Don't Let COVID-19 be the End of Cinemas...
This is what you’ve been preparing for. Your entire life of volunteer self-isolation and fear of social interaction has allowed you to finally feel at peace for being lazy and watching films indoors for the foreseeable future. It seems that the current COVID-19 pandemic has erratically changed the way many people live their day to day lives, whilst causing a huge shake-up to businesses and the public’s income in the process.
Quite frankly…it sucks. But you already knew that. Not only are people dying and idiots still proudly gallivanting around Benidorm singing DJ Otzi’s Hey Baby! as they down pints of Fosters (not Corona, don’t want to catch the virus of course) as if they’re the second coming of Jesus, but countless people are unsure if they’ll be able to make it through this period with homes let alone jobs. Oh, and for some reason the public believe that toilet paper has taken on some fascinating value like it’s skipped the apocalyptic event and gone straight to the world’s next version of currency. This isn’t even remotely satirical either. But whilst soap operas are coming to a halt and all the elderly people that aren’t losing sleep over that phone daytime TV shows complaining that they can survive ‘a cold’ because they survived whatever war was happening when they still had their original hips, there’s been a troubling development that’s piggybacked off the situation and could spell disaster for the future of entertainment.
That’s right, surprise! I’m more worried about films and television than the human race. But can you blame me? It’s not as if our species’ actions over the past month have proven we’re worth saving.
But it’s not the postponing of releases and filming that’s the problem here. I know we were all itching to see Trolls: World Tour but it appears as though that can wait. And that just makes sense. With the theatres now (forcibly) closed, it seems as though those of us who’ve been asking releases to slow down so they can catch up have actually got their wish. Or have they?
It appears as though the powers that be behind distribution have decided to take another, more-troubling route. That, of the early VOD (video-on-demand) release. Now again, this makes perfect sense for the first batch of films that were utilising this procedure. Films like The Invisible Man, The Hunt and Sonic the Hedgehog have already been released theatrically and stand no chance of hitting box-office success if re-released at a later date. Thus the idea of renting a digital copy of the film at an inflated price so you can watch it at home is the ideal solution. Problem solved; we can all get back to waiting for season three of Ozark.
But the problem is bigger it seems. It’s no secret that the cinema industry is in decline thanks to the prominence of streaming services like Netflix and Amazon Prime. As it becomes easier to stay indoors and keep up to date with releases the companies and independent theatres are having to pull out all the stops in order for you to still consider seeing a film a viable option for a journey outside. It’s not entirely unjustified of course. Ticket prices have hiked up for many and one in five viewings is usually ruined by a loud audience member or someone’s phone screen, but it’s an unfair uphill battle.
When John Krasinski’s A Quiet Place: Part Two was postponed indefinitely, there was a logical domino effect. The next three months are a big slate of nothing. Both shows and films have halted all production, and many that are finished are being held back until they can be allowed to thrive. At least…that’s the way it should be. Remember Trolls: World Tour earlier? Turns out Universal is going to be releasing the Dreamworks animation simultaneously for digital rental, allowing those without cinema access to see the film at home at the same time. Now Warner Bros. are considering doing the same for Patty Jenkins’ upcoming Wonder Woman 1984. These are tentpole, blockbuster releases expected to bring in hundreds of millions of dollars theatrically, yet a premiere on the incoming HBO streaming service seems to suffice.
The general cost of these 48-hour rentals appears to be around £16, meaning if more than one of you are going to be watching at home, you’re saving money between the two of you. Time will only tell if this system works for Trolls: World Tour and whether mass audiences will be willing to spend the same kind of money on this streamlined service.
The problem is if it’s successful…could this be the end of cinema? Not in the Scorsese way of course but literally. Go back twenty-odd years and you used to have to wait almost an entire year in order to get Toy Story on video. Because this wait was longer, there was added value in seeing a film in the cinema. Because you knew this was going to be your only chance to see a film for a while. Nowadays, it’s just a three-month gap (shorter if you get the digital copy!) and the film might even still be fresh in your brain when you rock up to HMV. Admittedly I’ve always been a sucker for physical media and the glorification of movie watching, but this instantaneous delivery system for films could put millions of people out of work.
Chains like Cineworld and Odeon, whilst evil, provide many job positions for the public alongside smaller independent cinemas. The entire distribution industry goes out the window if this takes off. Not only that, but many films are designed to be seen on the big screen. Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk just doesn’t work as well when you’re distracted by microwave beeps and next door’s dogs barking. Hypothetically let’s say Wonder Woman 1984 is sent straight to digital and manages to make its money back. Studios will start to wonder why they’ve been spending time paying other companies and marketing agencies to promote and screen the film when they could just let it slip into the public consciousness and reap a neat little profit.
COVID-19 seems to have sped up the process to its inevitable turning point. The millions of freelance workers in the media industry aren’t covered by any of their government’s cover pay or sick pay schemes. The people whose blood, sweat and tears went into those films/TV shows/podcasts you’re being told to binge right now are currently riddled with uncertainty over their future because of this. And if a huge chunk of the entire process is soon thought to be expendable and removed then their futures don’t contain one iota of hope.
I know it might seem trivial to many to get worked up over this when lives are at stake, but it’s just another troubling setback and major side-effect to the current pandemic we’re in. So please, when this is all over, go see that film you’ve heard good things about on the biggest screen possible. Why? Because you’ve just spent weeks indoors and it’s something to do. Stock up on gift cards for the future and support small screens as much as you can. Stop making the same joke about watching Contagion and wondering “OoOoOh HoW DiD tHeY kNoW????”.
Edit: It now appears as though Warner Bros. have denied the claim that Wonder Woman 1984 will head to streaming services. It's still only a matter of time until another company picks their releases to experiment with...
And for fuck’s sake stay indoors if you’re able.
Thank everyone you know who works for the NHS.
Don’t spread misinformation. Skype people and video chat.
Don’t be a dingus, wash your fingers.
P.S. Toilet Paper is not going to run out. Don’t leave that anus red raw.
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