When the 2020 awards season ended with the first ever foreign language film winning the Best Picture Oscar, many thought this year would be another ground-breaking year for film. However, as the beginning of the new cinema season coincided with the start of lockdown, this year in cinema has taken a dramatic turn.
Film and TV have always been a big part of my life but many months of quarantine saw the amount I consumed increase dramatically, as evenings of screen viewing became a family ritual. According to Ofcom, I am not alone: 12 million adults subscribed to a new streaming service during lockdown and 3 million adults subscribed for the very first time (Dams, 2020). This sharp increase in online viewing has left me and many others wondering how the cinema industry will be affected.
Firstly, many studios have had to push back release dates by months, which has had huge financial fallout. As Wendy Ide from The Guardian writes, much of the marketing budget had already been spent and the studios have had to spend an extra $30-$50 million to promote their postponed films. She estimates that the alternative would have been to lose out on an estimated $300 million in revenue (Ide, 2020). Some of these films included big names such as Disney’s live action Mulan and Christopher Nolan’s highly anticipated Tenet.
There is hope that this year’s big film releases will encourage viewers to return to the cinema, with films such as Black Widow, The French Dispatch, No Time to Die, Dune, and West Side Story. Tenet has proved this to be true with $20.2m on its US opening, which is promising despite being $30m lower than Nolan’s average opening weekend. Universal thought this to be a healthy enough sign to keep the release date of November for No Time to Die. The releases are coming, but will the new environment make the studios even more cautious in what projects they fund and limit their appetite for taking on ‘riskier’ prospects, leaving these instead to the streaming services or small studios whose budgets are precarious? This would be a great disappointment.
While social distancing is the highest priority for large cinema chains such as Cineworld, the stakes are much higher for independent cinema survival. According to a poll by the Independent Cinema Office (ICO), 72% saw autumn as the earliest viable opening date, while 14% said it would be 2021. One of the main problems facing independent cinemas is small screening rooms. COVID restrictions mean that only half the seats can be occupied and it becomes almost impossible to make a profit. The knock-on impact in the industry is significant, as some independent cinemas like Watershed will have to stop funding local filmmakers’ work due to the loss of revenue.
The British Film Industry have recognised the hardships that the cinemas and filmmakers have encountered and have launched a £1.3m resilience fund. Furthermore, the huge success of films such as Portrait of a Lady on Fire, Uncut Gems, Marriage Story and The Irishman, all of which had a small gap, or none at all, between their cinematic and online release dates, show hope for VODs this year. As with many other industries, cinema is showing adaptability and resilience to a tough environment and changing consumer demands.
Although there is much to be excited about on the small screen, I will miss the normal plethora of films available at the cinema.
Elizabeth, Head of Grosstete Company