Warner Bros. Wants to Move Away From ‘Auteur Directors,’ Challenging Notion of What Studios Are For
Here’s a bit of a thought experiment. What, in your estimation, are major movie studios for? In the most basic and obvious terms, they exist to finance, facilitate the production of, and distribute motion pictures. But it’s not that simple — what ambitions should that work represent? Does a studio use its clout, resources, and organization to endorse art, to give a voice (and budget) to filmmakers who can entertain and challenge us, hopefully well enough to make a tidy sum for the studio as well? Or is the lone purpose of a movie studio to generate money, film production just happening to be the method by which they’ve chosen to do that?
It turns out Warner Bros. head Toby Emmerich falls into that second camp. A deeply troubling new feature on the executive at The Hollywood Reporter lays out Warner Bros.’ plans to recommit to their franchise properties (the superheroes of DC, various movies built out of Legos, and all Harry Potter-adjacent films) while scaling back their engagement with ornery, willful “auteur directors.” The THR piece, while not directly quoting Emmerich, made his vision for the studio abundantly clear:
...on projects that don't fit into the Warners silos — Lego animated movies, Harry Potter spinoffs and D.C. Comics films — the studio would look to slash costs and avoid auteur directors who want final cut. There would be exceptions — notably Clint Eastwood and Chris Nolan.
Funny thing about these “notable exceptions” with enough brand-name recognition to have earned the right to pursue their artistic impulses — Clint Eastwood and Chris Nolan wouldn’t be Clint Eastwood and Chris Nolan if studios hadn’t trusted them with major budgets in their earlier days. It falls to studios to help mint master directors, to grant them a platform and budget necessary to get the best version of their work out into the world.
When you read a lot of entertainment industry news, it’s hard not to get bitter about the ruthlessly capitalistic nature of a business ostensibly predicated on a commitment to creativity and ingenuity. You try to tell yourself that things aren’t all that grim, and hey, Fury Road, right? You say it’s an uncharitable oversimplification to think of studio heads as greedy, craven opponents of art, that they wouldn’t have gotten this far if they didn’t give at least a fraction of a damn about what they do. But then, an article like this runs, and well...