Rumors have raced for weeks that exec changes at WarnerMedia would soon reverberate to movie content as the effort to streamline production continues. Two of the rumored moves have happened: Jessie Henderson, EVP Original Feature Films for HBO Max, decided to leave the company. Another HBO Max exec, Nikki Ramey, will leave her senior veep of Original Feature Films post to join New line and report to president/chief creative officer Richard Brener for film development and production, and Carolyn Blackwood, Chief Operating Officer, Warner Bros. Pictures Group, for finished film acquisitions.
Toby Emmerich will have oversight over all motion picture output for WarnerMedia, streaming and theatrical. Moving forward, all development and production of original feature films for HBO Max will be consolidated under Emmerich and the Warner Bros Pictures Group, working in conjunction with Casey Bloys on overall platform goals. Oversight of original feature films for HBO Max was previously shared by the leadership at WarnerMedia Entertainment and the WB Pictures Group.
Emmerich’s development and production team led by Courtenay Valenti at Warner Bros Pictures, Brener at New Line and Walter Hamada at DC will continue to develop and produce titles that will be distributed theatrically for the Pictures Group, and direct to streaming on HBO Max. Top brass will figure which platform is best for the project, a continuation of Hollywood leaning into a streaming future.
Per the company, these moves are in the spirit of breaking down silos within the company divisions that are being reassembled. As Ann Sarnoff and Bloys met to discuss the overall programming strategy for the HBO Max platform, they decided the best course was to combine the resources of HBO Max and the Warner Bros Pictures Group. Cynics of this strategy wonder if production from HBO Max will live up to memory of product generated by the old HBO, a boutique that turned out many memorable series and movies for the channel that were as good or better than anything seen on a movie screen. In fairness, HBO has had a good run, winning the most Emmys of any network or streamer, with a successful first season of Lovecraft Country and the new offering The Undoing with Nicole Kidman and Hugh Grant.
It will also be interesting to track what happens long-term to a shingle like New Line, which has its own distinctive cache and track record of excellence. Insiders deny any plans for New Line to be absorbed into WarnerMedia, which will be good news to those fearing an industrywide move toward a centralized assembly line for movies in this moment when movies are down because of the impact of COVID-19 on theatrical, leading to homogenized product in the long term.