HOLLYWOOD VACANCY: CAN STUDIOS OUTLIVE THE SHUTDOWN?
RECESSION IN TINSELTOWN
Chris Murray | March 27, 2020
It wasn’t long ago when Hollywood was celebrating the international win of South Korean film, “Parasite“, for Best Picture at the 92nd Academy Awards. A positive beginning to the new year, with staked flag in new representative diversity in the industry, followed up by “Sonic The Hedgehog” speeding right into a surprising and well deserved box office win. (I’ll defend the Sonic movie any day of the week). With new Marvel movies on the horizon, Star Wars themed content constantly releasing, video game franchises adapting onto HBO and more, it seemed Hollywood and the creative industry were on a northbound trajectory for fresh, if not new, content creation. With Disney+, AppleTV+ and now HBOMAX launching, all new individual streaming services being provided by every television network in addition to the already juggernaut Netflix, Amazon Prime and newly Disney acquired Hulu, the demand for creating content was in no way slowing down. It took but 3 weeks since the virus threat first started percolating the social space of the US before this town of tinsel and fame turned dark, with theaters abandoned, studios vacant, productions halted, and residents government mandated to shelter-in-place, practice social distancing and stay inside at all costs unless for emergencies or necessities. COVID-19 has created a major road block in the Hollywood ecosystem and ultimately the entire world, but how does this effect the movie industry in the long term?
SXSW throwing in the towel early due to the March festival falling right in line with the whirlwind of panic and confusion flooding our newsfeeds, gave the industry their forced wake-up call as years of planning, filmmakers, musicians, festival attendees and locals alike watched the lifeblood of Austin hemorrhage overnight. One of the largest film and music festivals in the country held in Austin, TX will be sitting out the kickoff of the decade for the first time in 34 years. Many filmmakers debuting their projects will have to re-shift their gears with new releases and re-structure a distribution plan moving forward, as well as look into going back to the well to re-inflate advertising budgets to rebuild hype for projects post pandemic, as not even six-time super bowl title holding Tom Brady’s announcement of joining the Tampa Bay Buccaneers could draw enough attention from the public during the pandemic. Cannes Film Festival followed suit along with countless other festivals in closing its doors, some postponing with undisclosed dates and others calling it a mulligan year to include the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo, now postponed until 2021.
“A Quiet Place 2” living up to it’s name all too well as vacant movie theaters postpone the releases of several upcoming films to include the new James Bond iteration “No Time to Die” Disney’s live-action remake of “Mulan” and Marvel’s “Black Widow” solo debut starring Scarlett Johansson pushed to what looks like an August release. A few of the many already in production effected include the now halted Sony “Uncharted” adaptation, an indefinitely postponed “SNL”, James Cameron’s “Avatar” sequels, “Matrix 4” and Amazon’s “Lord of the Rings” series all fail to avoid shutdown as the Corona virus continues to spread and government officials enforce the halt of all nonessential businesses. The already life-supported movie theaters pivoted quickly with studio support to on-demand movie releases to help off-set the crippling, near-zero box office revenue, as AMC furloughs it’s entire corporate staff of 600, including the CEO after a 42% loss in stock within the month. Bret Lang, Adam B. Vary and Matt Donnelly over at Variety pointed out how “There’s never been a global epidemic that threatened so many core pieces of media conglomerates at the same time.” ViacomCBS is in no better shape with over 50% loss of shares and even Disney takes a large hit with shares down 37% since January, and all six theme parks being closed for the first time in history.
The financial hardship of closing up productions extends far beyond the market and studio overlords as thousands of cast and crew go into forced career hibernation. Unemployed producers, directors, actors, cinematographers, editors, grips, electricians, set builders, artists, production designers, production assistants, sound engineers, coordinators are only a scratch on the surface of the large demand of talent and technical experts required to put together a film production; and in an already high-end real estate market of Los Angeles, the worry of losing creative minds, projects and futures alike all fall into question in an industry that is already fighting a battle of fair wages while already crippled from the impact of the newly enacted AB5 bill. With over 70 TV and Film Productions shutdown with indefinite returns and a list growing by the day, will the movie theaters survive such a critical blow to an industry that was already struggling to put patrons in seats with the new rise in at-home-streaming? Is this the rise of the On-Demand movie release and the ultimate long-form farewell of a way we consume our media? Only time will tell, but one thing is for sure, like in many other facets in our society, the industry will be forever changed and effected by the results of this global pandemic and how the industry recovers will pave the way for a new future in cinema.