By Josh Silva
As part of the endless feedback loop of life imitating art imitating life, Steven Soderbegh’s chillingly prophetic film, Contagion, climbed to the tops of the streaming charts amid the coronavirus outbreak, causing the Director’s Guild of America to appoint Soderbergh leader of a committee for resuming film productions as safely as possible. Always ahead of the curve, the director had already filmed the Meryl Streep-led comedy, Let Them All Talk, for nascent streaming service, HBO Max, aptly timed to launch May 27th. The service has invested billions for shows based on universes of Stephen King, DC, and Game of Thrones. However, its most potent draw to new subscribers is Friends. The complete series is not only included on the platform, but a reunion special, delayed by Covid, is also down the line.
While Covid has hurt and delayed many productions, it has undoubtedly shifted the spotlight to movies and shows premiering digitally. According to CNBC, Trolls World Tour has, in three weeks, accumulated $100 million in rentals, or two thirds of what the first Trolls made in its five month domestic run. Along with that, films like Onward, The Invisible Man, and The Call of The Wild have floated atop the rental charts after being pulled from theaters. In light of the streaming successes, AMC Theatres has refused to play any of Universal’s future releases. AMC chairman Adam Aron said, “his policy… also extends to any movie maker who unilaterally abandons current windowing practices absent good faith negotiations…”
The fate of the theatrical experience post-Covid remains uncertain, with financial analysts claiming AMC is likely to file for bankruptcy. Such a loss would create a hole in the industry likely to be filled by the Disney monopoly’s inescapable clutches. That action is not yet legal, but in November 2019, the Justice Department announced their intention to abolish the Paramount Consent Decrees, which prohibited studios from theatrically distributing their own movies, since 1948. In a world where most films shown at multiplexes are Disney produced, their acquisition of theater chains would solidify a control of the industry that exists in all but name.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, indie productions are also adapting to Covid’s impediments. Sundance darling Never Rarely Sometimes Always, Eliza Hittman’s harrowing drama of a teenage girl’s search to get an abortion, has also shifted to digital after its theatrical release was halted. While Sundance luckily avoided the pandemic, other festivals like Tribeca, Cannes, and SXSW were not so fortunate. The latter partnered up with streaming behemoth Amazon Prime to launch a selection of 39 films in the festival’s lineup from April 27th through May 6th, the most infamous being a documentary chronicling young men’s online insecurities, TFW NO GF, probably the first film committed to “incelluloid”. YouTube is also partnering with 20 of the world’s most prestigious film festivals to program a similar event in spring.
Like every industry, the mood surrounding film is that of uncertainty. Hollywood exists in an anomalous limbo between growth and entropy. For now, we can only entertain ourselves with the few movies that have slipped through the cracks amid this panic, awaiting a return to normalcy in Hollywood that, even after Covid has gone, may never come.