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I asked myself and my colleague whether or not I should write about the impact of the coronavirus on our industry in my regular Op Ed. I’d decided not to, then woke up to some news that has changed my mind.

CANNESERIES, the TV version of the Cannes Film Festival, has decided to postpone from April to coincide with MIPTV in October, while the Cannes Film Fest is currently going ahead as planned in May… so far. And the next in the James Bond franchise, No Time To Die (an apt title if ever there was one) has decided to move its opening slot from April to November—the only tent-pole film scheduled for this year to do so at the moment. Perhaps the studios are buoyed by the prospects of Niko Caro’s Mulan, which goes out this month in the US with a projected US$85 million opening.

In February, Paramount Pictures postponed a three-week shoot in Venice for the latest in the Mission Impossible franchise, while at Berlin, Chinese auteur Jia Zhangke (Ash Is Purest White, A Touch of Sin) told media that his next film slated for a start in April is delayed indefinitely.

The number of major entertainment companies pulling out of the SXSW Festival, due to start tomorrow, is increasing daily.

With the movie theatres empty in China, Korea and Japan, and undoubtedly so in Italy and Iran, I know I’m not the only one thinking about what this all means for the film business.

The Hollywood studios have already assembled coronavirus strategy teams and many are in contact with the Centre for Disease Control (CDC) in Washington and the World Health Organisation (WHO), monitoring the situation. As with the James Bond and Mission Impossible films, the studios are having to consider what it all means to their production and releasing schedules, but more importantly what the overall impact is going to be to their business.

In China where the virus originated and has been impacting the longest, there have been rapid moves to deal with the theatrical ramifications. Huanxi, distributor of the Chinese blockbuster Lost in Russia, premiered the film online for free, while Enter the Fat Dragon becomes the second major Chinese film to premiere online.

I’m sure the streamers aren’t rubbing their hands with glee, but they are and will be an obvious benefactor of theatres shutting down and people being forced to stay at home… as long as subscribers can continue to afford to pay for their subscriptions.

A lot of my European film colleagues attended this February’s Berlin International Film Festival. I have already given consideration as to whether or not I will go to Cannes this year. I’ve gone for the last three, and this year the head of the new Australian Directors Guild wanted to use the opportunity for all of the English-language speaking guilds to gather. I’m most likely not going to attend as I pretty much get sick with a cold or the flu every time I come back from a European trip. I have already cancelled my trip to Seoul in April, which was to attend the second gathering of the Alliance of Asia Pacific Audiovisual Writers and Directors—an event that was postponed in February after the coronavirus outbreak in China was becoming more serious.

Back home, I was talking with a New Zealand filmmaker whose feature is due out soon and COVID-19 was certainly on his mind in regard to what, if any, effect it could have on his box office. I just learned this week that NZFC has instituted a conservative travel policy for its staff.

Officially, I haven’t heard of any strategic thinking going on in regard to New Zealand’s film and TV industries in relation to the virus, but it’s undoubtedly weighing on a few minds including ours. We will update you if any news comes in.

As I sit writing this I have just learned we have a fourth confirmed case of COVID-19. I, therefore, am providing a link here to the Ministry of Health website about the virus and what to do should you display any kind of symptoms.

Take care out there.

 

Tui Ruwhiu
Executive Director

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When Bob Iger of Disney speaks about the future of film, it’s worth listening.

Why?

Because amongst the hundreds of companies that sit under the Disney umbrella are 20th Century Fox, Lucas Film, Marvel, and Pixar. Brands number in the thousands and include through whole or partial ownership indie darling Fox Searchlight, streamer Hulu, and networks ABC, ESPN, FX, National Geographic and A & E.

Of course Disney doesn’t own everything. There are other conglomerates out there, the likes of Amazon, Apple, Comcast, and TimeWarner who are shaping the screen content world we are in now. But Iger demands everyone’s attention.

So this month at Disney’s third quarter earnings announcement when Iger essentially declared that big movies belong in theatres, and everything else will go to its streamers Hulu and the soon-to-launch-globally Disney+, everyone sat up.

Reporting on this, Journalists Dana Harris and Chris Lindahl in Indiewire wrote that “The very, very top films with awards potential will see generous theatrical offers and bidding wars that price out all but the deepest pockets. The highest-quality films with no clear awards play will also see strong offers and bidding wars, but from streamers, and considerably less generous offers from independent theatrical distributors. For everyone else, it looks like a struggle — although they could also benefit from the streamers’ ongoing arms race to acquire the content mass necessary to achieve market dominance.”

So where does that leave us in New Zealand with our 10 or so narrative and documentary features a year? Blissfully unaware some say.

A recent article in The Hollywood Reporter gives some indication that even the top names in film can see the writing on the wall. Directors including Martin Scorsese and Christopher Nolan amongst others were behind the Ultra High Definition Alliance’s announced introduction of a “Filmmaker Mode” TV setting. Director Ryan Coogler essentially admitted the fate of film by saying, “I care deeply about how cinema is experienced at home because that’s where it lives the longest. That’s where cinema is watched and re-watched and experienced by families. By allowing the artists in the tent to help consult and give feedback to the electronics companies on Filmmaker Mode, we can collectively help make the consumer’s experience even more like it is in the cinema.”

Of course the name directors will still get their films into theatres—witness the Netflix launch of Scorsese’s The Irishman, Alfonso Cuaron’s Roma, and Amazon’s commitment to theatrical release for the auteur directors it backs. But for the rest of us? We might have to get used to premieres in Filmmaker Mode unless you can get your films into festivals.

Once streamers Netflix, Disney+, Apple TV+, Amazon Prime and WarnerMedia are in full swing here, perhaps NZFC might even relax its demand that you have to have NZ theatrical release to get production funding.

 

Tui Ruwhiu
Executive Director