Are We Headed Toward Theatrical Armageddon?

Broken 3D Glasses
No Time to Die has moved so many times I can't even remember when it was originally supposed to come out. 

We're at a crossroads in the film industry and no one is quite sure what the way forward is. You know the main problem, there's a highly contagious disease ravaging the world, and sitting indoors for a movie is an easy way to catch it. 

Theaters have been closed or at limited capacity for quite some time. We know the issue before usthey're going bankrupt and being replaced by streamers. Many will not survive. But aside from scary headlines, it's hard to see if the situation is as dire as everyone says it is on the ground. 

Well, The Guardian assembled seven experts to talk about what's happening and where things are going.  

Here's what we learned... 

Closed Movie Theater
Credit: Rebecca Rubin

I want to begin with this quote from Steven Gaydos, the executive VP of content at Variety, "In the summer we thought it might be turning a corner, but now things are racing out of control. So the future of the movie business is really the future of science. Whatever anyone misses about cinema or hopes for its future is irrelevant. COVID has a plan of its own."

We truly are at the mercy of science. 

That part frustrates me because I haven't taken a science class since high school and I have no idea when this is going to end. 

One thing we've seen is people pivoting from waiting to being proactive...by bringing the movie home. 

Kate Muir, critic and co-leader (with Akua Gyamfi) of the Critics Mentorship Programme at the London Film Festival said, "There’s a hope that cinemas will continue to exist, but I just meet people all the time who are buying home projectors. The book-club-style communal screening has taken off, where lots of people sit at home and watch a film together, and tweet and talk to each other on Instagram afterwards."

To me, this has become the future of most experiences. I still think we will see movie houses, but they will have IMAX screens and be reserved for the biggest blockbusters. We might see some smaller theaters pop up, or independent houses, but it looks like studios might gobble up the change to house multiplexes for just their titles. 

Some are a little more worried. 

Charles McDonald, a publicist, says "What’s galling is that before COVID, the UK box office was relatively healthy. Lots of the dangers that had been felt to be deadlyTV, video gameshad been fought off. Many cinemas had recently been refurbished. But that cost a lot of money, and many were still paying off that debt. If No Time to Die moves again, we really are into armageddon and everything will need a total rethink."

A movie theater in Beijing, China post COVID
Credit: AP

The future is impossible to predict.

Delphine Lievens, senior box office analyst at Gower Street Analytics says the future is a little bit like the Wild West. "In terms of next year, the industry is acting as if coronavirus is not going to be playing a role then, but the reality is that there are now too many films for 2021. The studios have been trying to avoid losses by not releasing this year, but they could be just as likely to face losses next year because the calendar will be very busythe likelihood being, if you release a blockbuster it will only have a week before the next one comes along. You’d think that as Tenet did OK outside the US it would give them confidence, but in this country, all the Hollywood output is controlled from the US, and I don’t think they have a handle on how things are going internationally." 

That seems par for the course. 

The world needs to get its act together, especially the United States. 

Once the virus is under control things can get back to normal, or whatever the new normal winds up being. 

If you want hope, look to Mia Bays, director-at-large, Birds’ Eye View Film. She thinks this shakeup was necessary and sees a light at the end of the tunnel. "It’s time to innovate, to reinvent what the film landscape looks likewe can keep kicking the doors open and breaking the windows for indie films with their more diverse voices and stories, work to bring bigger audiences to them now there’s more space (films like Nomadland, Rocks, Shirley). Our mission encourages audiences to be mindful of what they are seeing and we see lots more opportunities around thatthe localism that the pandemic has nurtured, the community support, the need for connection."

Got ideas for this innovation or predictions as to where the industry is going? 

Let me know in the comments.      

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2 Comments

Correction: we are at the mercy of nature, not science. Science is just one of our ways of making sense of the universe. We build our beliefs, our art and civilisation within a natural world that supports and sustains us (not the other way around).

This pandemic is a relatively polite reminder that our existence is fragile - a climate crisis will be a lot crueller and more dramatic in it's effects on humanity... and the film industry =)

And totally agree that this is a time to re-evaluate, to evolve and embrace new ways of thinking, creating and viewing - also as good a time as any to rework the power structures within film.

October 9, 2020 at 10:07AM, Edited October 9, 10:10AM

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John-Paul Bichard
Artist / photographer
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italy is a wonderful place, we are full of history, also in movie history, we were full of theater but in the last twenty years tons of theaters closes their door due the presence of multiplex opening, and most of indie and indipendent theaters closes... after covid most of theaters stay closed, i fear forever. In italy in past survived a lots of small and smaller theaters, but with covid the number are too weak only to pay energy to turn off light and projector, without talk about cost of movie renting, pay bill, pay people that work in, and more...
i hope early change something, but covid was only the last reason of a large number that change forever the way to see movie (told from me, that i like movie theaters, that also at home i had video projector and not a tv).

October 9, 2020 at 3:47PM

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Carlo Macchiavello
Director (with strong tech knowledge)
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