Paramount Pictures is in a pay dispute with a Hollywood power couple over the studio's streaming plans for the new horror picture A Quiet Place Part II, according to a person familiar with the matter, creating a behind-the-scenes drama that could affect the income of other big stars.
The couple, actor-director John Krasinski and his wife, actress Emily Blunt, have a contract that compensates them based on the film's box-office performance.
But Paramount, owned by ViacomCBS, has cut the film's exclusive run in cinemas in half - to 45 days from 90 - and scheduled it for a May 28 release, when some chains will still be operating at limited capacity.
Paramount is speeding up the online release of the film to help its new streaming service, Paramount+. The stars are worried that many potential theatre fans might wait for the film to be available for home viewing, reducing the box-office receipts, said the person, who asked not to be identified discussing a private matter.
The original film, A Quiet Place, collected US$341mil in ticket sales worldwide in 2018.
The closing of theatres in the United States due to the coronavirus pandemic has led to a big rethinking of how movies get released, with cinema chains now destined to play a smaller role in how people see new films.
But many Hollywood stars are paid in part based on box-office receipts, so they could get shortchanged if movies spend less time playing on big screens.
Representatives for the couple, along with other producers who have a stake in the movie's box-office performance, including film-maker Michael Bay, have asked Paramount for compensation, according to the person, and the discussions are ongoing. But the studio has rebuffed them thus far.
Paramount declined to comment. Representatives for the film's stars did not respond.
A Quiet Place was Paramount's second-biggest film of 2018 and one of its most profitable, thanks to a modest budget of about US$20 million.
The sequel was expected to be one of the studio's biggest movies of last year. Paramount held a glitzy premiere on March 8 in New York, just days before the coronavirus shuttered theatres worldwide. The studio has postponed the release three times.
As the pandemic dragged on, Paramount sold many of its movies to streaming services, sending Coming 2 America to Amazon and The Love Birds and The Trial Of The Chicago 7 to Netflix.
But it held on to A Quiet Place Part II and Top Gun: Maverick, betting those two movies would deliver huge box-office receipts when theatres reopened.
Yet, as Paramount sold its titles to online outlets, competing studios began experimenting with releasing theatre-bound movies on their own streaming services.
Walt Disney released Mulan and Soul for home video, and AT&T's WarnerMedia put Wonder Woman 1984 on HBO Max just in time for Christmas.
The decision to reduce theatre runs, or bypass them all together, may be welcome news to consumers. But cutting out theatres imperils one of the best paydays in Hollywood: a share of box-office receipts.
Stars like Blunt, 38, and Krasinski, 41, can make tens of millions of dollars on a hit movie like A Quiet Place. Krasinski is also the film's writer and director.
Agents and film-makers revolted when Warner Bros announced it would release its entire 2021 slate of films on HBO Max at the same time the movies appeared in theatres. But opposition quieted after the studio compensated its movie-making talent up front for the lost income.
Netflix already uses this approach, since its movies generate the vast majority of their viewership on its streaming service instead of in theatres. The company pays talent higher fees in advance to buy out all their rights.
ViacomCBS has no contractual obligation to pay extra money. But it does have a vested interest in keeping its celebrities happy.
Krasinski is also the star of Tom Clancy's Jack Ryan, a hit Amazon show made by Paramount's TV studio.
And Paramount recently signed a deal to offer its movies to the Epix cable network, including compensation for key participants.
Patrick Whitesell, executive chairman of the giant talent agency Endeavor Group Holdings, is one of several executives who work on the actor's team.
He laughed when asked about Krasinski's payday, but then he added: "I'll be curious what they pay for A Quiet Place 3." – Bloomberg