WB Scrambles To Appease Talent Following Its HBO Max Announcement

When Warner Bros. announced it would be releasing its entire 2021 film slate in theaters and simultaneously on HBO Max, it sent shockwaves through the film industry – and the reverberations were felt most strongly by the people who were directly involved with many of those movies, because none of them were told about the decision before it became public. Several big-name directors and actors (and their representatives) were none too pleased about potentially losing out on the financial bonuses they would normally receive from their movie hitting certain performance benchmarks at the box office, and now, weeks later, WB is still scrambling to clean up its own mess.

According to The Hollywood Reporter, Denzel Washington normally commands a $20 million salary plus a backend fee for each film he's in. Washington stars in The Little Things, a crime thriller co-starring Jared Leto which premieres later this month and will be the first of 17 movies the studio will release this year. While there are no specifics about what his payday will be quite yet, THR says that WB sent out a draft proposal outlining the following formula:

  • If an actor makes less than $4 million, they'll be paid an additional 25% of their salary when the movie is released "as an advance against box office bonuses."
  • If an actor makes $4 million and over, that advance would jump up to 40 percent of their salary.
  • The box office performance thresholds tied to the bonuses will be cut in half.
  • Finally, regardless of how a film performs at the worldwide box office, all deferments would be honored upon the film's release.
  • The outlet says the studio has not adopted an official formula yet, but negotiations with talent are ongoing. (Agency CAA alone is evidently working on 55 deals with clients who are impacted by the WB announcement.) But insiders assume that because of his stature and the size of his contract, Washington will end up making far more than the $10 million that Gal Gadot was given in advance of Wonder Woman 1984's Christmas Day debut. "Denzel will never negotiate off his deal and a really strong backend," a rival executive told THR.

    WB is reportedly having to find tons of money to pay out bonuses for top talent like this, and frankly, they should. I know people can get riled up when discussion of stars' salaries comes into play, but this seems to me like a case of one of our greatest actors knowing what he's worth and not kowtowing to a corporation who would gladly screw him over if he didn't fight tooth and nail to get what he deserved. But while Washington has the power to stand up for himself, far too many others do not – and they're the ones who are going to end up getting screwed by WB's decision.