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7 Burning Questions for Hollywood and the New Normal

The answers will reveal how we'll watch movies moving forward

The movie industry won’t stay shuttered indefinitely.

In fact, Georgia just announced that theaters will be one of the business categories set to re-open in mere days. Other theaters nationwide will follow suit, albeit slowly.

Debate Over Lockdown Of Open Spaces Intensifies As Georgia Reopens Beaches | TODAY

The flow of patrons will be similarly quiet, at least at first. Normal 2.0 is coming.

Having said that, what will Hollywood 2.0 look like? What will change about the film industry, and what will continue as if nothing ever happened? How will studios and bean counters alike adapt to the cultural changes forced upon them, and us?

The following 7 questions will go a long way toward determining what vision of Hollywood emerges once the pandemic fades.

Will the movie theater experience go the way of “Charlie’s Angels” reboots?

No. Not a chance.

We’ve been hearing this prediction for decades, first when affordable television sets arrived in the 1950s and later when cable TV offered new-ish movies at home. People crave going out to the movies – to flirt with dates, to bond with friends and to soak in the communal bond theaters provide.

What’s more exciting? Watching “A Quiet Place Part II” in your living room or a darkened theater with a hundred popcorn-clutching strangers?

No contest.

A Quiet Place Part II - Official Trailer - Paramount Pictures

A variety of factors weakened the theatrical experience in recent years, though.

  • The dramatic uptick in quality streaming fare
  • The rise of divisive actors insulting their audiences
  • The death of the Movie Star as a must-see attraction
  • A reliance on formulas at the cost of original storytelling
  • Social media platforms distracting film’s go-to demographic -- teens

All of the above hurt the film industry, and they’ll continue to erode viewership over time. Audiences will still return to their local cineplex. Eventually.

Will mid-range movies still debut in theaters?

That’s another topic entirely. Very few actors can “open” a movie in 2020. Ben Affleck sure can’t. The “Good Will Hunting” alum did the press rounds early this year to gin up interest in “The Way Back.” The basketball drama offered a rich character study that brought out the best in Affleck.

It still flopped.

THE WAY BACK - Official Trailer

Now, would that film fare better as a top-tier VOD release? Maybe. So far, Hollywood is stingy on sharing numbers from recent movies given an early VOD platform due to the pandemic like “The Invisible Man” and “Trolls World Tour.”

Chances are, a film like “The Way Back” would be a perfect fit for audiences who’d rather stay home, thank you. It’s hardly catnip to teens or 20-somethings. Maybe in a year, or less, similar movies will follow the VOD path.

Studios have plenty to think about in the coming weeks.

Which producer will lead the post pandemic comeback?

That’s easy. Jason Blum.

The Blumhouse Productions guru traffics in low-budget titles that make tidy profits. That gives him a huge advantage as theaters come back, even slowly. There’s far less pressure on his films to make back their budgets.

Even his “flops” manage that feat in a weekend or two. Plus, his films focus on audience-friendly genres – think thrillers and horror fare.

Even better?

Blum likes stoking national debates with films like “The Purge” (societal violence) “Get Out” (racism) and, most recently, “The Hunt” (our divided political age).

The Hunt - Official Trailer [HD]

Blumhouse titles are a snug fit for the theatrical experience, see the communal description above.

Will Hollywood’s political machine take a hit from the crisis?

Oh, yes.

That’s not just a conservative talking. In recent weeks we’ve seen mainstream and liberal news sites mocking celebrities for their tone deaf antics. Remember the “Imagine” debacle?

More recently, prominent stars like Stephen Colbert, Albert Brooks, Jimmy Kimmel and Patton Oswalt have slammed ordinary Americans fed up with their livelihoods getting locked down.

That’s one critical element. Another is Hollywood hypocrisy so massive you can spot it from space.
The industry’s #MeToo movement, so loud during the Kavanaugh hearings, fell silent the moment Joe Biden was credibly accused of sexual assault.

Combine all of the above, plus an effort to elect a man in obvious mental decline, will decimate what’s left of Hollywood’s moral leadership.

One Minute of Joe Biden Staring at His Notes | SUPERcuts! #760

Will indie films experience a bump from the pandemic?

It’s debatable. Indie films are coming fast and furious to VOD platforms everywhere, but so far the quality of the titles has been suspect. For every winner like “Man Camp” or “Resistance” we get clunkers (“Endings, Beginnings,” “We Summon the Darkness”) or movies that can’t live up to their promise (“The Quarry”).

This was indie film’s moment, and it’s unclear if its taking full advantage of it.

How long will it take before the first blockbuster reaches theaters?

I suspect we may get some mid-budget films to test the waters first. Fine. Good. What about “Wonder Woman 1984?” “Tenent?”

Some big movies had summer 2020 release plans lined up, and the pandemic changed most of that. When will Hollywood trust the market enough to release titles that need to generate hundreds of millions just to break even?

July is very optimistic at this point.

Can drive-ins make a legitimate comeback?

It’s doubtful. Some drive-ins currently offer the only movie experience in town, and the format remains a wonderful blast from our cultural past. Still, some states (Colorado among them) aren’t allowing them to pick up the cinematic slack.

The market conditions that drove so many drive-ins out of business, like rising real estate costs, will still exist post-pandemic. The current crisis may extend the lives of select drive-ins, though, a true silver lining in the chaos.

BONUS: How will movie theaters woo customers back?

It won’t be easy. Audiences will be wary to go anywhere outside their homes for a short spell. Then, they’ll need to be convinced that the theatrical product is superior to the crush of streaming shows flowing into their home.

The hardcore movie fans will come, no questions asked.

It’ll be up to theaters to sweeten the deal initially. Why not lower prices at the concession stand, if only for a limited time. Or, the existing membership deals from AMC, Alamo Drafthouse Cinema and their competitors can slash their fees.

Ultimately, the films themselves will have the final say. If we get more “Birds of Prey” and less “Wonder Women,” the industry could be in for a protracted slump.

 

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8 Comments

  1. The true and only gift an actor needs is the ability to lie convincingly, as professional liars they should stick to their scripts, once they speak their minds, it is clear, they are empty vessels.

  2. The film industry does not care or know who their customer is. Is it the streaming platforms/Redbox, or the theater chains? If I pay $30 for a pair of seats (or more in the Lux level w/ dinner) what’s on the screen better be good. Only 1 film got me out last year; Joker. It was worth it. Films going into national release must be at that quality level. If studios were consistent with films like that theaters would be filled. More tolerant of lesser works in my living room where I can bail out for something else, i.e. other streamers or Redbox. I don’t have much faith that the studios will figure this out anytime soon.

  3. The big question is does Hollywood want to be American or Chinese? All of the above questions pale in comparison to this question. Same question for all of Manhattan Media and Silicon Valley.

  4. “an effort to elect a man in obvious mental decline, will decimate what’s left of Hollywood’s moral leadership”

    uhhh, i’m not great at math, but is it possible for moral leadership to be below zero?

  5. Most theaters tore out all their seating and replaced it with massive recliners built to encourage sleeping. Now a small auditorium that used to seat a paltry 300 can only seat a miniscule 80 or so. And I get to sit where some fat guy took a drooling nap for two hours. Plus the film projectors were all replaced with 4k video that is measurably identical to modern TVs.

    So to recap, there are no crowds, no communal bonds, and no quality difference. What purpose do theaters serve, now?

    Full disclosure: I worked as a theater projectionist for over ten years. I now sell video and audio equipment.

  6. Maybe some of Hollywood’s finest drunken, drug addled, STD oozing, wife beating, child molesters will wake up in time to save their industry …….but I really doubt it .

  7. Actors getting involved in politics are ruining movies. The list keeps growing of actors who I will not watch, because I can’t forget what a jerk they are in real life and get into their movie character.

    Maybe we need to bring back the studios being in total control of their stars publicity. Movie stars lost their glamour when they started opening their big mouths.

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