Coronavirus Brings the Film Industry to a Halt

It seems like it was just yesterday that reports of coronavirus first appeared across headlines, yet we’ve found ourselves in a global pandemic just a few weeks later. The majority of businesses, schools, and public events have been canceled, but how exactly is the film industry coping with the crisis?

Major movie productions have been suspended across the globe including The Batman, Red Notice, the sequels to Avatar, Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Rings, Jurassic World: Dominion, and countless others.

With the outbreak quickly spreading, local movie theaters are bound to close their doors sooner than later. As society retreats indoors to self-quarantine and stay healthy, Universal Pictures’ announced their decision to provide a home video release of their current theatrical movies. Jeff Shell, CEO of NBCUniversal stated, “Rather than delaying these films or releasing them into a challenged distribution landscape, we wanted to provide an option for people to view these titles in the home that is both accessible and affordable.”

Regal Cinemas Closed; Photo from Reuters

As soon as March 20th, The Hunt, Emma, and The Invisible Man will be available to rent through iTunes, Google Play, Amazon Prime, and FandangoNow. Moving forward, select Universal movies will become available through video on demand (VOD) the same day as their theatrical release date.

The decision was made soon after Disney revealed Frozen 2 would debut on Disney+ on March 15th, three full months ahead of schedule in an effort to bring entertainment to homebound viewers.

Warner Brothers quickly followed in their footsteps and announced the digital release of Birds of Prey and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn on March 24th.

This solution has many wondering if this temporary change will permanently impact TV and film in the future. It’s no secret that the majority of consumers have moved away from traditional theaters and turned to streaming services; now, they can experience the convenience of viewing new releases directly in their own home. Additionally, film studios will have the opportunity to prove how much they can profit from early digital releases without pushback.

Despite speculation, movie theaters have played a valuable role within cinema and for this reason, major studios have postponed certain release dates altogether. For example, Walt Disney Co. has delayed the release of Mulan and the future release of Black Widow, The Personal History of David Copperfield, and The Woman in the Window. Universal Pictures has also delayed the release of F9 (also known as Fast and Furious 9) until further notice.

While there’s no telling when life will return to normal, I think I can speak for the majority when I say I am thankful that the entertainment industry is working to accommodate consumers during this difficult time. Film is a great way to escape the dreadful feeling of “cabin fever” and we can now experience VOD like we have never before. As we begin to practice social distancing, what new releases do you plan to take advantage of?

The Best of the 2020 Sundance Film Festival

The 2020 Sundance Film Festival held it’s award ceremony on February 1st, after a ten day exhibition that featured over 100 independent films. This is one of the most anticipated and exciting film events held in Utah each year.

This was a big year for Sundance, with major public figures including Taylor Swift, Hillary Clinton, and Lin-Manuela Miranda joining the scene. The awards ceremony was marked by the announcement that Tabitha Jackson would be taking over John Cooper’s role as director of the festival, the first female director in Sundance history. The festival received a record high of 15,100 submissions and hosted the most diverse lineup of films and talent yet.

This event is a chance for aspiring indie filmmakers to showcase their work and launch their careers. Recognized as the mecca for discovering breakout documentaries, it’s an authentic opportunity for independent storytellers to come together and share the ideas that are inspiring and shaping cinema today. 

Sundance Film Festival, Park City Utah; Photo from Flickr

Here are the most memorable films from the festival that you should keep an eye out for in 2020:

The winners of the Four Grand Jury Prizes include Minari, Boys State, Epicentro, and Yalda, A Night For Forgiveness. Minari won two of the highest honors, the U.S Dramatic Prize award and the Audience U.S. Dramatic award. This autobiography tells the heart-wrenching story of a Korean immigrant family struggling to adjust to rural Arkansas and live the American dream. The film was secured and funded by A24 prior to Sundance, and was among the most well-reviewed entries this year.

Boys State won the U.S. Documentary Prize, another honorable film bought by A24 and Apple for a record-breaking $12 million. This coming-of-age documentary follows a group of Texas high school boys who attend politics camp and create their own mock government over the summer. The premier struck a chord with viewers because it gives a first-hand look into the cut-throat nature behind American politics and the struggle for these teens to come together, rather than let their views divide them. An entertaining yet emotional parallel of the challenges our country faces today, this film shouldn’t be missed.

Audience-Voted Awards went to Minari, Crip Camp, The Reason I Jump, Identifying Features, and I Carry You With Me. The Festival Favorite Award went to Giving Voice, which follows six high school students competing in the August Wilson Monologue Competition in New York City. Other notable premiers included The 40 Year Old Version, Kajillionaire, The Killing of Two Lovers, Palm Springs, Shirley, Zola, and Time. What movies are you excited to see from the festival?

#GoldOpen Launches Advisory Council, ‘Golden Rider’ to Promote Diversity in Film

Gold House, a nonprofit collective dedicated to bringing diverse stories to film, is launching an entertainment advisory council made up of industry leaders to incentivize inclusive representation in film. 

Through their global movement, #GoldOpen, the council — whose members include Albert Cheng (COO & head of TV, Amazon Studios), Abhijay Prakash (president, Universal Film Entertainment Group), Kim Yutani (Sundance Film Festival) and Franklin Leonard (The Black List) — will advise on which films will receive #GoldOpen support in the form of theater buyouts for screenings, social media, and press campaigns and global distribution opportunities (see the full list of Advisory Council members). Movies that have received such support since the venture’s inception in 2017 include “Crazy Rich Asians,” “Parasite” and “Just Mercy.” 

Kim Yutani, Franklin Leonard and Albert Cheng; photo from The Hollywood Reporter

The organization announced that #GoldOpen films will need to sign the Golden Rider, an educational agreement that acknowledges the significance of multicultural audiences. Gold House’s first initiative focuses on Asian films. To qualify for a future #GoldOpen, films will have to have “at least one authentically-portrayed Asian Lead and/or an Asian Director who has helmed a film that’s critical to another multicultural community.” 

Filmmakers can put their projects forward for #GoldOpen consideration by visiting the movement’s website. There you can also view a list of past films that have received the honor.

Gold House is steadily amplifying the voices of storytellers from across the Asian diaspora and starting a multicultural movement. This cross-industry collective of prominent storytellers, entrepreneurs and icons have all come together with a shared sense of purpose: to be authentically seen and heard and to accelerate the societal impact of diversity.

“We’ve been in awe of the #GoldOpen community’s passion and impact; change on the ground has created changes at the top that will accelerate the stories our community has been searching for. We now know #GoldOpen can have a profoundly positive impact on a film’s opening weekend success,” Gold House’s #GoldOpen directors, Yao King and Josh Jun, said in a statement. “The #GoldOpen Advisory Council ushers the movement’s next phase by enhancing its transparency and amplifying its cross-industry impact for both artfully independent and big-budget blockbusters. Further, the Gold Rider helps to educate the broader industry about our community’s imperative consumption.”

2020 Golden Globe Nominations Announced

The full list of nominations for the 2020 Golden Globes has been released, and much like every other year, the reaction from the general public has been a mix of excitement and disappointment.

The nominees for best dramatic film include Marriage Story, which clinched a whopping six nominations overall. Other nominations for Noah Baumbach‘s story of a couple in the midst of divorce proceedings include best screenplay, best original score (Randy Newman), best supporting actress (Laura Dern), best actor (Adam Driver), and best actress (Scarlett Johansson).

Adam Driver & Scarlett Johansson in Marriage Story; Photo from Screen Rant

Other cinematic heavyweights include Martin Scorsese‘s three-and-a-half-hour epic The Irishman and Quentin Tarantino‘s Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood, which each received five nominations.

The Irishman tells the story of a truck driver who becomes involved with a Pennsylvania crime family, becomes a mob hitman, and eventually becomes entangled with Jimmy Hoffa. The movie is nominated for best drama, best director, best screenplay (Steve Zaillian), and best supporting actor for both Joe Pesci and Al Pacino. The lack of a best actor nomination for Robert De Niro, however, was one of the most shocking snubs on the list.

Meanwhile, Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood explores the efforts of a has-been TV actor and his stunt double to find fame in the 1969 Los Angeles film industry, set against a backdrop that includes the Manson Family murders. Tarantino picked up nods for best director and best screenplay, while Brad Pitt was nominated for best supporting actor, Leonardo DiCaprio was nominated for best actor, and the film itself was nominated for best musical or comedy.

Leonardo DiCaprio & Brad Pitt in Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood; Photo from Screen Rant

As for the television side of things, HBO’s Chernobyl (four nominations), Netflix’s The Crown (four nominations) and Phoebe Waller-Bridge‘s Fleabag (three nominations) were all popular with the voters, but it appears that the final season of Game of Thrones was just as disappointing to the Globes as it was to fans of the show. Kit Harington was the recipient of the show’s only nod.

Besides De Niro, another notable snub was Greta Gerwig‘s absence from the best director category, which makes it the fifth consecutive year without a female director nominee. In fact, despite Little Women‘s rave reviews and 95% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, the film was left out of the best drama category as well. Florence Pugh, who received praise for her role as Amy March, failed to clinch a nomination for best supporting actress.

Will you be tuning into the Golden Globes this year? Which nominations and snubs were you most surprised by?

Disney+ Launches Amid Glitches

After months of heavy advertising, Disney has entered the streaming sphere today with the official launch of Disney+ today. However, not everything was smooth sailing for the entertainment giant. In the early hours of the launch, there were a number of reports and a storm of Twitter complaints citing technical glitches. Users said they were having difficulty logging into and streaming content on the platform. The East Coast appeared to have borne the brunt of most of the technical difficulties, many of which were reported between 7:00 and 8:00 Eastern Time.

Photo from Deadline

Now that things are up and running, though, it will be interesting to see how this new platform from such an imposing brand as Disney will affect the business of its competitors, such as Hulu, Netflix, and Amazon Prime Video. Will customers decide to take on the additional cost of yet another streaming platform while continuing to pay for others, or will they choose to make Disney+ their one and only?

Streaming services were initially introduced and marketed as an improved alternative to cable, but consumers have increasingly complained that it’s impossible to keep up with the sheer growing number of services. If one were to pay for all the existing streaming platforms, the cost would equal or exceed the cost of a cable package. Over the next couple years, I think we’re going to watch customers decide to either return to cable or to stick with just the one or two streaming services that best align with their entertainment preferences.

Dinsey Plus
Photo from Deadline

As for the content on Disney+, the most highly-anticipated show has to be The Mandalorian,Star Wars spinoff about “the travels of a lone bounty hunter in the outer reaches of the galaxy, far from the authority of the New Republic.” In particular, been atwitter with buzz over the adorable (and highly meme-able) Baby Yoda.

In addition to original content, Disney+ will obviously also feature Disney’s massive nostalgic catalog that will no doubt serve to entice young and old alike. There are sure to be plenty of diehard Marvel fans binging the entirety of the Marvel Cinematic Universe films, which is another major draw for the platform.

Disney has an undeniably tight grip on the film, TV and entertainment industry. Today’s step will almost certainly improve that prowess, but how will the multitudes of other streaming services stand to compete against a company with so much intellectual property? Only time will tell.

Disney Teams with Geena Davis To Check Scripts for Bias Using AI

Last week, at New Zealand’s Power of Inclusion Summit, Oscar-winner Geena Davis announced her Institute on Gender in Media will partner with Disney to use a new AI tool to help “spell check” its scripts for potential bias. The tool, called GD-IQ: Spell Check for Bias, helps identify opportunities for filmmakers to increase representation by women and girls as well as other underrepresented groups in movie scripts. (GD-IQ stands for Geena Davis Inclusion Quotient, if you’re wondering.) 

In the closing keynote of the summit, Davis said, “I’m very proud to announce we have a brand new partnership with Walt Disney Studios using Spell Check for Bias. They are our pilot partners and we’re going to collaborate with Disney over the next year using this tool to help their decision-making, identify opportunities to increase diversity and inclusion in the manuscripts that they receive. We’re very excited about the possibilities with this new technology and we encourage everybody to get in touch with us and give it a try.”

The Spell Check for Bias tool uses technology developed at the University of Southern California to scan scripts and identify opportunities for inclusion. The tool can determine how the characters’ gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation, disability status, and other characteristics that are underrepresented on film stack up to real-world population metrics. It can also provide data on how many speaking lines each group has, the sophistication of the language each uses, and social hierarchy of the characters.

Geena Davis poses with Minnie Mouse in front of Cinderella’s castle; Photo from Screen Rant

Davis made it clear that her goal is not to “shame and blame” well-meaning screenwriters, but rather to uncover potential opportunities to increase audience exposure to underrepresented groups. Davis has been an ardent advocate for inclusivity in film, specifically for female representation. In 2004, she started the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media. The institute’s mission is to work with the entertainment industry to “engage, educate and influence the creation of gender balanced onscreen portrayals, reducing harmful stereotypes and creating an abundance of unique and intersectional female characters in entertainment targeting children 11 and under.”  

In her keynote, Davis went on to say, “There’s one category of gross gender inequality where the underrepresentation of women can be fixed absolutely overnight — and it’s onscreen. The very next project somebody makes — the next movie, TV show — can be gender-balanced. We can make this change happen very fast. In the time it takes to create a new show or a new film, we can present a whole new vision of the future. Yes, there are woefully few female CEOs in the world, but half of them can be female onscreen immediately. How are we possibly going to get the number of women and girls interested in STEM careers that we need for science, technology, engineering and math? There can be droves of women in STEM careers now on TV and in movies, and then it will happen in real life.”

“In the Tall Grass” Premiers at Austin’s Fantastic Fest

The screen version of the 2012 novella In the Tall Grass by Stephen King and his son (Joe Hill) debuted at Austin’s Fantastic Fest last week to rapt audiences. The novella is the third work of King’s to get the big-screen treatment in 2019, making it a memorable year for his massive fanbase. 

The film kicks off with two siblings, Becky (played by Laysla De Oliveira) and Cal (Avery Whitted), on a road trip to California. The trip takes a turn as they pull over near a tall, grassy field in Kansas when Becky, who is pregnant, suffers a bout of nausea. When they hear the cries of a boy coming from the grass, Becky and Cal follow them, unknowingly embarking on a horrific venture.   

Laysla De Oliveira in the tall grass; Photo from Screen Rant

Vincenzo Natali, who directed In the Tall Grass and wrote the screenplay, is also responsible for 1997’s cult classic, sci-fi thriller Cube. In an interview with SyFy Wire, Natali talked about the challenges of working in this single-location set. “There was a lot of horticultural R&D involved in this,” said Natali. “The grass itself is an organism that we can’t control, but we had to schedule the movie around the optimal period to shoot in it. It obtains a certain height, but then after that it starts to brown and flower and do all kinds of things we don’t want. So we had this window and the whole production had to be built around this very specific time that was based on hearsay. We were basically just listening to the farmer.”

In terms of direction, Natali took the lead from King: “We begin the movie much like Stephen King writes, where you feel like this is a real place with real people that we can relate to, and then we go down the river and it’s going to get weirder and weirder and weirder, until by the end it’s utterly psychedelic. That was obviously part of the visual design and the fun of it.”

The cast of In the Tall Grass; Photo from Screen Rant

In the Tall Grass comes to Netflix on October 4.