Coronavirus and what it means for Hollywood

As I’m sure everyone knows by now, much of the world is currently on guard because of the coronavirus pandemic. Trump, thankfully, declared a state of emergency about the matter on (ironically) Friday the 13th of March. While some say that he should’ve taken such action sooner, this has already led to changes in numerous aspects of our society while specialists attempt to control the virus, which is contagious and fatal in some.

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For instance, numerous movies have pushed back their release dates. Some will no longer have a theatrical release and will become available for streaming sooner rather than later. Not long ago, Steven Spielberg raised objections over films from Netflix being eligible for Oscars, as those films never hit theaters. I can certainly understand where Spielberg is coming from, because it’s a nice thrill to see a movie (even a bad movie) on the big screen. At the same time, streaming has become more and more the norm in just a few short years. Hence, movies skipping theaters in this manner is becoming more commonplace. The coronavirus could be seen as a gasp-inducing way of reinforcing this, as some theater chains have closed their doors for at least the next few months.

On a sadder note, stars such as Tom Hanks and Idris Elba have tested positive for the virus. I hope and pray that they, and anyone else currently fighting it, will have a complete recovery.

But an economic loss is certainly in store for Hollywood as the postponed releases of such movies as the upcoming Black Widow and the James Bond film No Time to Die will delay any money for the advertising the studios have already invested in those movies.

Naturally, this means that there will be less red carpet premieres and the like. As a result, many people have already been laid off. Not the superstars, mind you, but the grips and other behind the scenes personnel who live paycheck to paycheck with each TV or film job they get. “Everyone is in a state of shock,” said Lia Towers, a key assistant location manager for a TV show which has ended its season ahead of schedule due to the virus, in an interview with Variety. “We have no idea when things will start back up again.”

Of course, there are good, hard-working actors who aren’t household names and must now find a way to make ends meet until the virus begins to subside. Festivals such as Tribeca, which highlight independently made films, have likewise been canceled. With no production start currently in sight until at least April, some are biding their time by looking at scripts they plan to tackle once things get better.

Others are looking at different revenue altogether. The head of the indie production company Between Pictures, David Garcia, told Variety that he’s focusing on working via web content or local news. “I’m trying to pivot,” he said. “We have no choice. We have to hunker down and try to make something happen.”

The good news is that help is on the horizon for those with a paycheck of 7+ digits for each film. A movement called #PayupHollywood, headed by TV writers Liz Alper and Deidre Mangan, have begun a campaign on GoFundMe in order to raise money for those who have lost work as productions are closed. “Unless and until Hollywood studios commit to compensating their support staff during production shut-downs, this fundraiser will provide a modest one-time stipend to as many Los Angeles-based support staffers in need as we can support,” Alper stated. “We will be asking support staffers to fill out an application for aid, then we will verify and fulfill requests based on the order they are received and the urgency of the applicant’s personal situation.”

I’m optimistic that things will look better in the months ahead. In light of this shattering bump to the world’s routine, it would be interesting to see how the entertainment industry begins to reshape itself after the virus has subsided. As I mentioned before, streaming was already becoming more and more part of daily lives before the virus hit. Since most theaters have closed their doors for the next few months, what will this mean for them when it’s deemed safe to reopen?

“We’ll see how long it lasts and how devastating it is or isn’t at the end of the day,” a studio executive told CBS News. “Hopefully when things get a little back to normal, people will be rushing out to theaters because they haven’t been there in a while.” But for some time, many have speculated that the practice of going to a theater to catch a film may be nearing its end, regardless of the virus.

“All this is happening in the context of an industry that was already weakened,” said Richard Rushfield, the editor of the entertainment newsletter The Ankler, to the Associated Press. “There’s no slack in the business to absorb this.” He also added: “A lot of analysts have been talking about how the old theatrical model is outdated and streaming is the future of Hollywood. Now we get a chance to see how that works out.”

The coronavirus has already forced some adjustments (even temporary ones) in the daily routines of most everyone. It will be interesting to see where the industry is a year from now.

Rob Kirchgassner

Rob is a blogger, critic, and author. His latest novel is The Thoughts of a Proud Nerd: A Story of Hope, available now from Amazon.

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