The covid-19 pandemic has gone a long way in forcing Hollywood to change the way it looks at movie releases, for good or ill — and how adapting to that change doesn’t always work out amicably. As Disney continues to try and settle its ongoing legal battle with Marvel’s Black Widow star Scarlett Johansson behind closed doors, however, CEO Bob Chapek has spoken about how the case shows how the studio, and industry at large, needs to adapt to the times.
Deadline reports that Chapek publicly addressed the situation with Johansson — who is suing Disney for an alleged breach of her contract regarding the simultaneous release of Black Widow earlier this year at theatres and as part of Disney+’s “Premier Access” service — during Goldman Sachs’ 30th annual Communacopia Conference. But while Chapek wouldn’t directly name Johansson or even her lawsuit (one that, after disparaging it as a move trying to take advantage of a poor studio worth $US122.18 ($169) billion during a global pandemic, the studio is now looking to settle privately), the CEO did acknowledge that the last few years have changed the way studios should be approaching deals with talent.
“We’re in a moment of time where films were envisioned under one understanding about what the world would be, because frankly it hadn’t changed much,” Chapek said. “Remember, those films were made three or four years ago; those deals were cut three or four years ago. Then they get launched in the middle of a global pandemic where that pandemic itself is accelerating a second dynamic, which is this changing consumer behaviour. So we’re sort of putting a square peg in a round hole right now where we’ve got a deal conceived under a certain set of conditions, that actually results in a movie that is being released in a completely different set of conditions.”
Chapek’s right in that it goes beyond the impact the pandemic has had on Hollywood and the theatre industry to show the pace at which moviemaking has changed — it’s not just hybrid releases that have come along, but the platforms those releases are happening on in the first place as well. Four years ago services like Disney+, HBO Max, Apple TV+, and Paramount+ were still all big ideas in the works, let alone services that would suddenly become the major debut platforms for tentpole blockbusters for the studios behind them. The move toward studio-owned streaming and the desire for audiences to stay at home to limit the spread of a deadly virus created a one-two punch that not even a force like the House of Mouse could’ve predicted and prepared for when deals for movies like Black Widow were first being drawn up.
But that’s only an excuse in that no one, Disney or otherwise, could’ve seen the state of 2020-2021 coming. It doesn’t excuse the way Disney went about first trying to address Johansson’s grievances, nor does it address what the studio’s going to be doing going forward in this new normal. But Chapek at least paid lip service to what should probably be a basic concept for Disney at this point: it should be doing right by the people who work for it. “Ultimately, we’ll think about that as we do our future talent deals and plan for that and make sure that’s incorporated. But right now we have this sort of middle position, where we’re trying to do right by the talent, I think the talent is trying to do right by us, and we’re just figuring out our way to bridge the gap,” Chapek concluded. “Ultimately we believe our talent is our most important asset, and we’ll continue to believe that, and as we always have, we’ll compensate them fairly per the terms of the contract that they agreed to us with.”
I’d say maybe don’t say that your aggrieved movie stars have a “callous disregard” for the times in which we live is a good starting point for believing those stars are your most important asset, but then again, I’m not worth $US122.18 ($169) billion, so what do I know.
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Editor’s Note: Release dates within this article are based in the U.S., but will be updated with local Australian dates as soon as we know more.