To say that the film industry is sitting on a precipice seems, somehow, to be an understatement. 2020 has seen delay after delay of films — from tentpole blockbusters like Black Widow to smaller-scale thrillers like Last Night in Soho.
In fact, a more apt metaphor might be Wile E Coyote sitting on the limb of a tree as he saws through it in an attempt to send Road Runner to his death. Whether the studios or the cinema chains are Wile in this scenario, however, is less clear.
Either way, the descent from the tree is happening now in slow motion, the news that No Time To Die was delayed a year being, for one chain, the final rasp of the saw. Soon after, it was announced that Cineworld is shuttering its UK locations, and its US counterpart Regal Cinemas is closing its doors Stateside too.
Setting aside the fact that Cineworld's own employees only found out about this when the news broke (which is despicable, to say the least), the announcement came as a huge blow not only to the industry at large but to Cineworld itself, whose shares dropped 36% in the wake of the news. Odeon followed a similar, if less drastic tactic, choosing to remain open only during the weekend. (Showcase cinemas will remain open.)
To lay the blame squarely at the feet of cinema chains is only partially valid – blockbuster movie studios certainly deserve their fair share, too. After all, in the UK there's nothing legally stopping 007 from debuting in its November 2020 slot.
Whatever your feelings are about the safety of going to the cinema, the fact is that movies (and other arts organisations) haven't been given the same support as restaurants (which, arguably, could fare slightly better during a pandemic when people are ordering delivery). And yet the Prime Minister decided to "encourage" us to go to the cinemas, as if it's our fault that their doors are closing, and our responsibility to save them.
Even more galling, Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak has suggested that artists and musicians retrain to find new jobs. He told ITV "I can't pretend that everyone can do exactly the same job that they were doing at the beginning of this crisis."
ITV added: "Asked whether he was suggesting some of the UK's 'fabulous musicians and artists and actors' should get another job, the chancellor suggested there is still work available in the creative industry but said 'as in all walks of life everyone's having to adapt'.
Only 'viable jobs' qualify for the new job support scheme, which replaces the furlough scheme. Clearly, Sunak doesn't see actors, directors, screenwriters, dancers, musicians, cinematographers, choreographers, playwrights and others as people with viable jobs.
In reality, according to Eric Wold, analyst at B Riley Financial, "Studios must be willing to take a hit to feed the industry and keep the exhibitor group from completely falling apart" (via The Hollywood Reporter). However, studios were likely put off taking that risk based on Tenet's box-office performance.
There are a lot of factors to consider financially – studios are reliant on these mega-blockbusters to pull in mega-bucks, but that's in part because they cost so much to make. Butts on seats is the best way to recoup their budget.
However, if smaller, lower-budget films were made more consistent, it would only take smaller, frequent audiences to break even. Smaller audiences can social distance easier, and safely, to keep the industry from teetering off the edge.
The delay of blockbusters also impacts smaller and independent cinemas — regardless of whether they're owned by Cineworld (like Picturehouse is) or not. Speaking to The Telegraph, executive director of Rio Cinema in east London Oliver Meek said: "If a giant like Cineworld is falling, it just shows how difficult it’s going to be
"Bond is always one of our bigger box-office successes for the year. We are relying on a film like Bond to fill our auditorium for a couple of weeks and it subsidises our other films."
None of this is to mention the thousands of jobs lost. People who the government are so keen to get spending – eating out to help out – now have no security as we face colder, darker months.
Who will bear the financial brunt of trying to keep the industry from our aforementioned metaphorical death at the bottom of a cliff? Those who prioritised the economy over people's lives and ignored those whose livelihoods are tied to the arts should. And yet..., and yet.
And yet, it shouldn't be all doom and gloom. It isn't a question of if films will recover but rather how. It has become painfully clear that the monopoly of some studios and cinema chains isn't tenable, and it is clearly up to us — everyone who loves films — to try and chart a new course.
Some help from the government would, of course, be nice.
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