Black Widow | Learning by Proxy

Disney the benevolent stiffing an actress. Are they really benevolent?

Latrodectus is a genus of Spider that is well known for the red hourglass-shaped marking on its back. The female spiders of the Latrodectus genus engage in sexual cannibalism; the female spider eats the male after sex. The spider is therefore known as Black Widow.

Black Widow

Disney has had a marvellous run with the Marvel Cinematic Universe grossing Billions of dollars through the movies and other shows that it has released around each of the characters that are part of the universe. In addition to this, they make money from merchandising which is just as profitable across decades. Steve Jobs learnt it the hard way when he signed off the merchandising rights for Toy Story which Pixar co-produced with Disney.

The company recently got sued.

Windowing

I had written a blog on the subject in November 2014 in reference to Music.

The Film Industry uses this thing called ‘Windowing'.

A movie makes its money from various ‘Windows'. The first window is the Box Office, then the Cable Rights and then finally the rights to Internet and CD distribution. By the time the box office is done, the producers have recovered the production cost along with a sizeable profit, so the monetary losses that they take due to the copying and piracy of the digital format is not as hurtful to them.

At the beginning of the last decade, theatres had a window of up to 120 days when the movie would be exclusively available in theatres. They would move to satellite TV and then finally to CD. There was not much streaming back in 2010.

That all changed in 2020. Disney launched Disney+ in Feb 2020. With a lockdown in force across the world, they could not have found a better time to launch it. In India, they inherited Hotstar which fell into their lap thanks to the acquisition of 20th Century Fox from Rupert Murdoch.

The cinema owners went from dictating terms to begging for content. Some even accepted simultaneous releases at theatres and streaming. This would have been unimaginable at the beginning of 2020.

Star Compensation

After the success of the first Iron Man movie, Robert Downey Jr negotiated a contract with Disney that involved him getting paid a percentage of the box office receipts as compensation. It has made the man who was once imprisoned for possession of drugs; into one of the richest stars in Hollywood.

Many of the stars who sign multi-year contracts with large studios opt for this sort of a deal. They are restricted from taking on roles and deals with competing studios when under such contracts and even if they do not like it, have to most likely stick it through.

Daniel Craig, the British actor who will be appearing as James Bond for the fourth time in "Spectre" released later this month, has told an interviewer he would rather slit his wrists than play 007 again.

"I'd rather break this glass and slit my wrists," Craig, 47, told an interviewer for Britain's "Time Out" entertainment magazine, when asked over breakfast if he would sign up for the role again.

"No, not at the moment. Not at all. That's fine. I'm over it at the moment. All I want to do is move on," Craig said in the interview which was posted on Time Out's website this week.

Source: Business Insider

Over and above, actors are required to travels to several continents to promote the movies these days and worldwide releases have (had) become commonplace. The schedule for the actors used to be gruelling often spending a day in three time zones. It was only fair that they are paid appropriately for the effort that they put in to make the film a success.

Magic Kingdom

Disney likes to maintain a very family-friendly image. They derive a lot of revenues through their merchandise sales as well as the sales at their theme parks; tickets and stay. The theme parks conceived by Walt Disney himself were meant to be a real-world interface for people with the characters that the studio produces.

As the pandemic started last year those who were working at the Magic Kingdom were magically furloughed (leave without pay). And then the CEO and the executive team paid themselves a huge bonus for the remarkable work that they had done over the year.

Disney is the embodiment of everything wrong with executive compensation. On this subject though, nobody has been more scathing than Abigail Disney, the daughter of Roy Disney, the former President of the Walt Disney Company and brother of Walt Disney.

Gender Inequality

Across the entire acting business, it is common knowledge that women are paid far less than their male counterparts. This has been shown time and again, in survey after survey. This is a conscious bias amongst studio executives.

Black Widow is only one of two superhero movies to be based around a female character.

Black Widow Movie

The movie was green-lit in 2017 and work on the production began in 2018 which culminated in the shooting in 2019. It was supposed to hit the screens in May 2020 but was delayed due to obvious reasons. As the vaccines rolled out across the US, seeing a window of opportunity in the summer as the mask mandates were being removed, Disney decided to go for the release.

The contract that was signed with Scarlet Johansson was probably done with windowing kept in mind. She should have been able to get a percentage of the income from the theatrical release of the film.

According to Johansson, her agreement with Disney’s Marvel Entertainment stated that Black Widow would play exclusively in theaters for 90-120 days. The lawsuit says that making Black Widow immediately available to rent on Disney+ put a big dent in Johansson’s potential earnings, since her salary was based in part on how the movie did at the box office.

[...]

The suit also notes that annual bonuses for Disney chairman Robert Iger and chief executive Bob Chapek are tied to the performance of Disney+ and cites that as further motivation for putting Black Widow on the service. Disney disclosed in its 2021 proxy that Iger and Chapek both received bonuses for the success of Disney+. “In short, the message to—and from—Disney’s top management was clear: Increase Disney+ subscribers, never mind your contractual promises, and you will be rewarded,” the suit said.

Source: Quartz

Since the theatres had been brought to their knees, Disney was able to simultaneously release the movie on theatres and Disney+.

Although Disney charges $30 for renting the movie on Disney+, the argument is that 20 people could be sitting in a room and watching the movie, where they would have instead had to buy 20 tickets at $20 apiece to watch it otherwise. This causes erosion of income to Disney as well as the star. But in the case of Disney, they have long term gains that they are focused on. The users acquired through this release might go on to pay a subscription of $10 a month for many many months to come. Which is free money for all practical purposes. Scarlet Johansson at whose expense this money will be made does not get compensated.

Thus far, Black Widow has fallen short of expectations. The $319 million it has earned internationally makes it one of Marvel’s worst performing movies. The film, which cost Disney+ subscribers an additional $30 to stream, earned $60 million in its opening weekend on the streaming service. According to anonymous sources cited by the Journal, the decision to open the movie on Disney+ has cost Johansson $50 million.

Source: Quartz

In the meantime, Disney obviously denies any wrong-doing

Disney, meanwhile, denies breaching the contract terms and says that the hybrid release was actually good for Johansson’s paycheck. In a statement, the company said that the move “significantly enhanced her ability to earn additional compensation on top of the $20 million she has received to date.” In its opening weekend, Black Widow made $80 million in ticket sales and $60 million in streaming rentals, the first time Disney has offered that kind of breakdown.

Source: Quartz

Disney made it a point to tell the press that they had paid $20 million upfront for the role and that she is getting the proportionate cut from whatever they are grossing. This is to ensure that when people read about it, they think Scarlett Johansson is an ungrateful bitch.

This is a not-infrequent problem when it comes to celebrities battling for their piece of the pie, particularly in industries like entertainment and professional sports, where the amount of money involved can seem staggering. If you’re a person who’s living paycheck to paycheck or struggling with unemployment or student-loan debt, the issue may not be whether Johansson deserves to get shortchanged (no!), but why we accept a system that assigns outsized value to certain professions.

On the other hand, most people agree that pay should be fair within an industry. When Ellen Pompeo spoke in 2018 about negotiating a $20 million contract for Grey’s Anatomy, she pointed out how much money Grey’s had made for Disney. “When your face and your voice have been part of something that’s generated $3 billion for one of the biggest corporations in the world, you start to feel like, ‘OK, maybe I do deserve a piece of this,'” Pompeo told the Hollywood Reporter.

Source: Quartz

Ultimately, Disney may be right. Those who were sceptical of going to the theatres would have still not gone to the theatres and that revenue would have been lost had it not been for the Disney+ release.

The last instalment of the Avengers series grossed almost $2 Billion so the $300 Million is quite underwhelming by comparison. Also for Scarlet Johansson, this is the last of the Marvel films, her character dies at the end of the movie. This is the last hurrah!

The real thing I think Scarlet Johansson should be suing Disney for is the absence of a worldwide release. Black Widow did not release in India. Disney+ does not have the rental model in India and the pandemic ensured that all theatres were closed. The truth is even if you were willing to pay money to watch Black Widow online in India, you could not have. You can't; even today!

I don't know how many other nations were skipped in this release.

A copy of the movie leaked out onto a torrent site and everyone who is really interested has probably already watched it. That revenue loss to the movie is far more grave than the reluctance to 'Window' the movie in the US.

What was the right thing to do

Releasing Black Widow on Disney+ right away was certainly more convenient for people who have grown accustomed to streaming movies at home. It’s likely that a lot more studios will be pursuing this route going forward. If they want to avoid a clash like ScarJo vs. Disney, they’ll follow the lead of Warner Bros., which agreed to give Wonder Woman 1984 star Gal Godot and director Patty Jenkins substantial bonuses when it decided to release the movie on HBO Max.

Source: Quartz

That was the right way to go about it. Cough up Disney, cough up!

Energy Conundrum

If I had the occasion to ask Elon Musk a question it would be this - "If he had realised after sinking half his wealth into Tesla that Hydrogen Fuel Cell was the right thing to do, would he have admitted it?" Of course, rhetorically, the answer will most certainly be a lie.

Two countries - Japan and Germany have been far ahead of the curve in terms of solving the road energy consumption issue. They also knew that Hydrogen Fuel Cell was the right way to go. Both countries also have the highest density of Hydrogen Fuel pumps in the world.

They say that in a meeting, you would often find that the Americans just can’t stop talking and the Asians would almost never talk. They just listen.

Here is one instance, where that has driven things in a fatal direction. Elon Musk was rabble-rousing, standing on the town square with a plate and spoon in hand saying battery-powered cars are the way to go (metaphorically and perhaps a little literally as well). And the Japanese were sitting around doing their zen thing instead of their Shaolin thing.

So now,

According to TheNew York Times, a top Toyota executive has met with congressional leaders behind closed doors in recent weeks to advocate against the Biden administration’s plans to spend billions of dollars to incentivize the shift to EVs. The executive, Chris Reynolds, has argued that hybrids, like the Toyota Prius, as well as hydrogen-powered fuel cell vehicles should also be in the mix.

In addition, Toyota is also pushing back against EV-friendly policy through the auto industry’s main DC-based lobbying group, the Alliance for Automotive Innovation. The group, which represents the major car companies and their suppliers and is chaired by Reynolds, has been arguing against the Biden administration’s plan to adopt the so-called California compromise as its official position, the Times reports.

Source: The Verge

At a time when half of the US is burning while the rest is submerged, it seems like the wrong thing to be lobbying for.

The real thing is, there is only enough lithium in the world to last us another 10 years. Tops. After that a shift to another energy storage source is inevitable. Musk is hoping to be on Mars by then, while simultaneously having contributed to making earth unliveable.

A Chinese company became the first major car battery manufacturer to unveil a sodium-ion battery last week. CATL, China’s homegrown lithium-ion battery giant, counts brands like Tesla and Volkswagen among its customers, and plans to set up a supply chain for the pioneering technology by 2023.

As clean energy technologies become increasingly important in the global economy, demand for critical materials like lithium, copper, nickel, and cobalt is expected to surge. Lithium is expected to grow fastest, with electric vehicles and battery storage technologies already accounting for 30% of total current demand for the metal, according to the International Energy Agency.

As it becomes harder to source, automakers and battery manufacturers are looking for alternatives to lithium, to hedge against supply disruptions and price spikes. Higher material costs could make lithium batteries more expensive, and lower demand within the industry.

Source: Quartz

The Asians are able to see what the Americans just do not seem to possess the smarts to. They are being led by a charlatan into the abyss much like the pied piper's story.

While lobbying America on the one end, Japan is moving ahead with a Hydrogen Fuel Cell powered future.

Japan's largest hydrogen plant powered by offshore wind energy is set to open on the northern island of Hokkaido as part of a national effort to slash carbon dioxide emissions.

Scheduled to begin operation as early as the year ending March 2024, the plant will produce up to roughly 550 tons of hydrogen a year -- enough to fuel more than 10,000 hydrogen vehicles, according to plans.

The effort represents a step toward creating a homegrown supply of hydrogen that is "green" -- made using renewable energy.

Source: The Nikkei

Space Pollution

Nope. Not the pollution in space. But the pollution being caused by the need to venture into space. I recently read a book called Ignition (should not have). What I learnt was that for the last 90 years, scientists have been burning all kinds of chemicals to find the right fuel to get to space. They started out with really toxic stuff like red fuming nitric acid (yeah there is a thing like that) and then settled on Hydrazine for a while before moving on to kerosene and eventually hydrogen. What we use today is mostly kerosene, hydrogen and oxygen as a catalyst.

We have Hitler to thank for all this, the Americans would have never figured it out all by themselves.

Bezos boasts that his Blue Origin rockets are greener than Branson’s VSS Unity. The Blue Engine 3 (BE-3) launched Bezos, his brother and two guests into space using liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen propellants.

VSS Unity, on the other hand, used a hybrid propellant comprised of a solid carbon-based fuel, hydroxyl-terminated polybutadiene (HTPB), and nitrous oxide (or laughing gas), while the SpaceX Falcon series of reusable rockets will propel the Crew Dragon into orbit using liquid kerosene and liquid oxygen.

Source: TED

The pollution that each of these launches causes is phenomenal. The greatest thing is SpaceX burns kerosene in the upper atmosphere and Elon Musk is able to talk about saving the planet with a straight face while at the same time sending these vehicles up at increasing frequencies.

So what happens exactly?

Burning these propellants provides the energy needed to launch rockets into space — but it simultaneously generates greenhouse gases and air pollutants. Large quantities of water vapor are also produced by burning the BE-3 propellant, while combustion of both the VSS Unity and Falcon fuels produces CO2, soot and some water vapor. The nitrogen-based oxidant used by VSS Unity also generates nitrogen oxides, compounds that contribute to air pollution closer to Earth. Roughly two-thirds of this propellant exhaust is released into the stratosphere (12 km-50 km) and mesosphere (50 km-85 km), where it can persist for at least two to three years.

The very high temperatures during launch and re-entry (which is when the protective heat shields of the returning crafts burn up) also convert stable nitrogen in the air into reactive nitrogen oxides. These gases and particles have many negative effects on the atmosphere. In the stratosphere, nitrogen oxides and chemicals formed from the breakdown of water vapor convert ozone into oxygen and deplete the ozone layer which guards life on Earth against harmful UV radiation.

Source: TED

So while the billionaires are sitting around writing business plans to rake in Billions more while they send tourists into space for a period shorter than a good orgasm, they are also going to be hurting the upper atmosphere of the earth.

During launch, rockets can emit between 4 and 10 times more nitrogen oxides than Drax, the largest thermal power plant in the UK, over the same time period. CO2 emissions for the four or so tourists on a space flight will be between 50 and 100 times more than the one to three tonnes of emissions that are generated per passenger on a long-haul airplane flight.

Source: TED

There is a special place in hell for these guys.

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