A new “Star Wars” series is in the works at Disney Plus, Variety has learned from sources. The series hails from Leslye Headland, the co-creator, showrunner, and executive producer of the critically-acclaimed Netflix series “Russian Doll.”
Details of the exact plot of the series are being kept under wraps, but sources say it will be a female-centric series that takes place in a different part of the “Star Wars” timeline than other projects.
Headland is said to be attached to write and serve as showrunner on the series, with the show currently staffing.
Reps for Disney and Headland did not immediately respond to Variety’s request for comment.
Headland also directed multiple episodes of “Russian Doll.” The show was nominated for 13 Emmy Awards for its first season, ultimately winning three. Headland began her career writing and directing the “Seven Deadly Plays” series, which includes “Bachelorette” and “Assistance.” “Bachelorette” was the basis for her directorial film debut starring Kirsten Dunst. Her other film credits include writing the 2014 remake of “About Last Night” and writing and directing “Sleeping with Other People.” Besides “Russian Doll,” her other TV credits include “Terriers,” “Blunt Talk,” “SMILF,” and “Black Monday.” She is currently under an overall deal at Fox 21 Television Studios, with the studio now under the Disney umbrella.
She is repped by Michael Sugar at Sugar23 and Steve Younger at Myman Greenspan. She is repped by UTA for directing.
News of the new series development comes after Variety exclusively reported that a third season of “The Mandalorian” is already in the works at Disney Plus ahead of the second season premiere later this year. “The Mandalorian,” one of the launch titles for the Disney-branded streamer, proved to be a major hit and pop culture phenomenon upon its release.
“It’s an incredible tragedy for the world,” chairman and CEO Reed Hastings said about the coronavirus pandemic, speaking on Netflix’s Q1 earnings interview.
Hastings said Netflix is “unsure what the future brings. It’s super hard to say if there are long-term implications.”
He said Netflix’s guess is that subscriber additions in Q3 and Q4 2020 will be lighter than the same period in 2019 because of a “pull forward” of subscriber additions in the first half of 2020 because of stay-at-home orders.
“Our small contribution in these difficult times is to make home confinement a little more bearable,” Hastings said, striking a tone of humility amid the company’s blockbuster Q1 growth. “Right now, we’re just focused on getting our content out, getting it dubbed.”
New ‘Star Wars’ Series in the Works at Disney Plus (EXCLUSIVE)
“People want entertainment,” Hastings added. “They want to be able to escape and connect, whether times are difficult or joyous.”
In its letter to shareholders, Netflix said it projects 7.5 million net additions worldwide for the second quarter, versus 6.8 million in the year-earlier period. “Hopefully, progress against the virus will allow governments to lift the home confinement soon,” the company said. “As that happens, we expect viewing and growth to decline.”
Chief product officer Greg Peters said Netflix’s focus has been to keep the service operating and available around the world. “At this point, we’re not even thinking about price increases,” Peters said.
In announcing earnings, Netflix touted worldwide estimates of how many households “have chosen to watch” a cherry-picked batch of originals. That included overnight sensation “Tiger King,” which has been sampled by 64 million subscribers since its March 20 premiere, according to Netflix’s metric measuring how many accounts watched a title for at least 2 minutes.
Ted Sarandos, Netflix’s chief content officer, commenting on “Tiger King,” called the docuseries an “unbelievably well-timed distraction.”
Netflix’s productions — like the rest of Hollywood — have been affected by the virus outbreak. But Sarandos said the Netflix originals slate for 2020 has largely already been shot with some titles in finishing stages of post-production, including “The Crown” season 4 and animated musical “Over the Moon.”
“We’re actually pretty deep into our 2021 slate,” Sarandos said. “We don’t anticipate moving the schedule around much and certainly not in 2020.” Given Netflix’s binge-release strategy, Sarandos noted, “We work really far out relative to the industry.”
Before Netflix resumes production on originals, “we want to make sure that it is an unbelievably safe working environment,” Sarandos said. “A series of things have to happen before we get into production anywhere, including the kind of the shelter-at-home orders being relaxed.” That said, Netflix is currently in production in Iceland and in Korea, and “we’re taking some of those key learnings about how we run those productions today and applying that to our plans to start our productions around the world,” Sarandos said.
On the product-development front, in its shareholder letter, Netflix said that “As a precaution, we have temporarily reduced the number of product innovations we try, while continuing to release features that we know will add meaningful value for our members, such as improved parental controls.”
“Over 20 years of watching different businesses, incumbents like Blockbuster and Walmart… I’ve never seen such a good execution of the incumbent learning the new way and mastering it,” Hastings said. “My hat’s off to them.” With Disney Plus’ fast start out of the gate, he added, Netflix has upped its investment in kids and family content.
The prerecorded earnings interview with Netflix’s senior execs was moderated by Guggenheim Securities analyst Michael Morris.
HBO Max has handed out three production commitments to one-hour dramas from Bad Robot Productions, including one set in the “Justice League Dark” universe.
In addition, HBO Max and Bad Robot have teamed on the series “Overlook,” inspired by Stephen King’s “The Shining,” and “Duster,” an original drama co-written by LaToya Morgan and Bad Robot’s J.J. Abrams. All three shows will be executive produced by J.J. Abrams and Bad Robot’s head of television, Ben Stephenson. Rachel Rusch Rich, Bad Robot’s executive vice president of television, will serve as a co-executive producer. Warner Bros. Television will produce all three shows, while Warner Bros. International Television Distribution will be the global distributor for all three shows.
“What an amazing start to our association with the wildly imaginative Bad Robot team under J.J. and Katie [McGrath],” said Kevin Reilly, chief content officer of HBO Max and president of TNT, TBS, and truTV. “What could be better than an original J.J. idea and then Warner Bros. letting them loose on iconic I.P. from Stephen King and the DC Universe and to provide more must-have programming on HBO Max.”
See RileyRose blog post: “‘Justice League Dark,’ ‘The Shining’-Inspired Series From Bad Robot Set at HBO Max”
No further details are currently available about the “Justice League Dark” series, including which characters would be featured in the show. In the DC Comics, the team consists of members like John Constantine, Swamp Thing, Madame Xanadu, Deadman, Doctor Mist, and many others.
The team was first introduced in 2011, with a live-action feature film based on the comic books having been in the works for years. It was most recently reported in January that DC and Warner Bros. were plotting both film and television projects in the “Justice League Dark” universe. An animated film was released in 2017, with Keanu Reeves having played Constantine in a standalone film in 2005.
“Overlook” is described a horror-thriller series that explores the untold stories of the Overlook Hotel, the most famous haunted hotel in American fiction. The project reunites Bad Robot, King and WBTV, who previously collaborated on the psychological-horror series “Castle Rock” for Hulu.
Set in the 1970’s Southwest, “Duster” explores the life of a getaway driver for a growing crime syndicate. Morgan is currently a writer on “The Walking Dead”. Previously, she was a co-executive producer and writer of AMC’s “Into the Badlands” and “TURN: Washington’s Spies,” and was a writer for NBC’s “Parenthood” and Showtime’s “Shameless.”
Other current Bad Robot shows include “Westworld” and the upcoming “Demimonde” and “Lovecraft Country” at HBO. The company is also producing “Lisey’s Story,” “Little Voice,” and “My Glory Was I Had Such Friends” at Apple.
Zack Snyder’s Justice League.
The “Justice League Dark” series is the latest DC project set up at HBO Max rather than the standalone streamer DC Universe. Others include an Aquaman animated miniseries, with Greg Berlanti executive producing two others — an untitled Green Lantern series and a series adaptation of “Strange Adventures.”
It was announced last July that the DCU show “Doom Patrol” had been renewed for a second season, but that season would be available to stream on both DCU and HBO Max, with Season 1 also becoming available on HBO Max upon the Season 2 premiere.
Zack Snyder’s Justice League releases on March 18, 2021.
Netflix — for now — is worth more than Disney after the streaming company’s shares hit an all-time high Wednesday.
Netflix’s stock, extending its three-day rally, closed up 3.2%, to $426.75 per share. That gives Netflix a current market capitalization of $187.3 billion, putting it just over Disney’s $186.6 billion, after the media conglomerate’s stock finished down 2.5% amid a broader market decline Wednesday. Previously, Netflix’s all-time high closing stock price was $418.97 on July 9, 2018.
Investors clearly are expecting Netflix to benefit from the COVID-19 crisis, with millions of people under stay-at-home orders — and looking for a diversion.
Netflix is scheduled to report first quarter 2020 earnings next Tuesday, April 21, after market close. It previously forecast total paid net adds of 7.0 million worldwide. Many analysts expect Netflix to gain more than that.
Pivotal Research Group now expects Netflix to net 8.45 million new subscribers for Q1. In a note Wednesday, analyst Jeffrey Wlodarczak raised his price target on the stock from $425 to $490 per share. “We believe the unfortunate COVID-19 situation is cementing NFLX’s global [direct-to-consumer] dominance partly driven by the incremental content spend that is enabled by their massive and growing subscriber base,” Wlodarczak wrote.
See RileyRoseAuthor.com blogpost: “‘Justice League Dark,’ ‘The Shining’-Inspired Series From Bad Robot Set at HBO Max”
Cowen & Co. more conservatively estimates overall 7.1 million net new Netflix paid subscribers (including 772,000 in the U.S. and Canada) for the first three months of 2020.
“We expect a strong [quarter] driven by a solid slate of originals coupled with a captive audience due to the COVID-19 pandemic,” lead analyst John Blackledge wrote in an April 15 note. Cowen also raised the price target on Netflix stock, from $425 to $445 per share.
Streaming has boomed during the quarantine, with U.S. viewing of internet video on TVs up 109% in March 2020 compared with the comparable four-week period in 2019, according to Nielsen data.
To be sure, Disney Plus also has cashed in on the global coronavirus lockdown, but many of the rest of the company’s businesses have been significantly disrupted by the crisis. Disney’s family-friendly streaming service surpassed 50 million paying customers worldwide, the company announced last week, buoyed by its recent launch in India and eight Western European countries.
Plan B Entertainment, the Oscar-winning production label co-founded by Brad Pitt, has signed a first-look feature deal with Warner Bros. Pictures.
The producer of Academy Award best picture winners “The Departed,” “12 Years a Slave,” and “Moonlight” will give Warner Bros. exclusive options on all film projects, returning to the studio home where it launched in 2002.
Warner Bros. Pictures will also handle global distribution of Plan B titles under the terms of the agreement. The move to WB comes after a three-year first look with Megan Ellison’s Annapurna Pictures.
The deal was announced by Plan B partner Pitt and co-presidents Dede Gardner and Jeremy Kleiner, with Warner Bros. Pictures Group chairman Toby Emmerich and WB production and development president Courtenay Valenti.
“Brad, Jeremy and Dede are extraordinary filmmakers,” Emmerich and Valenti said in a statement. “Their track record of excellence speaks for itself. We are so excited to collaborate with them on the dynamic and singular movies for which they are known.”
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Greg Laemmle never thought he’d recommend anyone to stream a movie at home. The best way to watch a film, as any theater owner like Laemmle will tell you, is in a darkened cinema with a tub of popcorn at the ready.
But along with atomizing life as we know it, the coronavirus pandemic has entirely disrupted the business of showing motion pictures on the big screen. There’s a great deal of ambiguity over when things will return to normal, and when activities like going to the movies can safely resume. That has forced Laemmle, who runs a family-owned arthouse chain in Los Angeles, and other exhibitors to get innovative to keep their industry alive at a time when they can’t operate conventionally.
“Obviously we are concerned about generating revenue during this period,” Laemmle told Variety.
Those anxieties have propelled some mom-and-pop multiplexes to take an unlikely step in the interim — launching “virtual cinemas” that allow audiences to see first-tier films from the comfort of their couch. For cinephiles who pledge loyalty to their local theaters, it provides an opportunity to financially support a sector of the industry that’s been seriously impacted by the pandemic.
Patrons can purchase a digital ticket, most of which cost around $12, giving them access to a link that is available for a few days. In short, the practice a lot like the streaming and home video routes that exhibitors have adamantly resisted for the last decade. But given the unprecedented times, theater owners are looking at it as a possible salvation — for now.
“There can be concerns longterm about what message we’re sending. Are we taking customers and turning them into streamers? We figured it was better to maintain a relationship with our patrons and distributors,” Laemmle said wistfully. “I’m not immune to the longterm concerns it presents, but it felt like the right thing to do.”
Alamo Drafthouse, Film Forum and the Angelika are a few of the theaters testing out the provisional path into digital. Some of the offerings available include Film Movement’s “Corpus Christi,” Robbie Robertson doc “Once Were Brothers” and Oscilloscope’s “Saint Frances. As with traditional movie stubs, theaters and distributors are splitting ticket sales proceeds.
In keeping with recent trends, theater owners are even attempting to recreate the same event-like atmosphere that would greet a theatrical release by live-streaming q&a sessions with filmmakers or actors. Alamo Drafthouse also created online substitutes to its signature programming series — Terror Tuesday and Weird Wednesday — and is encouraging people to socialize online following screenings.
“After movies, people hang in the bar or lobby,” said Sarah Pitre, Alamo Drafthouse’s senior director of programming and promotions. “Since they can’t do that anymore, we are going to move that conversation to our website, Birth.Movies.Death., and people can go there to compare notes. That’s as close as we can get to the Alamo experience without having doors open.”
It’s not just exhibitors that are reeling from indefinitely closed multiplexes. Almost every major movie set to release through the middle of summer has been postponed, resulting in an onslaught of tentpoles that need to plant flags back in the calendar. That leaves little room for independent movies to break out when theaters eventually reopen.
For that reason, this temporary model is favorable for companies such as Magnolia Pictures, Film Movement and Kino Lorber, which all thrive in arthouse spaces. Specialty labels can’t afford the same robust marketing spends as Disney or Universal to boost the profile of an upcoming release, so they rely heavily on support from theaters to entice their loyal consumer bases.
“We really depend upon the cumulative awareness that’s created theater-by-theater,” Kino Lorber CEO Richard Lorber said. “Their [recommendations] have a halo that says it deems spending your time and money on.”
Days before Lorber’s U.S.-based company was gearing up to release “Bacurau,” a Brazilian thriller that won the Cannes Film Festival Jury Prize, theaters in New York City and Los Angeles were ordered to indefinitely close.
“We were dismayed, of course. Hell, we had done so much advanced marketing,” Lorber said. “But creatively, we were spurred to innovation.”
Now, “Bacurau” is available for virtual release via cinemas from Chatham, N.Y. to Seattle, Wash. and over 100 locations in-between.
“We wanted to validate the possibility for the film to perform at some theatrical level, rather than send to iTunes or Netflix,” Lorber said.
Magnolia found itself in a similar position with “Slay the Dragon,” a well-reviewed documentary about gerrymandering in the U.S. Rather than postponing its early April debut or sending it straight to streaming, Magnolia opted to take it virtual theaters in an effort to capitalize on the film’s timeliness.
“We had already completed a lot of press, and making it available to a lot of people at once was the best way forward,” said Neal Block, Magnolia’s head of marketing and distribution. “Timing determined the release plan. It was coming up so fast that we decided with the filmmakers that we didn’t want to hold up the campaign and revisit it later.”
Some exhibitors were skeptical, Block admits, though most were willing to take a chance given the circumstances.
“Theaters seem happy to be able to offer something to keep patrons engaged,” Block said. “The interest was wider than I had anticipated. We offered it to all the theaters we work with, and for the most part, it was really popular.”
Despite social distancing in real life, streaming has been a unique chance for some distributors to interact more directly with customers.
“We so rarely get feedback from moviegoers about films, unless it’s people talking shit on Reddit,” Block said with a laugh. “People seem to want to support the movie theaters they love. To get feedback that’s warm and lovely, it’s been a nice silver lining.”