“Disney will release all of Fox’s movies that are complete or in production at the time of the acquisition, said a person with knowledge of its plans. It’s less certain what will happen to films still in development at the time of the takeover.”

So says entertainment reporter Ben Fritz in his latest Wall Street Journal article. The gist of his report is this:

Things are super awkward at Fox these days.

The Murdochs, of course, get to keep ownership of the actual lot and simply rent it to Disney now.

In a business where something you start today might not see the light of day until 2 or 3 years from now, and only that early if you’re lucky, Fox has to proceed like everything’s normal even though it won’t exist anymore a year from now. As soon as Bob Iger receives the foreign regulatory approvals he needs, 20th Century Fox will be absorbed into the Disney infrastructure. Almost everyone in the distribution and marketing departments will be laid off. The studio’s boss, Stacey Boss, will probably be joining them, albeit exiting with a guaranteed golden parachute.

Things could be better, basically.

Not surprisingly, those most likely to be laid off are already job-hunting, something Snider is discouraging by extending all of their contracts. That won’t save them from Disney’s ax, but it might keep some of them around long enough for Fox to continue running smoothly, at least for a little while longer. After all, the Disney takeover won’t even take effect for another year. Until then, the studio has to keep the lights on, and mass employee departures certainly won’t help with that.

No one knows for sure what Disney will do with everything Fox has in development.

Fox’s Stacey Snider

For the next year, while Fox continues to operate under the false pretense that everything is normal there is a larger question as to what will become of the various projects they work on between now and the takeover date. Fritz, as per the quote, hears Disney is committing to releasing whatever Fox happens to have finished or already in production. Anything in development, however, will probably be canceled unless it fits into Disney’s preferred family-friendly model or can be moved over to Hulu.

Does this mean there will be a mad rush over the next year to speed up development cycles and have as many projects as possible in some stage of production when Snyder has to hand over the keys to Iger? No one would put it quite like that to Fritz.

So, what exactly does Fox have in development, other than all those X-Men projects and Avatar sequels we already know about?

Mickey Mouse isn’t going to like this.

According to Fritz’s sources, the development slate currently includes:

  • A second Simpsons movie
  • A Bob’s Burgers movie
  • A Family Guy “film that would mix animation with live action”
  • A new, R-Rated Clue movie re-teaming Ryan Reynolds, who will star and producer, with his Deadpool writers
  • A new musical from Wicked’s Stephen Schwartz
  • A new live-action/CGI combo adaptation of Call of the Wild
  • An adaptation of a comic book “one studio executive described as Game of Thrones with mice”
  • Ben Affleck and Matt Damon’s movie about the McDonald’s Monopoly game conspiracy
  • TV show versions of Diary of a Wimpy Kid, Ice Age, and Night at the Museum

Let’s just pause to appreciate the extreme awkwardness which will ensue if an actual Family Guy movie ends up having to be released by Disney. It’s hard to picture them following through with that, even if it’s filmed, finished, and ready to go by the time they take over.

Family Guy’s version of Walt drawing Minnie for the first time. “Now take it off” is the eventual punchline.

Family Guy did once do this:

Back to the report.

The production slate is only partial and doesn’t seem to include anything from the more indie-leaning corners of the studio. Plus, there’s an awful lot there which is simply Fox making a new version of a project it already owns. The reason for that is hardly anyone outside the studio wants to do business with them. The uncertainty factor is just too high. It’s a minor miracle Affleck and Damon’s McDonald’s project, which Affleck will direct and Damon will star in, ended up there. How can you do business with executives who legitimately don’t know if they’ll still be there a year from now?

The Fox Searchlight of it all.

Richard Jenkins and Sally Hawkins in the film THE SHAPE OF WATER. Photo by Kerry Hayes. © 2017 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation All Rights Reserved

It’s a problem with no easy answer, but those looking to work with Fox can take comfort as well as guidance from this following tidbit:

Two Fox movie divisions are likely to survive, though. Disney CEO Robert Iger has publicly touted Fox Searchlight, which makes “prestige” films like last year’s best picture Oscar winner The Shape of Water and Fox 2000, which specializes in literary adaptations such as the teen coming-out story Love, Simon, which came out earlier this year. Their relatively inexpensive dramas for adults could be valuable for the Hulu streaming service, which Disney will take control of in the acquisition.

I wrote about the Fox Searchlight-Hulu pairing earlier this week when Iger vaguely referenced it on Disney’s quarterly earnings call. The Fox 2000 connection is new to me, though. The logic makes sense, but from a traditionalist standpoint it’s also depressing. A year after Fox 2000 made history with the most widely released gay teen rom-com ever it might be shunted off to streaming.

Beats losing your job, says everyone over in Fox’s marketing and distribution.

What do you think? Which of the in-development projects sound like they have the best chance of actually getting released? Which would you most like to see? Top of my list includes a Simpsons sequel, that Ryan Reynolds Clue project, and the Affleck-Damon McDonalds collaboration, the former out of fandom and the latter two more due to morbid curiosity.

Source: Wall Street Journal

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Posted by Kelly Konda

Grew up obsessing over movies and TV shows. Worked in a video store. Minored in film at college because my college didn't offer a film major. Worked in academia for a while. Have been freelance writing and running this blog since 2013.

14 Comments

  1. I think I am probably like a lot of people when I say I love the Simpsons but haven’t bothered to watch a new episode in ten years. I wonder how the film will cater to such fans. Has much changed in Springfield? I know one of Marge’s sisters came out and Ned Flanders hooked up with Mrs Krabapple after Maude died.

    Reply

    1. I stopped watching regularly The Simpsons 4 or 5 years ago. Thanks to my nephew’s fandom, I have seen several new episodes here and there on Hulu. It’s really not back to the golden era, but it’s also better than its garbage era. For a show this old to still at least be watchable is commendable.

      Not much has changed in Springfield. The TV is flat now instead of a tube box. They have the internet and cell phones. They exist with today’s technology, which gives them new story possibilities. But the continuity is mostly the same. No one is any older. Homer still works at the plan. Marge is still a stay-at-home mom with an incredibly rich line of sidejobs behind her. The main difference I recall has been them backing away from the various Mrs. Krabappel storylines they had after the voice actress died. She’s been retired from the show and her death briefly acknowledged, although there were no details provided.

      Plus, there remains the faint possibility that they might replace Hank Azaria as the voice of Apu in response to the still-brewing The Trouble with Apu controversy.

      Reply

  2. Frankly, The Simpsons have been a walking corpse for years anyway. And I never thought that Family guy was even remotely a good show. So…yeah….

    Nor do I think that Disney is bothered about anyone making fun of them. Hell, they keep doing it themselves.

    But I guess it isn’t important. I think a lot depends on what Disney’s plans actually are. I mean, it is not the first time that Disney merged with a studio. Did this change anything about the projects Pixar had ready? Or Marvel studios? Or, to go way back, Miramax? If there were changes they happened later on.

    Now, Fox is a different animal in that not all parts of the company are necessarily successful – and there are a few properties for which Disney might have its own plans. But some random movie which is currently in production? I don’t think that there is anything to fear there. Disney will release it one way or another.

    Reply

    1. The bigger mystery area is not if Disney will indeed release anything Fox has in production at the time of takeover, even a Family Guy movie, but instead if all the millions spent on development will just be wasted if those projects don’t leave development fast enough. In all likelihood, it probably will. Anything not on brand for Disney or not transferable to Hulu is highly likely to get the ax, especially when you consider the primary champion for a lot of those projects, Stacey Snider, isn’t expected to be around in the Disney version of the studio.

      Reply

      1. Yes, but what exactly means “on brand for Disney” when it comes to Fox? After all, they have bought Fox because Fox had exactly the kind of entertainment Disney itself lacks (Oscar bait, horror franchises, risky but not Miramax risky entertainment), so why should Disney now turn the studios into an extended version of Disney? The notion doesn’t sit right with me. I always assumed that Disney would decide on some sort of brand name (because I don’t think that they want to be associated with the Fox brand and I don’t think that the Murdochs will give up the name of Fox news), something along the line of 20th century studio or perhaps resurrect Touchstone, and then release the kind of stuff Fox already does under that name.

        I mean, it is simply not their MO to buy a studio and then Disneyfy it. They have never done it, they always tried to continue the studio in question in the spirit of what it was beforehand.

      2. I mean, I can see them cancelling a project or two, but not because it is not “on Brand”, but because they look into it and say “yeah…let’s not do this, we don’t think that will work out”. And that is something which can always happen to you anyway.

      3. Buying Pixar, Marvel, or LucasFilms isn’t quite the same as buying Fox. You are right – and I believe we discussed this earlier this year – Iger’s MO with his acquisitions has been to let them operate however they see fit until that no longer works out, be it due to Kathleen Kennedy’s struggles with Star Wars or John Lasseter’s abuse at both Disney and Pixar. Moreover, those companies weren’t curtailed from making the kinds of movies they’d already been making to that point.

        But buying into PG-13 outerspace adventure and superhero movie factories and G-rated cartoons is easier to absorb into Disney’s family-friendly brand than Fox is. Fox’s film division has built itself up in competition with Disney by favoring a more diversified slate and edgier content, such as the R-Rated Logan and Deadpool experiments. Iger, however, has shown he prefers making fewer movies and favoring marketable brands that can provide secondary profit windows through extensive cross-promotion in the theme parks. There are certain aspects of Fox which fit perfectly into that, but there are others that don’t. What becomes of those in the “don’t” category is what remains to be seen. This latest report indicates Fox Searchlight and Fox 2000 movies might indeed be heading toward Hulu. The rest remains unclear.

        Nothing in Iger’s history would suggest he would want to make wholesale changes to his newly acquired asset (other than maybe the changes he made to Disney itself, such as the people he fired and off-brand film divisions he shuttered, after taking over), but this is so monumentally bigger than anything he’s ever done before. Logically, you would think changing what made Fox desirable in the first place wouldn’t make sense, but it’s not a decision he’s had to make very often.

        Re: You mentioned the possibility of them continuing the name and perhaps making it a fifth content silo along with Disney Animation, Pixar, Lucas, and Marvel. Fritz asked about that in his report and the people at Fox still have no idea.

      4. Fifth? Disney already has at least five…you forget Disney Pictures, which is responsible for the live action output and touchstone, which is releasing the off-brand stuff.

        I mean, if they are able to release George Lucas animated pet project without the general audience even being aware that it has anything to do with Disney, they are perfectly capable of branding Fox in a way that it is part of Disney except when it isn’t – if that makes any sense. Like, the movie-going audience still perceives Fox’s output as something separate from Disney proper, but the Streaming service subscriber is fully aware that they also subscribe to the academy winning searchlight movie, or hours of the The Simpsons or whatever.

      5. “I mean, if they are able to release George Lucas animated pet project without the general audience even being aware that it has anything to do with Disney, they are perfectly capable of branding Fox in a way that it is part of Disney except when it isn’t – if that makes any sense.”

        Yes, they are. That’s also why I wrote about the Fahrenheit 9/11 situation the other day. If there’s money in it, Disney can be motivated to get creative, as they were there. But the Lucas example was an obvious compromise. It was a bone they threw him as part of the LucasFilm deal. It’s the passion project they let him finish in exchange for ultimately going away and giving up his babies. It’s not quite the same as inheriting a bunch of Fox projects.

        We can’t also discount this – Stacey Snider isn’t going to make it, at least not according to this report. Based on how this has gone in past years, when a new boss comes that means a lot of projects just lost their champion at the studio. However, if something is too far along to be canceled it will get finished and released somehow, even if that means selling it off to Netflix. If not, though, the new boss usually just orphans a bunch of projects or puts them in turnaround. Fox would be facing that possibility with or without a change in corporate ownership.

        And the fact is Bob Iger’s stated and illustrated preferences for how to make money in Hollywood and the entertainment industry is slightly at odds with Fox’s approach. He could very well turn Fox into a new branded content silo for the studio, but even so the content being piped out might be more franchised oriented than it currently is. The question here has always been if Iger, the man who killed Miramax, really wants Fox to continue as it has been or if he wants to reshape it after the approach he has mastered with Disney – fewer total movies, more branded blockbusters, gear everything toward synergistic profit opportunities. Fox having so many of its cartoons in development for movies fits into that mode, even if they’re not intentionally doing it to audition to keep their jobs once Disney takes over.

        The new wrinkle is simply that he does see value in Fox Searchlight and Fox 2000, not as traditional theatrical plays but instead viable resources for a newer, stronger version of Hulu.

      6. You know, I am not quite clear what exactly he means with that…I mean just because he sees those movies as a great content for Hulu it doesn’t mean that they won’t get a theatrical run first. After all, most people don’t watch more than one or two movies per year in theatres, but they do watch what happens to turn up on their streaming service (finally managed to watch The Nice Guys). So a streaming service which will offer those movies as soon as possible after the theatrical run has still a lot to brag about

      7. It all goes back to what Iger told Fritz in The Big Picture book: while he might (and, indeed, does) enjoy awards-contending movies like Spotlight as a film fan, he doesn’t see the profit in it. It’s antithetical to his franchise/silo-oriented business model, and if it’s suddenly of use to him now it’s not to help prop up the flailing theatrical exhibition industry but instead to fortify his big push into streaming. I could easily see Fox Searchlight awards contenders being morphed more into Netflix Original-like options which do receive a theatrical push but just enough to qualify for the Oscars.

        It’s this: Fox doesn’t do business in nearly the franchise-obsessed way Disney does. Will Iger recognize that as being integral to its success and thus a delicate thing to mess with? Or will he divide up the assets to be redistributed between theatrical releases and streaming options? Or will he find a happy medium? In the past, he’s let those companies he’s acquired keep doing their thing. But this is a company literally four or five times the size of all of his other acquisitions combined. Given that scale, it’s impossible to know for sure what’s going to happen. We’re mostly going on guesses, insider reports, and Iger’s quotes.

        From Deadline, here is what he actually said about Fox Searchlight on the earnings call last week:

        “it’s hard to argue that Searchlight needs any help from anyone. Our strategy is to give the studio what it needs to continue to do what it does best and to also expand the brand’s high-quality brand into the direct-to-consumer space with original television and film projects.”

        But it’s all very fluid.

        Here’s what he told investors in March after Shape of Water won Best Picture (https://www.hollywoodreporter.com/news/disney-ceo-bob-iger-rules-rebrand-fox-searchlight-1093058):

        “”We don’t have any plans right now to change what they do. Frankly, we think they’re doing just fine,” he told the Walt Disney’s Co.’s annual shareholders meeting in Houston.

        “We have every intention, once the acquisition is approved, to maintain the business of Fox Searchlight. We think they’re in the business of making high-quality films, recognized often by the Academy and all the Oscars that they’ve won. And we think there’s ample opportunity for us as a company to continue to support those efforts.”

        So, it’s gone from “nothing will change” to “some things will stay the same, but we want to move them more into streaming.”

        A year from now, who knows what the final line will be.

        The one consistent: Fox Searchlight is safe. Streaming, Theatrical and streaming, Theatrical-only – regardless of which option Disney goes for, Fox Searchlight is still something it wants to keep around.

      8. To me it sounds like they not just want keep it around, but also to expand on it by finding better ways to monetize the movies in question. And one way to get money out of them is to use them as a draw for a streaming service.

        That’s the impression I get, that what Disney will change is less what Fox does in the creation of the movies, but that it will look for ways to get more money out of them, by branding them better and by looking at the secondary revenue options.

        But yet, it is all pretty vague just now.

  3. I definitely think that Call of the Wild remix might actually get made becasue its exactly the type of literary movie that Disney used to make cartoons about.

    I stopped watching The Simpsons over a decade ago, so I’m not really enthused about that or any of the upcoming X-Men movies either.

    Reply

    1. Call of the Wild seems like a perfectly on-brand choice for Disney to keep around, even if it’s not quite in production yet when the takeover happens.

      I stopped watching The Simpsons a couple of years ago, but since continuity has never particularly mattered I’d at least be interested in a new movie because, well, it’s The Simpsons. I’d at least watch the trailer.

      Reply

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