You might know J.J. Abrams as the creator of hit TV Shows like Alias, Felicity, and Lost, along with films like Super 8, Cloverfield, and Mission: Impossible III. Oh, he also helped reboot Star Trek. And did I mention he was George Lucas' handpicked heir to the Star Wars franchise? Those are all pretty significant accomplishments, which combine to make Abrams one of the most sought-after creative minds in the entertainment industry.
Now you can add one more credit to his resume: "The guy who turned down a half billion dollars from Apple."
Instead of throwing in with Apple, Abrams signed a deal on Thursday for half that total with WarnerMedia. I mean, $250 million is still a lot of money, even in a world where the streaming-video big names are pretty much backing up Brinks trucks full of cash to lock in the top creative talent. Netflix, for example, just spent roughly that same amount for a deal with the duo behind HBO's Game of Thrones.
But this deal is different, and it shows exactly why Abrams turning down Apple is really quite brilliant. While Abrams will create content for a variety of platforms owned by WarnerMedia, including the upcoming HBO Max streaming service, he'll also be free to continue to work on projects like this December's Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker.
That freedom to continue developing projects associated with other studios was a major sticking point in negotiations with Apple, according to The Hollywood Reporter. Apple wanted Abrams to create content exclusively for Apple TV+, which isn't only an unproven platform but one that plans to forego studio releases of its original content.
Abrams, who is currently editing the final installation of the Skywalker saga for Disney, can be forgiven for wanting to keep his options open for future blockbusters that might come knocking on his door. His projects have already surpassed $2 billion at the box office. Which is why I think that turning down $500 million--at least in this case--is pretty smart.
It's hard to not be tempted by a big payday. The temptation is there for any entrepreneur because, the reality is, cash changes things. An investor comes along and offers a large investment, but has a few requests. A customer is ready to sign the biggest purchase order you've ever seen, but wants you to make a major change to your production processes. A partner has an opportunity that's too good to pass up, as long as you don't mind giving up control.
In the short term it's easy to overlook the cost associated with giving up that control, especially when that money can help you hire a team, perfect your concept, or deliver a better product. It's really easy to say "yes" to the money, but before you do, consider the hidden costs.
The challenge for every entrepreneur is to figure out what matters most and stick with that. Abrams wants to produce the projects that are interesting to him while building the brand and profile of his production company through TV shows, films, video games, and even sales from branded merchandise and amusement parks. Those are big goals, but he's certainly at a point in his career where no one can blame him for wanting to keep his options open.
In fact, the most striking thing about the process was that one of the most important considerations for Abrams is wanting to see his films in theaters. That's simply not a part of Apple's strategy, and while it may seem old school, give the guy credit for putting his money where his creative vision is.