her salt will have anything to do with Warners. Nice job of celebrating the centennial, Zas!

  14. A.J. Avatar
    A.J.

    Maybe Disney/Marvel should have shelved ‘The Marvels’, that was an abortion. Film makers will now have to learn they can’t waste other peoples money on crap films. Flicks with a weak script and bad CGI that the fan base wants nothing to do with are doomed. This is why Disney/Marvel/Lucasfilm are in trouble, they make crap and tell the fan base to take it or leave it…they’ve left.

  15. Mike Avatar
    Mike

    Just release it to MAX and let it survive based on the publicity it’s already earned. WTF is wrong with Warner-Discovery??? Absolute morons.

  16. jczr172@aol.com Avatar
    jczr172@aol.com

    David Zaslav should kill himself

  17. Yosef Demby Avatar
    Yosef Demby

    Mr. Zaslav, this is one of the most foolish business decisions I have ever known. You would show much wisdom in saving all the hard hours of toil from animators, artists, cinematographers, directors, editors, composers, musicians and so on. Are your ears that deaf or your heart so stone that you refuse to see the light?

    1. Joe Strike Avatar

      Ears? Heart? If Zaslav were a cartoon character he’d have $ signs where his eyes should be.

  18. Joe Strike Avatar

    I happened to see one of the (I assume) modern Looney Tunes shorts online, Bugs vs Sam on a Mississippi river boat. Not only was it pretty much derivative of at least one of Bugs’ classic Looney Tunes…the animation and character designs were absolute crap, on the level of a crummy 1970s Saturday morning cartoon. By comparison (in fact, even on its own) “The Looney Tunes Show” put the characters in a new context while respecting their basic personalities, not to mention being well-animated and written. Were these new shorts produced under Zaslav’s “leadership,” or is someone else responsible for their crumminess?

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