Arts and Entertainment

What’s Happening with the Film Industry?

Here’s how the film industry is coping with the pandemic.

Reading Time: 3 minutes

Cover Image
By Serena Chan

Thousands of movie theaters around the world were forced to close their doors due to the COVID-19 pandemic in early March. Some theaters are still closed while others are gradually gaining their customers back now, six months later. Yet, these closures are only one reason for the critical state of the film industry—many films that were set to release this year were pushed back, and others that were in the process of filming were postponed. With the increasing popularity of streaming services such as Netflix, Hulu, and Disney+, many aren’t even buying movies anymore. Will the film industry be able to recover?

A few shows and movies outside of Hollywood have resumed filming, but Hollywood is only making short music videos and small commercials with crews of 100 people at most. Studios have created new safety rules: frequent cleaning of equipment, limited filming hours, required masks, and COVID-19 tests every couple of days. Even so, crowded areas, unsanitary sets, and delays in testing have made future filmings uncertain. Upcoming movies like “Songbird” and “Courting Mom & Dad” resumed filming in early June but were shut down by SAG-AFTRA because they didn’t adhere to the safety guidelines. Sam Nicholson, chief executive of Pasadena visual effects company, stated, “Everyone is reluctant to start a shoot that could be shut down […] everyone in the production chain from the studios, to producers and directors, to actors and crew, lack the confidence to make any substantial local production commitments.” With fewer directors and producers willing to film and with fewer crew members to work with, a substantially fewer number of films will be released.

The global box office loss was at $7 billion in early March but skyrocketed to $17 billion months later. Though movie theaters are reopening, showing movies filmed before March, they aren’t making enough money to meet this deficit. Films like “Tenet” (2020) and “The New Mutants” (2020) were released in September and made $4.7 million and $1.6 million, respectively, on their opening weekend. In order for “Tenet” to break even, it needs to pull in around $800 million, since the filming and marketing costs were around $400 million. Around 70 percent of theaters in the U.S. are showing these movies, but the ones in New York City and Los Angeles, which account for a large percentage of box office sales (before COVID-19), are still closed. Though more movie theaters may open in the coming months, it’s going to take some serious sales to make up for the box office loss. In terms of employment, almost 170,000 people lost their jobs after the pandemic hit, and it’s likely that many background actors and extras won’t be rehired. Jeff Bock, a senior media analyst, told Fox News that the industry will house smaller crews, film at fewer locations, and require crew members to double up as extras while filming.

Not all aspects of the film industry are in trouble, however: streaming services are seeing a huge surge in viewership. Invoke, a market research company, found that 75 percent of responders are watching more on streaming sites than they used to, while Nielsen conducted a similar study and found that time spent on streaming platforms has increased by 34 percent since 2019. And these numbers aren’t going down anytime soon. Today’s streaming services house different genres of film and TV shows: Disney+ features Marvel, Star Wars, and viewings suitable for younger audiences; Netflix features fantasy, mystery, and romance; Amazon Prime features reality TV shows and older films, and so on. With their cheap prices and wide variety, streaming services are benefiting greatly.

With the current circumstances, many movies that would’ve been shown in theaters are now being released digitally, either on TV or on a streaming device. The most successful among such films is “Trolls: World Tour” (2020), released in April and grown to be the highest-grossing digital movie ever. The movie was priced at $20 for on-demand viewers and brought in around $100 million. Though it brought in less than its prequel “Trolls” (2016), “Trolls: World Tour” proved that a film could be released digitally and still be successful. Since then, a number of other films have been released digitally, including “Onward,” “Artemis Fowl,” and “Mulan,” all of which are available on Disney+. “Onward” and “Artemis Fowl” are available with the monthly subscription, but “Mulan” costs an extra $30 on top of the $6. Though the digital releases don’t differ in quality than the ones released in theaters, I personally would rather see a film in a theater, where the special effects are much more vivid.

The film industry has a lot of deficit to make up for, which will take time since many movies aren’t filming at the moment, and the ones that are have limited job offerings. If movie theaters in big cities like New York and L.A. don’t open up soon, the industry will fall behind. But this could be an opportunity: positive new developments prompted by the COVID-19 crisis might subvert the stale traditions of cinema.