[STOP in the name of HUMANITY]
February 12, 2024 8:39 AM   Subscribe

Why Deleting and Destroying Finished Movies Like Coyote vs Acme Should Be a Crime
Whatever the technical legality of writing off completed films and destroying them for pennies on the dollar, it’s morally reprehensible: Oller memorably calls it “an accounting assassination.” Defending it on grounds that it’s not illegal is bootlicking. The practice also has a whiff of the plot of Mel Brooks’s “The Producers”. The original idea of Brooks’ hustler protagonists Max Bialystock and Leo Bloom was to mount a play so awful that it would close immediately, and they can live off the unspent money they raised from bilking old ladies. When the show unexpectedly becomes a hit, they blow up the theater. The biggest difference between the plot of “The Producers” and what happened to “Batgirl” and “Coyote vs Acme” is that in “The Producers,” the public got to see the play.
Background: The Final Days of ‘Coyote vs. Acme’: Offers, Rejections and a Roadrunner Race Against Time, in which WB executives axe a completed and likeable film they've never even seen for a tax write-off after a token, bad-faith effort at selling it.

CBR cites commentary from other directors who'd seen the finished film:
BenDavid Grabinski: "Coyote vs. Acme is a great movie. The best of its kind since Who Framed Roger Rabbit?. It's commercial. It tested well. The leads are super likable. It's beautifully shot. The animation is great. The ending makes everyone fucking cry. I thought the goal of this business was to make hit movies?

Brian Duffield: "I have seen this movie and it is excellent. It also tested in the high 90s repeatedly. It also had interested buyers. The people working at Warner Bros are anti-art and I hope multiple anvils drop on their heads."
Watch the leaked crew reel footage showing a behind-the-scenes look at the crew having a fun time constructing the film's set dressings and many practical effects, or listen to composer Stephen Price leading a performance of a "meep meep" chorus. Rolling Stone published a piece last year with reactions from the creatives affected by the decision.

Read the original New Yorker article the movie was inspired by

See also "When Movies Are Canned as Tax Write-offs" for an exploration of this troubling trend, including screenshots from other lost projects -- and a discussion of "schmuck insurance" as a possible narcissistic motivation.
posted by Rhaomi (106 comments total) 44 users marked this as a favorite
 
Wait till you find out what happens to unsold books!
posted by caviar2d2 at 8:43 AM on February 12 [4 favorites]


If a studio turns a film into a tax write-off, the film should immediately become public domain.
posted by gwint at 8:45 AM on February 12 [154 favorites]


Can we not simply convert the surplus entertainment to environment-friendly ethanol
posted by credulous at 8:46 AM on February 12 [13 favorites]


There are obvious reasons why the government should let businesses deduct investment losses, but the ability to do so represents a huge moral hazard that is pretty clearly being abused here.
posted by 1970s Antihero at 8:49 AM on February 12 [16 favorites]


Keyboard warriors: UNITE !
posted by St. Peepsburg at 8:55 AM on February 12 [2 favorites]


If a studio turns a film into a tax write-off, the film should immediately become public domain.

Agreed -- in effect, if by not releasing the film they write it off as a loss for tax benefit, the US Government has paid for the movie, and therefore the public should thenceforth own it entirely.
posted by tclark at 8:56 AM on February 12 [141 favorites]


Nothing to say, except I missed the Producers reference in the original article and reproduced it as my own gag. And I consider it less shameful to flaunt my breaking of the rules than letting my witlessness stand.
posted by Grangousier at 8:57 AM on February 12 [2 favorites]


IMO the one compelling argument for making this criminal, or at least exceedingly difficult to do, is the impact it has on everyone who worked on the film. Your resume is your lifeblood in film (and games), so even if a film flops, at least you have something to show for your efforts. But if the studio nukes it, you've been as good as unemployed. No company should be able to erase your work history.
posted by grumpybear69 at 8:58 AM on February 12 [53 favorites]


On the other hand, maybe I can just put this film on my resume and no one can prove I wasn't in it.
posted by dances_with_sneetches at 9:04 AM on February 12 [31 favorites]


I'm not planning on it, but I am wondering, could this be grounds for a shareholder revolt? A movie polling that well, canceled sight unseen, that could have made big bucks, written off for much less than production costs. This is actively decreasing the profitability of the company both in the short and long term, thus reducing the potential dividends.

I'm just looking for some way, any way, for these assholes to be punished. Cut their compensation, cancel their stock options, etc.

It won't happen. But it's nice to dream about.
posted by Hactar at 9:04 AM on February 12 [15 favorites]


If you want to make art that no one can delete, make it yourself at your house.
posted by chronkite at 9:13 AM on February 12 [1 favorite]


The "Shmuck Insurance" bit in the last linked article clarified for me why someone would make the seemingly counterproductive choice to get these pennies-on-the-dollar write-offs:
Minchin said he was told by an executive that they wouldn’t sell it because of “schmuck insurance”. That the asking price to someone like Netflix would be the full cost of the production to date, plus the cost of leasing the DreamWorks software needed to complete the film, and then the cost of training animators. And on top of that? Universal would want 40% to 50% of any profits, the kind of deal that’d make no sense for a purchaser to agree to.

But Universal didn’t want anyone to buy the film, for the “schmuck insurance” reason. It feared another studio picking up the movie, making a huge success of it, and making the original executive who shut the film down to look like a schmuck.
posted by HeroZero at 9:15 AM on February 12 [15 favorites]


If you want to make art that no one can delete, make it yourself at your house.

give them time -- they'll just delete your house.
posted by philip-random at 9:18 AM on February 12 [13 favorites]


Wait till you find out what happens to unsold books!

What a terribly disingenuous comment to start the thread! Obviously, unsold books are: a) published in the first place, thus available to the public for at least some time, and b) the books are not erased from existence when extra copies re destroyed. This case is about annihilating an entire completed, large-scale creative work from existence without ever allowing it an audience at all.

And then on preview, this: If you want to make art that no one can delete, make it yourself at your house.

What a helpful hot take: artists, if capitalism is unfair just stop making art for the public, and end your livelihoods! I didn’t realize it was as simple as ‘we should always capitulate to corporate whim without complaint.’

This site these days, damn.
posted by LooseFilter at 9:18 AM on February 12 [132 favorites]


If you want to make art that no one can delete, make it yourself at your house.

Wouldn't collaborating with a whole lot of other people seem to make a work of art less likely to be deleted, not more? I mean, if not for the distortionate effects of late capitalism?
posted by penduluum at 9:22 AM on February 12 [10 favorites]


Here's hoping this disgusting decision annoys somebody with access to a master copy enough that a better-than-BluRay 2160p rip mysteriously appears on The Pirate Bay one day. I'll search for it every month or so, and seed it forever if it does, and I'm sure I'm not alone in that.
posted by flabdablet at 9:24 AM on February 12 [36 favorites]


I’ve been making art at my house that no one can delete for thirty years. It’s been my sole income, my livelihood.
My bills are paid and I’m here just like you are.
Nothing I’ve made is threatened by corporate whims, and I sure as shit haven’t ‘capitulated’.
I’ve thrived.
Be super mad about it, if you think that will help.
posted by chronkite at 9:24 AM on February 12 [3 favorites]


If you want to make art that no one can delete, make it yourself at your house.

Or we could make it impossible to get paid by destroying the products of other people's labor.
posted by The Manwich Horror at 9:25 AM on February 12 [19 favorites]


One thing’s for sure, the world needed another Looney Tunes live action movie.
posted by chronkite at 9:26 AM on February 12 [5 favorites]


At minimum it should not be something you can profit from.

And the movie should go into the public domain.

And you should have to pay back anyone you took tax breaks from.

Even then it’s stiffing the artists.

Basically the only real solution here is overthrowing capitalism and launching David Zaslav into the sun.
posted by Artw at 9:27 AM on February 12 [13 favorites]


Cripes you'd think the merchandizing alone would be enough to push this movie forwards.

Wait till you find out what happens to unsold books!

This fundamentally different. Stripped books have been published. Presumably at least a copy or two exists somewhere even if only on the book shelves of the author's parents. The movies are essentially being unmade in some sort of twisted 1984 like revision of history.
posted by Mitheral at 9:29 AM on February 12 [13 favorites]


This almost happened to Nimona, which is a terrific movie and would have been a crime had it never seen the light of day.
posted by rikschell at 9:30 AM on February 12 [12 favorites]


This case is about annihilating an entire completed, large-scale creative work from existence without ever allowing it an audience at all.

Anti movie abortion!


For the most part, I'm pretty meh on this take. But I do think there may be something actionable denying people the ability to enjoy the after effects such as royalties etc.
posted by 2N2222 at 9:34 AM on February 12 [1 favorite]


One thing’s for sure, the world needed another Looney Tunes live action movie.

The film, from all reports, was testing very well with audiences - which is likely why WB Discovery didn't want a deal to go through, as it was likely that a buyer would have a film that would have a decent run once released, especially with the notoriety it had developed.

This take that Zaslav's actions are something other than a self-serving attack on creative labor is wrong and unhelpful.
posted by NoxAeternum at 9:36 AM on February 12 [10 favorites]


Funny how these kinds of shenanigans never seem to spur financial investigations and tax audits in this most pristine of industries, eh?
posted by northtwilight at 9:36 AM on February 12 [7 favorites]


The original news of the movie's canning was bad enough, but at least knowing that they were shopping the movie around gave a glimmer of hope that sanity would prevail. Now we can see that we were just running on the spot in the air three hundred feet above the ground.
posted by rory at 9:37 AM on February 12 [12 favorites]


Be super mad about it, if you think that will help.

I’m not mad, just really disappointed at how selfish your perspective is. I’m glad your mode of making art yourself, at home, has been sustainably successful for you—truly, that’s awesome!—but some artists are actually collaborative, and some artistic media (like movies) are intrinsically collaborative, so if you want to make the art at all you must collaborate with others.

The world doesn’t strictly need this movie, or any movies, or any art all, and that’s also obviously not what this case is really about. Basic questions this raises about the industry as a whole: if corporations finance movies to make art, why are they destroying made art? If corporations finance movies because it’s the movie business, why are they destroying a (by all accounts) potentially very successful movie? If entertainment corporations only exist to serve shareholders, and destroying completed art is a better financial move…why would any artists and artisans trust these entities moving forward?
posted by LooseFilter at 9:40 AM on February 12 [67 favorites]


There is a nice person in Ask right now with a should-be very reasonable question: if I do not want to own a bunch of physical media, how can I legally and simply acquire movies as files which I own and store permanently? And the answer of course is that you cannot. Not really.

We had a brief golden era where it seemed like damned near every studio wanted us to be able to get digital access to everything they had ever made, and that this bonkers goal might even happen one day. But then the suits ruined it. So we have shows disappearing from the streaming services that made them. Libraries people have purchased ceasing to exist. Movies that were completed being axed. It's awful.

This is part of why I went from being the most vocal anti-physical media person I knew to yet another nerd stacking up Blu Rays.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 9:40 AM on February 12 [45 favorites]


It'll turn out to be some stupid jock reason, like the studio exec has beef with one of the executive producers and wanted to make them hurt, it got out of control, and now egos are involved and nobody's going to back down.
posted by Hogshead at 9:41 AM on February 12 [2 favorites]


Let's be real, what are the chances that the movie is actually any good? If it gets destroyed it can at least attain a mythical status in our imagination.
posted by donio at 9:47 AM on February 12 [1 favorite]


I have seen the movie. In my opinion, it's the best animation / live action hybrid since Who Framed Roger Rabbit. It's inventive, fun, commercial, and actually captures the wild spirit of the Looney Tunes in a way I haven't seen in years. It's clear that a huge amount of effort, passion, and labor went into the movie.

As a filmmaker, it's deeply demoralizing that it's even a question whether this movie should be released.
posted by kcalder at 9:48 AM on February 12 [98 favorites]


‘ why would any artists and artisans trust these entities moving forward?’

They should not, and they never should have.

Any punk rocker from 1975 to present day could have and DID tell us this, and they were correct.
posted by chronkite at 9:50 AM on February 12 [3 favorites]


Another piece of collateral damage is that the new Looney Tunes short film Daffy in Wackyland was supposed to be attached to the release. (This is a sequel to the 1938 Bob Clampett classic cartoon). I don't know if that will be suffering the same fate, but it certainly won't be getting the wide release that it deserved.
posted by 1970s Antihero at 9:50 AM on February 12 [8 favorites]


The thing I don't quite understand is: the production costs (etc.) of a movie are already business expenses, and business expenses already get subtracted from profits before determining taxes. The one hitch, I guess, is that in film accounting I believe you don't get to take those expenses right away; you need to spread them out over (some amount of) the profitable life of the film. So unless I'm missing something these writedowns aren't even really earning them tax savings. It's just timeshifting those savings back by a few(?) years. Which has extra value when interest rates are high, but still means the amount of net-value being generated by the move is far less than the amount reported in these articles.

Has anyone found an authoritative explainer on this? (The initial round of cancellations after the merger sparked a whole lot of shoddily-sourced info floating around. I remember reading something suggesting there's an additional tax benefit for these sort of writedowns in the first year following a merger, but that obviously doesn't cover this newer situation.)
posted by nobody at 9:51 AM on February 12 [1 favorite]


That's lame. My kids (ahem, not me, totally not me...ok me too) would have loved that movie. We are Coyote and Road Runner fanatics. For those looking for an updated version, check out Grizzly and the Lemmings - a homage to Coyote and Roadrunner in the best possible way. In addition to these cartoons being fun and clever, they do not rely on spoken language - making them more accessible for a wider audience.
posted by Toddles at 9:59 AM on February 12 [4 favorites]


Back in the 90s I owned a distribution company for VHS videos. I wanted to buy the rights to release a film called Zigrail, which I'd seen at the Toronto Film Festival.

I was told the film was purchased by Alliance-Atlantis. Coincidentally, a high-up at the company was a customer at my video store so I asked her when it was coming out. "Alliance Atlantis isn't releasing that title."

"The filmmaker told me you bought the rights."

"We did."

"Why'd you buy the film if you don't want to release it?"

"The Government gives us tax write-offs if we purchase X number of Canadian films."

"I assume they meant that you release X number of Canadian films."

"Well, they should have stipulated that in the law."
posted by dobbs at 10:03 AM on February 12 [66 favorites]


I’ve been making art at my house that no one can delete for thirty years. It’s been my sole income, my livelihood.

Well, pin a rose on you.

The performing arts are a collaborative medium; even a one-man show needs the tech staff. Telling actors/dancers/musicians/lighting designers/stage managers/etc. to just "make art alone in your house" is a pretty blinkered hot take.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:06 AM on February 12 [70 favorites]


Anti movie abortion!

Even though it's more than a little gross to compare people who don't respect corporate ownership of art with people who don't respect women's bodily integrity, there is an element of similarity between the questions. The issue is whether there is something moral worth that is being destroyed.

If you think art has no value, then that is that. Someone could buy the Mona Lisa and chuck in a fire, because hey, it's their's now. Or we can decide the deliberate destruction of art is morally bad and something we don't want to encourage or permit.

Sure, the Roadrunner cartoon probably isn't as valuable as the Mona Lisa, but do we really wany a bunch of money perberts making that decision for future generations?
posted by The Manwich Horror at 10:09 AM on February 12 [4 favorites]


I worked very, very hard and I’m proud of what I’ve been able to accomplish.

The people who worked on Coyote Vs. Acme also worked very, very hard and are proud of what they accomplished, but no one is going to be able to see it. Reacting to that news with "make art in your house like I've been doing for 30 years" is a total "f*ck you, got mine" response to them, and if you can't see that I don't know what else to tell you.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:11 AM on February 12 [81 favorites]


the only real solution here is overthrowing capitalism and launching David Zaslav into the sun

Probably best to start with the launching part. What's the biggest spring in the Acme catalog?
posted by flabdablet at 10:12 AM on February 12 [15 favorites]


Yeah, get f*cked. I worked very, very hard and I’m proud of what I’ve been able to accomplish.

Gee, it must be rough, people not respecting your artistic efforts.

If you make ‘art’ using other people’s money, other people’s ideas, other people’s intellectual property etc

Ah yes, respecting corporate Ip, the most punk rock position of all.
posted by The Manwich Horror at 10:17 AM on February 12 [26 favorites]


As an author, I've had occasional contact with Hollywood executives. A few times I've opened the door just a crack to see if there's any hope of collaborating on something worthwhile in that space. As soon as the crack appears, high-pressure bullshit starts streaming in like seawater into a B-movie submarine. They try to ram through contacts that are openly hostile, summed up as "we will do whatever we want, you smile and play along." They jerk you around and then ask you to trust them. It's demoralizing. It's amazing that any films get made--and a few of them are actually good!
posted by Hot Pastrami! at 10:17 AM on February 12 [22 favorites]


Mod note: A couple of comments deleted. Lets avoid turning this thread into a fight between specific members.
posted by loup (staff) at 10:19 AM on February 12 [3 favorites]


So much that everyone does depends on a web of trust. We should be able to rely on our webs of trust.
posted by Going To Maine at 10:22 AM on February 12 [13 favorites]


Finally, a suitable companion for a The Day The Clown Cried double feature.
posted by dr_dank at 10:26 AM on February 12 [4 favorites]


I would go further than say that this should be released into the public domain if allowed to be a tax write-off. I'd state that it should be a requirement that for anything to be covered by copyright law, it must be released in some form. I realize that's going to get complicated and in the weeds with smaller creators, but the whole point of copyright protection is to promote the development of the arts and culture by allowing creators to make a living from that work.

Creations aren't inherently property to be owned by their creator, no matter how much that's deliberately been framed by the terms "intellectual property". If you make a movie then desire to destroy it before making it available, then it loses copyright and people can spread it around.
posted by evilangela at 10:30 AM on February 12 [1 favorite]


(The fascinating thing here, to me, is that the inciting comment -that if you want to make art that can’t be deleted, do it yourself at home- is quite true. It works also be impossible to make Coyote vs. Acme at home for a variety of legal and technical reasons. But, as ever, a fairly neutral statement can be driven in many ways by hot emotions and reveal deeper, angrier sentiments.)
posted by Going To Maine at 10:31 AM on February 12 [1 favorite]


The artists and everyone who worked on the film still got paid, right? I agree that this is just the risk of working for a mega corporation. They are not pro art and never have been. The risk of your work being destroyed is also present when a bigwig exec trashes your film in the editing suite. Also this film is still going to be extremely highly viable on resumes... if only because you'll get asked in for an interview just to talk about the ruckus. Insider-to-insider knowledge has always been way more valuable; the work that animators and actors did on this film, and the experience other people had working with them, doesn't cease to exist because the film doesn't get released. If anything the people who lose out on career gain are the suits and execs who otherwise would be in charge of marketing this thing.

But yes, this sucks and the film should be made publicly available if it gets used as a huge tax writeoff. And the "schmuck insurance" is a fetid idea. I'm laughing at the idea of the exec who famously passed on Led Zeppelin also shooting them so they couldn't sign anywhere else.
posted by Cpt. The Mango at 10:31 AM on February 12 [2 favorites]


IMO the one compelling argument for making this criminal, or at least exceedingly difficult to do, is the impact it has on everyone who worked on the film. Your resume is your lifeblood in film (and games), so even if a film flops, at least you have something to show for your efforts. But if the studio nukes it, you've been as good as unemployed.

The movie is still listed on IMDB, the people who worked on it got paid, it counts towards seniority for those who are unionized, etc. Not releasing the movie for tax reasons is insulting, but is it otherwise that different from working on something that no one saw because it was a flop, or because it didn't get picked up, or because the studio hasn't made it available for streaming?
posted by Gerald Bostock at 10:33 AM on February 12 [2 favorites]


is it otherwise that different from working on something that no one saw because it was a flop, or because it didn't get picked up, or because the studio hasn't made it available for streaming?

Yes, because you can still show clips from those projects to demonstrate the quality of the work you did. The evidence of the work you did was not destroyed and you are legally allowed to show what you did.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 10:35 AM on February 12 [24 favorites]


The fascinating thing here, to me, is that the inciting comment -that if you want to make art that can’t be deleted, do it yourself at home- is quite true. It works also be impossible to make Coyote vs. Acme at home for a variety of legal and technical reasons.

Emphasis mine, because that is kind of an inescapable point when it comes to performing arts things like film, theater, dance, music...Yeahyeah suresure people can film themselves on their iPhones and upload them to TikTok or whatever, but a) there's a bit of a credibility problem there, and b) it's kind of hard for lighting designers to do a solo Tiktok film displaying what they can do and make people comprehend it, I'd wager.

Also, for an artist to be wholly financially solvent entire based on what they do just on their own is very rarefied air indeed; many have to either accept the occasional corporate gig, or may have to teach here and there.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:41 AM on February 12 [8 favorites]


The artists and everyone who worked on the film still got paid, right?

Yes and no. Most of the people who worked on the film behind the scenes were probably an hourly/daily/project rate and got paid. But some of the top level talent might have been hired based on a percentage of the gross (valuable) or net (not nearly so valuable for accounting reasons just as stupid as this situation) and many of the actors would have expected to receive residual pay as the movie was used in different contexts down the road and those payments are now lost.

For a much less dramatic situation, see the dispute between ScarJo and Disney over their decision to put Black Widow on streaming at the same time as it came out in theatres -- her contract said she got a percentage of box office, but releasing it on streaming same day dramatically cut how many people saw it in theatres and thus cost her a lot of money.
posted by jacquilynne at 10:41 AM on February 12 [22 favorites]


Someone should leak/bootleg it just so it can be seen. That should be easier than ever now that everything is digital and streaming. No one will make money from it but it's better than never been seen.
posted by Liquidwolf at 10:42 AM on February 12 [9 favorites]


Sorry for getting involved the derail, but I do have some points I think are worth making about the attuitde that this is just what happens in Hollywood.

Artists will continue to get involved with these corporate putfits, not because they love and trust them, but because they have captured their industry. If the only advice we can give them is "give up your artform and try to survive running an Etsy storefront", that's incredibly sad. There is no option to do this work on your own, and until someone creates a cooperative studio, there isn't going to be an alternative to corporate work.

There is a ton of corporate money devoted to letting them continue to abuse tax law and their employees. It is easy to sit back and be cynical and say that's what you get for working in the industry. But artist aren't unique. Most of us have to labor in corporate dominated industries. (There is only so much demand for seashells with googly eyes glued on them. )

If we won't stand up for laborers in a situation like this, where the abuse is strictly the result of abusing an easily closed tax loophole, what is the labor movement even good for? Letting corporations get away with hurting people because we don't respect their labor is a failure of empathy and a capitulation to capital's powers.
posted by The Manwich Horror at 11:00 AM on February 12 [36 favorites]


There was an episode of a law show (The Good Fight?) where a studio nuked a documentary they bought, and the director released it via bittorrent or some similar technology. The studio won, but got zero damages, because they claimed that his work was "worthless." Admittedly, it's Hollywood law, but if someone releases it and Discovery Warner still gets their tax write off, how have they been harmed?
posted by Spike Glee at 11:03 AM on February 12 [6 favorites]


Seems like:

1) Digital copies have definitely been secreted away, no matter what the deal is about "deleting" everything.
2) It will definitely get leaked into the world someday.
3) BUT... there is likely a very active campaign setup at the moment to catch whoever might leak the film.
4) And so, we'll have to wait years for that to die down before it appears.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 11:12 AM on February 12 [8 favorites]


There was an episode of a law show (The Good Fight?) where a studio nuked a documentary they bought, and the director released it via bittorrent or some similar technology. The studio won, but got zero damages, because they claimed that his work was "worthless." Admittedly, it's Hollywood law, but if someone releases it and Discovery Warner still gets their tax write off, how have they been harmed?

That's why they have statutory damages baked into the law -- so that the damage isn't simply based on the value of the property.
posted by parliboy at 11:14 AM on February 12


The derail sidebar above about "just make art on your own" made me remember this clip where Orson Welles is asked if he has regrets. He ends up saying that he wished he'd fallen in love with another medium than film, since it necessarily takes so much time and money, and so many other people.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 11:18 AM on February 12 [13 favorites]


The artists and everyone who worked on the film still got paid, right?

As jacquilynne says: Those who would ordinarily rely on residuals for part of their compensation will now not get them.

Film and TV at this level is heavily NDA'd. People who worked on this film were off the job market, having to turn down other work without being able to say why-- for years, in many cases. And now (as DirtyOldTown also points out) they have only an empty credit for all that work. No reviews, no "I saw that, my kids loved it!", no award nominations, probably not even clips for their showreel.

And now they're competing for jobs against everyone in their field who *does* have credits for work released during that time. The impact on their future employability is real.
posted by Pallas Athena at 11:25 AM on February 12 [34 favorites]


I'm still waiting for the other shoe to drop and for Zaslav to wreck TCM despite being supposedly talked out of it. He seems like he's the kind of person who is dead set on doing whatever stupid thing he decided to do, but will just wait for the heat to die down if necessary.
posted by jason_steakums at 11:26 AM on February 12 [8 favorites]


At some point we as a capitalist country need to decide that some things are more important than to die and live based on capitalism's whims. Personally, I think we should really decide that that's true about people before we decide it's true about movies, but knowing America as I do, I feel like we will make that decision about movies wayyyyyy sooner.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 11:29 AM on February 12 [16 favorites]


I would love to see this movie and it sucks that it will just disappear. It is a great idea that if a movie is axed for tax reasons then it either becomes government property (and put in the Library of Congress) and/or public domain.
posted by TedW at 12:00 PM on February 12 [6 favorites]


Is Coyote vs Acme the first film adaptation of a Shouts & Murmurs column?
posted by ambrosen at 12:01 PM on February 12 [1 favorite]


Personally, I think we should really decide that that's true about people before we decide it's true about movies…

But as people have pointed out, this sort of thing affects the employability and earning potential of the people who worked on the movie, so the two things are intertwined. As is so much in society.
posted by TedW at 12:20 PM on February 12 [4 favorites]


Also, if you worked for a contractor (which might disappear tomorrow) or as a technical person on set, the end credits are how you verify that you worked on the movie. (And it's where IMDB gets its data after release.) No movie, no proof.
posted by Spike Glee at 12:33 PM on February 12 [8 favorites]


Warner could just pull a reverse Roger Rabbit, throw some obscure Marvel superheroes in it and repackage.

It will definitely get leaked into the world someday.

This is basically why Idiocracy is still in the culture today, in spite of some butthurt studio FOX conservatives deliberately tanking it.
posted by They sucked his brains out! at 12:35 PM on February 12 [5 favorites]


The actual material effects on labour that folks have identified are pretty small-scale -- basically the same as working on a flop or on unaired episodes of a cancelled TV show. I think what people are responding to here has more to do with the proletarianization of creative labour, which offends us because we think of creative labour as middle-class and kinda sacred. I feel like proletarianization is the key issue for creative workers today, but we should be careful not to reduce it to a question of middle-class careerism ("Not releasing the movie is bad for my resume!") or respect ("Not releasing the movie is hurtful!").
posted by Gerald Bostock at 1:14 PM on February 12 [3 favorites]


I've said it before, but I feel like this is one giant leap towards the nightmare future in which capital is buying up the IP rights to every form of narrative media they can manage, so that they can destroy as much of it as possible in order to play games with the government in Quickbooks.
posted by Rudy_Wiser at 1:26 PM on February 12 [7 favorites]


The actual material effects on labour that folks have identified are pretty small-scale -- basically the same as working on a flop or on unaired episodes of a cancelled TV show.

Scenario A: Hi! I'm Michelle Smith. I spent the last two years doing digital VFX for a movie. It turned out to be a huge flop and you probably didn't see it, but I'm proud of my work. Let me show you a clip of a scene that illustrates the kind of work I did on the film, as it illustrates what I can do. I think you will see it would make me a terrific fit for similar work on your film.

Scneario B: Hi! I'm Michelle Smith. I spent the last two years doing digital VFX for Coyote vs. Acme. I'm proud of my work, but the entire project and all associated files were deleted as part of an insurance settlement. I have no way to show you the things I did. I do have some work from years ago that isn't too similar to what you're doing on your new film. But please believe me that what I did on Coyote vs. Acme was right up the same alley as your film. It also shows my skills have progressed since then and I'd be a great fit. You will need to take my word for that though, as I have no way to show any of that to you, because again: destroyed.

Is it not crystal clear how materially different these two scenarios are?
posted by DirtyOldTown at 1:33 PM on February 12 [43 favorites]


corporate putfits

Clearly a typo, but I’m gonna take it as a neologism.
posted by snofoam at 1:36 PM on February 12 [4 favorites]


Gerald Bostock - Labor is labor. Throwing in distinctions as to what kind of labor we support sinks us all.
posted by Artw at 1:52 PM on February 12 [13 favorites]


I love the idea of it becoming public domain, but I don't know how that would work if there is intellectual property in the movie that existed prior to the movie. Can you make the movie public domain without also making Wiley Coyote public domain?

I believe the Steamboat Willie version of Mickey Mouse is public domain, but that's definitely not the same as the modern version of Mickey Mouse. However, the Coyote vs. Acme version of Wiley Coyote is the modern version, so what gives?

Still, I like the idea.
posted by It's Never Lurgi at 1:56 PM on February 12 [1 favorite]


I love the idea of it becoming public domain, but I don't know how that would work if there is intellectual property in the movie that existed prior to the movie. Can you make the movie public domain without also making Wiley Coyote public domain?

Better incentive for not doing it with a flagship character.
posted by Artw at 2:02 PM on February 12 [7 favorites]


Hell, give the films to the National Endowment of the Arts to manage on a limited basis, and whatever they earn, they keep for their budget.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 2:05 PM on February 12 [11 favorites]


I assume there is a lot of movie accounting weirdness that make this less stupid that in appears on the surface.
posted by interogative mood at 2:13 PM on February 12


My deepest condolences to those who've worked on Coyote vs. Acme and my envy to those who've seen it.

"Shmuck Insurance"
They're still schmucks, there's a corporate ladder of people shepherding this work until they didn't have confidence in their own leadership. They're still in the roles making those decisions being schmucks.

My opinion doesn't matter, though, what would help is something like anti-trust of competition law keeping studios, distrubutors, cinema chains and streaming services apart so that there's less "schmuck risk" for selling to one distributor over another. You consolidate businesses for efficiency or profitability, but art is for its own delight: ars artis gratia.
posted by k3ninho at 2:14 PM on February 12


I got a chuckle out of that crew reel, where you see the ad for the personal injury law firm of "Avery, Jones, and Maltese."
posted by JoeZydeco at 2:19 PM on February 12 [2 favorites]


And the movie should go into the public domain.

In case you've missed it the public domain has been in the process of deletion for at least 50 years. It's getting so effective that most of the population don't even know of the concept of public domain. Some people don't even know about public libraries!
posted by srboisvert at 2:22 PM on February 12 [5 favorites]


I assume there is a lot of movie accounting weirdness that make this less stupid that in appears on the surface.

I dunno, you only need to read a handful of biographies of people who've spent their careers in film to know all kinds of crazy shit happens for reasons that have nothing to do with e.g. "sound business theory". Some things are even more stupid than they appear, who's to say this example is an outlier in that regard?
posted by elkevelvet at 2:28 PM on February 12 [2 favorites]


Many years ago, I lived in Asheville, NC and a friend from New York wanted to visit. When looking at flights down, he discovered that flying direct to Charlotte, NC was significantly more expensive than flying to Atlanta, GA... with a layover in Charlotte, NC. The exact same flight for the first leg, but he could save money if, after getting off the plane in Charlotte, he intended to get on a 2nd plane somewhere else, instead of walking out of the airport. Paying less money to take up two seats on two planes than just the one. There is no scenario where that makes any financial sense. So he booked the cheaper flight to Atlanta with the layover, brought only a carry on, saved money, skipped the 2nd leg, and I picked him up in Charlotte.

Anyway, that's what I think of when I try to wrap my head around Hollywood accounting.
posted by Roommate at 2:41 PM on February 12 [5 favorites]


The artistic aesthetic of capitalism is that nothing is more beautiful than a tax write off.
posted by Joey Michaels at 2:42 PM on February 12 [3 favorites]


I love the public domain idea, but another hitch is that more often than not, when this happens, the movie's not actually finished. Nimona, for example (mentioned above), needed a whole lot more than just distribution when its studio got shut down by Disney.

If nothing else, I think they should be forced to take the highest bid at auction from anyone willing to cover the remaining projected budget -- and if that's not enough to cover the original studio's sunk costs, well, there's the writedown they were so keen on taking. (Plus, under this scheme, they'd have a chance to pick up others' projects for cheap down the road.)
posted by nobody at 2:42 PM on February 12 [2 favorites]




If a business takes a single penny of federal money, whether through tax cut accounting or literally any government cost-saving measure, engage with it even once, and there should be strict requirements on what that business makes and what they do with it and how. Tax-payers help fund these movies, these movies are owned to the people. Fuck your stupid businesses, fuck your desire to make too much profit and inability to curtail expenses without cruelty, and fuck profit and fuck capitalists for leeching all of the money so they can gamble with it and control artist and citizen lives.
posted by GoblinHoney at 2:51 PM on February 12 [6 favorites]


Imagine a world where the only corporations large enough to pull this kind of thing were also required to be employee-owned. Imagine how different these conversations would be if the decisions about which works to pursue distribution with and which to shelve were decisions that democratically reflected the preferences of the people who made the works in the first place.
posted by biogeo at 3:18 PM on February 12 [6 favorites]


I like the "take a tax write-off and it's public domain" thing so much that I'm intrigued about applications outside of the entertainment industry. I'm sure tangible assets that could benefit the public are wasted to take write-offs all the time in all kinds of industries.
posted by jason_steakums at 3:38 PM on February 12 [5 favorites]


Tax-payers help fund these movies, these movies are owned to the people

Privatize profits, socialize losses, as the saying goes.
posted by They sucked his brains out! at 3:43 PM on February 12 [8 favorites]


In some civil law countries there is an answer to this problem. Those laws grant an artist a moral right over their works. So even if the artist sells a work to another person, losing all legal and beneficial rights to that work, the artist retains a moral right. That right allows the artist to refuse uses of the art that denigrate that art. So a retail store can buy an anti-capitalist artist's works, but those works of art cannot be used in connection with retail activities ( unless the artist consents). Destroying a film before it can be shown certainly looks like denigrating the artists' work. The point here is that many people are involved in enterprises like films, and we are no longer in slave-holding societies where owner = legit tyrant. One would think.
posted by SnowRottie at 5:11 PM on February 12 [4 favorites]


DirtyOldTown:

And so, we'll have to wait years for that to die down before it appears.

How long a wait are we talking? Years? Decades? That scene in The Simpsons where the apes from Planet of the Apes find Bobo?
posted by BiggerJ at 5:42 PM on February 12 [2 favorites]


(Christ, twenty years on this site and it's the Coyote vs Acme thread that finally gets me off my ass to install a user mute extension. Didn't see that coming.)

I was among the folks rolling my eyes when this was announced but had heard a surprising amount of good about it in the last couple of months, so I was looking forward to checking it out. If I'd been involved in making this myself I'd be beyond pissed.

I'll keep an eye out for your Fanfare post, DOT.
posted by Two unicycles and some duct tape at 6:07 PM on February 12 [3 favorites]


I wonder if artists in the film business will start putting it in their contracts that the film will be released and available in some way. And is it possible for the artists involved to sue WB for their personal lost revenue as a result of not having their work available?
posted by lemonshush at 6:10 PM on February 12 [1 favorite]


I was gonna say I'd bet James Gunn made sure to put something like that in his contract, lemonshush, but then I saw he has a writer credit on Coyote vs. Acme, so I guess not? Maybe he got it for movies he directs.

I doubt many lesser lights have the kind of clout needed to fight the beancounters' power like that. I recall mumblings around the time of Zaslav's Batgirl cancelation that some anonymous agents and stars had stopped taking Warner Bros calls, or had stopped negotiations, but it doesn't seem to have become widespread. Hard to say from here, but I'm sure it's happened a few times.
posted by mediareport at 6:33 PM on February 12 [2 favorites]


I would go further than say that this should be released into the public domain if allowed to be a tax write-off. I'd state that it should be a requirement that for anything to be covered by copyright law, it must be released in some form. I realize that's going to get complicated and in the weeds with smaller creators, but the whole point of copyright protection is to promote the development of the arts and culture by allowing creators to make a living from that work.
One idea I’ve seen which tries to counter that downside is an intellectual property tax based on some broadly assessed commercial value: start progressive so for the first, say, 5-10 years the rate is 0% but then it starts going up and if you choose not to pay the work enters the public domain. The idea is that if someone wants to pay through the nose to protect the Beatles albums or the Pixar catalog that’s okay to some extent because they’re easily accessible but the cost is prohibitive enough that even a rich company isn’t going to lock up everything the way they do now, and small artists won’t have huge bills since they’d be below the minimum threshold.

One area where that would need tuning is a situation like what happened with John Fogerty where a bitter dispute with a label basically halted his career. It’s definitely not inconceivable that a vindictive company would deliberately let things lapse to screw an artist, so perhaps it’d need something like giving the original creator(s) an option to pay the tax balance if the current holder lapsed.
posted by adamsc at 6:59 PM on February 12 [6 favorites]


In some civil law countries there is an answer to this problem. Those laws grant an artist a moral right over their works. So even if the artist sells a work to another person, losing all legal and beneficial rights to that work, the artist retains a moral right. That right allows the artist to refuse uses of the art that denigrate that art. So a retail store can buy an anti-capitalist artist's works, but those works of art cannot be used in connection with retail activities ( unless the artist consents). Destroying a film before it can be shown certainly looks like denigrating the artists' work. The point here is that many people are involved in enterprises like films, and we are no longer in slave-holding societies where owner = legit tyrant. One would think.

One would think the studios cover their asses well in this regard, and gets artists consent before ever hiring them.

I said earlier that the big concern is that some of the people who worked on this will be denied their ability to keep this work as a steady source of income, had it been distributed. The noble proclamations about art being free to find its admirers, or being denigrated, are fine and dandy but really irrelevant here. It doesn't matter if the artist is proud of their work. Or ashamed of it.

Lots of folks like going on about the nobility of the artist and the evil of the corporate outfits. Saying something like "Artists will continue to get involved with these corporate putfits, not because they love and trust them, but because they have captured their industry." downplays the other reason artists continue to get involved in the business: that corporate outfit offers the biggest chance at success and earnings. This isn't some newfangled capitalist idea. Most of the classic works of human history were made, and survive, because they were funded by big and powerful entities, often far more evil than the capitalist movie studio. You painted or sculpted or wrote what they were willing to sign off on. Vanity patronage may be the biggest cause of, and corruption of, artistic endeavor throughout history. Selling out is baked into the vocation. There are thousands in this town bussing tables, just waiting for that chance to sell out.

I know a guy who writes screenplays. He's gotten paid shit ton money to write stuff that will never be made into film. He doesn't generally own the works. At best, it's complicated. Sure, he would like if someday they were turned into movies. If for no other reason than he'd likely get paid again. But he's been very well compensated to let them go. Janky Hollywood accounting has made him a good living producing stuff that will never see the light of day. It may be tough being an artist, having to let go of your babies. Or maybe not.

The studio owns the work, and controls how, or if, it will be distributed. Lots of people, artists, if you will, depend on the stream of income that comes from distribution. Keeping something out of distribution puts a hurt on those people. I suspect the studio has their bases covered, though. I'd be curious if the people entitled to residual income get some kind of compensation if a work is purposefully kept from earning money? In such a situation, I think there is a good argument to be made that the studio may not be fulfilling some kind of obligations. In the case of a work that's never actually completed, it may be more likely SOL.

I'm sympathetic at some level to the notion of works, written off as losses, being put into the public domain. But doing this still screws over the artists in their ability to draw that steady income from that particular work. Sure, we consumers may be able to enjoy (or not) the art they don't want you to see. But it isn't putting food on anybody's table, particularly the people who were counting on that work to add to their income.
posted by 2N2222 at 7:18 PM on February 12 [3 favorites]


This is the kind of thread where I go through favoriting so many people's great and insightful comments. I have nothing else to add to them, except for heaping additional disdain on those couple of comments with really wrong-headed takes.
posted by JHarris at 7:36 PM on February 12 [9 favorites]


The Manwich Horror: There is no option to do this work on your own, and until someone creates a cooperative studio...

lately I'm genuinely curious about the obstacles that stand in the way of such a studio structure and how the notion of "cooperative studio" has been modeled/envisioned until now. with some preliminary poking around, I found this survey and critique by Stefan Szczelkun about artist collectives producing films in 90s London/UK. I'm adding it to my reading list, and I'll do another search to find someone handling more recent examples. I'm unsure how deeply to consider the distinction between coop vs. collective, but for now it would be interesting to know if either model has been operating or could operate sustainably in the film/media space. there could be wisdom even (or maybe especially) among the examples where groups floundered.

among the most obvious obstacles or disincentives, it's no mystery how unsettling it is sharing the risk of financial loss. I wonder how well the risks are being reduced/mitigated among coops operating in any industry (and whether similar mitigations can feasibly help a studio avoid capsizing at various points of production, distribution, etc. for each project they take on).
posted by neitherly at 7:44 PM on February 12 [2 favorites]


I'm really curious what happened financially with other films that went public domain on release like Charade - which is one that's always fascinated me because it went full public domain on a technicality over the formatting of the copyright notice, somebody responsible had to have the worst day at the office ever when that was noticed. Anyways, Wikipedia shows it made money at the box office. And I suppose at that point nothing technically stops the studio that made it from releasing it still and recouping some costs, public domain is public domain and they've still got distribution lined up and everything, although nowadays it would mean it went day and date streaming anywhere and everywhere so that would put a big damper on box office returns. But that seems like it would still have to be taken into account- if you take the write-off, it goes public domain for everyone except you, so the studio that took the write-off can't double dip.
posted by jason_steakums at 7:46 PM on February 12 [2 favorites]


In some civil law countries there is an answer to this problem. Those laws grant an artist a moral right over their works. So even if the artist sells a work to another person, losing all legal and beneficial rights to that work, the artist retains a moral right.

This isn't always an advantage. For instance, in Oslo, Norway, the Y-Block, a brutalist building that's part of the city block that houses most of the government's main offices, was slated for demolition after the 2011 far-right terrorist attacks, because the whole construction was deemed impossible to secure, and everything had to be rebuilt. The problem is, it also housed two murals created in collaboration between Pablo Picasso and Norwegian sculptor Carl Nesjar, and the nearby H-block, which was to be restored, held three more.

Nesjar's heirs wanted to block the relocation of the Y-block murals, and indeed the whole demolition, because they claimed moral rights prohibited the change of visual context for the murals, indeed, they preferred the murals be destroyed along with the building than for them to be relocated. There was a lot of legal wrangling back and forth, and basically the government finally said fuck it, cut the whole walls down and put them into storage, and demolished the rest of the building. but the idea that public works of art should be impossible to relocate, restore, or rescue just because the heirs to the artist decide against it is absurd to me. Artworks of this kind belong to the world.
posted by Joakim Ziegler at 10:54 PM on February 12 [3 favorites]


"This here’s a fresco, t’weren’t it?" - The French Dispatch (2021)
posted by Molesome at 4:18 AM on February 13 [1 favorite]


Since it's unlikely that we'd ever get a law forcing these things into the public domain, I would hope that a writer, director, or actor with some pull in the industry thinks to put it in a contract at some point.
posted by condour75 at 6:05 AM on February 13 [1 favorite]


interesting to know if either model has been operating or could operate sustainably in the film/media space.

United Artists Corporation (UA) is an American production and distribution company founded in 1919 by D.W. Griffith, Charlie Chaplin, Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks as a venture premised on allowing actors to control their own interests rather than being dependent upon commercial studios

So it's been tried way back in the day.
posted by yyz at 7:03 AM on February 13 [6 favorites]


Well I heard there was a corporate loss
That Warners made and it pleased the boss
But he never really cared for movies did he?
It goes like this, the run, the cliff, the major fall then something hits
A baffled thing we’re told is a coyote
https://twitter.com/NedHartley/status/1757338980310217117
posted by vincebowdren at 12:20 PM on February 13 [9 favorites]


There was a book that was about the destruction of the greatest movie ever. It was written in the 80s? early 90s? I guess I should make it an Ask. Google is proving useless (shocker) at finding the name.
posted by computech_apolloniajames at 2:02 PM on February 13 [1 favorite]


Haha, I already made an Ask about it! Only (almost) 15 years ago!
posted by computech_apolloniajames at 2:14 PM on February 13 [7 favorites]


A new development - US Rep Joaquin Castro has started talking with the DOJ and the FTC about this. Well, not just about this, but about the trend of shelving films as tax write-offs in general.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 3:30 AM on February 14 [9 favorites]


Really baffled by the derail logic in this thread of a person can make a living being a painter, ergo sellout corporate dogs in the collaborative arena of film should stop whining. #upthepunx

Wish there was a flag for complete logical discontinuity in service of smug holier-than-thou dismissal
posted by kensington314 at 12:39 PM on February 14 [7 favorites]


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