Disney rethinks talent deals for the streaming age
The Future. Scarlett Johansson’s lawsuit against Disney (over Black Widow payments) made international headlines, and now Disney is doing some soul-searching on how to craft talent contracts going forward. Disney’s “reset” could be years in the making, complete with tough negotiations between Hollywood unions and all the studios. But with Disney rethinking how stars get paid in the new streaming economy, this move may set the stage for how every creative will make a living going forward.
Speaking at the Goldman Sachs Communacopia Conference, Disney CEO Bob Chapek said that deals made three or four years ago for currently-releasing movies are outdated.
- Talent deals no longer reflect how theatrical and streaming have switched in importance.
- Now, Disney is undergoing a “reset” on how it crafts deals for the new standards in the industry.
- The studio is figuring out how to “bridge the gap” between the old way of talent getting paid (box-office bonuses) and the new (higher upfront payments).
But Chapek also played hardball, stating, “As we always have, we will compensate them fairly, per the terms of the contracts that they agreed to us with.” That feels like a shot across the bow at Scarlett Johannson’s lawsuit over payments stemming from Black Widow opening simultaneously in theaters and on Disney+.
The Johannson lawsuit aside, Disney has closed major deals with Emma Stone (Cruella 2), as well as Dwayne Johnson and Emily Blunt (Jungle Cruise 2) for reportedly a lot of money (probably because of how much noise Johannson made), showing that Disney will open its safe to keep ongoing relationships satisfied. In Johannson’s case, she’s done playing Black Widow for Marvel, so Disney may not have felt incentivized enough to meet her demands.
COVID created a chaos in the industry that is still being figured out. Many studios chose a “move fast and break things” approach (WarnerMedia’s HBO Max strategy), while creatives pushed for the profitable old ways despite changes in distribution (WarnerMedia’s $200 million in extra compensation).
Can there ever be consensus on how payments should be determined in this new hybrid release model? According to Endeavor CEO and super agent Ari Emmanuel, Disney is now “doing the right thing… because they need talent.” That’s a step in the right direction.