The impact of COVID-19 on the film industry

Many movies we have been looking forward to watching on the big screen this year have been postponed or released straight to streaming services. So where does this leave the film industry? (Image Source: UNI Global Union)

By Meika Bottrill | @meikabottrill

As COVID-19 escalates globally and more restrictions are put in place, businesses small and large are suffering in their own ways. The film and television industry is not exempt from this.

For many, film acts as a form of escapism from the reality of the lives we live in. And now, as we face a global pandemic and have more time than ever on our hands, escapism is exactly what people are looking for.

But, as cinemas are forced to shut worldwide, and production for films and television shows have been postponed, we will have to wait a little bit longer to watch the movies we’ve been anticipating.

James Bond: No Time to Die, Wonder Woman 1984 and Black Widow are only some of the movies that have postponed their release dates until later this year or next year.

Additionally, government restrictions have forced movies still filming to stop production, drastically changing the deadlines for upcoming films.

Senior lecturer for screen studies at the University of South Australia, Dr Saige Walton, believes we have never seen this much of an impact to all levels of the industry before.

“Shooting on local [and] international films in production have been suspended, cinemas are on hiatus, release dates for ‘big’ features are delayed until later in the year [and] major film festivals have been cancelled or postponed until 2021,” she said.

While the impact on the film industry is felt on all levels—like so many other industries—it is the smaller production companies who suffer the most.

The big studios [and] conglomerates will be just fine … Disney is not going anywhere and neither are the major blockbusters,” she said.

“It is the local film production I would be more worried about.”

In a piece written in the Guardian, costume designer Kristin Burke explained it is not just the viewers who suffer when films are postponed.

“All of those shows that were in mid-production at the shutdown? Their sets are still set up on those soundstages that are now going to be in high demand by new projects,” she wrote.

“The actors working on those shows … have commitments already booked for July and August that will require shuffling, in order to complete the old project that was shuttered.”

The situation isn’t completely dire though, as not all companies have decided to postpone their release dates, and some are finding alternative ways to bring their films to your screens.

Dr Walton said that streaming services are now the main financial source of revenue for big production companies.

Instead of audiences paying money at the box office for a new high-profile release, you can see a new film such as The Invisible Man for $25 via Foxtel On Demand.”

This shift tells us a lot about the future of the film industry, as we rely on streaming services more and more.

“I think it signals a major paradigmatic shift in theatrical distribution models that has been coming for a while through providers like Netflix [and] we will start to see a greater fragmentation of the market in terms of distribution,” Dr Walton said.

As more movies begin to be released directly onto streaming services a question arises: if a film isn’t released in a theatre, is it really a film?

“What will happen at awards season, if we are not allowed to congregate to watch these films on the big screen?” Ms Burke wrote.

“Would they not be considered films? Would they not be nominated for Oscars? The pandemic is forcing this discussion, one that has taken too long to resolve.”

In times of devastation, there is always positivity, and film companies and directors have shown unique responses to COVID-19.

In Berlin, a project titled Window Flicks has projected movies on apartment buildings so viewers can watch from the comfort of their balconies. They have even gone as far as door knocking to offer popcorn to those watching the films.

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Two people watching a projected film from their own balcony in Berlin. (Image Source: Odd Andersen/AFP/Getty)

As viewers, the main way to support the industry is to expand the range of content that we watch and support smaller film companies on platforms such as Telstra TV, or BigPond Movies where you can purchase the film outright.

And if one thing is certain, it is that this pandemic would make for an extremely interesting movie.

“I’m expecting to see a real spike in zombie, virus, apocalypse and pandemic films which I am entirely okay with,” Dr Walton said.

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