Warner Max

When studios offload movies to streaming services, the effect can be the same as if the films were sprayed by a skunk: they carry with them a bit of a funk that can be difficult to fully shake off. But as every major movie studio develops its own streaming service, it may help to circumvent that stigma by making sure audiences know that most of the original films on that service were made specifically for that service instead of just being “dumped” there as a last resort.

Enter Warner Max, WarnerMedia’s new feature film production arm which is devoted solely to ensuring that the upcoming HBO Max streaming service “has a steady stream of high-quality and highly curated original films.” Find out more about the company’s new division below.

I’ll paste the entire press release below for anyone interested in which Hollywood executives are going to be contributing to this, but this essentially confirms what we’ve suspected ever since HBO Max was announced: that WarnerMedia would use all the resources at its disposal to develop original movies for that service. The company already has several films lined up for release on HBO Max when it debuts in May, including Superintelligence, a Melissa McCarthy comedy that was originally supposed to be a theatrical release. But now that Warner Max has been established, it should be significantly harder for WarnerMedia to dump movies to streaming without people knowing about it; presumably when future movie projects are announced, the announcements will include which branch of the studio will be overseeing those movies.

One interesting section of the press release that I think is worth highlighting reads as follows:

Warner Bros. and New Line Cinema will continue to create mid-budget fare for traditional theatrical distribution, while Warner Max will create a new pipeline for filmmakers looking to make a particular type of film or connect with a specific audience that would be best reached in the streaming environment. The first Warner Max titles will premiere on the service in 2020, and Warner Bros. will be responsible for distribution of these titles in all other media and territories beyond the HBO Max SVOD window.

Warner Max plans to make eight to 10 mid-budget movies per year, and it’s unclear if those films will cut in on the amount of movies that the main Warner Bros. studio plans to make. Also, the last sentence in that block seems to indicate that, unlike Netflix or Amazon, the films that Warner Max makes for HBO Max will not be archived in a library of original movies that’s exclusive to that service. Instead, it appears that HBO Max movies can be sold off to rival streaming services after an undetermined amount of time. That’s an interesting approach that seems a little counterintuitive, but perhaps WarnerMedia sees opportunities in the long run that its competitors aren’t currently seeing. I’m very curious to see how these competing strategies play out over the next couple of years, and we’ll be following this closely through every stage in the months to come.

Here’s the full press release:

The creation of Warner Max, a new film label that that will serve as the feature production arm of HBO Max, was announced today by Ann Sarnoff, Chair and CEO of Warner Bros., and Warner Media Entertainment and Direct-To-Consumer Chairman Robert Greenblatt. This unique joint venture between one of Hollywood’s most successful movie studios and its sister company HBO Max, which launches in May, will ensure that the new platform has a steady stream of high-quality and highly curated original films.

With an initial target of  eight to 10 mid-budget movies per year, the new joint venture will be overseen by HBO Max’s Chief Content Officer Kevin Reilly and Chairman of Warner Bros. Pictures Group Toby Emmerich, who share greenlight responsibility for Warner Max films and will work in close collaboration with senior executives Carolyn Blackwood (COO, Warner Bros. Pictures Group) and Sarah Aubrey (Head of Original Content, HBO Max). Jessie Henderson, executive vice president of original feature films for HBO Max, will expand her role to serve as the day-to-day head of the label and liaison between HBO Max and Warner Bros. Pictures Group and jointly report to Aubrey and Blackwood.

This new partnership will take advantage of the WarnerMedia organization’s vast feature film expertise, library, resources, and relationships, with Warner Max utilizing existing Warner Bros. Pictures infrastructure, including physical production.  Warner Bros. and New Line Cinema will continue to create mid-budget fare for traditional theatrical distribution, while Warner Max will create a new pipeline for filmmakers looking to make a particular type of film or connect with a specific audience that would be best reached in the streaming environment. The first Warner Max titles will premiere on the service in 2020, and Warner Bros. will be responsible for distribution of these titles in all other media and territories beyond the HBO Max SVOD window.

“From the get-go we have been strategizing with Toby and Carolyn about HBO Max original films,” says Kevin Reilly, chief content officer, HBO Max and president, TNT, TBS, & truTV.  “We are going to deliver a collaborative and lean process for talent, make a range of quality films, and provide a platform for each of them to have cultural impact. Now, HBO Max will be home to a robust collection of the legendary Warner Bros. film library and a new slate of original WarnerMax films.”

“Working with Kevin, Sarah, Jessie and their teams, we’re committed to creating dynamic and compelling films that draw on the depth and scope of the creative resources across WarnerMedia,” says Toby Emmerich, chairman, Warner Bros. Pictures Group.  “We’re excited to help make HBO Max a destination for both film-lovers and the creative community, while delivering a win across the entire WarnerMedia organization.”

“Warner Bros. Pictures Group has long been the gold standard for filmmaker driven storytelling. We are proud to be in in the features business with them and continue that legacy on our SVOD platform,” Sarah Aubrey, head of original content, HBO Max. “Warner Max gives us a special opportunity to continue cultivating this style of rich and diverse storytelling and it couldn’t be in better hands than with our head of features, Jessie Henderson, who’s built her career in this space.”

“It’s been great collaborating with our colleagues at HBO Max to take full advantage of our shared strategic advantages and creative expertise to make Warner Max a competitive player in the original SVOD film space from day one,” says Carolyn Blackwood, chief operating officer, Warner Bros. Pictures Group.

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