Warner Bros’ Strategy Against Disney: ‘It’s Like Baseball – Hit It Where They Ain’t’

Produced By 2019: WB film and TV heads Toby Emmerich and Peter Roth talk the studio’s future during industry’s turbulent time

Peter Roth Toby Emmerich
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The 2019 Produced By Conference kicked off Saturday with Warner Bros.’ film and TV heads Toby Emmerich and Peter Roth discussing the future of the studio in an industry where the shadows of Disney and streaming are getting bigger and bigger.

Emmerich admitted to the Producers Guild of America members in attendance that he’s “jealous” of Disney and the army of Fox, Marvel and Lucasfilm titles they have assembled, but also said he was confident that there are still opportunities for Warner Bros. to thrive.

“Disney is going to be No. 1 for the foreseeable future,” the studio chairman said. “But I do think there’s a chance for us and other studios like Universal because Disney and Fox have a very specific type of focus. That gives us a chance to take specific risks with theatrical releases that they wouldn’t take. It’s like baseball: hit it where they ain’t.”

That is certainly the case for WB’s immediate upcoming release slate. While DC films like “Joker” and “Wonder Woman 1984” will remain their biggest moneymakers — Emmerich says he thinks tentpoles will take an even bigger priority for major movie studios in the years to come — WB also has several mid-budget adult dramas set to come out in the second half of 2019. Among them are the crime tale “The Kitchen,” starring Tiffany Haddish in her first major dramatic role, and Edward Norton in the potential Oscar contender “Motherless Brooklyn.”

Emmerich is considering, among many things, the future of the studio’s biggest blockbusters, namely their decision to move away from building a cinematic universe for their DC superheroes and moving to standalone films.

“We realized that standalone films allowed us to make more changes in character, tone, and director’s vision,” he said. “When you saw ‘Aquaman,’ it was very different from what you’re going to see later this year with Todd Phillips’ ‘Joker.’ And when you see ‘Birds of Prey’ and ‘Wonder Woman’ next year, that’s going to be very different from ‘Joker.’”

But WB isn’t getting entirely out of the cinematic universe business. Last week, the studio released the third installment of Legendary’s MonsterVerse, “Godzilla: King of the Monsters,” which came two years after the two studios released “Kong: Skull Island.”

The two famed beasts are set to clash next year in “Godzilla vs. Kong,” but Emmerich hinted during the panel that the crossover, which is set to come out in March 2020, might get its release pushed back to later next year after “King of the Monsters” faced a rocky start at the box office. The kaiju film opened to $47.7 million — less than half the $93.1 million opening of the 2014 “Godzilla” film — and is estimated to take a 69% drop to $14.8 million in its second weekend.

“I think that ‘Godzilla vs. Kong’ will deliver for fans in a way they were looking for with ‘King of the Monsters,’” Emmerich said. “”But it might come out later in the year, so we can deliver an A+ movie.”

Also headlined on the studio’s substantial agenda is the upcoming launch of WarnerMedia’s streaming service, which is beginning to take shape after a Wall Street Journal report outlined its potential offerings and price points. The report said that AT&T and Warner Bros. are looking at a $16-17 subscription price, which would include the studio’s film and TV library with subscriptions to HBO and Cinemax.

But while original shows are being planned by Roth’s team for streaming, he said that he wanted WB to avoid a myopic focus on just making content for their own in-house services.

“If we don’t adhere to what the consumer wants, we’ll be irrelevant and obsolete,” Roth said. “But if there’s one thing I fear about the future, it’s increased insularity and vertical integration. Studios are going to rely exclusively on in-house fare, and I object to that. Homogenization is never good for the consumer. Our goal is to be a content provider for the new service while still maintaining our freedom. We have series on 26 different networks and we intend to keep it that way.”