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Weekend Movie Takeaway: Screen Narrative Evolution In the Time of COVID-19

March 25, 2020
2 min read time

Well, going to the movies is out for now...

But while grander concerns plague us right now, our collective hunger for filmed narrative hasn't evaporated. In fact, it might be even more necessary in the face of isolation, and the major purveyors are adjusting how they deliver stories to us in the time of “shelter-at-home”.

When the call came to close cinemas, three new major studio films that were just in theaters last week have been fast-tracked onto streaming platforms.

Writer-director Leigh Whannell's inventive new take on The Invisible Man, Craig Zobel's violent war satire The Hunt (written by Damon Lindelof and Nick Cuse), and Dave Wilson's Bloodshot (written by Jeff Wadlow, Eric Heisserer, based on the Valiant comic book character created by Kevin VanHook, Bob Layton and Don Perlin) are all now available to stream at home.

Theater chains, facing the most trying challenge to big screen cinema since television was invented, have been understanding about the move, as they naturally have been about the long delays applied to upcoming blockbusters such as No Time to Die, Fast and Furious 9, Minions: The Rise of Gru and A Quiet Place: Part II.

They’ve been somewhat less understanding about Universal's recent decision to push the upcoming animated sequel Trolls: World Tour straight onto digital streaming next month.

John Fithian, head of the National Association of Theatre Owners, ominously told trade publication The Hollywood Reporter that “Exhibitors will not forget this.”

His comments speak to the traditionally fragile relationship between studios and exhibitors. The latter are always fighting to keep the theatrical window alive, while the former often seem like they're simply happy with whatever makes them the most money.

Prolific filmmaker Christopher Nolan recently wrote an impassioned essay for the Washington Post in which he advocated for the importance of the theatrical experience, and how theaters will need help to stay alive in these uncertain times.

The COVID-19 crisis has seen one small corner of the theatrical world experience a positive turn: the Drive-In. At one point, Drive-Ins were a hugely significant part of filmgoing in the USA, but they exist mainly as nostalgic experiences now. In the era of social distancing, they have seen an uptick in popularity, as described in this Los Angeles Times article.

Getting back to streaming services we can watch from the comfort of our homes, which is how most of us will be experiencing our filmed narratives for the foreseeable future, some storytellers have been embracing the new digital intimacy.

When The Invisible Man became available at home, Whannell made himself available via his Twitter account for questions and comments, bringing viewers and storytellers closer together than they might otherwise have been. It remains to be seen whether other filmmakers will follow his lead, but it points to new horizons in the relationship between storytellers and story consumers.

Yet, streaming services are traditionally unwilling to release viewing numbers—and when they do, it's hard to place much stock in those numbers which are often based on the misleading criteria utilised (i.e., someone watching two minutes of something counting as a “view”)—so this new type of direct interaction between storytellers and story consumers could become the prevailing method of determining how successful a certain narrative actually is.

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