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Fans want “Coyote vs. Acme,” but Warner Bros. isn’t releasing it

Kai Ryssdal and Sofia Terenzio Apr 16, 2024
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"What's a little maddening for folks is that we can see all this stuff happening but still have no way to actually change it," says reporter Teddy Brown about fans' frustration over the studio holding onto the film. Olivier Chouchana/AFP via Getty Images

Fans want “Coyote vs. Acme,” but Warner Bros. isn’t releasing it

Kai Ryssdal and Sofia Terenzio Apr 16, 2024
Heard on:
"What's a little maddening for folks is that we can see all this stuff happening but still have no way to actually change it," says reporter Teddy Brown about fans' frustration over the studio holding onto the film. Olivier Chouchana/AFP via Getty Images
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The film “Coyote vs. Acme,” a live-action and animated film featuring Looney Toons character Wile E. Coyote, was originally slated for release last summer. But despite the film’s completion, audiences may never get to see it.

In November, Warner Bros. announced it would indefinitely hold the project. There’s been a lot of speculation as to why.

“The rumor going around was that they had spiked this movie ‘Coyote vs. Acme’ over some tax implications,” said Teddy Brown, a freelance reporter who wrote about it for The New York Times Magazine. “They were trying to save on their tax bill after quite a large merger with Discovery.”

Speculation or not, the studio has no plans to release the film now, which has not only been frustrating to fans but also to the crew members and actors who spent hundreds of hours working on the project.

“Marketplace’s” Kai Ryssdal spoke with Brown about the film and the studio’s decision to shelve it. Below is an edited transcript of their conversation.

Kai Ryssdal: Those of a certain age will remember the Road Runner cartoons and all of that. And I guess my question is, why aren’t we going to get to see it in the movies?

Teddy Brown: Well, I’ll make sure to use my words very deliberately here because when we reached out to Warner Bros. for this story, the rumor going around was that they had spiked this movie, “Coyote vs. Acme,” over some tax implications. They were trying to save on their tax bill after quite a large merger with Discovery. And that was denied to us by the studio. But that was sort of the news swirling around for quite a while.

Ryssdal: There is history though, with Warner Bros. through HBO Max with the 2022 “Batgirl” movie, which was never released either. So, it’s not tough to put two and two together here.

Brown: Yeah, of course. And, you know, the qualitative arguments for movies like that is that, you know, for “Batgirl,” the accusation was the movie wasn’t very good. So, the studio decided to spike it rather than deal with a flop in theaters. Everything that’s been reported from, you know, test audiences to the folks that work in the movie say that “Coyote vs. Acme” is a pretty wonderful film. So, this is sort of a case of what is apparently a very good movie being a memory hold in favor of some accounting.

Ryssdal: Well, let’s do the accounting here as best we can in a high-level, four-minute interview. A studio spends tens of millions of dollars to make a movie and then decides it doesn’t want to release it. And then how does that figure in their taxes?

Brown: Yeah, of course. So they can write off the total production costs of that movie if they refuse to release it. They can claim the value of the production on their tax ledger for the year. So, if it cost them about $40 million to make “Coyote vs. Acme,” then if they sort of never released it, they never make money off of it. They’re allowed to claim effectively the total value of the movie as a tax loss and write down that debt on their tax statement.

Ryssdal: Why not sell it to Netflix or somebody else who will pay them some percentage of it, and get it out that way, and make some kind of money?

Brown: There’s a couple of different theories here. And Warner told us that they had not actually received any official bids from anyone. I’m going to take them at their word there. But a theory that was floated to me by someone who worked on the movie was that if this was a massive success, or someone, say Amazon, bought it for $70 million, and it made a global gross of $200 to $300 million, that would be a black eye for Warner. So, it’d be sort of an embarrassing failure for, you know, unnamed Exec A.

Ryssdal: You point out in the piece that art has always been commerce, and these kinds of decisions by companies are not new. It is though a situation now where consumers are more aware of it, right? We’re becoming more and more clued into the machinations.

Brown: Absolutely, these are the kinds of things that were really only privy to people reading Variety, who were reading the sort of Hollywood trades, but now we’re sort of seeing how this stuff works. It doesn’t change what our influences are, though, which I think is a little frustrating. What’s a little maddening for folks is that we can see all this stuff happening, but still have no way to actually change it.

Ryssdal: Well, it is, and I suppose this is a value judgment I’m about to make here. But no matter how much debt Discovery and Warner Bros. piled on during that merger, it is a deeply cynical thing to take years of people’s work and pretend it doesn’t exist so that your accounting looks better.

Brown: Absolutely. People were really passionate about this movie. And, you know, I think people might turn their nose up at it being a cartoon, but there are hundreds of folks who put their time and effort and really their passion into making this. You know, I think that if this ends up being a tax write-off for Warner, there’s an argument to be made that this should just go into the public record, and we should all be able to see it for free.

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