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Cinema and contagion: The film industry is among Covid-19’s greatest victims

Hollywood and the movie making industry as a whole have always been especially prone to pandemics of this kind, only today we actually see the repercussions.

The film industry business model is built on large gatherings of people, which poses a major dilemma for studios Chinese audiences, who often comprise a majority of the moviegoing audience for Hollywood's biggest films, are currently stuck at home At the start of March, analysts predicted a minimum loss of $5 billion for the global film industry. Four weeks later, things aren't look any better

While we hunker down in our homes as we wait for the Coronavirus pandemic to pass, flipping through TV channels and scrolling through Netflix, it’s easy to forget that the industry behind our entertainment has taken a severe hit. That’s right – the people producing our favorite movies are stuck in quarantine just like us, and that means that some of the highly anticipated films coming this year and the next have been postponed. In effect, this could alter movie production schedules and release dates and push them two or even three years into the future. 

While simply an inconvenience for moviegoers, this is catastrophic for film studios. Release dates, actor schedules, location bookings, press events, red carpet galas, and much more often have to perfectly allign for a film to often have a shot at success. Such is the industrial machine that is Hollywood, and even the smallest wrench can bring it coming down. 

Back in early March, and according to analysts quoted by The Hollywood Reporter, the international film industry was forecasted to make a minimum loss of $5 billion as a result of the pandemic. That was on March 2nd, when confirmed cases totaled 90,443 and deaths were tallied at 3,117, around the time when countries were just starting to enforce quarantines and lockdowns. As of this writing, cases have spiked to 488,428 and deaths to 22,067. These pandemic figures paint a grisly image for the $42.5 billion industry, and should the situation continue to deteriorate as it is currently, we could see a much larger hit than just $5 billion. 

The Chinese ConnectionLiu Yifei, star of the live-action Mulan Remake. Image: DisneyLike in most sectors, China plays a similarly major role in the film industry. Hollywood often inserts Chinese actors, storylines, locales and other elements into their films to secure financial backing from Chinese studios, or to appeal to Chinese moviegoers which generate the majority of their take at the international box office. This is often seen with massive blockbusters such as the Transformers films, where Chinese audiences help studios recuperate the massive production bill. 

With a majority of China’s 70,000 theaters now closed, Hollywood was left with a major predicament. Coupled with international lockdowns and quarantines, they were forced to postpone some of the biggest releases of the year.

These include the latest James Bond film, No Time to Die, the 9th installment of the massively popular Fast and the Furious franchise, and, perhaps most unfortunately for Disney, the live-action remake of Chinese-themed animated film Mulan. The film represents a risky venture for Disney, where they are staking $200 billion on a film whose lead is an unknown in Hollywood but a star in her home country, in a sort of racial diversity experiment that, should it succeed, will covince Disney and other studios to invest more heavily in films aimed at China. In an odd side note, the star of Disney’s remake, Liu Yifei, happens to actually be from Wuhan, the ground zero of Covid-19. 

Luckily for Hollywood, hundreds of movie theaters are reopening in China. According to Variety, the exact number on Monday was 507, representing 5% of all cinemas in commercial operation prior to the virus outbreak. Whether anyone will actually attend these screenings is another matter entirely. China has been making a remarkable recovery recently, especially given that the disease broke out there first, with many businesses and factories returning to operation. Still, it is highly unlikely that we will see even a fraction of China’s usual rate of moviegoers. Additionally, the rest of the world is currently locked in a fierce battle with the virus, with countries like Italy and Iran suffering greatly. 

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Drastic times call for drastic measuresPromotional poster for Warner Bros. film The Way BackWith some scientists predicting a ‘flattening of the curve’ by summer, we could see movie theaters up and running by then. In the meantime, some studios are experimenting with some drastic loss-cutting measures. One of these studios, Universal Pictures, is “planning to release some of its newest films that are still in the middle of their theatrical runs,” Deadline reported

Other studios, like Warner Bros. and Disney, will make some of their latest theatrical releases available on digital streaming services or as digital rentals. Some of the films subject to this include The Way Back, The Invisible Man, and others. 

Still, these are just temporary measures. You can’t expect such a treatment for massive blockbusters like F9 or No Time to Die. Should the pandemic not relent, the film industry is in for some more trying times. After all, actors and directors aren’t exactly able to telework. 

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