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What’s the Deal With Clint Eastwood and Warner Bros. Now That David Zaslav Is in Charge?

There are three certainties in life if you’re a Warner Bros. employee: death, taxes, and Clint Eastwood will still be on the lot long after you’re gone.

Eastwood is the one of rarest of movie stars who has actually managed to keep himself on the ever-changing radar of pop culture over the decades.

How many movie stars can make national headlines supporting gay marriage as he did in his no-nonsense way (thus appeasing those on the left) only to turn around and pull that empty-chair stunt at the Republican National Convention (thus appeasing those on the right) and not lose any fans in the process? That takes a special relationship with the moviegoing public. The kind of triple-threat celebrity who your parents and grandparents know on a first-name basis.

Eastwood’s enduring popularity has spanned generations, as has his presence on the Burbank lot. It’s not an exaggeration to say he’s been a staple there longer than most of you reading this have even been alive.

Regimes come and go as corporations change hands, yet Clint has always stayed put and kept doing his thing thanks to his ability to churn out films (as director, producer, and star) that consistently come in on time, on budget, and, most importantly, make money — in some cases, even blockbuster money, as with American Sniper, the highest-grossing film of 2014. He has also brought prestige to Warner Bros. via two Best Picture Oscars (Unforgiven in 1992 and Million Dollar Baby in 2004) and many more nominations.

Clint Eastwood and Warner Bros. just go together like salt and pepper, or peanut butter and jelly. It’s just that simple. Or, it was that simple…

Enter one David Zaslav.

David Zaslav
David Zaslav image via CNN

The recently-appointed head of Warner Bros. Discovery is no stranger to controversy coming off his decision to cancel Batgirl deep into post-production. The ramifications of that call are still being felt, given his inability to find an executive to run DC Films, since that’s what reportedly stopped producer Dan Lin from taking the position, which was all but his.

Of course, Clint has dealt with many studio heads in his day, so how could Zaslav be any different? As reported by the Wall Street Journal, Zaslav turned heads right out the gate, chastising executives over greenlighting Eastwood’s neo-Western Cry Macho:

“Warner Bros. executives conceded they had doubted the movie would turn a profit, people familiar with the meeting said. Why, Mr. Zaslav asked, was ‘Cry Macho’ made if they had reservations? When they replied that Mr. Eastwood had given the studio many hits and never delivered a movie late or over budget, he answered: We don’t owe anyone any favors.

‘It’s not show friends, it’s show business,’ he told them, quoting from the 1996 Tom Cruise movie ‘Jerry Maguire.’”

A bold statement from a bold man. Yes, making tough calls is why Zaslav was placed in the top seat. But aiming his ire at Eastwood, of all people, strikes numerous industry observers — not just us — as odd and rather short-sighted. 

Ever since the box-office failure of Cry Macho (a victim of former WB head Jason Kilar’s ill-conceived Project Popcorn) and particularly Zaslav’s quotes, it has been quiet on all fronts from both parties. Alarmingly quiet.

Above the Line placed calls to trusted sources to see where things stood between Clint and WBD to no avail. Nobody was talking.

In the wake of losing Christopher Nolan (the only filmmaker whose value there outranks Eastwood’s) to Universal Pictures and no indication he will ever return (even with the return of former WB head Alan Horn, now serving as an unofficial “consigliere” to Zaslav), it’s an especially questionable move to alienate Eastwood in lieu of “Batgate.” It’s just hard to sell your studio as the premiere home for top-level talent when you’ve lost your two biggest directorial assets in such high-profile fashion.

Michael De Luca
Michael De Luca image via Alberto E. Rodriguez

But perhaps there’s still a light lurking at the end of this dark tunnel. We couldn’t help but notice a recent remark from new WB film boss Michael De Luca, who in a statement to Deadline pertaining to director Matt Reeves and his commitment to both The Batman sequel and Warner Bros Discovery, De Luca said:

“Warners always had a tradition of being a home base for filmmakers, Clint Eastwood being preeminent among them.”

Perhaps we’re reading too much into this, but one doesn’t get the impression De Luca (who has been dealing with top talent since the early ’90s when he worked at New Line Cinema) would evoke the name of Eastwood aloud if bread wasn’t broken?

However, if I am simply seeing something that isn’t there, I’d like to give a constructive suggestion to both parties.

There’s no way to sugarcoat this, Mr. Zaslav, but Clint Eastwood is 92 years old. There is no telling how much time he has left. However, the odds are that he has one film left in him – two at best. It’s best for everyone to put aside whatever was said and get back to business — the business of making movies, profitable or not.

Your main objective is to bring down the studio’s debt. Thus some of your controversial plays. It’s a thankless role that you took knowing you’d have to get your hands dirty and do some damage. Trust me. I get it.

But it’s a good look for you to let Clint continue doing his thing for what precious little time he has left. Let him make whatever he wants to make (including a new Dirty Harry movie starring his son Scott, if that’s the case). We both know it won’t cost the studio that much, whereas dissolving their longstanding relationship to save a few measly bucks would send a horrible message to the town, its aging artists, and to Eastwood himself.

So the question you have to ask yourself, Mr. Zaslav, is whether you feel lucky. Because there’s only one Clint Eastwood, and another one isn’t coming through those studio gates anytime soon. So go ahead and make his day, because his legacy in Hollywood is already secure. It’s your own that you have to worry about…

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