Warner Bros.' silence is speaking louder than words.
Hours after a mass shooting at a Colorado movie theater during opening night of the final installment of the Batman trilogy left 12 dead and 58 wounded, the Time Warner studio kept mostly to itself, issuing a statement of sympathy, but not saying much about how it might handle the film. The quiet stance came even as many pundits opined that the movie studio might have to scramble to figure out how to continue to market the much-hyped "Dark Knight Rises" even as the nation reeled from the very real tragedy surrounding the incident.
Warner Bros. quickly made the decision to cancel its Paris premiere and cast interviews, and shortly after, to scrap premieres in Mexico City and Tokyo. On top of this, the studio postponed reporting weekend box office results until Monday afternoon and made a sizable donation to help victims of the shooting.
All of this was done with little fanfare, press releases or publicity, and as a result, Warner Bros. is being praised by marketing and crisis experts for handling the crisis discreetly.
"They were understated in managing the situation," said Sophie Ann Terrisse, CEO at STC Associates, a brand-management firm. "They did this without over publicizing it. These were subtle gestures."
Warner Bros. declined to comment on its strategy over the weekend, yet another move in keeping the spotlight on victims and their families.
"You don't want it to appear that the story is about you," said Allan Mayer, a crisis-management expert at 42West. "You want to be sensitive and helpful, but not over-the-top or take the spotlight proclaiming how wonderful you are for taking these measures."
The studio did not go so far as to cancel showings of the movie, which Mr. Mayer also said was the right move. "The trick is not overreacting," he said.
Despite conflicting reports regarding Warner Bros. asking TV networks to pull spots for "The Dark Knight Rises," a studio insider said this was not the case and that select networks pulled the commercials out of their own accord, not because they were prompted. A spokeswoman for News Corp.'s Fox on Friday said the network had pulled an ad for "The Dark Knight Rises" slated to run Sunday after Warner Brothers made the request. Fox ran "The Teen Choice Awards" on Sunday night. Other networks, including CBS, ESPN and NBC also made plans to take the ads off the air, according to a report in The Los Angeles Times, though it remained unclear whether they did so due to a Warner Bros. request or out of their own concerns.
Despite the tragic incident, "The Dark Knight Rises" grossed more than $160 million during its debut weekend, according to analysts, making it the third-highest opening weekend behind "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2" and "The Avengers." Warner Bros. did not comment on the numbers.
Warner Bros. has also had to consider its upcoming movie "Gangster Squad," which includes a scene with gunmen opening fire in a movie theater. Warner Bros. pulled the trailer on Friday and Variety has reported that the studio will re-film the scene, which could delay the opening until January from the original debut of Sept. 7.