i3 | July 22, 2020

COVID-19 Impacts Hollywood

Gary Arlen

RomComs without kissing scenes. Oscar nominees you’ve never seen in a theater. Enhanced digital security procedures for both work-from-home activities and for delivering entertainment that cannot be stolen. More “non-human” videos.

Approaching the six-month mark of COVID-19 life, media and entertainment companies are putting in place best practices as well as tactics for operating in the “new abnormal” creative climate that will endure for the unknowable future. Some procedures may be temporary, others may become the new way of doing business. Unions, guilds, studio executives and other groups are exploring recommendations such as establishing “a safety coordinator position” to monitor and guide safety practices during productions.”

Even seemingly simple experiences such as characters hugging or shaking hands in a TV show or movie or handling a product in a commercial, may change. Producers, advertisers and others have been developing safe processes including self-isolating an entire production team — actors, technicians and supervisors — for several weeks to make sure they neither bring nor spread the virus to the sound stage. Other approaches envision greater use of animated and computer-generated imagery (CGI), which can be produced remotely. Of course, that tactic could affect actor employment.

Whatever styles emerge for production, writers and producers are already devising ways to create shows where sweethearts don’t get close to each other. What about scripts where a couple holds hands or a parent embraces a child? Kisses may face barriers if actors aren’t comfortable sharing droplets. Technicians are devising green-screen solutions that put actors into the same virtual space, hopefully with better results than a funny May Saturday Night Live spoof segment in which two (remotely located) women tried to shake hands and “just missed.”

At the other extreme, for crowd scenes, Visual Effects (VFX) using CGI or other technology make be needed to simulate dozens of people bunched together.

Practical Considerations

These factors include viewership and pricing. In one research study, brand managers expected to spend as much as two-thirds less on traditional advertising next year. Other surveys have indicated that online advertising outlay will jump by comparable levels, although digital distribution doesn’t generate the sums that broadcast or cable TV shows do.

The media and entertainment sectors are faced with a sudden overhaul in its basic structure and financial patterns. Release dates for expected blockbusters such as Wonder Woman 1984, Mulan and James Bond in No Time to Die have been delayed with the intent of theatrical-first debuts. But Universal’s plan to release some titles simultaneously to theaters and home distribution (fueled by the digital on-demand success of Trolls World Tour in May) has prompted some theater chains to say they will “no longer exhibit” Universal films.

On top of that, entertainment companies face core decisions about security. The boom in digital-first releases (more than two dozen theatrical movies going directly to streaming, notably July’s Hamilton on Disney+) will expand the audience for some movies but also raise piracy concerns.

This is a tremendous opportunity to innovate. While we’ve got this chance, let’s start over and make it right.
Guy Finley President, Content Delivery & Security Association and the Media & Entertainment Services Alliance

Whatever unfolds, 2020 has painted a new playing field for the media/entertainment industries. At a recent online webinar, Guy Finley, president of the Content Delivery & Security Association and the Media & Entertainment Services Alliance, said this is “a tremendous opportunity to innovate. While we’ve got this chance, let’s start over and make it right.”

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