Sight&Sound - 05.2020

(Jacob Rumans) #1
May 2020 | Sight&Sound | 7

By Guy Lodge
It was in the latter days of the Berlin Film
Festival, toward the end of February, that
coronavirus became a staple of film-business
small talk. “Do you think Cannes will go
ahead?” we started asking, as if the French
festival’s cancellation three months ahead was
the imaginable limit of the ruptures to come.
Life comes at you fast, as the saying goes.
A few days later, the first coronavirus-
related bombshell came from Hollywood: the
long-awaited, long-delayed new James Bond
blockbuster No Time to Die was booted from its
scheduled release in early April, and put back
seven months to the supposedly safe date of 12
November. The producers’ official statement
made no mention of the pandemic, referring only
to “a thorough evaluation of the global theatrical
marketplace” – the coyness seems quaint now.
The 007 franchise has not been renowned
for innovation over the years, but in this case, it
proved decidedly ahead of the curve. Well before
cinemas started closing internationally, studios
and distributors started pulling their wares
from the spring cinema schedule – from vast
Disney blockbusters (Black Widow) to bijou BFI-
backed indies (Saint Maud). By the end of March,
the weekly release slate looked as bare as the
average supermarket pasta shelf. Only streaming
behemoths like Netflix and distributors who had
already ventured into simultaneous on-demand
releases – like Curzon Artificial Eye, looking
prescient with its Curzon Home Cinema service –

are equipped to release new films digitally, while
Universal, having already taken quick action
with No Time to Die, entered uncharted waters by
shifting three big releases (The Invisible Man, The
Hunt and Emma) from cinemas to VOD months
ahead of schedule. Needs must, and so on, but
with the hitherto sacred theatrical window now
shattered, not everyone is sure it can be repaired
when – or if – normal business resumes.
For while the quarantined present is
tumultuous enough in industry circles, the
future is even more confusing. Hollywood trade
papers are reporting a global box-office loss of
over $7 billion from the shutdown so far, and
the estimated price tag on the forthcoming
lull in releases and production – with many
projects forced to delay shooting or close down
mid-shoot, at a cost of hundreds of thousands
per day – has been estimated at $20 billion, a
wild-sounding figure with no ceiling as long
as nobody knows the extent of the lockdown.
Blockbuster productions on pause include The
Batman, an as-yet-untitled Spider-Man sequel and
Disney’s live-action The Little Mermaid remake.
The Italian-based cinematographer Seamus
McGarvey was mired in prep on a big-budget
studio production in Los Angeles, set to start
rolling in mid-July, when everything halted:
“For the past week I’ve been in a strange
cinematographic limbo, not knowing if I’ll
be able to shoot it or not,” he says. “There is a
significant amount of prep that can be
done remotely, and we’ve been having

Terminated: the Prince Charles Cinema in the West End of London has, along with every other cinema in the UK, closed its doors



Like every other part of life, the

business of making and showing

films has been disrupted in

extraordinary ways – and nobody

knows what the future will bring


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