How COVID-19 has changed the movie industry
CANNES, France – It was almost a strange sight; Film previews and re-filled actors marching the Cannes Film Festival red carpet – maskless – as crowds of photographers rushed in.
With theatrical release on hold for over a year and the festival canceled last year due to the pandemic, even some stars were hit with what looked like a return to normalcy.
“I was a little overwhelmed last night, and I’m really glad we’re here this year. Because I think we’re all going to look back and remember the launch of COVID – and what a way to do it,” said said actor Matt Damon, who cried after the standing ovation he received at the premiere of his new movie, “Stillwater”.
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Beyond the glitz and glamor, the Cannes Film Festival is also home to the largest film market in the world, the Marché du Film. Installed inside the Palais des Festivals, a convention center behind the main theater where the premieres take place, the market is where thousands of directors, producers, sales agents and distributors from all over the world try to make , buy, sell or distribute their films.
“The Film Market is really the film business, we are the less sexy and exciting part of the film festival,” said Monique White, senior vice president of distribution for California Pictures, who comes to Cannes For years.
This year, the powerful actors in the cinema were eager to get back to work, hoping that the agreements reached here will serve as proof that the cinema business is back as well. The industry has been hit hard during the pandemic – global movie theater revenues in the United States have fallen from $ 42.3 billion in 2019 to just $ 12 billion in 2020, according to the Motion Picture annual report Association – letting film professionals scramble to adapt.
“COVID-19 has forced more changes in the film industry – from production and financing to distribution and exhibition – in 12 months than the company had seen in the previous decade,” wrote Scott Roxborough, head of the Hollywood Reporter’s Europe bureau.
Some argue that perhaps the biggest change has been the streaming boom.
“COVID has changed the way we look at anything now. Whether we only look on the internet, on Facebook, Instagram, Netflix, Hulu, whatever. We have more eyeballs on our computers and phones,” said White.
As tensions between traditional theaters and streaming platforms have been mounting for some time, the problem really came to a head during the pandemic, with the controversial online release of Universal Pictures’ “Trolls World Tour” in April 2020. heralding the start of a new era and sending shockwaves across Hollywood.
AMC, the country’s largest movie channel, responded by temporarily refusing to show Universal films.
“Previously there was a more professional arrangement that you would wait a while before you were released,” White said. “But now it really depends on the production and the producer and how they want to release the movie nationally.”
The feud between Universal and AMC was eventually resolved, but a number of other studios have since followed suit. Disney, the parent company of ABC News, has decided to release films like “Mulan” and “Luca” online, and WarnerMedia has announced that the company will release all of its 2021 films on HBO Max on the same day they hit theaters. .
The digital switchover even prompted the Oscars to change their eligibility rules – while films had to first hit theaters to qualify for the awards competition, the Academy is now allowing films released online to enter.
As a result, “Nomadland,” released on Hulu, ultimately won the Best Picture award, and Netflix took home seven awards and 35 nominations, the highest number of studios this year.
The recently announced Emmy nominations reflect a similar pattern, with streaming services winning more nominations in 2021 than broadcast and cable combined.
The Cannes Film Festival, for its part, maintains requirements that a film must first be released in theaters in order to qualify.
“Of course the streaming companies exploded and they needed a lot more product, which is great because now they are asking for more,” said Hernan Aguilar, a distributor focused on the Latin American market.
Aguilar said he sees an advantage in the switch to streaming.
“In general, it’s good that this is happening because there is a demand for more products,” he said. “The demand is increasing, so in that sense, that’s good.”
The change is causing some unease in the industry, with some fearing that streaming services will not only put theaters at risk, but producers and distributors as well. A number of streaming platforms are now producing their own content, instead of buying films made by independent filmmakers.
It is a subject which is in mind at Cannes this year.
“Cinema and projection platforms can coexist. At one time, it was thought that television was going to kill cinema. This stuff is not new. It’s all cycle,” said director Spike Lee, president of the jury. of the Cannes Film Festival this year.
Some argue that studios won’t be able to continue to bypass theaters because there is simply no substitute for box office revenue. The recently released blockbuster “F9” – released exclusively in theaters – grossed $ 70 million on opening weekend.
White predicts that streaming services will eventually have to raise their prices.
“They’re all going to increase. And before you know it, let’s say in the next couple of years it’s going to cost $ 20 for Netflix, I’m sure. It won’t be sustainable,” she said.
Aguilar thinks it will be the opposite.
“I think what’s going to happen is that there are going to be more and more streaming platforms and with the competition the prices will go down but I think it’s really not expensive at all in this time compared to movie tickets, ”he said.
Another big question: will streaming change the type of content produced?
“Streaming is definitely… if you see the quality of the content you see, you see lower quality in terms of the story or the way things are done,” said Juan Pablo Cadaveira, producer and co-founder of Blue productions.
It’s unclear what will happen next, but some are hoping the end of the pandemic will mean a return to cinema, pointing out that it was the Great Depression that inspired Hollywood’s golden age.
“I just think that now I hope that with the opening things up we will be less sure [streaming platforms] than we were before. No one wants to be in a small apartment. They want to go out, see people and go to the movies, ”White said.
“I think that as people go to church for religion, you go to the cinema to watch a good movie, but it’s true that for me people will do it less and less because it’s so much more easy to watch a good movie at home, ”Aguilar said.