Save Our Cinemas: How the Coronavirus crisis didn’t cause this mess, it just magnified it.
In 2018 I wrote a think piece about my relationship with the then current studio output in mainstream cinemas. I spoke about my growing disillusionment with the seemingly never-ending slew of mega-blockbusters, each more expensive and extravagant than the last. I didn’t know it then, but my frustrations were more than simply tiredness with what was on offer, and in the years since then this odd sense of something being off has only grown.
With the news this week that Cineworld may be closing their doors as a result of the latest Bond movies reschedule, finally that curious and uncomfortable feeling in the back of my head came clearly into fruition. The slew of mega-blockbusters, the increasing budgets, the endless recognizable properties and broadest possible tones, the reason all of these things never quite sat right with me seemed to suddenly be transformed into a clear and concise concept.
If your business model works only when you make a billion dollars at the box office, it’s not a viable business model. Coronavirus may have forced audiences away from screens – after all, the industry was booming pre-COVID – but this issue has been there for a while. Disney’s supposed failure with Solo was, by any stretch of the imagination, not a failure, except they’d funneled so much money into the thing in the first place that even though it made a bomb at the box office, it was still considered a box office bomb. Coronavirus didn’t create the circumstances by which the cinema system is failing, it just poured fuel on the fire. Already the cracks had started to show.
Hollywood’s reluctance to release their big-budget tentpole movies comes from a fear of audiences simply not being there to see the movie. In an age when streaming is a legitimate medium by which movies can be released, when almost every household has some form of Netflix, Amazon Prime, YouTube, or whatever, that’s fucking bonkers. But the fact that dropping a film only will net them a loss so catastrophic as to cause genuine damage speaks volumes.
How this scenario is resolved from a studio standpoint remains a mystery. After all, they’re losing money no matter what they do. Don’t release the films and they’re losing money. Release the films and they’re losing money. But one thing is for sure – if they continue pulling the movies, thereby removing the incentive for anyone to go to the cinema, there won’t be a cinema left to release the film in once all of this is over.
Of course, the Government’s continued refusal to do literally anything about the Arts situation in the UK will only make matters worse. Without some sort of help from those in power the entire industry is doomed to destruction. Not to get all super political here, after all, I know politics can be divisive and aggravating in this post-Brexit age, but Boris Johnson’s Government has been all but useless outside of the furlough scheme that, truthfully, didn’t even do enough in and of itself.
Mind you, they’ve been useless on the theatres front as well, so at least cinemas and the movie industry aren’t alone in this. I wonder what the plan is for when this does all come to its conclusion. When a vaccine is finally found, or when we’ve all acquired heard immunity, or whatever the hell actually does get us back to some sense of normality in the end, do we really want to find ourselves living in a country without any theatres or cinemas? These are industries, and jobs and people, who may very way struggle to maintain viability at this current point in time, but this does not make them not viable. In fact, the only thing that’s making any of them not viable is the Government’s refusal to do anything about it.
Oliver Dowden, Secretary State for Culture, Media and Sport, has also been more or less silent on the subject. He seems to have nothing to say beyond “it’s clear more needs to be done”, which, now that I come to think about it, is a line I’ve heard repeated from most Government ministers again and again over the last five or so months. At what point does it stop being “it’s clear something needs to be done”, and becomes “we’re doing something”?
Not that cinemas have helped themselves much, of course. Replaying the same tired classics over and over again is all well and good for a while, but it won’t sustain repeat custom, even when there isn’t anything else on. Where’s the creativity and inventiveness of what’s on offer? Why not bring in live Q&A’s? It’s not like the technology doesn’t exist. Why not host double bills? Why not have themed nights? There are options here that could have been explored before we got to potential indefinite closure.
So, where do we go from here? It’s a mystery, and one that I’m not in any position to try to answer. I don’t know. All I do know is that I’m worried. In the end it seems to me that for all the talk of streaming services taking over the cinema experience the real threat ultimately came from the ones reliant most upon them..
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