Covid-19 Update: Oscars, Production Changes and Theater-Studio Fights

The entertainment industry has been completely shaken up by the covid-19 epidemic. Here are some of the big entertainment stories of the week:

AMC and Regal say they won’t show any more Universal films

Because movie theaters had to close, Dreamworks Animation, which is under the Universal umbrella, released its film Trolls World Tour entirely on premium VOD. The film went on to earn about $100M in its first three weeks.

Following the film’s success, NBCUniversal CEO Jeff Shell told The Wall Street Journal that the studio planned to release more films in the same way (as opposed to shelving them until a traditional release is possible, the way some other movie studios have planned for their titles).

National movie theater chain AMC was not happy; in response, AMC CEO Adam Aron issued an angry open letter:

“It is disappointing to us, but Jeff’s comments as to Universal’s unilateral actions and intentions have left us with no choice. Therefore, effectively immediately AMC will no longer play any Universal movies in any of our theatres in the United States, Europe or the Middle East. This policy affects any and all Universal movies per se, goes into effect today and as our theatres reopen, and is not some hollow or ill-considered threat.”

-AMC CEO Adam Aron

Soon after, theater chain Regal joined AMC’s side via Twitter, saying they will only play Universal movies that “respect the theatrical window”:

But many industry insiders say that all the public arguing is just a negotiation tactic. Theaters need studios, and studios need theaters, at least with the current business model. If going straight to VOD was the most profitable way to release every movie, studios would already be doing it. But studios seem to have the upper hand right now, especially when most theaters are still closed (and won’t be able to open without physical distancing practices anytime soon).

The Academy Awards Changes Policies to Allow Streamed Films

What films will win Oscars next year? Traditional rules dictate that only films with theatrical releases are eligible. However, only a handful of films had time to get into theaters in 2020, and most awards-hopeful films get released in the late fall and winter. Some film fans theorized that we’d get some surprising nominees:

But don’t get too excited, Sonic-heads. The Academy announced this week that films released only on streaming platforms or video on demand while movie theaters are closed due to the covid-19 pandemic will be eligible for Academy Awards next year.

“The Academy firmly believes there is no greater way to experience the magic of movies than to see them in a theater. Our commitment to that is unchanged and unwavering. Nonetheless, the historically tragic COVID-19 pandemic necessitates this temporary exception to our awards eligibility rules,” said President David Rubin and Chief Executive Dawn Hudson.

The temporary change that will only apply to the 2021 Oscars.

Warner Bros TV Presidents Say No More Love Scenes, Stunt Doubles

Now that some areas have begun to life their stay-at-home orders, film and TV productions are looking to restart. But how can we safely make content when a vaccine for covid-19 may be more than a year away?

This week, Warner Bros. Television presidents Susan Rovner and Brett Paul hosted a conference call to share information about the studio’s plans.

Rovner and Paul did not lay out a specific timeline for restarting production, but they did suggest that some sweeping changes might be required. For example, shows might no longer be able to include love scenes, since actors wouldn’t want to get that close to one another.

Another potential change would be fight scenes that require stunt doubles, since these scenes wouldn’t allow for safe physical distancing. 

None of these covid-19 filming rules were set in stone, but it’s clear that things can’t just go back to the way things were.

In The Industry