The Disney Civil War Part IIThe Dark Herald
Something that was rattling around in my bean over the weekend was the tone of Disney’s reply to Scarlet Johansson’s lawsuit.
The tone reflected genuine aggrievement. As if matters had been settled, an agreement had been reached and then Johansson went ahead and sued anyway. Everyone in Hollywood was going on about how shocked everyone else felt by this lawsuit because stars as big as Johansson don’t have to do this.
ScarJo is repped by Bryan Lourd. Let me elaborate on that, she personally, is represented by the chairman of CAA himself, the biggest talent agency in Hollywood. If Bob Chapek’s secretary says, “Bryan Lourd is on the line.” He picks up the phone.
If Bryan Lourd then says, “you are dicking with my client and by extension ME.”
Bob Chapek says, “let’s work something out.”
ScarJo was mad about her payday and the most powerful agent in Hollywood could do nothing about it? No way, Chapek would have taken the call and worked something out.
If this had already been settled and agreed on, then the wounded tone of Disney’s press release makes more sense.
So why did she suddenly file?
I decided to step back and look at the bigger picture of what is currently going on at Disney.
Chapek ascended to the throne while the old king yet lived. Iger had been forced to abdicate the crown but still lived in the Royal Apartments and conducted the Grand Levee every morning. It was pretty clear to everyone who the real boss was, and it wasn’t Bob Chapek. This was supposedly done to ease the terror of the investors back when Disney had almost no income at all.
But it looked for all the world like the CEO of Disney was job shadowing the former CEO. And that Iger was still in charge because he pretty much was.
However, a few things happened to undermine Iger. The NBA deal was a disaster that cost Disney about $100 million at a time when they needed that money for anything else. Then Iger slipped into old habits and started talking about Disney making some major acquisitions, which left the investors reeling in horror.
Then came the Carano Affair and it appeared (we’ll know by December) that Chapek was able to maneuver the third most powerful person at Disney out of power. It was shortly after this that Variety published an article talking about how Bob Chapek was kicking ass and taking names at Disney.
Disney is the only company in Hollywood that writes multi-year contracts for its executives and that was only because Bob Iger was writing them. The purpose was obvious, he was building a personal base of power within Disney that was loyal to him.
Chapek’s next announcement was that this practice was terminated and that from now on the contracts would be for a period of one year and no longer. Which would make it easier to get rid of problem children like Kathleen Kennedy.
And Kevin Feige, (put a gigantic pin in that one).
Presumably, Chapek started talking to Iger about how much he must be looking forward to his well-earned retirement at this time. Which would have left Iger grinding his teeth.
After Mulan’s failure in China and that country’s outright refusal to show Shang Chi and The Eternals, an article appeared in the Hollywood Reporter (or maybe Variety there is no real difference anyway). The thrust of the article (that didn’t name any executive by name) was that it was time for Hollywood to pivot away from China.
Keep in mind the Hollywood trade media has no autonomy at all. They publish what they are told to publish unless it’s some minor celebrity scandal. They wouldn’t print the announcement of a major strategic shift without instruction. I think Chapek wrote that article and told them to run it.
A shift away from China would mean selling Shanghai Disneyland. No real choice, if Disney annoys China enough, they will just nationalize it anyway. If you are cutting ties, then it’s best to sell it while the Chinese are willing to buy rather than just take it.
Shanghai Disneyland is Iger’s legacy. It’s the most important thing in his life because it’s the only thing he has ever BUILT. Everything else he bought, but Shanghai was all his from concept to opening day. He stayed on-site for weeks at a time. Due to several emergencies going on at WDW he should have skipped Shanghai opening day and he didn’t. The truth is, it really is the best of the Disney Parks because it was the only one built without any kind of budget at all. China covered everything. This is the thing that Bob Iger wants to be able to point to when he’s on this deathbed and say, “I did that.”
When the pivot from China was announced, Iger started bitching about his successor in public. And presumably started looking for allies within Disney.
Iger didn’t have to look much further than Kevin Feige. Marvel’s head is angry about the shift away from theatrical releases to Disney +. Black Widow’s release screwed up his own backend deal and it imperils the rest of his deals for the foreseeable future.
Much worse, when his current multi-year contract ends, he’ll be working from year to year like every other nobody in Hollywood. He will be vulnerable to performance issues and this year he has already had his first picture that underperformed so badly it didn’t earn-out. He has two other films that are in the same boat, they might even outright bomb.
He is going from the biggest movie producer in Hollywood history to just another TV exec. And not to state the obvious but he hasn’t been a roaring success as a TV producer.
If Kevin Feige pulled Johansson aside and said, “you should have gotten, this amount of money. I’d have given it to you, no question because you EARNED it. If you sue Disney, I’ve got your back.” Her lawsuit makes sense in this light.
And suddenly, Emma Stone and Emily Blunt are thinking about filing too.
Normally, Disney doesn’t care all that much about lawsuits. They are evil beyond belief and do their best to make the process the punishment for those they’ve wronged. Somebody sues Mickey the Great and Terrible, Disney counter files, and then delays forever until the plaintiff runs out of money. That will work if your victim’s wealth is below the twenty-million-dollar mark. That won’t work with Johansson, she can easily last through the litigation delays and her lawyers are good enough to get the frivolous counter filing dismissed probably with costs. If Disney doesn’t arbitrate, it goes to court eventually. And that means “discovery,” all those numbers from Disney Plus that Mickey the G&T wants buried will go on the public record.
Emma Stone and Emily Blunt aren’t in that boat but if all of the actors with Disney Premier Access releases are screaming about how they are getting screwed, the first-rate talent is going to make itself scarce.
No one is taking Disney’s side in this, everyone is against Mickey the Great and Terrible. It looks terrible for Disney. The brand is being devastated.
More importantly, it’s making Bob Chapek look like an accountant who just isn’t ready for the Big Chair and never will be. If Kathleen Kennedy suddenly starts throwing her weight around Lucasfilm again and kicking up rough about her departure in December, we will know who put her up to it.
And that the coup is on.