Filmmaker J.J. Abrams and his Bad Robot production company officially closed a deal to set up shop at WarnerMedia yesterday, but they didn’t simply go with the highest bidder when finding a new home. For years, Abrams and Bad Robot were housed at Paramount Pictures, but with that deal up for renegotiation this year, Abrams took his show on the road to visit other suitors. All the major players lined up, including Netflix and Sony Pictures, but it was Apple who made a very big play for Abrams in the range of $500 million.
Ultimately, Abrams and Bad Robot’s deal to produce movies, TV, games, and other content for WarnerMedia is worth a reported $250 million—about half of what Apple offered. So why did Abrams turn down the bigger offer? WarnerMedia offered something Apple couldn’t: flexibility.
When filmmakers and producers make overall deals with studios, they’re rarely exclusive contracts. Steven Spielberg created DreamWorks Pictures, but then subsequently made movies for Warner Bros. and 20th Century Fox. Likewise Abrams made Star Trek and Star Trek Into Darkness for Paramount, but his biggest film yet—Star Wars: The Force Awakens—is a Disney movie. His deal with Paramount didn’t prevent him from signing onto Star Wars when Lucasfilm came calling, and in setting up this new deal, Abrams likewise didn’t want to be tied down should a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity arise.
But as Apple enters the realm of original content, the company sought to sign Abrams to an exclusive contract. Per THR, they offered $500 million to house Bad Robot, but wanted the company only making Apple content. That meant that not only could Abrams only direct Apple movies, but his TV shows couldn’t be sold to other networks. An added concern was the fact that Apple doesn’t have a theatrical distribution model, so if Abrams did sign with them, his movies would only go directly to streaming.
Abrams and Bad Robot seriously entertained Apple’s offer, and even met with executives about Apple taking a large financial stake in their company. But ultimately the exclusivity proved to be too much, so Abrams passed on the $500 million and took the $250 million deal at WarnerMedia, where he will surely make new film and TV projects for Warner Bros., but is also free to entertain offers from other studios.
So we can probably look forward to Abrams being involved in a DC movie in some capacity in the near future, but if another studio is willing to make a film that WarnerMedia won’t or can’t, Abrams is free to take his project there. It’s the way things are done, and Apple is learning the hard way that they can’t exactly apply their model for making phones and tech over to the realm of original content without changing their tactics.