5 Weird Ways Movies Have Had To Change During This
You're well aware by now that the past year has changed the movie business. It's the reason you paid $20 just to stream Trolls 2 because, oh, god, anything to get your kids to shut up and leave you alone for a night. But as mad as you might be at Hollywood for having seemingly conned you out of $20, just know that you're getting the last laugh.
See, COVID has done more than just shut down theaters and migrate movie premieres over to streaming. The pandemic is screwing with the industry in all sorts of bizarre ways, and these ways are making working in Hollywood a real spoonful of shit for everyone involved ...
Delayed Films May Need Re-Shoots ... To Update Product Placement
Product placement in movies is a lot like your dog farting on your face in the morning. It's disgusting, annoying, and you don't ever want to think about it, but it's also the most reliable way to get you up and going to work. Product placement sucks, but in an era in which studios are spending $300 million+ on blockbuster movies and are desperately looking to recoup that investment in whatever way possible, it's become a necessary evil.
Enter Covid, which has now delayed some movies for so long that the products that they've originally shilled for have gone out of date. Take the latest James Bond movie/Daniel Craig torture device, No Time To Die, which featured Bond using some of the latest in tech. I'm not talking about flamethrower sneakers or invisible condoms. I'm talking about tech that was meant for people to actually purchase, like his cell phone and his watch. Covid helped push the film's release date by nearly two years, which might as well be two centuries when it comes to the technology market. Here's the dilemma according to, as Cinema Blend puts it, an anonymous insider:
"The details of the gadgets and things are all kept tightly under wraps, but everyone knows that James Bond always carries the latest kit with him. The problem is that some of those things were the very latest models back when they started filming. But by the time the movie comes out now, it will look like Daniel Craig and all of the other cast members are carrying something that has been out for ages. That isn't really the point of these deals. The big tech firms want the stars to have all the new up-and-coming products to help promote them and sell them to fans. It means some of the scenes are going to have to be very carefully edited and looked at to bring things up to date."
And as The Verge points out, you can already see a digital correction made in a Bond Nokia ad that originally dropped on YouTube in March 2020 and was re-released with a newer phone in September of that year.
You can imagine the predicament. If James Bond is holding an iPhone X in the movie and proclaims, "Shit, my missile launching car. this is the greatest bit of technology I've ever experienced," but now it's 2021, and Apple is now trying to sell the iPhone XS2THEMAX, then the 80 trillion they spent on product placement is absolutely worthless. This means No Time To Die now needs to reshoot or digitally alter any scene with out-of-date product placement, which then means more hell for Daniel Craig, and probably a lemon wedge jammed in the eye of whatever PA has the misfortune of crossing his path.
We're Going To Get A LOT More Animation
We're so used to the phrase "Hollywood magic" that we assume that there's no problem too challenging for a production crew with a big enough budget and a good roll of gaffer's tape. Christopher Nolan dropped a plane out of the sky in The Dark Knight Rises. James Cameron created an entire world in Avatar. Carrie Fisher literally died, and Lucasfilm was still able to put her younger self in Rogue One.
So it might surprise you to realize that keeping a crew masked, six-feet apart, and following COVID compliance regulations might be more daunting a task than visual necromancy, but that's exactly the case for almost all of the studios producing live-action films. Then again, it makes sense when you think about it. So much of what happens on a set is communal and in tight proximity and, if one of the actors were to get sick with COVID, that means you might have to shut down production for two weeks or longer.
Virtually every aspect of running a set has had to be changed. Craft services (the snacking station), for example, is typically a buffet-style sprawl, but during the time of COVID, every item of food must be individually wrapped and sanitized. And, because actors can't wear masks or practice physical distancing while on camera (unless it's a film about COVID and dear god, don't give us another one of those), sets are split off into "zones" in accordance to their proximity to the actors and the level of safety measures required. Also, anyone within a fart's length of the entire production is required to take a minimum of three tests per week just to show up to work.
It's a logistical and budgetary nightmare, and some studios have reached the point where they'd rather postpone production than try and fight through it. That is unless you're an animation studio, which by and large have remained unaffected by the pandemic. Sure, your writers' meetings have to be conducted on Zoom now, but that's hardly an issue when compared to flying across the globe and beating travel restrictions for films like The Gray Man. (Which, surprise, had to push back production.)
If anything, animation has started to run even more smoothly during the pandemic. Voice over work, for example, is now done from home, making for even faster deliverables. It's why you can expect a lot more animated shows in the near future. Everything has been churning along for the past year now, and even if COVID were to magically disappear tomorrow, live-action studios would still need time to adjust back to the new-old-normal.
Old Actors May be Uninsurable And Production Insurance In Chaos In General
You might be noticing a theme cropping up here, and it's that almost all of these COVID-related issues have to do with money. Films are expensive beasts, what with all of the CGI effects and sometimes literal expensive beasts. But there's one expense that will never be seen in the final product and, if all goes according to plan, will never be needed at all. I'm talking, of course, about insurance and, during these plague-ridden times, the premiums for said insurance are astronomical.
In "normal times," a film with a budget of $100 million might spend $350,000 to insure 10-12 cast members, with prices, of course, varying depending on the film, the insurer, and the actors involved. But now, you can take that number and multiply it by 10. For example, Janet Comenos, the CEO of the insurance company Spotted, says their policy limits have ranged from $8.1 million to $41 million — with a premium of 7-10% of the coverage limit. It's partly why Tom Cruise was so stressed in his infamous Mission Impossible rant a few months back:
"They're back there in Hollywood making movies right now because of us … I'm on the phone with every fucking studio at night, insurance companies, producers, and they're looking at us and using us to make their movies!"
If anyone gets sick, that sends your premium shooting up even further, and that's if you're lucky enough to get insured at all. Many companies just won't insure for COVID-19, and that goes double if the cast features actors over a certain age. It's gotten to the point where older actors have become so expensive to insure that they're wondering if they'll ever be able to work again. Actors like Dame Judy Dench, Sir Ian McKellen, Dame Maggie Smith -- pretty much anyone old enough and good enough to get BFF points with the Queen -- have all expressed doubts about their future careers. It's probably why Ben Kingsley appeared on Zoom during the entirety of that new Anne Hathaway movie.
Unless we get a vaccine soon or a studio with big enough pockets is looking to take a risk on a geriatric Avengers movie, then these actors could very well be right.
Popcorn Home Sales Have Surged
During the 2007 financial crisis, a common joke went something like, "Hey, the economy isn't bad news for everyone. The "foreclosure sign" business is booming!" It was an awful joke, not least of which because I don't think a sign-maker would pigeonhole themselves into only making signs that read "foreclosure" on them, but the larger point still stands; There are always these random industries which stand to make a profit in times of hardship, and for the pandemic, one of those random industries is the at-home-popcorn business.
Microwave Popcorn sales have reportedly skyrocketed during quarantine. According to Garry Smith, the president of Jolly Time, "during that six-week period [of the initial stay-at-home-order], in very round numbers, our microwave popcorn sales grew 40% to 50%. And our raw popcorn sales to grocery stores, which comes in polyethylene bags now and in plastic jars, that business increased 70% to 80%."
It seems that families who would have once normally purchased a big ol' tub of heated kernels and lard as they went out to the movies are now recreating that experience at home, which duh, of course, they would, but it's one of those things you don't think about until it radically changes an industry overnight and it has. Said Smith, "I've been at this for 43 years. I've never seen anything like it. I never in my wildest dreams could anticipate what mid-March brought."
Meanwhile, the sales for movie theater popcorn have gone completely to shit. And before you ask, no, movie theater popcorn and microwave popcorn are not the same. They come from completely different suppliers with completely different selling and growing practices. For example, the popcorn with the big "butterfly" flakes is typically reserved for movie theaters and is highly susceptible to temperature and humidity. Maintaining the crop is way different than whatever sorcery the microwave popcorn people do to keep their popcorn in bags for untold millennia.
Sales have continued to remain strong, but one has to wonder if the at-home experience will continue to keep families from going back to theaters. It's certainly cheaper to stream a movie and buy popcorn rather than pay $15 for a ticket, and an additional $10 for some high school kid to dip what you're hoping is his non-masturbation-hand into a vat and fish out some stale, expanded kernels of corn. But dammit, if that's not the way that so many of us prefer to enjoy movies.
The Oscars Are An Absolute Mess
Whether or not you believe that the Oscars are stupid (they are), we can all agree that they're important, at least in regards to those working in the industry. Careers are made with an Oscar nomination, and children are pushed through excessive amounts of theater camp by stage moms in the hopes of one day being mentioned in an acceptance speech. In this way, the Oscars serve as a necessary symbiote to the film industry at large, like a barnacle on a whale, further attracting tasty plankton to within the whale's radius ... or something. I don't really understand marine biology, but the point is, the Oscars are important, and COVID has gotten them all sorts of messed up.
For starters, the field of movies to choose from this year is drastically different from years prior. Most larger studios have postponed their "Oscar-bait" movies until 2021, making room for the likes of Nomadland and Promising Young Woman to enter contention. It should be fantastic to see because these are movies with crazy-low-budgets (think under 10 million) from independent studios that normally would have been overshadowed by the La La Lands of the world. And, what should be even better is that, because the Pandemic has made large-scale public gatherings impossible, voters are no longer being wined and dined and told to vote for The King's Speech. So how could this democratization of the Oscar vote be a bad thing?
Because we're just not equipped to handle it. I know, I sound like Fox News pushing voter suppression, but in this case, I think it's fair. COVID has made the Oscar voting process a logistical nightmare. According to The Washington Post, "A voter opening up the screening app recently would have found themselves confronted with 177 films to consider, with little guidance on which to watch." Asking someone to watch 177 movies (conservatively 360 hours or 15 straight days of screentime) is like asking someone to willfully go through the brainwashing process in A Clockwork Orange.
There's a reason studios are willing to spend $20 million per film on Oscar voting campaigns. The voters can't possibly have time to educate themselves on the issues otherwise ... I mean, the films. Oh god, I sound like Tucker Carlson right now. Please, just, we need to reform the system. I need to go take a shower.