The creators behind HBO Max’s Batgirl say they were so stunned by the streamer’s decision to scrap the movie that they tried to log onto the server and record their work on a cellphone before their access was quickly revoked.
Directing duo Adil El Arbi and Bilall Fallah recounted how they learned the “shocking” and “painful” news in a video posted to their individual Instagram accounts Wednesday afternoon.
The movie was one of two upcoming feature-length projects that were sacrificed as the newly merged Warner Bros. Discovery undergoes a vast corporate restructuring. By canceling and shelving the film, the conglomerate is able to write it off as a loss and lower its tax burden while it focuses on its sky-high debt.
In an interview for the YouTube channel SKRIPT posted on Monday, the directors said Warner execs assured them “it was not a talent problem from our part or the actress, or even the quality of the movie.”
The abrupt cancellation disappointed fans who were eagerly awaiting another entry in the DC Extended Universe. Shot entirely in Glasgow, to the chagrin of some local businesses, the film was also expected to serve as a star vehicle for singer Leslie Grace, who appeared in the pandemic-delayed musical In the Heights to positive reviews.
“I didn’t even realize that was a possibility,” El Arbi says of HBO Max’s decision. “It was as if we were [making] movie history right there.”
As previously reported, the directors—who were born in Belgium—were in Morocco for El Arbi’s wedding at the time. In Wednesday’s video, Fallah stops to acknowledge the terrible timing: “Congratulations, bro,” he tells his creative partner.
I didn’t even realize that was a possibility. It was as if we were [making] movie history right there.
When they got the call, Fallah was in Tetouan visiting his grandparents’ grave, while Fallah was an hour away in Tangier, enjoying his on-site honeymoon with his wife.
“Thank God that my beautiful superhero wife was there with me to support me through this time,” El Arbi says.
The duo were still putting the finishing touches on the superhero flick, they revealed, adding that they were missing all the visual effects and hadn’t yet completed the necessary re-shoots. With both of them out of the country for what was supposed to be a celebration, they tried to get ahold of all their footage before the studio locked them out of the remote server that held their movie.
“I called, right away, Martin Walsh, the editor, and said, ‘Yo, you gotta pack up that shit, you know, backup—copy the movie,” El Arbi says.
Bilal adds: “Then Adil called me and said, ‘Yo, yo, shoot it on your phone!’ So I went on the server and everything was blocked.”
El Arbi quickly apologized for his unsuccessful attempt at “piracy.”
“That was not the right thing to do, but I was panicking, you know,” he says.
When the axing first became public, a source close to the directors told The Daily Beast that it was all due to money. The film was conceived as a direct-to-streaming movie, meaning that the production was far less flashy, though not that much less expensive, than that of a theatrical film. It’s a strategy that Warner Bros. Discovery CEO David Zaslav finds very little justification for, considering that putting movies online draws significantly less revenue than putting them on the big screen. That’s a problem, because Zaslav is charged with lowering Warner’s $50 billion debt, a priority that has led to massive layoffs at HBO Max and the outright removal of many shows from the platform as it pursues more tax write-downs and the slashing of residuals.
“It’s the final fuck you to Jason Kilar. This is not about art, it’s about financial engineering,” a source told The Daily Beast earlier this month. “It’s not a $90 million movie, it’s $60 to $70 million,” he added, disputing the reports about the movie’s total cost. “It was built as a small movie for the streamer. To do it theatrically, they’d have to spend another $40 million in special effects and making it bigger, and even more money in marketing and distribution.”
Grace, for her part, addressed the cancellation in an Instagram post on Aug. 3.
“On the heels of the recent news about our movie ‘Batgirl,’ I am proud of the love, hard work and intention all of our incredible cast and tireless crew put into this film over 7 months in Scotland,” she wrote. “To every Batgirl fan – THANK YOU for the love and belief, allowing me to take on the cape and become, as Babs said best, ‘my own damn hero!’”
A few industry insiders will be lucky enough to get a sneak peek of the Batgirl cut at secret “funeral screenings” on the Warner Bros. lot this week, according to The Hollywood Reporter.