CES: Warner Chief Ann Sarnoff Says Sending First-Run Movies to HBO Max Driven by Circumstances

Warner Bros.’ move to send first-run movies to the studio’s new streaming service HBO Max concurrently with their theatrical release was dictated by the pandemic, said Ann Sarnoff, CEO, WarnerMedia Studios and Network Group, during the virtual CES Jan. 13.

“We’re pivoting to be able to adjust to the environment we live in,” she said, adding, “I have some amazing movies that I would like the public to be able to see.”

As cinemas shuttered due to COVID-19, the studio made a controversial decision to release its theatrical slate through 2021, including Wonder Woman 1984 released on Christmas Day, in theaters (that were open) and at the same time on HBO Max for 31 days.

“We needed an alternative,” Sarnoff said. “Remember, this is a global theatrical release and HBO Max is only in the U.S.”

It’s very hard to launch a film theatrically in a pandemic, she said, noting that marketing in cities where a film is playing is planned out weeks in advance and, with theaters in danger of closely at any time, that wasn’t feasible.

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She noted that earlier in the pandemic the studio was able to release Christopher Nolan’s Tenet theatrically.

“We knew Tenet would play well overseas” where more theaters were open, she said.

Sarnoff joined the company in the summer of 2019, following the exit of Kevin Tsujihara, who left the position after allegations of sexual misconduct. When she discussed taking the studio job with AT&T CEO John Stankey, “he talked about breaking silos,” she said, and that has become one of her key aims.

“It is something I’m most excited about and most proud of,” Sarnoff said, noting “how siloed Warner Bros. was in and of itself.”

She has instituted weekly meetings on the company’s big franchises to discuss collaboration.

“You don’t want your fans to see your org chart,” she said, adding, for instance, “they can see the movies don’t have anything to do with the TV.”

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Sarnoff’s career prepared her well to become the first woman to head up the venerable Warner Bros. studio, she said. Before joining the studio, she was president of BBC Studios Americas, where she was responsible for driving growth and profit across the United States, Canada and Latin America. She oversaw L.A. Productions, linear and digital program sales and co-productions, home entertainment and licensing. She also led efforts to amplify BBC Studios’ global brands “Doctor Who,” “Top Gear” and the natural history brand “BBC Earth.” As board chair of the streaming service BritBox, Sarnoff guided the development and growth of the direct-to-consumer service, which offers U.S. and Canadian customers British television programming.

“My job at the BBC, I was the only executive that wasn’t sitting around a table in London, so I had to be a collaborator,” she said.

Stints at BBC and Nickelodeon helped her learn to work with “incredible franchises and IP,” she said.

Building out the franchise at Nickelodeon “has served me very well to this day” as she has the responsibility for driving such franchises as “Harry Potter” and the Wizarding World, “Game of Thrones” and the DC Universe, she said.

“We started thinking about what we could do for our DC fans this year,” she said of the superfan event the company launched virtually in September.

Called “DC FanDome: Explore the Multiverse,” the 24-hour event allowed fans to create and control their own viewing experience from more than 100 hours of on-demand content from television, films, comics, games and more — highlighting the work of more than 500 artists, writers and other talent from around the globe.

“We were able to connect virtually and celebrate the amazing movies we have coming out … as well as our TV shows,” she said, noting Venus Williams designed a whole line around Wonder Woman 1984.

Increasing diversity is another aim at the studio, she said.

“It’s a huge issue for me,” she said. “I’ve tried to blaze trails my whole career.”

She recalled having to conform to a male culture in an early job, hiding “female characteristics.”

“In terms of being a woman in this industry, it hasn’t been easy,” she said.

She says it’s a danger to have a “homogenous corporate culture where people are kind of finishing people’s sentences.”

A diverse workplace pays dividends, she said, adding that she learned from female colleagues to “get a seat at that table and make a difference.”

Longtime Warner Publicity Executive Melissa Hufjay Exits Studio

Melissa Hufjay, Warner Bros. Home Entertainment VP of publicity, TV, animation and originals, is exiting the studio after 18 years as part of the WarnerMedia reorganization.

Her position focused on executive oversight of WBHE’s full-service publicity department for the television business unit, including guiding and executing all public relations initiatives and activities on physical and digital for television, genre, family, animation (Warner Bros. Animation and acquisitions), Blue Ribbon Content (live-action and animation), and WBHE-produced live-action films and special Interest home entertainment initiatives, including brands such as DC Comics, Hanna Barbera, LEGO and Warner Bros. Animation. For the past year, Hufjay has also reported into Warner Bros Television, working to streamline comprehensive campaigns for TV productions through the home entertainment window.

Hufjay is highly respected in the industry. Among her many public relations successes are campaigns launching the home entertainment releases of “Friends,” “The Big Bang Theory,” the “Peanuts” and “Sesame Street” franchises, popular Blue Ribbon Content, and WBHE-produced live-action films (including the Cinderella Story, Deep Blue Sea and Critters franchises), as well as launching and orchestrating publicity and marketing activities for more than 40 films in the ongoing DC Universe movies series over the past 13 years. In addition, she handled publicity efforts for the NFL, NBA and NHL home entertainment releases.

A graduate of George Washington University, Hufjay’s 28-year career has included publicity positions at studios and publicity firms including Paramount Pictures, Castle Rock Entertainment, DreamWorks, Rogers & Cowan and Warner Bros.

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“While change is not easy, it’s something I’ve always embraced,” Hufjay said. “I’ve had an amazing 17-and-a-half-year run at Warner Bros. and will forever be grateful to my mentors and colleagues. After spending most of my time with superheroes, my immediate plan is to focus on my family over the holidays but I’m so excited to choose the next step in my career.”

‘Tenet’ to Debut on Digital and Disc — Including 4K — Dec. 15

Christopher Nolan’s Tenet will arrive on 4K, Blu-ray, DVD and digital Dec. 15 from Warner Bros. Home Entertainment.

Written, directed and produced by Nolan (Inception, Dunkirk), Tenet opened globally in August 2020 and has grossed $350 million to date, with anticipated theatrical openings in the major markets of New York and Los Angeles still to come. Tenet will be available to preorder from digital and physical retailers beginning Nov. 10.

In the film, armed with only one word — Tenet — and fighting for the survival of the entire world, the Protagonist (John David Washington) journeys through a twilight world of international espionage on a mission that will unfold in something beyond real time — not time travel, inversion.

Tenet features an international ensemble cast led by Washington (BlacKkKlansman, TV’s “Ballers”). The film also stars Robert Pattinson (the “Twilight” films, The Lighthouse, upcoming The Batman), Elizabeth Debicki (Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, The Great Gatsby), Dimple Kapadia (Angrezi Medium), Martin Donovan (Ant-Man, Fahrenheit 451), Fiona Dourif (Cult of Chucky), Yuri Kolokolnikov (The Hitman’s Bodyguard), Himesh Patel (Yesterday), Clémence Poésy (Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows), Aaron Taylor-Johnson (The Avengers: Age of Ultron), with Michael Caine (Inception, The Cider House Rules, The Dark Knight) and Kenneth Branagh (Dunkirk, Murder on the Orient Express).

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Extras include“Looking at the World in a New Way: The Making of Tenet,” an hour-long exploration of the development and production of the film as told by the cast and crew.

‘Blade’ Coming to 4K Dec. 1

The 1998 vampire thriller Blade will be released on 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray combo pack and digital on Dec. 1 from Warner Bros. Home Entertainment.

Directed by Stephen Norrington (The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen) and written by David S. Goyer (the “Dark Knight” trilogy), the film, based on the Marvel comic, stars Wesley Snipes, Stephen Dorff, Kris Kristofferson, N’Bushe Wright, Donal Logue, Udo Kier and Sanaa Lathan.

Snipes stars as Marvel’s iconic half-vampire, half-human vampire hunter Blade. With all the strengths of a vampire, and none of their weaknesses, the Day Walker uses his incredible gifts to hunt his enemies in his search for the one that killed his mother and turned him into the monster he is. Blade’s fight leads him to Deacon Frost (Dorff), a rising force in the vampire world, set on raising a vampire God bent on destroying mankind.

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The 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray disc of Blade will feature Dolby Vision HDR and Dolby Atmos sound.

Extras include commentary with Snipes, Dorff, Goyer, Theo Van De Sande, Kirk M. Petruccelli and Peter Frankfurt and an isolated score with commentary by composer Mark Isham.

‘42’ Joins ‘Black Panther’ on ‘Watched at Home’ Chart as Viewers Remember Chadwick Boseman

A second movie starring Chadwick Boseman, Warner’s 42, debuted in the top 10 on the weekly “Watched at Home” chart for the week ended Sept. 5, joining the Disney-distributed Black Panther, which joined the chart the prior week.

Chadwick died of cancer at the age of 43 on Aug. 28. In 42, he portrays baseball great Jackie Robinson; in Black Panther, he plays a Marvel superhero. Coincidentally, Major League Baseball Aug. 28 celebrated Jackie Robinson day, with all players wearing No. 42, which no doubt added exposure to that particular Boseman film.

The weekly Watched at Home chart, which tracks transactional video activity (both digital and on DVD and Blu-ray Disc) compiled from studio and retailer data through DEG: The Digital Entertainment Group, saw 42 debut at No. 9. Black Panther, which had been No. 9 a week earlier, rose to No. 6.

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Robin’s Wish, a Vertical Entertainment documentary about the life and death of late comic actor Robin Williams, bowed at No. 16 on the weekly “Watched at Home” chart.

Two films newly released to DVD and Blu-ray Disc, Lionsgate’s action thriller Rogue, with Megan Fox as a battle-hardened mercenary, and the political satire Irresistible, from Universal Pictures Home Entertainment, also appear on the chart for the first time.

Rogue (No. 12) finds Samantha O’Hara (Fox) leading a team of soldiers-for-hire on a daring mission to rescue hostages from their captors in rural Africa.  They wind up stranded and have to battle not only brutal rebels but also a horde of enraged lions.

Irresistible (No. 19) was written and directed by Jon Stewart and features a cast headed by Steve Carell, Rose Byrne, Chris Cooper, Mackenzie Davis and Topher Grace. Carell portrays a campaign strategist who runs a Democratic mayoral candidate (Cooper) in a small right-wing town. The film, from Focus Features, was rerouted from a May 2020 theatrical release by the coronavirus pandemic and instead debuted in June on premium VOD. It became available through regular digital channels on Aug. 18.

Both Rogue and Irresistable were released on DVD and Blu-ray Disc Sept. 1.

Also new to chart is Warner Bros.’ Beetlejuice (No. 18), spurred by the film’s Sept. 1 release on 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray.

The top five remain unchanged from the prior week. Paramount’s popular TV drama series “Yellowstone,” long a favorite among home viewers, again took the top three spots on the chart, with RLJ Entertainment’s The Tax Collector remaining at No. 4 and Universal’s The King of Staten Island again at No. 5.

  1. Yellowstone: Season 1 (Paramount)
  2. Yellowstone: Season 2 (Paramount)
  3. Yellowstone: Season 3 (Paramount)
  4. The Tax Collector (RLJ Entertainment)
  5. The King of Staten Island (Universal)
  6. Black Panther (Disney)
  7. Trolls World Tour (Universal/DreamWorks)
  8. Harry Potter Complete 8-Film Collection (Warner)
  9. 42 (Warner)
  10. The Silencing (2020, Lionsgate)
  11. Sonic the Hedgehog (Paramount)
  12. Rogue (Lionsgate)
  13. The Outpost (Screen Media)
  14. Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure (MGM)
  15. The Vanished (2020, Paramount)
  16. Robin’s Wish (Vertical Entertainment)
  17. 1917 (Universal)
  18. Beetlejuice (Warner)
  19. Irresistible (Universal)
  20. Made In Italy  (IFC Films)

 

Source: DEG: The Digital Entertainment Group
Includes U.S. digital sales, digital rentals, and DVD, Blu-ray Disc and 4K Ultra HD sales for the week ended Sept. 5.

‘The Silencing’, ‘The Vanished’ Among Five New Releases on Weekly ‘Watched at Home’ Chart

Five new films appeared on the “Watched at Home” chart for the week ended Aug. 22, led by Lionsgate’s The Silencing and Paramount’s The Vanished, both of which debuted in the top 10.

The Silencing debuted at No. 6 on the weekly chart, which tracks transactional video activity compiled from studio and retailer data through DEG: The Digital Entertainment Group. The  U.S.-Canadian action thriller follows a reclusive hunter and police sheriff who track down a murderer they suspect kidnapped the hunter’s daughter five years earlier. The film, released through digital retailers on Aug. 14, was directed by Robin Pront from a screenplay by Micah Ranum and stars Nikolaj Coster-Waldau and Annabelle Wallis.

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The Vanished (No. 7), also released through digital retailers in mid-August ahead of an Oct. 20 DVD and Blu-ray Disc release, is about an idyllic family vacation that turns into a living nightmare for parents Paul (Thomas Jane) and Wendy (Anne Heche) when their young daughter disappears without a trace. When the local sheriff (Jason Patric) fails to chase down any new leads, the frantic parents have no choice but to take matters into their own hands.

Also new to the “Watched at Home” chart are RLJ Entertainment’s Spree (No. 15), a horror satire that follows a social media-obsessed, ride-hail driver played by Joe Keery, and Sony Pictures’ Sputnik (No. 18), a Russian science-fiction horror film that stars Oksana Akinshina as a young doctor who is recruited by the military to assess a cosmonaut who survived a mysterious space accident and returned to Earth with a dangerous organism living inside him.

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Warner’s Deathstroke: Knights & Dragons, a direct-to-video animated superhero film version of the CW Seed series of the same name, debuted at No. 20 after its Aug. 18 disc release date. The film was released through digital retailers two weeks earlier.

The top five on the “Watched at Home” chart for the week ended Aug. 22 remains unchanged from the prior week, with RLJ’s The Tax Collector at No. 1 for the third consecutive week. The film, which stars Shia LaBeouf and Bobby Soto as “tax collectors” working for a Los Angeles crime lord, was released through digital retailers on Aug. 7.

Rounding out the top five are DreamWorks Animation’s Trolls World Tour, distributed to home audiences by Universal Pictures, and three seasons of Paramount’s “Yellowstone,” with Kevin Costner.

  1. The Tax Collector (RLJ Entertainment)
  2. Trolls World Tour (Universal/DreamWorks)
  3. Yellowstone: Season 1 (Paramount)
  4. Yellowstone: Season 3 (Paramount)
  5. Yellowstone: Season 2 (Paramount)
  6. The Silencing (2020, Lionsgate)
  7. The Vanished (2020, Paramount)
  8. The Outpost (Screen Media)
  9. Made In Italy (IFC Films)
  10. You Should Have Left (Universal)
  11. The Rental (IFC Films)
  12. Deep Blue Sea 3 (Warner)
  13. Jumanji: The Next Level (Sony)
  14. The King of Staten Island (Universal)
  15. Spree (2020, RLJ Entertainment)
  16. Scoob! (Warner Bros.)
  17. The High Note (Universal)
  18. Sputnik (Sony Pictures)
  19. Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom (Universal)
  20. Deathstroke Knights & Dragons (Warner)

 

Source: DEG: The Digital Entertainment Group
Includes U.S. digital sales, digital rentals, and DVD, Blu-ray Disc and 4K Ultra HD sales for the week ended Aug. 22.

Like, ‘Valley Girl’ Bows on Disc Oct. 6

Valley Girl, a musical romantic comedy adaptation of the 1983 film, arrives on Blu-ray and DVD from Warner Bros. Home Entertainment and MGM Oct. 6.

From MGM’s Orion Pictures and directed by Rachel Lee Goldenberg, the film stars Jessica Rothe (Happy Death Day, La La Land) as Julie Richman, Josh Whitehouse (The Knight Before Christmas) as Randy, Mae Whitman (The Perks of Being a Wallflower, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World) as Jack, and Judy Greer (13 Going on 30, Ant-Man, 27 Dresses) as Diana.

Set to a new wave ’80s soundtrack, the film follows a pair of young lovers from different backgrounds defy their parents and friends to stay together.

The 1983 classic, directed by Martha Coolidge, starred Nicolas Cage and Deborah Foreman.

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Study: Consumers Streamed ‘Contagion’ Movie Often During Early Pandemic Days

Director Steven Soderbergh probably never envisioned how his 2011 sci-fi drama Contagion — about the global effects to trace the origins of the MEV-1 pathogen — would foreshadow real world events. The drama, which featured an international cast and myriad cameos, was the most-streamed movie in March and April, according to new data from JustWatch.

The website, which offers content recommendations in more than 45 countries, found that in 36 countries there was huge demand for the movie, with monthly searches on Google spiking upwards 16.6 million. Before the pandemic, around 130,000 people searched for the movie per month.

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Outlier countries included Spain, France, the Baltic states and southeast Asian countries where movies such as Oscar winner Parasite, Warner Bros.’ Harry Potter or Lionsgate’s The Hunger Games were streamed more than other content.

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‘Scoob!’ Surges in Home-Viewing Demand After Blu-ray Disc, DVD Release

The animated Scoob! debuted at No. 2  on the weekly “Watched at Home” chart the week ended July 25, with demand for the film skyrocketing in the wake of its release on Blu-ray Disc, 4K Ultra HD and DVD.

The Warner Bros. film was the first full-length animated Scooby-Doo movie intended for theatrical release, but with the mid-March closure of theaters due to the COVID-19 pandemic the film instead debuted digitally, on premium VOD and EST, on May 15.

Another rerouted animated movie, Trolls World Tour, from DreamWorks Animation, remained at No. 1 for the fourth consecutive week on the “Watched at Home” chart, which  tracks transactional video activity compiled from studio and retailer data through DEG: The Digital Entertainment Group.

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Scoob! was available for streaming on the new HBO Max SVOD service prior to its release on physical media.

Paramount’s three seasons of “Yellowstone” again rounded out the top five.

With no new theatrical product entering the home entertainment pipeline, home viewing demand remains high for recent high-profile feature films such as Paramount’s Sonic the Hedgehog, Universal Pictures’ The Invisible Man and Sony Pictures Jumanji: The Next Level, which finished at Nos. 7, 8 and 9, respectively.

Another PVOD release, Universal Pictures’ The High Note, starring Dakota Johnson and Tracee Ellis Ross, debuted at No. 10 after its release through regular digital channels. The film becomes available on Blu-ray Disc and DVD on Aug. 11.

Also new to the chart: Lionsgate’s Capone, a multi-platform release about the notorious gangster Al Capone (No. 18), and the British science-fiction film Archive, released digitally to home audiences by Vertical Entertainment (No. 20).

  1. Trolls World Tour (Universal/DreamWorks)
  2. Scoob! (Warner Bros.)
  3. Yellowstone: Season 1 (Paramount)
  4. Yellowstone: Season 3 (Paramount)
  5. Yellowstone: Season 2 (Paramount)
  6. The Outpost (Screen Media)
  7. Sonic the Hedgehog (Paramount)
  8. The Invisible Man (Universal)
  9. Jumanji: The Next Level (Sony)
  10. The High Note (Universal)
  11. Force of Nature (Lionsgate)
  12. Bad Boys for Life (Sony)
  13. Bloodshot (Sony)
  14. Batman Beyond: Seasons 1-3 (Warner)
  15. Harry Potter: The Complete 8-Film Collection (Warner)
  16. Birds of Prey (Warner)
  17. The Hunt (Universal)
  18. Capone (Lionsgate)
  19. Fantasy Island (Sony Pictures)
  20. Archive (Vertical)

 

Source: DEG: The Digital Entertainment Group
Includes U.S. digital sales, digital rentals, and DVD, Blu-ray Disc and 4K Ultra HD sales for the week ended July 25

Comic-Con@Home Panel Plumbs the Depths of Shooting Underwater in ‘Deep Blue Sea 3’

There were several challenges when making the third installment in the “Deep Blue Sea” feature franchise, including overcoming the usual difficulties with shooting on water (a la Steven Spielberg’s legendary struggles with Jaws) and coming up with a new premise that didn’t involve an underwater lab, as the two previous movies had.

Global warming came to the rescue on the script. Screenwriter Dirk Blackman did some research on small islands sinking as the oceans rise and had a moment of inspiration.

“I thought, ‘Let’s sink the town,’” he said during a July 24 online panel at Comic-Con@Home for the July 28 digital and Aug. 25 Blu-ray combo pack and DVD release of Deep Blue Sea 3 from Warner Bros. Home Entertainment.

The film follows Dr. Emma Collins and her team, who are spending the summer on a sinking island studying the effect of climate change on great white sharks. Their routine is disrupted when a team led by her ex-boyfriend and marine biologist Richard shows up looking for three rogue bull sharks.

Director John Pogue discussed the logistics of shooting four major underwater action sequences at the South African location.

“We figured out a way to be 360 with our water set so that we could have all of the sets gathered around this cove and most of the rest of everything else was made up digitally,” he said.

The underwater scenes got an assist from some professionals.

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“There are so many additional safely issues with shooting around water, from what can happen with electricity to people falling in, so safety was paramount,” Pogue said. “We were very fortunate in that we had this incredible South African team called the Frog Squad that do underwater projects all over the world. They are essentially South African SEALs that also make movies.”

The actors spent time training and getting scuba certified before the shoot, noted Emerson Brooks, who plays Shaw, a sort of brother/father figure for Emma.

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“I think all the training that we did, all the real underwater experience … that really added to it, that put you in it, certainly,” added Tania Raymonde (Emma).

The water in the winter in South Africa was cold, and “we were always wet, always wet,” she recalled.

Shooting in water posed challenges for the director as well.

“I think about 30 % of the time it went as planned— so many things would break,” Pogue said. “The communication underwater is super challenging. You’re basically talking to 20 people with a giant underwater megaphone that no one can really understand.”

Mumbling like the teacher a “Charlie Brown” special, Nathaniel Buzolic (Richard) demonstrated what the actors could hear underwater.

“There was this underwater megaphone that looked like something from the Victorian era, which is like a box with a string on it that was threaded all the way down into the water,” added Raymonde. “Once you suit up and you’ve got your regulator and they make sure you’ve got air in the tank and check all your levels and you’ve got everything on and you go under, it’s kind of a pain to get back up to the surface, take everything off, go get notes from John and come back in. So once we were in the tank and underwater, we were pretty much underwater and stuck and that was it. … And when you’re under there, you don’t hear anything because your regulator is so loud. Every time you take a breath there are bubbles everywhere, you can’t hear anything.”

The Frog Squad helped interpret by using a sort of “sign language,” she said.

“[The process] definitely influenced the tone of the movie in that there’s a more realistic as opposed to a controlled, stylized feel to the movie, where we’re trying to sort of use those happy accidents that happen as a result of this chaos,” Pogue said.

He credited the cast for being game to go the extra mile in shooting the action sequences.

“During the casting process, one of the things that we talked about was, given the resources that we’ve got, that you’re going to have to do your own diving and your own stunts,” he recalled. Deep Blue Sea 3 wasn’t “one of those movies where we just sort of stop everything and bring in your double,” he said.

“In many of the key sequences, it was very important that we see your faces, we see you experiencing what’s happening in the action,” he said.

Bren Foster, a martial arts expert who plays Lucas, noted the action on land was equally intense.

“You kind of bring it above the water, and all hell breaks loose,” he said.

Inspired by another shark movie The Deep, screenwriter Blackman added a fight.

“I don’t expect to see a fight, necessarily, in a shark movie, so we have a fight,” he said.