Ben Affleck can do it all. This year he wowed critics and fans as an alcoholic basketball coach in The Way Back, and we're also marking the tenth anniversary of Argo, the movie that shot him into the directing stratosphere. Not to mention his role of Batman in the coming Snyder Cut, and what he's directing next (more on this later).
So, when he goes on record about the state of Hollywood and where it could potentially end up in the future, we tend to listen.
Affleck spoke to Entertainment Weekly about the future of Hollywood, and he was concerned.
"I don't know what will be the reality post-COVID," he admits. "Who knows what the theatrical business will be like. What I think has happened is that people have grown accustomed during this time to watching from home. It benefited The Way Back, for sure. [Affleck's recent drama made only $14 million in its two weeks in theaters before the pandemic pushed it to VOD.] It had just come out so I think the ability to see a new movie at home enabled us to get many more viewers than would have come out to a theater to pay money to see a sad movie about an alcoholic dealing with the death of his child. People have now been acculturated to streaming and watching movies at home in ways they weren’t before, which probably accelerated a trend that was already taking place."
Despite those worries, Affleck has a killer project coming up. It's an adaption of the book The Big Goodbye: Chinatown and the Last Years of Hollywood, which chronicles the behind-the-scenes story of the 1974 classic Chinatown.
The book is enthralling and describes the method to the madness behind the movie, as well as what the writer and director (Roman Polanski and Robert Towne) had to endure as they created a movie that would define their careers. Many people consider Chinatown to be the best screenplay ever written.
But Affleck doesn't see this movie as being indicative of where Hollywood is going.
"I think after COVID movies like The Town, movies like Argo, all the movies I made would effectively end up on streamers," he speculates. "There will probably be like 20 to 25 movies a year that are distributed and they’ll all be big IP movies, whether it’s the type of movies that Disney makes like Aladdin or Star Wars or Avengers, something where you can count on the low-end being half a billion dollars worth of business. And I think it’s going to be very, very difficult for dramas and sort of mid-budget movies like [The Town] to get theatrical distribution. You’ll either see massive, massive movies getting huge wide-scale distribution or small movies doing little prestige releases in a few theaters but mostly being shown on streamers. I think that’s for better or worse, and you can draw your own conclusions, but that would be my best guess about the direction of the movie business just based on what I’m seeing now and experiences I’m having trying to get stuff made."
This is hard to stomach.
My entire life has been spent loving, appreciating, and trying to write these kinds of films. Now, at least the opportunities are not going away, but the idea of seeing your name in lights might be replaced by seeing your name on a TV screen.
And I know I am not the only one who feels this way. Hollywood is changing—hopefully, that means there will be new opportunities that come with it, but these changes are here now.
Look at a movie like Triple Frontier. Netflix was the only one to reach out to make that movie. That has to be a sign of the times.
Ben Affleck on the set of 'Live By Night'Credit: Claire Folger
Affleck agrees. "Triple Frontier did really well for them. Would it have been as successful and profitable theatrically? I don't know. But I know it was super successful for them, so the economics may really be shifting so that if you can generate a certain amount of viewership and if they can somehow demonstrate that they get a certain number of subscribers based on that material, then that means value. I think that's the future and it just sort of is what it is. I comfort myself with the idea that you can get a 60-inch TV now for $250, so people are definitely at least seeing it in greater detail, and even a little surround system isn’t that expensive. Now, I don’t particularly love the idea of putting all of the work that you put into a movie and then having somebody watch it on their iPhone; I feel like they’re just going to miss out on a lot. But, you know, sometimes the future makes up its own mind and you just have to go along with it."
Again, these are great points. We should be happy that writers and directors are being paid for these kinds of stories.
Opportunities are coming back, but distribution has changed.
We are learning now what the audience wants to watch and how they want to watch it. This shift is coming at the expense of big studios, who are still trying to find ways to preserve theatrical. But I'm not sure how long that will last.
With streamers still releasing content during COVID, I think we will see studios looking to monetize their catalogs either by selling them off or making an app people pay to access them.
There are a lot of things left in the air when it comes to the future of Hollywood. where do you see it going?
Let us know in the comments.