Categories
film netflix streaming studios television

Why Data Science Will Be the Future of Entertainment

Since its inception, Netflix has paved the way for streaming to become the new way to watch content and it’s no surprise either. If we look back upon the history of content distribution in the entertainment industry, technology has always been at the forefront. Look no further back than when radio helped bring entertainment across frequencies, or when television brought movies and sitcoms into the homes of suburban America. And now thanks to mobile technology, we have a radio, television, and computer all combined into a device that can fit into our pocket. Technology has always been the limit to what the entertainment industry can accomplish, but with the digital age increasing the interconnectedness of consumer to merchant, it appears that the limit may be no more thanks to data science.

Before discussing how streaming takes advantage of data science, we have to talk about how it got there. With almost everybody relying on mobile technology, especially their smartphones, it’s now far more easier to obtain information and data on people. The digital age has introduced corporations and business to the digital footprint: a collection of data that summarizes a consumer’s purchasing habits and, most importantly, their online activity. That online activity is what draws the attention of businesses and advertisers. By using data analytics, businesses and advertisers can create a profile of their target audience that gives them the best opportunity to sell their products and/or services. In the case of something like Netflix, data science can not only help sell its services, but develop products based on their users activity.

Netflix has always been a data science driven company. On their own website, they state:

“Partnering closely with business teams in product, content, studio, marketing, and business operations, we perform context-rich analysis to provide insight into every aspect of our business, our partners, and of course our members’ experience with Netflix.”

Netflix is one of the first online content platforms to take advantage of data science and algorithms. Their software engineers are able to detect the viewing habits of their users and create personalized recommendations for them in order to generate more web traffic on their site. Netflix’s reliance on data and algorithms is so strong that they even developed algorithms that change the thumbnail image of a movie or TV show. For example, they’ll change the thumbnail if the image contains the likeness of an actor or genre that you prevalently watched on Netflix. Their system is so efficient and effective that Netflix knows all of their users’ viewing habits 80% of the time. And with their content library being one of the largest, they can cover a large market of consumers with personalized algorithms for each of them.

Netflix doesn’t have to rely on a system like the Nielsen Ratings to determine what shows they need to produce. They have access to data that detects even the tiniest detail. Netflix’s data reaches so far that they can even detect a user’s browsing and scrolling behavior on their interface. The main point being is that Netflix deeply knows its user base and market. And the thing that makes Netflix such a smart company is that they utilize their data to not only manage licensed content, but to create their own.

In a New York Times article titled “Giving Viewers What They Want,” David Carr writes, “Netflix is commissioning original content because it knows what people want before they do.” The subject of Carr’s article was about how Netflix’s new show at the time, House of Cards, was unlike any other show. It has nothing to do with its content but rather with its inception. House of Cards was one of the first streamed shows, and according to Forbes, its first season was ordered in full. Netflix did not order a single pilot so that they can show test audiences. They already knew that their user base would want to watch House of Cards due to their data analysis supporting it.

Netflix churned out more hits like their collection of superhero shows set in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Orange is the New Black, Stranger Things, and The Queen’s Gambit. Netflix’s success was what led to what’s been deemed the “Streaming Wars.” All of a sudden services like Hulu started rivaling Netflix, and then movie studios started introducing streaming services like WarnerMedia’s HBO Max and Disney+ that add content libraries to their respective properties. And with these streaming services, original content was made for streaming.

With streaming becoming so big and popular, the biggest question is how does this affect the entertainment industry, or more importantly, how it affects the type of content we’ll watch in the future?

Netflix’s data science driven production process somewhat clashes with how a movie or TV show is regularly produced for conventional platforms. For the traditional method, it relies on what worked in the past and gut instinct. Film studios rely on the success of past films in order to help them decide what to greenligiht. For Netflix, they only need to see what their data analysts report. For Netflix, a success of a show is already determined before it gets greenlit due to their data analytics. What this suggests is that Netflix isn’t looking for a creative filmmaker or writer that could pitch them a new show. Rather, it suggest that Netflix is only looking for a competent filmmaker that can make the type of show that they already know what they want. In other words, it seems like they’re looking for a simple role player rather than a creative artist.

It’s to no one’s surprise that movies and TV is equally as a business as it is an art form. Netflix commissioning artists and filmmakers to produce content for their platform isn’t something we haven’t seen before, but what is different is the lack of artistic risk that studio executives have a sixth sense for. A lot of the great films and TV shows we’ve cherished in our popular culture were deemed too risky or a guaranteed failure. Cultural icons like Star Wars or even Seinfeld wouldn’t have happened if not for studio executives taking that leap of faith and relying on their intuition.

This seesaw of what’s successful and what’s not is what led to the popular William Goldman quote “Nobody knows nothing.” For a streaming service like Netflix, they’re trying to erase that need for a leap of faith. From a business perspective, it makes sense that Netflix is trying to erase that risk that could lose the company millions of dollars, but Netflix isn’t selling a product that can be bought off the shelf in a last minute Black Friday shopping deal. They’re providing movies and TV shows, products that don’t have an expiration date or a need to be replaced for the newest model. They live in the hearts and souls of people’s memories, and are ways for people to connect. Bringing that cold, calculative approach that Netflix is using to commission their original content can take away the artistic imprint that’s essential to what makes a good movie or TV show.

With other streaming services trying to replicate Netflix’s success, relying on data science rather than artistic risk could be the future of producing movies and television. If I were writing this before March 2020, my concerns would stop at the future of just streaming content, but since I’m assessing the future of producing content after experiencing the COVID-19 pandemic, the effects of data science may go beyond the internet.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, Warner Bros. decided to release their 2021 slate of films in both theaters and on HBO Max. What appears to be an attempt to gain as much profit as possible during the pandemic could be the future of theatrical releases. From a business perspective, the use of data science and analytics could help assess the success of theatrically-released films a lot better than box office earnings. That being said, though, moving to streaming can mean the further decline of movie theaters. Considering the situation that they were in, Warner Bros. made a smart business decision in testing out what releasing theatrical films on streaming could potentially look like. The first two flagship films that they released on HBO Max was Zack Snyder’s director’s cut of Justice League and Godzilla vs. Kong. Both films have reportedly increased the number of subscribers during their releases (myself included). While not a ground-breaking success that made Warner Bros. automatically think that streaming is the new movie theater, it still offers a glimpse of what’s possible to come.

The films that Warner Bros. released weren’t just any ordinary films; they’re tentpole films that can help sustain a franchise and thus produce more films. If this move by Warner Bros. further encourages studios to rely on streaming services, some movie theaters could end up closing their buildings. Some smaller theater chains like Arclight are shutting down operations due to the pandemic. It’s not a question of whether the theatrical experience is essential to the viewing of cinema, but evaluating the artistic value of how we consume our content is often replaced with the goal of convenience, especially with movie ticket prices preventing people from willing to come to the theater. For theaters, a lot of contributions are affecting its sustainability, and the repercussions of the COVID-19 pandemic just made the the situation a whole lot worse.

With all the potential foreshadowing and warning that industry analysts have said about how streaming can affect the entertainment industry, they’re all still predictions. Analysts have said the same about television, so it’s no surprise that history is repeating itself with streaming. If we were to look through a lens of how streaming can make the entertainment industry different rather than in trouble, there are some potential upsides.

With streaming taking advantage of the mobile technology that is essential in everybody’s lives, it’s especially essential to the younger audiences. The profile of the current younger audiences is that they’re more diverse and accepting of new ideas, and they’re the most reliant on technology. The data science of streaming is eliminating that risk of producing content that may seem too risky, which is also a practice that prevents different stories from being told. In other words, movies and TV with diverse points of view are limited in the traditional form of producing content, which leads to accusations of prejudice and discrimination of the studio heads. With that said, we know that these studio heads only care about money, and the data science of streaming giving them a more secure way to obtain that money. With the young, diverse audiences showing that they’re into diverse storytelling in that content, it’ll be reflected in the data, which is where the money is.

To sum it all up, the power and influence of data science on executives can lead to more diverse storytelling and possibly better representation. An example can be seen in the handling of Zack Snyder’s Justice League. In the theatrical release, the character of Cyborg, a Black superhero, has a very limited role. In the director’s cut released on HBO Max, his role was so essential to the story that it drew massive praise from fans and HBO Max’s users.

Movie theaters can also change in a positive way depending on how you look at it. The economic incentive of data science in streaming could push studios to put their blockbuster content onto streaming. Since the masses rely on convenience, and streaming offers that convenience, studios can have a better understanding of how to somewhat beat the market. With movie theaters losing all big ticket items, they would have to adapt. They could do that by bringing in smaller, independent films onto their screens and target their audiences through there. Independent films were losing theater space due to the popularity of blockbuster films, but if studios were to move those blockbuster films to streaming, there would be room left for the indie films. Now the question is if this switch were to happen, would everything feel the same with the exception of streaming taking the blockbusters? Probably not. Movie theater chains might have to limit the number of theaters so that they can invest in markets that are into indie films while studios may need to put a cap limit on blockbuster budgets. But it would be a situation where everyone comes out on top.

The main point of all this isn’t to point out that streaming is good or bad for the entertainment industry. If I were to use the history of the entertainment industry as my evidence, then it’ll prove that streaming is just a different platform for watching content. And with that different platform, everybody will adapt despite Hollywood being plagued with chaos, it thrives on the chaos. I predict that in the next ten years, industry analysts will look back on this moment and just say that streaming is another hump that Hollywood had to get over like they did with television.

Categories
disney film nostalgia studios television

Reboots and Remakes: Exploration or Exploitation?

Hollywood remakes are nothing new. We have seen countless remakes of timeless Disney films, such as Beauty and the Beast or Cinderella and reboots of popular cult TV shows such as Full House or Gilmore Girls. The film Star Is Born has been remade three times since the original in 1937, whilst Little Women has been adapted and remade seven times since the first silent version premiering in 1917.

One obvious reasoning for reboots and remakes is to bring new generations of fans to established stories. Another motivation is profit, as factors such as a returning cast or a continuation of a fan favorite character almost guarantee audience turn-out. In the last decade it would seem that any noteworthy film or TV show from the 20th century has been remade and it therefore raises the question: does Hollywood do so for profit or have all original stories been told? In this case study, I will examine the phenomenon of reboots and remakes, their functionality, and whether or not they are successful in their goals.

Reboots and Remakes
First, one must understand the terminology used in film and TV rejuvenation to explore the motivation behind it. A remake is defined as “a new Motion Picture derived from an existing Motion Picture or its Underlying Material in which substantially the same characters and events as shown in the existing Motion Picture are depicted.” An example of a remake would be Little Women (2019) or Beauty and the Beast (2017). Remakes usually involve different actors and creators, or sometimes a new media (animation to live-action), but will generally stick to the same storyline with potential minor differences.

Reboots do not have an official definition, however, they are recognised in the industry as “a new start to an established fictional universe, work, or series.” They are different from a franchise, prequel, or sequel, as they usually serve as a remake that is substantially different from the original “incarnation.” Marvel is known for such reboots, for example rebooting Spider-Man for the second time since the year 2000, just five years after The Amazing Spider-Man’s release in 2012. Although the inspiration and the universe of Spiderman are the same, the actors and the storyline are different, essentially pretending that the previous films didn’t exist. This makes it different from both sequels as well as remakes. The terminology of reboots, remakes, franchises, and delayed sequels is still very vague within the industry and the conditions for each term are not clear, thus the lines between reboots and remakes can often be blurred.

Exploitation
Hollywood has always been criticised for valuing profit over quality, thus profit as the sole motivation behind remakes and reboots must be considered. It is often said that updating is cheaper than innovating. Rebooting franchises such as Star Wars or Batman could be considered exploitative. They have established market bases and storylines, therefore audience awareness and turnout are almost guaranteed. For instance, Star Wars 7 grossed $2 billion and there is no financial reason why the franchise shouldn’t continue to be rebooted. Franchises such as Batman or Spiderman benefit from a predictable story that is known and loved by a large portion of movie watchers. The star era of Hollywood is considered to be gone, and it matters less how well known the new actors or creators are, as audiences will be hungry to see the new take on these stories and characters.

The same motivation can be seen behind seemingly endless sequels such as the Fast and Furious franchise, that benefit from a returning cast ensemble. Vin Diesel and Michelle Rodriguez have become household names in the Fast and Furious universe, and no matter the reception of the film, audiences will continue to show support for the established characters. The franchise is able to drastically increase the budget with each installment, with the first one having a budget of $38 million and the ninth instalment reaching over $200 million.

Engines for Change
Profit, however, may not be the sole motivation behind Hollywood’s tendency to produce reboots and remakes. One such motivation could be trying to be an engine for change. Many remakes and reboots happen as Hollywood tries to fix its mistakes, such as bad representation, sexism, lack of diversity, etc. For example, many Disney films have been remade with a deeper focus on the female lead characters and their empowerment and decision-making. Disney has an indisputable impact on its target audience. A large number of children in the western-world oriented culture grow up watching Disney films, observing and imitating the behavioural patterns presented in these tales, and absorbing the gender roles and stereotypes. It makes sense for a brand and influential as Disney to remake some of their most classic tales to appeal to a wider range of audiences, by empowering their lead characters and re-imagining the stories with a more diverse cast/characters.

The upcoming live-action remake of The Little Mermaid will star Halle Bailey as Ariel. The director Rob Marshall enthusiastically talked about bringing freshness to the role, while Daveed Diggs added that the remake will give “some more power” to Ariel than the original film. It should be noted, however, that perhaps the biggest change to the role will be the fact, that Halle Bailey is a Black actress. To this day, there had only been one official Black Disney princess: Tiana from The Princess and the Frog in 2009.

Little Mermaid will mark the first remake and a second Disney film overall to have a Black female lead character. As many generations have grown up with Disney’s animated version of Little Mermaid, first premiering in 1989, the new live-action remake will undoubtedly inspire many young black children, and allow them to experience Disney in a completely new way.

Aside from recasting, some remakes focus on a complex and distinct retelling of cult stories. Maleficent (2014) revises the storyline of the 1959 Sleeping Beauty and almost completely redefines its narrative by inserting more complex moral dilemmas into the originally simple narrative. While many remakes tend to retell the same story with minor updates, Maleficent manages to omit some core aspects of the fairytale, resulting in a different outcome and making the main female heroines much less passive than in the original animation. By adding more complexity to the original tale and giving its characters more depth, Maleficent blurs the lines between good and evil, bringing a new perspective to the story and humanising the main villainess in the process. Many would argue that that serves as a much better example of female and human complexity and is thus proving to be more beneficial for new generations, while still regaining the magic of the original tale.

Audience
Audiences are a huge driving force behind many reboots. In the last several decades, it has been the norm for fans to share their thoughts and theories on a multitude of online fan forums. They point out gaps in the storylines, discuss their favourite characters and devise backstories. Many fans create what is called fan-fiction, where they write up their own imagined continuation of the story and share it with the rest of the fandom, as oftentimes the original source material has the power to define generations of audiences.

By removing Gene Roddenberry, producer and creator of Star Trek: The Original Series, from the primary focus, the franchise stopped belonging to solely one person, as there was no need for Roddenberry’s approval as a sole creator. The 2009 Star Trek reboot restricted the importance of both Roddenberry and Abrams by not emphasising their creative role. The franchise was then in effect taken out of the hands of the creators and put into the hands of a collective force, thus giving the audiences a sense of responsibility for the franchise and boosting the economy behind it, while giving the fans a sense of communal experience and belonging.

New technology
Indisputably, one of the major driving forces behind remakes and reboots is the constant advancement of technology in the film industry. One of the most successful reboots in that sense was the reboot of Planet of the Apes, which was followed by four sequels, two remakes, and a rebooted franchise since the release of the original film in 1968. The rebooted franchise began with Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011), which was intended to serve as an origin film for a whole new franchise. While having a similar premise as some of the previous instalments in the original series, it is not a direct remake. The films employed groundbreaking new visual effects technology, with the main breakthrough being in the advancement of performance capture which allowed for a more realistic portrayal of the apes as well as the environment. The franchise has received high critical acclaim and numerous accolades for its visual effects, as well as substantial financial success. War for the Planet of the Apes (2017), the last installment in the reboot trilogy, has grossed a total of $490.7 million worldwide, against a production budget of $150 million. This is a prime example of a reboot done well, where a franchise has taken inspiration from the original series and combined it with new technology and successfully reimagined script. The new reboot has been able to not only attract old fans of the series but also gain a completely brand new audience and fans of science fiction films and blockbusters.

The same purpose can be seen behind reboots such as the Jurassic World franchise, where the story takes place in the same universe while taking advantage of advanced CGI technology. Jurassic World (2015) a sequel/reboot of the original Jurassic Park (1993) series, has gained immense financial success, grossing a worldwide total of $1.670 billion against a production budget of $150 million. With one critic noting that “Jurassic World can’t match the original for sheer inventiveness and impact, but it works in its own right as an entertaining — and visually dazzling — popcorn thriller,” it is clear that new technology can rarely recapture the magic of the original series, but is enough to attract fans and audience and gain profit. In this case, such reboots can be seen as exploitative as well.

Conclusion
While there seem to be enough reasons and motivation for Hollywood to continue to invest in reboots and remakes, the question remains whether they should. Reboots of reboots are becoming the new norm, causing the audience to know exactly what to expect from the film. One could argue that that takes away from the excitement of the overall experience and leaves less room for original new stories to be told. Of course, some remakes such as Disney fairytales, allow audiences to enjoy their beloved stories in a more politically correct and ethical manner, but is that progressive or retroactive? It may seem to some, that Hollywood would rather invest in “fixing” established stories than creating new ones, because, as previously examined, remakes may have a higher likelihood of success.

One should question why there is less content being created that is directly catered to a wider range of characters, such as stories centering on female heroes, BIPOC families, or LGBTQ+ princesses? Would casting a woman in the role of James Bond, an established male character with a male-oriented storyline be better, than writing a script catered to a woman agent? While sometimes remakes are successful in gender swapping or casting diversity, it may seem like a “lazy way out” do so only for the guaranteed profit.

Although the need for nostalgia can often be a powerful force, it is worth asking ourselves if the return of the familiarity is worth ruining the new franchise altogether, as it is rare that anyone is ever able to recapture the magic and essence of what made the original content so special. Although acknowledging past Hollywood mistakes is important, it is also vital for our society to move forward and continue to improve, rather than go back in time and fix something that has already been done. The objectively unsuccessful reboots and remakes such and Ghostbusters (2016) and Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life (2016) prove that works with such longevity are sometimes best left alone if there isn’t a high need for a remake. They say “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” Hollywood, do you hear that?

Works Cited

Gleiberman, Owen. ‘Charlie’s Angels’ AGAIN? How Reboots of Reboots Became the New Normal. Variety, Aug 7, 2016

Hollands, David. “Toward a New Category of Remake: A First Analysis of the Reboot.” Film Matters 1.3 (2010): 9–13.

Vágnerová, Barbora. ‘Tale as Old as Time:’ Modernization of Gender Roles in Disney Remakes. Master’s thesis. Masaryk University, Faculty of Arts, 2018.

Categories
film

Post-Pandemic Knowledge

For this case study, I wanted to explore what Hollywood and the film industry as a whole have learned from the pandemic? How did the industry react to the pandemic and how are smaller production companies coping? What has Hollywood and the filmmaking world learned from the pandemic and what could we see as a new normal in the future? Lastly, how will the job market look like for thousands of people trying to get their legs in the business? I will be using insights I have gathered from my personal experiences as an intern during the pandemic, and interviews of professionals in the industry to try and inform answers to these questions. As I am aspiring to be a professional editor and cinematographer, my analytical lens will be more focused on these areas while discussing the future of the industry. 

We all know the struggles the pandemic has caused, but with struggle, there is usually perseverance. The film industry saw this struggle and was forced to change dramatically over a short period. The film industry was one of the first non-essential workplaces to open up as Dave Chameides stated during a panel about what it was like to work during the pandemic, “Other industries are looking to the film industry as the gold standard.” Dave Chameides is an Emmy-winning Steadicam operator who has worked on many large production movies and television shows, such as Ozark, American Horror Story, and Zoolander 2

I attended Emerson College’s panel “Opening Hollywood: Making Production Safe in the Time of Covid.” Todd Marks, a computer/video playback supervisor of thirty-plus years, emphasized how big of a change the industry had to make, “We have an entire department. A department that never existed before…” According to Todd, Paramount had to create an entire department dedicated to COVID-19 safety. But this came at a cost as Todd furthered explained,  “So where does that money come from? It’s a cost that productions never had to think about before.” Large productions were forced to eat the cost of either hiring a team or person dedicated to COVID-19 safety or create a department because of Los Angeles’s COVID guidelines. It can’t be strictly the jobs of the people on set to follow 12 pages of procedures for disinfecting and social distancing. For many smaller productions, they were forced to close down for a short while. 

As stated by Variety, “According to federal data, about 125,000 of those employees are movie theater ushers and concessionaires — nearly all of whom have been furloughed or laid off. Another 170,000 work as actors, directors, camera operators, lighting technicians, set designers, and other production workers — a large percentage of whom are also not working.” While a large number of people in the industry were forced out of work, there were opportunities for new jobs to be created. The COVID Compliance Officer quickly became one of the most important personnel on set. 

Pre-pandemic, Rose Krane was a commercial, film, and documentary producer, but because she was out of work due to the pandemic, she quickly had to find a way to make ends meet. Various courses on COVID safety quickly became available and in a matter of weeks, Rose became a COVID Compliance Officer. Rose Krane stated that the secret to the position was not being a nuisance on set, as many people could look at her as overly enforcing rules. Rose’s motto is “Killing germs, but not killing the vibe.” Rose’s position is a temporary one, but the film industry has become very aware of how diseases can be spread on set, which was a known issue with many productions pre-pandemic. Rose is part of this change for safer sets.

Being one of the first non-essential industries to open up, it made a lot of people consciously realize what capitalism thought was important. “We’re going to work to protect millionaires.” Dave Chameides stated. We all know money is what runs this world and the film industry has a lot of it. This is true to the point that  during the peak of the pandemic during the summer, many hospitals in Los Angeles needed supplies and some Hollywood studios were starting production. As Chameides said, “We have better PPE than healthcare workers in our ward.” He went on to talk about the inequity in the system that gave testing priority to people working on set rather than teachers, “I am approaching 300 tests, my brother who is a teacher is approaching just two or three.”

Hollywood persevered during the pandemic and created ways to stay afloat. Sadly, in some circumstances, at the cost of taking PPE away from essential workers. It’s a reality check for many who work in the industry, and the inequities are due to how our economy works. However, looking down to the bottom of the solvent chain, what were smaller production companies forced to do when money was not in excess and what changes in how production companies operate will become the new normal?

I had the chance this semester to work as an editing and production intern at Long Story Short Media, a medium-sized production company that works with clients like The Gates Foundation, Lipton Tea, and National Geographic. When I started at Long Story Short early this January, the company was fully remote. No productions were happening in person. For Long Story Short, the business had completely changed for them in March 2020. Videos were completely being done over Zoom and company interaction and assignments were completed over Slack. For most production companies that had loyal clients like Long Story Short, they were able to keep the doors open but had to completely transfer to a cloud-based workflow. 

Long Story Short Media, like a lot of companies, didn’t want to go remote for many reasons. On one hand, it is beneficial to have the infrastructure to be put in place to complete and edit projects remotely, but on the other hand, this wasn’t an unnecessary expense for many production companies and took away from having immediate access to input midway through a cut. As stated by Octavio Abea, a lead editor at Long Story Short, “Companies that were dragging their feet to make the transition to a cloud-based workflow, were forced to this last year.” Long Story Short was able to navigate the pandemic well and the infrastructure that was put in place to share media and projects will be very beneficial in the future. This experience has also forced employees to learn how to work over the cloud, something that I believe would be sort of a novelty at first if it wasn’t a necessary situation. 

Currently, as vaccines are being distributed more and more, there is a resurgence in set and production work. Things seem to be going back to normal and for Long Story, Short Media things will mostly return to normal. Long Story Short doesn’t do much in narrative content, strictly commercial projects. This is very different from large Hollywood studios who are making their money off of theatrical releases and the pandemic has changed this dramatically. “Movie theaters are about to go out of business… If you were to look at the biggest chains right now, they could barely scrape enough money together to buy a big tub of popcorn and a box of Red Vines. I mean, they have gone from a multibillion-dollar business to no money overnight.” states John Horn, who is the host of The Fame on 89.3 KPCC Los Angeles. This is mainly due to the pandemic and if it was just for the pandemic, it’s fair to say that large theater chains could make a comeback; however, with Warner Brothers announcing they will be releasing all their slated movies for 2021 on HBO Max the same day that it will be released in theaters is the final nail in the coffin.

This news from HBO Max and Disney+ could affect industry professionals negatively. John Horn talks on how this could become an issue, “A lot of actors and directors make deals that involve a lot of contingent compensation… So what a lot of actors and directors have been doing is cutting their upfront compensation for a share of the revenue. And it’s almost always tied to the box office… If there is no box office, that money is gone… I was talking to somebody who works on scores for movies, and he said when one of his films goes to a streaming platform, he makes 10 cents on the dollar in terms of his royalty. His work is the same, but because it’s debuting on a streaming platform and not at the multiplex, he’s taking 90% pay cut in his royalties.” Now, this is something that negatively affects established professionals in the industry that can have that initial option of revenue share. This probably won’t affect the majority of the crew on set, just the heads of the departments. This might also affect indies more since the payout is less, but Netflix and other streaming services are budgeting an exorbitant amount of money for new content. According to Forbes with supporting data from Bloomberg, “Netflix, unsurprisingly, will dole out the most for new content in 2020, with a budget of $16 billion…” Netflix also saw a $5 billion revenue increase in 2020 from 2019, so it’s safe to say that more content is being produced now than ever and the demand for more content is ever increasing.

This is great news for film students and people trying to enter the industry. With unlimited access to content, people are more willing to watch more content. To get a job in the industry post-pandemic is still, “Just as mystifying as it was before,” stated Chameides. Kyle Seglin, who is lead Audio Engineer and Studio Manager at Crooked Media, believes that the pandemic may have put up barriers for people entering the market but the access to people online is ever-growing. “In my experience, LinkedIn is the best platform.” Kyle believes that Linkedin allows you to get a glimpse into a company’s interior rather than the exterior that you would be met with on a company’s website. “I am able to message everyone that works in that company and give them my resume,” says Kyle. “…Before I know it, HR is reaching out to me.” 

For the future of the industry, hygiene onset will be a more present concern, more professionals will be working from home, more content will be produced, large stadium theaters will be a thing of the past and the box office will wither away with those theaters. I think even though we are still in a pandemic, work in the film industry is growing even for Long Story Short, whose clients that were dormant during the pandemic are coming back wanting new promotionals. As a young professional entering the industry I am optimistic for the future.

Categories
feminism film MeToo

The Effects of the #MeToo Movement on the Male Gaze in Hollywood

The male gaze has dominated film, TV, and media in general for the last 100 years. The male gaze is most commonly defined as the portrayal, definition, and sexualization of women from a masculine, heterosexual lens; whose goal is to present women as sexual objects for the pleasure of the male viewer. The male gaze has influenced every aspect of Hollywood and filmmaking from what films are made, who is making them, how women are portrayed, to even how films are marketed. This structure has been such a powerful force within the industry and is seemingly untouchable as it has also warped the female perspective as a whole.

Nina Menkes in her essay for Filmmaker explained the influence perfectly as she states: “The actual language of cinema, the shot design itself, the way that women are photographed, creates a sort of subconscious indoctrination that all of us absorb, women and men.” Women have been overly saturated with media that has portrayed them in such an inaccurate and negative light, that they themselves have subconsciously adapted those inaccuracies. However, this commanding structure has been shaken by the recent #MeToo movement that swallowed Hollywood and forced it to recognize the manipulation, misrepresentation, and abuse happening to women both on and off screen. With a movement so monumental as #MeToo and a perspective so corrupt as the male gaze, one has to wonder: has the #MeToo movement had any effects on the male gaze and how the female experience is captured on screen?

To some extent, yes. However, the male gaze is a perspective that has been in place for so long that there needs to be years of extensive change and conscious effort in order to make a dent in its hold. Historically, the male gaze has been the result of the majority of films being created by men and men creating a power dynamic that discourages female filmmakers. Many female roles considered as classic characters, such as the eye-candy, the girl next door, the sidekick, and the adoring girlfriend have all stemmed from the perception of women in relation to men, instead of by themselves, that the male gaze has created. Not only have the types of characters written for women been regulated by misogyny, but so have the way they are filmed. In regard to cinematography, the viewer is used to seeing the camera follow the female body more than anything else. Lingering shots on female form, chest, legs, and behind have become the norm, however the male form is never objectified in such a way. Women have been given a 360-degree view of what they are “supposed” to look like rather than being presented with a character of substance.

While all of this has been common ground for most of Hollywood and is still apparent today, the rise of #MeToo has made the film industry take strides towards a future focused on female empowerment. First and foremost, Hollywood has distanced itself from the more “traditional” female roles as they have come under intense scrutiny with the broadcasting of the mistreatment of women within the industry. Which female roles become popularized has been taken more seriously as of late. As have the types of stories being told and from whose perspective. Films like I, Tonya, Birds of Prey, and Bombshell in their own right demonstrate the growth since #MeToo when it comes to the male gaze.

I, Tonya takes an unreliable female protagonist’s story and tells it from multiple narratives/perspectives and allows the viewer to come to their own conclusions. Rather than projecting a story with a woman at the center (who is also based on a real life individual) from one perspective and truth that would have most likely been adapted to fit a narrative that works in relation to the male characters and in turn the male gaze, the film tells multiple stories. Because when in doubt, Hollywood will revert back to what it knows best. This structure choice allowed for Tonya to be at the center of the story without being influenced by the male gaze, but also ultimately compared her story to those of the men in the film, commenting on vast differences between the perspectives on the story as a whole, but Tonya as a woman as well.

Birds of Prey as a whole subverts the male gaze by going against many tropes that have plagued women in superhero films for years, and in its predecessor Suicide Squad, which was filmed before the #MeToo outcry. The film rejected the idea of sexiness when it came to its main heroine Harley Quinn and created a look that represented the character’s personality and growth by labeling her clothing in her own name, instead of by someone else, as can be seen in Suicide Squad. The cinematography of the film refused to objectify its female characters’ bodies and instead highlighted their skills and how well-developed their fighting was. The film used it’s predecessor, which highly objectified its female characters, as a blueprint of what not to do.

Bombshell is an example of the female experience finally being taken more seriously. The film is based on the accounts of women who worked at Fox News, that set out to reveal the sexual harassment surrounding Fox and its biggest perpetrator, Roger Ailes. The film is an account of the real-life struggles women faced at Fox; the type of behavior that fueled #MeToo in the first place. The film also contains a controversial dress-lifting scene, which many male directors were quick to label as problematic. However, what they fail to see is how they misrepresent women in films constantly and this scene in particular was so effective because it made male (and female) audiences so uncomfortable, which is also the reason it is highly criticized. Bombshell is the type of film that would have been difficult to make before #MeToo and represents the types of stories we need. What all of these films highlight is that there is progress being made in the development of the female gaze and the male gaze has is slowly being disassembled.

These films focus on the generality of the male gaze; details like how women are filmed, the type of characters they play and the stories they are a part of. However, since #MeToo there have been extensive developments in a more specific area of the male gaze, that being how violence against women is portrayed on screen. “Violence as a release of fantasy has worked as an immortal trope in Hollywood for decades, making the link between real-world sexual violence and depictions of violence against women in movies cause for ongoing interrogation” (Hope 2018). Women have been depicted in violent situations casually, never truly as victims, and more so as warm bodies very consistently since the early eighties. Even in situations where women should gain the sympathy of the viewer, the male gaze has cautioned the viewer against it. Furthermore, the sexual nature of these violent images has some physiological standing. In 1984 the New York Times published a story (“Violence Against Women in Films”) that examined a study from the American Psychological Association confirming that, “violence as a sexual stimulant for men, as well as a survey, which found that “one in eight movies commercially released in 1983 depicted violent acts against women, a sharp increase from 1982 when the rate was one movie in 20” (Hope 2018). The male gaze and psyche have contorted the way we look at women in relation to violence, almost making it seem natural and as if any violence is justified.

However, this was not always the case. In the early days of Hollywood and the Production Code era, women were sexualized, but not in a violent way. The “censorship codes required that the kinkier and more aggressive modes of expression would remain either unexpressed, or buried firmly in the underground” (Hope 2018). Going back even further to the pre-production code era, writers, many of whom were female, wrote films with violence against women as the subject in hopes that if “a men knew what women really went through, they would be kinder and more empathetic towards them, and there would be less domestic violence” (Hope 2018). Although, after the codes were lifted, male filmmakers had the opportunity to express everything they had held back before, that being an “explicit sex and violence, and anger and frustration towards women” (Hope 2018). Since then the relationship between sex and violence has only gotten closer and has warped societies attitude towards real life women in violent situations.

The age of #MeToo has brought much criticism to this immoral sub-division of the male gaze and has condemned the leading user of this trope, Quentin Tarantino. Tarantino is known for illustrating gory, disturbing, and graphic violence on his female characters. His most recent film, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, also released during a time of peak awareness for the female experience, was the topic of many contentious conversations. The film tells the story of the tragic murder of Sharon Tate. During the film’s climax two women, Katie and Sadie, and one man, Tex, from the Manson Family cult attack an actor and stuntman, Booth and Dalton. The two are seen defending themselves against the cult members, but the violence against Tex in relation to that of Katie and Sadie is drastically different. Tex “gets mauled by Booth’s pitbull in a series of shaky, unclear shots: a moment of comedy is sprinkled in when the dog goes for his crotch” (Collins 2019). Katie directly attacks Booth, “which leads to various extended shots of a perfectly still camera as Booth picks her up by the hair and smashes her face into the countertop multiple times” (Collins 2019).  The contrast in cinematography demonizes Sadie, while making Tex seem unthreatening, even though he is the one holding the only gun in the scene and in-tern should be the most threatening. The scene continues with Sadie burning to death dramatically as Dalton uses a flamethrower on her. “While we get two extended shots of Katie’s mutilated face and Sadie’s charred body, Tex’s corpse remains unseen. It is clear that, while we get a laugh out of Tex’s death, the extended, gory shots for these women are the more joy–sparking” (Collins 2019).  The lingering shots on the women’s dead bodies are disturbing to say the least and show a complete disregard for any type of true justice, as the most dangerous and dominant person, Tex, does not receive the same treatment and fate. Tarantino is a perfect example of the corrupt gaze and personalities that control Hollywood, and how that perspective can have detrimental real-life consequences in how women are treated and perceived.

While it was bold for Tarantino to make that choice in the era of #MeToo; his status was predominantly why he was able to make such a film that was not completely rejected for its portrayals of violence. However, in the past year especially, a film like that would not have been as accepted with recent conversations of not only violence against women, but violence against minorities. A more recent film, A Promising Young Woman, reclaims the trope of violence against women and displays the expansion of the female landscape and the changes coming about because of #MeToo. The plot follows the main protagonist Cassie Thomas, who dropped out of medical school to take care of her best friend, Nina, after she was raped, as no one believed her. Cassie gets her revenge on the “bastards” of the world by feigning drunkenness at clubs, waiting and allowing men to think they have the upper hand and take her home, only to confront them as her sober self when they try to take advantage of her. The film reverses the situation that so many women experience and put the men, literally, in the female experience. Cassie is given all the power, and in turn control over situations and the violence that takes place.

In a drastic turn of events, as Cassie is getting revenge on Nina’s rapist, Al, she herself is murdered. Although, in the end it was revealed that she had precautions in place if such a thing happened, and ends up getting her revenge, as Al’s life is ruined. In the moment one might think Cassie finally met her match and lost her grip on violence she clung to. When in actuality the opposite occurred, Cassie seemingly in a way let herself get killed-making the decision herself, having full control of the violence taking place- in order to give Al the full extent of punishment she could, a life of pain, alone in jail. A fate worse than death. The film has been highly recognized by the academy, proving that films that renounce and subvert the male gaze can be successful and project a more accurate understanding of the world we live in for both men and women.

The #MeToo movement has become a catalyst for so many changes in Hollywood. The number of female directors and writers has increased over the last couple of years. The female based stories that have been told have much more substance and social impact. But most prominently, the male gaze has been truly challenged for the first time in Hollywood’s history. Misconceptions and inaccurate portrays of women have finally been challenge and confronted. However, the number of women behind the screen is nowhere near the number it should be, female experience stories still have a difficult time being created and the male gaze still reigns dominant over Hollywood. While it is important to acknowledge the changes brought about, there is still a long way to go in order to achieve a more inclusive, accurate and positive Hollywood. The film industry has had many trials and tribulations and will continue too, but with the rise of #MeToo, there is hope that the viewers that makes these films so successful, also have the power to transform the current power structure in place and force Hollywood to create stories that reflect the actual world we live in.

Works Cited

Collins, Anna, and Anna Collins. “’Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood’ and Tarantino’s Violence Against Women.” 34th Street Magazine, 34th Street, 3 Sept. 2019.

Dawn, Randee. “Filmmakers Work to Reframe the ‘Male Gaze’.” Variety, 24 Jan. 2020.

Hope, Clover. “The Effects of #MeToo on Film’s Violent Male Gaze.” Culture, 6 Apr. 2018.

Liu, Rebecca. “‘Yes, Girls, We Love Your Corpses’: Emerald Fennell’s ‘Promising Young Woman’.” Another Gaze: A Feminist Film Journal, 22 Apr. 2021.

Rahman-Jones, Gurvinder Gill and Imran. “Me Too Founder Tarana Burke: Movement Is Not Over.” BBC News, 9 July 2020.

Valenti, Lauren. “How Promising Young Woman Uses Bold, Candy-Colored Beauty to Further Its Powerful Message.” Vogue, Vogue, 19 Apr. 2021.

Wardlow, Ciara. “How ‘Birds of Prey’ Deconstructs the Male Gaze.” The Hollywood Reporter, 13 Feb. 2020.

Categories
cancelculture film netflix

Why Some Movies Need ‘Cancelling’ and Others Given a Second Chance

When the public fails to approve a film or a celebrity, a backlash can occur, leading to a person or movie lacking credibility in the public eye, leading to the person or film being canceled. Cancel culture is a term used to refer to a modern form of ostracism where an individual, a movie, film, or a book, is thrust out of professional or social circles, which can be online, on social media, or even in person. The challenge with this trend in the entertainment industry is the lack of an actual procedure or method to institute the cancellation.

The cancellation happens out of emotions, and it is easy for it to be based on mere propaganda. As such, there have been numerous cases of cancel culture processes being selective. However, this problem is understandably so because it is the public that comes up with the cancellation, and one cannot dictate how the public thinks. Two movies have been victims of the cancellation culture in different ways.

The movies that I am talking about today are Cuties by Maïmouna Doucouré and Music by the singer-songwriter Sia. Cuties is one example of a movie that has suffered negative impacts of the public’s uncontrolled and selective cancel culture. The movie was supposed to be known for its activism against children’s sexualization. However, this is no longer the case since the movie is no longer on Netflix following a heated backlash and review bombs that followed it way before the movie had been fully released. Therefore, it is essential to construct all the events that came before the review bombing to ascertain whether the movie’s cancellation was justified in the first place.

The movie Cuties was produced and released in France as a coming-of-age drama film. The movie received many accolades from various quotas in France and became an all-time award-winning movie. Some of the organizations and events that gave awards to the cast and the whole directorship of the movie included the 2020 Sundance Film Festival, Cesar Award for Most Promising Actress, and BAC films where the movie was released in France. However, Netflix exclusively purchased its rights in the year 2020.

The rights purchase was a formal process usually done by Netflix when buying any movie or documentary. The main challenge started when Netflix released a poster and a trailer of the movie to be fully released at a later date. The poster depicted several young girls dressed only in panties and bras, which did not sit well with most Netflix subscribers.

The subscribers could not sit and wait to see the movie first since the backlash, and the review bombing started immediately. The response by Netflix on the whole issue did not help the matter, and neither did a comment by the director. The majority of the people who watched the movie when it was fully released declared that the controversy behind it was the very reason why they watched it. Many of the people who watched the movie claimed that they did not see anything offensive after watching it.

Meanwhile, the management of Netflix had become victims of criticisms, including political pressures from various individuals, including Senator Josh Hawley of Missouri, Senator Mike Lee of Utah, and Representative Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii. Despite the backlash and review bombing that seemed to have taken the day, several pointers in the whole drama that show the cancel culture applied in this movie by the public were not justified. First, the movie was produced and directed in France, a European country that shares different values from most Americans.

It is essential, therefore, at this stage, to ask whether the problem was the movie or the cultural differences that exist between Europe and the United States, which seems to be more conservative. Second, in one of the responses by Doucouré, the movie director noted that the conservative Americans who had not watched the movie in the first place were behind the review bombing.

This comment speaks a lot about the cultural differences behind the movie cancellation, especially concerning the cultures. The response by Doucouré raises another aspect worth considering. When review bombing and backlash came up, the Netflix viewers had not views the movie. The uproar came up as a response to a poster and trailer that Netflix posted. Therefore, it is essential to consider whether the problem was the movie itself or the trailer and poster that Netflix used to market the movie.

Netflix might have accepted that the poster was not appropriate, especially when Doucouré admitted to having received a call from the co-CEO of Netflix apologizing for the poster that they used without consulting her. However, Netflix also came up with a second poster that did not over-expose the girls. Therefore, it cannot be fair to cancel a movie based on a mistake made by Netflix when the original content of the movie had pure intentions.

On the other hand, it is good to review the intentions that the movie had and see whether the people participating in the review bombing knew it. The movie features an 11-year-old girl known as Amy, who is an immigrant girl from Senegal. She does not like the Muslim culture she is being exposed to by her aunt. Peer pressure from her age mates makes her get into aspects like twerking that she learns from her neighbor Angelica. The same peer pressure would later move her to post a photo of her vulva online to get social approval. This becomes detrimental even to her acting life, where Yasmine replaces her. The story does not end well for Amy, who goes to the extent of pushing Yasmine to a ditch and failing to act in a play to the end.

The movie intends to show how the hyper-sexualization of young girls is always detrimental in the long run. The movie should discourage young girls from the peer pressures they may get from social media to be hyper-sexual. However, it uses an example of hypersexualized girls to draw the lesson.

The primary challenge that brought about the review bombing is that viewers did not take time to watch the movie and understand the main intention and message that the movie sought to draw. In this case, the problem is the poster that Netflix used and not the movie. Doucouré claimed in several instances that the people criticizing the movie did not realize that she was on the same side of the argument as them. Authorities gave the same claim in France in their defense of the movie. France claimed that the criticisms were against the free space of creating discussions and conversations in the film industry.

Cuties, therefore, became a victim of negative backlash and review bombing, which are precursors to the creation of cancel culture. It is good to compare the movie with prior movies that might either have been canceled or were not canceled despite having negative characteristics warranting their cancellation.

Take an example of another Netflix movie, 365 Days, that also received review bombings due to the cultural erosion that it seemed to be portraying. However, the movie Music by Sia is an example of a movie that has all the reasons why it should be canceled, yet it was not canceled. The movie has been widely criticized for its use of a character known as Music, who acts as a non-verbal autistic half-sister of Zu’s protagonist.

The primary concern from the negative reviews about the movie has been much to do with why Music should play an autistic character, yet many other people are suffering from autism who could also play the role very well. The critics also came from people with autism who claimed they could play the role in an even better manner than what the able-bodied character did.

The problem was further worsened by the movie director and management, who took the matter lightly through their responses. Music is a perfect depiction of a movie that completely goes beyond the set societal norms where disabled people ought to be given the respect they deserve. The portrayal given by Music while acting as one with autism is a complete disrespect to people with autism. The character comes out as a mockery to people with autism. Comparing this with the well-intentioned movie, Cuties leaves one with questions on whether cancel culture is applied fairly in all situations.

It is easy to come across situations where a well-intentioned movie gets canceled while a movie that should be canceled remains on the screen despite the backlash. This selectiveness leaves several lingering questions that may need to be answered. One such question is whether cancellation should be based on the reviews given and the hashtags that trend either in favor of the movie or against it. This should be weighed against the need of having proper review commissions that can look into a movie before giving a verdict about it and advising viewers on the way forward.

Categories
feminism film MeToo

The Casting Couches Are Talking…

Casting couch culture. What is it really? I know we have all heard of Harvey Weinstein and his role in casting couch culture, but besides his horrific acts what is the exact definition of casting couch culture? The technical definition is: “a situation in which someone has sex in return for getting a job, especially in show business.” As a woman, I’m in support for people to be able to do whatever with their bodies. However, when it comes to sexual favors for things in return is it ever truly consensual? My point of view on this situation is that there is definitely a power play when it comes to casting couch culture. Phrases like “you are never going to work in this industry again” sway people to make rash choices. Three big factors that come into this conversation are consent, hierarchy, and the stories told. One of my biggest fears coming into the industry is powerful people who can make life-altering decisions based on your actions. Many people have and are speaking out about their stories when dealing with casting couch culture and the people controlling the room. It’s time to hear what happens behind closed doors and give the casting couch a place to wither away.

The casting couch has been a part of the industry for a very long time now, and before you even ask it did not start with Harvey Weinstein and nor did it end with him. Luckily, putting Harvey Weinstein in prison brought a much needed microscope to the conversation. Cari Beauchamp wrote the book Without Lying Down: Francis Marion and the Powerful Women of Early Hollywood. She delves into the story of Louis B. Mayer who, long before Harvey, was known for mistreating women and destroying their careers in any way he could when told no. Beauchamp explains that the abuse doesn’t stop at the casting couch, and it continues with producers telling people that they can’t get jobs without looking a certain way. Now I am aware that these are all non-consensual instances but allowing the casting couch culture to continue with its already blurred lines could lead to another Mayer or Weinstein. I’d like to bring in the example of teachers, where you have someone of authority and students who mind this authority figure, the chances of a student making the decision to do favors for the teacher are higher than a student saying no. When in show business you may not have the age difference, but you still have the hierarchy there, which leads me to believe that consent in this situation is based on the menacing factor of authority.

While I do think the casting couch should end, will it ever really end while we still have people in positions of power? Removing the statue of Harvey Weinstein’s casting couch isn’t enough. I think the best way to mitigate the effects of casting couch culture is to start putting either social workers in the rooms or intimacy trainers who are trained in protecting people from assault. This is just one way that I believe will help the industry overall. Another way people are finding help is through the Violence Against Women Act. This act allows their voices to be heard and not silenced. However even with all of these ways of protecting people we still seem lost on who to blame and how to maneuver these cases. One of the biggest concerns is how people find safety when put in this position. We would immediately assume that you could turn to the people running the audition rooms or sending you on these jobs, but that isn’t the case. Most companies don’t take responsibility when complaints are made and some even turn them away to avoid liability. So, finding a safe haven seems impossible to new timers and even veterans of the industry. Having a middle person in any of these situations could prevent these traumatic situations from happening and finding the people OR COMAPANIES at fault will be a big step for the industry.

Not only does the perpetrator not take responsibility but the companies involved don’t as well. When looking into the legality of everything coming out about casting couch culture there is an obvious (but silent) party lurking in the back. SAG-AFTRA a union meant for actors working in the industry. The technical definition of union is “an organized association of workers formed to PROTECT and further their rights and interests; a labor union.” With this in mind SAG-AFTRA has worked diligently to stay out of the light when considering their actors’ safety. This is another reason to consider why stopping the casting couch is a smart idea. The “authority” figure is taking advantage of the people that come into the room, but the company sponsoring these rooms and putting actors in them is SAG-AFTRA and they aren’t doing anything about the complaints. Women have spoken out about the abuse they have encountered when auditioning for new jobs and SAG-AFTRA has turned them away to avoid the liability. The lack of care given to these actors causes them to leave the industry all together. Is continuing the casting couch culture, under the idea of “consent”, a respectful reason when all these people have spoken about their horrific stories when dealing with it? NO. To continue to allow companies to get away with not protecting their employees is despicable.

The fact that people can give consent isn’t enough when we are discussing people’s futures and their “bosses” or soon to be bosses taking advantage of them. It’s manipulation at best. SAG and many other companies should start taking the fall for hiring people who think manipulation and assault is okay and being aware that it’s happening all around them. We should be taking steps to prevent this from happening, but large companies have other things that matter more.

Many people in the industry are guilty of this unspeakable crime and some producers even suggest putting sex on the table before even walking into the room. “…one of the producers suggested that she write “willing to give BJs” on her résumé if she really wanted to get parts.” Is this really the industry we all want to work in? Knowing the casting couch culture is still alive is terrifying to most aspiring actors; me being one of them. For many people in the industry this is an ongoing uphill battle. My goal for my future is to work as an actor in this, already rigorous, industry, but knowing the truth behind the table is discouraging.

I’m willing to bet I will come across this one day and all I can hope for is that I have the courage to stand up for myself and others because who knows if someone else will. I want to come into the industry knowing that people are fighting to stop this play of power and that people are being held accountable for their actions or lack thereof. “Hollywood is a business of freelancers going from one project to the next, a set that makes predators difficult to contain and blowing the whistle especially risky.” I think we are slowly but surely heading in the right direction to change this culture, but it’s about time we start holding people accountable. In any law case regarding sexual assault, it is known knowledge that you would be going after not only the people in the room but also the company. The #MeToo is causing a change in how people, and industry workers, view this culture. Soon enough there will be an uproar for justice.

The impact on projects and actors is severe when considering what they are put through. How does this directly affect the industry? It will soon start to be documented and many people will start to lose their jobs. Rightfully so, because many people left their hopes and dreams out in LA to avoid casting couch culture. An article from The Guardian says that “a survey found that 94% of women employed in the American film industry have experienced sexual harassment or assault.” This ranges from all different types of sexual harassment or assault, including: “unwelcome sexual comments, jokes or gestures” to being “forced to do a sexual act.” Women should feel comfortable when stepping into any room, but instead are given ultimatums. The Guardian also reported “that only one in four made a complaint, and that of those who did, only 28% said their situation improved as a result.” How will the actions of others affect the women being violated? “’When it comes to sexual harassment or sexual assault, our study shows that lived experiences may have a serious impact on women’s health, both mental and physical,’ Rebecca Thurston, a professor of psychiatry at the Pitt School of Medicine and the study’s senior author said in a press release.” Low morale causes for all sorts of issues in our lives. Personally, finding a way to put an end to casting couch culture will allow everyone to breathe a little more freely. This doesn’t change the fact that people will have to live with their memories forever.

The lasting effect will forever live on in every spectator and victim. This is just another reason for casting couch culture to end, and for people to fight for justice. Watching the trials on Harvey Weinstein was just a broadcasted version of what is happening every day in the industry. The stories are important to hear but very traumatic to tell so giving people the peace of mind knowing there is support out there is so important. While the big companies may not be any help, I hope that people can find their voice to speak out through the support of their agents, loved ones and community. Victims have to go through years of counseling and therapy and not everyone can afford treatment especially when a union doesn’t provide healthcare. There are hotlines for people to reach out to that provide information and support such as the National Sexual Assault Hotline: 1-800-656-4673 (HOPE). Creating a conversation for the general public to hear will allow people to become more knowledgeable and better support systems. Killing the casting couch is a must and it can only begin when everyone involved stops being silent… and that means big companies like SAG-AFTRA.

My overall point of view is to end casting couch culture and I’m aware that this wont happen overnight, but small steps are a huge success within the industry. Fighting for a positive change in the industry is worth all the trials and tribulation. There is no consent when dealing with an “authority” figure that has the power to manipulate. The play of power is the most detrimental thing within this industry. Harvey Weinstein being put in prison was a win for many women, but people are still being taken advantage of. The microscope on the industry needs to become much larger now that we have heard many stories, and we need to keep talking about this awful part of the showbusiness industry.

As a soon-to-be graduate, I feel the need to prepare myself for the worst and it’s an atrocious feeling. I hope the word keeps spreading to make this a well-known thing. I recently got to speak with a few working actors, and they wanted everyone to know that even if someone says that if you don’t do something you won’t make it in this industry, you will. Don’t let an angry person sway you to do something you aren’t comfortable with. Fight for what you believe in and speak out. It’s time to be the voice for the voiceless and find your own voice to END CASTING COUCH CULTURE.

Works Cited

Adams, Thelma. “Casting-Couch Tactics Plagued Hollywood Long Before Harvey Weinstein.” Variety, 17 Oct. 2017.

Fisher, Luchina. “How Hollywood’s Casting Couch Culture May Have Contributed to Weinstein’s Alleged Behavior.” ABC News, 12 Oct. 2017.

“A Guide for Friends and Family of Sexual Violence Survivors.” PCAR.

Haring, Bruce. “‘The Casting Couch In Hollywood Was Not Invented By Harvey Weinstein’ – Attorney Benjamin Brafman.” Deadline, Deadline, 3 Mar. 2018.

Harris, Elizabeth A. “How #MeToo Is Smashing the Casting Couch.” The New York Times, 30 Jan. 2020.

Pulver, Andrew. “94% Of Women in Hollywood Experience Sexual Harassment or Assault, Says Survey.” The Guardian, 21 Feb. 2018.

Yurcaba, Jo. “Exclusive: Violence Against Women Act to Offer Support to LGBTQ Survivors.” NBCNews.com, 17 Mar. 2021.

Zimmerman, Amy. “Inside Hollywood’s Abusive Casting Couch Culture.” The Daily Beast, 10 Feb. 2019.

Categories
feminism film MeToo television

Are You Uncomfortable Yet?

As a woman, I’m always trying to define what a woman’s place is within the industry. When on set are we meant to feel uncomfortable or is it our job, nowadays, to make YOU feel uncomfortable? When I think about the roles that women play, I usually come up with a few coming-of-age roles, a ton of mean girl or sad girl roles, and the majority sex appeal roles. I was recently talking with a friend about how I love Margot Robbie for her part in I, Tonya and the only thing he could recall of her work was, of course, Wolf of Wall Street. Is this purely part of the dreaded “male-gaze” or is it a bigger issue within the industry?

In The Hollywood Reporter, Billie Piper delves into her own personal experience as a woman and how she genuinely feels about the roles she has been given. “Disingenuous” is the word she uses to describe the many sex scenes she had to take part in. Over many years women have felt objectified while in the industry, but now more than ever women are starting to create their own work that offers characters and plots that allow them to feel comfortable when on set. People are coming together to support causes that fight for their rights and actors like Billie Piper, Keira Knightley, and many more have been making a huge difference. How are women using their feminism and vulnerability to make you uncomfortable? It all comes down to people being afraid of what true womanhood looks like when it’s put on display, such as, breast feeding, masturbation and honestly the power that women hold altogether.

Billie Piper has worked on many different productions that have focused on her sexuality, while also not giving her a say in how its presented. Throughout society women are put into audition room after audition room being told how to look and act. Billie Piper delves into the character study of I Hate Suzie that was created by her and Lucy Prebble. She mentions to The Hollywood Reporter that “up until a few years ago, character studies like I Hate Suzie didn’t get the green light unless they were made by men.” Just like in I Hate Suzie women are constantly being robbed of agency and not only does the show touch on this topic but women are fighting to have this conversation every day. Sociologically, agency is a right given to everyone to make their own free choice. However, regardless of who you are and what you look like the industry takes that away in some ways from everyone. To make a living, women are going out for roles that don’t suit their personal morals and ethics. Due to recent societal changes people are now being given the chance to create their own work and women are taking the liberty to due so. Billie Piper speaks on the topic of perfect looking women gaining traction more than women who may not be as symmetrical as others. Why is this, you may ask? For the longest time the people behind the table were rich men who had enough money to control the decisions being made. Actors like Piper are sticking it to the man by going through with the characters she has created and plots that may make people see sides of women that “upset” them. What matters to the actors is becoming more prevalent in conversation now that women are speaking up. Creating work that stands out isn’t about selling tickets anymore, it’s about the audience relating to the characters.

Kiera Knightley is another woman that has had to make drastic changes to her way of approaching new productions. Since becoming a mother “Knightley added a ‘no nudity clause’ to her film contracts.” Kiera brings up an idea that she is portraying the male gaze when given roles that involve sex. Similarly to Knightley, Piper wants to make a change to the industry when considering the woman’s point of view. Piper speaks on the idea of selling sex and the aftereffects of sexual violence, but through a woman’s perspective. The drastic difference of how women are perceived through the male’s perspective is quite large, and therefore many women choose to not partake in sex scenes when directed by men. I think this decision is a strong start to more women feeling comfortable within the industry.

People think they own the right to feeling comfortable by the natural state of a woman, but that should never be the case. However, our society chooses to view women as someone who needs to tend to men’s comfortability. I believe Piper has the right idea when creating projects that delve into the mind of a woman. While these experiences are only one of many it still aims to please no one but the people who feel comfortable with vulnerable and strong women. So honestly it is our job to make people feel uncomfortable and be contemptuous for MEN. Because WOMEN are beautiful even in the darkest parts of our lives. After reading this article my gut reaction is to do everything in my power to make men see the true sides of women. Might even partake in free the nipple or breast feeding in public (obviously when I become pregnant) … Who knows what my next steps to this new version of me will be, but I’m excited to see the reactions I will be given. Piper will and has already inspired new creators to speak out about their experience in Hollywood and this is the start of a revolution.

Categories
feminism film

The Evolution of Women Representation in Horror Films

I was interested in horror films before I became interested in feminism. Since my youth, horror has been my favorite film genre but as I’ve gotten older, I have started to notice an evolution in the representation of women in the genre. Despite having more roles for women compared to other film genres, horror films are oftentimes criticized for the overtly misogynistic way that female characters are represented. Classic horror films such as Rosemary’s Baby, Psycho, Nightmare on Elm Street and The Exorcist all featured female leads, but presented them as vulnerable, naïve, and powerless victims. Nowadays, modern horror films such as The Witch, It Follows, Hereditary and Midsommar have shifted that stance to portray women as survivors and strong protagonists. The primary focus of this study is to analyze the roles women play in horror films and how its representation of females has evolved over time. Women used to be underrepresented or cast into stereotypical roles in the film industry, but that has now transitioned into more nuanced performances that offer commentary on societal issues.

Since its beginnings, the horror genre victimized women. Films from the 1920s featured women who were fragile and defenseless, such as in Nosferatu (1922) when Ellen opens her window to let a vampire in, and she immediately faints from the shock. The gender roles that manifested in the 1930s began as a trend that ultimately led to almost a century of gender roles in film. Over the last century, films have depicted women as weak and men as powerful in almost all horror movies. University of Southern California Communications Professor Stacy Smith, who researches depictions of gender and race in film and TV, found that of the 5,839 characters in the top-grossing films released between 2006 and 2011, fewer than 30% were women. But there is one genre in specific where women not only take on increasingly prominent parts, but they appear and speak as often as men: horror films (Younger). As the film industry progressed over the years, it has turned women from being damsels in distress to becoming the heroines of their stories.

Nevertheless, before today’s heroines, came yesterday’s objectified females who suffered by the hands of male villains. Beginning with Alfred Hitchcock’s 1960 horror Psycho, women’s roles in horror films began to be sexualized for the pleasure of male audiences. Psycho paved the path for the birth of the slasher sub-genre by helping create the archetype of the disguised, mentally deranged killer who preys on innocent – if sexually indiscreet – young women (Horror Fandom). Psycho was so influential that many critics see it as a turning point in cinema history. However, although Psycho directly inspired slasher films, the sub-genre doesn’t officially exist until 1978s classic horror film Halloween (Vorel). Subsequently, this led to the introduction of the Final Girl – which slasher films tended to feature.

By the late 1970s, the Final Girl trope was introduced, and heavily featured in horror films. Friday the 13Th Director Sean S. Cunningham defined the concept of the Final Girl by saying, “The Final Girl in these little morality tales is the person who has embodied the moral code that society thinks allows you to go forward in life.” (Vitelli, Psychology Today.) As Caroline Madden from The Buzz explains it, the final girl is “the last one standing, and either escapes or kills the killer. Most final girls share certain characteristics – they are usually virgins that avoid the vices of the other victims, such as drugs or sex.” One of the main examples of the Final Girl is Laurie Strode from Halloween, played by Jamie Lee Curtis in four of the franchise’s films. Romeo Vitelli related the Final Girl phenomenon to rape myths that still remain in society today – where the “good girls” manage to survive, while the “bad girls” somehow deserve their gruesome deaths because of their sexual behavior.

The slasher sub-genre set a stereotypical perspective of female sexuality which was executed through the Final Girl trope as a way of killing female characters who had sex are first while women who were virginal survived until the end of the film. However, as the trope evolved, some feminists noticed that through this device, the males in the audiences were forced to identify with a woman in the climax of the movie, which in itself became a very powerful sword to wield (Hellerman). When women survived at the end of a movie, they forced men to watch them step into their own power.

One of the primary examples of Final Girl female empowerment comes from The Witch, directed by Robert Eggers. Many film critics and viewers even consider it to have set a new standard for horror films. The film tells the story of Thomasin (Played by Anya Taylor-Joy), an adolescent girl in Puritan New England. At the beginning of the film, she moves with her family away from civilization and into the wilderness. Misfortune after misfortune befalls the family and eventually, Thomasin finds herself under increasing suspicion from her parents. A major point of suspicion is her growing into female adulthood and sexuality. Ultimately, her entire family is killed and she decides to reject her Puritan lifestyle and becomes a witch. Despite being set centuries ago, the film speaks to issues we still face in modern society. In a way, it is a coming-of-age story with themes of slut-shaming and societal pressures on women, where the final scene can be interpreted as Thomasin ascending into womanhood. David Sims from The Atlantic states that “the film’s exploration of patriarchal power was the key to unlocking Thomasin’s story. As a woman in the seventeenth century, she’s entire stripped of agency. She exists only to work and help her family, and eventually be married off and bear more children.” But she is led down a different path. Historically, women who didn’t conform to the strict values of patriarchal society were labeled as witches. The Witch is praised for showcasing a young woman rejecting a patriarchal institution and gender-based suppression in order to live eternally free.

Another main example of a feminist modern horror film is Midsommar. Written and directed by Ari Aster, Midsommar is considered to have reimagined the scream queen concept. A scream queen, as Evan Romano explained in a Men’s Health article, can be many things, but we tend to think of it in terms of someone who can be easily identified with an unforgettable, one-of-a-kind horror movie performance. Urban Dictionary defines the term as “a female star of a horror film; so named because she spends a lot of time screaming.” In Midsommar, Florence Pugh gives a transformative performance as Dani. The film begins with her losing her entire family in a tragedy, and follows the story of Dani, her boyfriend Christian, and their group of friends as they go on a summer trip to Sweden. On the surface, Midsommar is a cult horror fable, but at its core, it is a tale about an unhealthy relationship. Before her family’s tragic death, Christian confesses to his friends that he wants to break up with Dani; and afterwards, he fails to provide any meaningful support, he repeatedly denies Dani’s emotions, steals another student’s thesis, speaks insensitively of Dani’s mentally ill sister, pressures Dani to take hallucinogenic drugs when she is sure she will have a bad trip, talks about her incessantly behind her back, and commit many more microaggressions. One of the ways in which Midsommar is thought to be a feminist film lies in its foregrounding of female desire and subversion of the male gaze.

Horror films of the past had been plagued with the hyper sexualization and objectifying of women as a result of the male gaze. In Midsommar, however, Dani spends the entire movie in shapeless shirts and bottoms that more so obscure her female form rather than enhance it. She doesn’t wear makeup, her hair is not done in a fancy updo, and she is neither trying to impress nor seduce anyone. She is not trying to be sexy; she is just herself. Dani is relatable for being a female character that represents not what men want to see in a woman, but what women recognize in ourselves. Additionally, when the camera focuses on Dani, it points to her face, not her form. In one scene where Christian is drugged, naked, and pushed into performing ritualistic intercourse, the room is surrounded by naked women chanting a fertility spell. The film continues its subversion of the male gaze by featuring honest, real life female bodies. Their bodies are not being exploited for men’s enjoyment to watch. Midsommar is, simply put, two-and-a-half hours of audiences witnessing Dani’s anguish, heartbreak, and reclaiming of herself. No longer do we encounter Hitchcock’s female characters who were the objects of the killer’s desires and desperately needed male heroes to save their lives – we now have women who play strong characters who have fully realized backstories (Beebe).

It is important for female audiences to see themselves represented not as weak and defenseless, but as powerful and ambitious individuals who deserve to live. A study by the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media and J. Walter Thompson Company shows that female role models in film and TV are hugely influential in driving women to improve their lives. Historically, women have been drawn to the horror genre. Noah Berlatsky from The Guardian describes that in 2013 “The Conjuring had an audience composed of 53% women; The Purge had an audience of 56% women. Mama was 61% women. Even the Texas Chainsaw Massacre remake showed to an audience that was less than half men.” This indicates a correlation between the horror genre’s interest in women, and women’s equal interest in the genre. Beth Younger explains that we have veered away from slashers and torture porn to more substantive, nuanced horror films that comment on social issues.

The Final Girl and the narrative to punish sexually active women saw a turning point with the release of David Robert Mitchell’s It Follows (2015). The film follows Jay, a teenage girl who is pursued by a supernatural entity after a sexual encounter. Brendan Morrow believes that in fact, It Follows critiques rape culture by highlighting the trauma or how rape survivors are often treated by culture, friends, and family (Bloody Disgusting). It Follows is critically acclaimed for allowing Jay to be the kind of girl who represents women in an empowering way: she investigates, fights back against the predator, and ultimately prevails (Younger). This allowed women to see themselves to be represented as multifaceted beings, instead of being reduced to a singular emotion – fear – as it used to happen with scream queen slasher films.

How women are generally presented in horror films correlates to how they are perceived by society at the time in which the film is created. The search for cinematic gender equity will continue for years to come, but the evidence presented in this study shows the shift in horror films to feature more well-written female leads who have became stronger and more powerful has already started. As filmmakers continue to do a better job of understanding women and portraying female representation, the horror films of this day and age should be applauded for their more feminist approach to filmmaking that features strong female leads, subverts the male gaze, positions women as survivors, and continues to break the mold.

Works Cited

Beebe, Jessica. “How Modern Horror Movies Rescued Women From Hitchcock’s Hysteria.” ScreenRant, 3 Oct. 2020.

Hellerman, Jason. “A Deep Examination of the Final Girl Trope.” No Film School, 23 Nov. 2020.

Madden, Caroline. “The Evolution of Women in Horror Films.” The Buzz, 24 Apr. 2013.

Morrow, Brendan. “‘It Follows’ Is Not About STDs. It’s About Life As a Sexual Assault Survivor.” Bloody Disgusting, 27 Apr. 2016.

Romano, Evan. “The 23 Best Scream Queens in Horror Movie History.” Men’s Health, Men’s Health, 30 Oct. 2020.

Scream Queens.” Urban Dictionary.

Sims, David. “How ‘The Witch’ Became a Story of Female Empowerment.” The Atlantic, 24 Feb. 2016.

Slasher Film.” Horror Film Wiki.

Vitelli, Romeo. “How to Survive a Slasher Film.” Psychology Today, 23 Feb. 2015.

Vorel, Jim. “What Truly Was the First ‘Slasher Film’? A Paste Investigation.” Paste Magazine, 23 July 2020.

Younger, Beth. “How Horror Films Are Bringing More Gender Equality to Hollywood.” Yes! Magazine, 18 July 2017.

Categories
film law streaming studios television

Tarnished Silver: The Big Screen in the Age of Streaming

Last week, I returned to a world I could never have imagined I’d be forced to depart: a world of wonder, thrill, and awe, held very dear to me. Past a temperature check and the scan of a barcode, I was ushered through a quiet, regally secluded courtyard temporarily cordoned off from the grime and traffic of the bustling Hollywood Boulevard, walking in the literal footsteps of the greatest stars that our industry has seen immortalized in concrete. The aroma of freshly popped popcorn wafted out the open doors of a dimly lit lobby propagated with iconic memorabilia from classic films. Buzzing with a restrained euphoria, I took a seat towards the back of a cavernous auditorium adorned from floor to ceiling in ornate chinoiserie. The lights dimmed and for the first time in many months, I enjoyed a brand new film in a glorious IMAX cinema.

To me, the silver screen is far more than just another option for a Friday night on-the-town. In the words of Wired’s Jordan Crucchiola, “it’s not just a way people kill two hours in air conditioning on a hot day. It’s the concert experience of cinema. It’s an exercise in shared empathy. It’s the chance to be immersed in a world of fantasy, to laugh and scream with strangers, to learn more about what it is to be human—all without the distractions of the outside world” (Crucchiola, 2020). The theater is a portal to other times, stories, and worlds: a sanctum of art, entertainment, and community.

For the first three years of my time at Emerson College, I worked as part of the film crew at AMC Boston Common, connecting me more intimately with the experience of theatrical distribution than I had ever been before, even if it meant trudging up and down auditorium stairs sweeping M&Ms and stale popcorn kernels from underneath seats for hours on end. The experience was well worth it. Throughout the year 2018 I was able to see approximately 75 different films in the theater, the most memorable of which exemplify why I hold the pastime so close to my heart.

As a lifelong consumer and current student of media, I understand the power of storytelling and how important it can be for quality content to reach audiences and actively engage them. At AMC, as I’m sure is the case for many of us cinephiles, I’ve witnessed the power of what great filmmaking can do to an audience, as well as the chaos that erupts when a rebooting computer system or a broken popper threaten that sacred experience! The energy of a theater eagerly anticipating a new release, or the joy of simply seeing people leave satisfied and enriched by their experience showcase what makes the entertainment industry so unique.

When the pandemic hit full force in March of 2020, it quickly became apparent that movie theaters would unfortunately have to shut down, which, in conjunction with the closure of the College, led to my leaving AMC. In the succeeding months, studios with a backlog of content were forced to seek out alternative methods of distribution, as they could not stand idly by as their massive investments sat stagnant, accruing interest. Incidentally, the industry has been steadily adopting a streaming model of content distribution of the last few years, which in the face of the pandemic was fast tracked as a dominant strategy. Now, the time has come for the theaters across the country to once again welcome audiences through their doors after over a year. However, in a post-pandemic age of streaming, the future of movie theaters has been called into question. As a passionate, ardent lover of theatrical moviegoing, I ponder with a blend of optimism and nerves: what does the future hold for the cinematic experience?

To put it bluntly and simply, writer William Goldman says it best with his famed Hollywood mantra: “nobody knows anything” (Brueggemann et al., 2021). Nobody can be certain where exactly the industry will go. IndieWire goes as far as to assert that “anyone who claims to know the future of movie theaters is wrong” (Brueggemann et al., 2021). Because the answers to these looming concerns remain to be seen, the best way to predict the future is to understand the past.

To a degree, this has actually happened before. In a poetic rhyme of history, the pandemic known as the Spanish Flu, or the 1918 influenza, ravaged the world just over a century ago. The flu, which infected an estimated 500 million people (a whopping one-third of the world’s population at the time) and killed around 50 million, spread with deadly vigor, particularly in Europe during the final months of the first World War (CDC, 2018). With mask mandates, quarantines, and lockdowns taking place globally, the impacts of COVID-19 echo the devastation of the 1918 pandemic, including the shackling of cinemas and live theaters. From an economic standpoint, the theater business in the late 1910s was at its lowest point perhaps since its inception, positioning moguls to swoop in and take advantage of the floundering market.

Producer Adolph Zukor, who would eventually go on to head Paramount Pictures, bought out multiple defunct or failing theaters in the wake of the pandemic. Thus, the stage was set for success in the era of vertical integration, during which studios had financial control of the entire production process, from development through to exhibition (Crucchiola, 2020). The opulence of the 1920s germinated in the aftermath of the pandemic, as theaters and other social and leisure businesses “had to give people a reason to leave their homes” (Stewart, 2020). Maggie Valentine, a theater historian, reflects on the rise of theaters after the 1918 pandemic in a statement of hope, assuring that “theaters have always come back, and when they do, they’ve been better” (Stewart, 2020). This grandiose migration back into the theaters, in combination with the vertically integrated studio pipeline made way for Hollywood to prosper from the late 1930s through the 1950s in an era known as its Golden Age. Smooth sailing would not, however, carry on much longer.

In 1948, Hollywood’s systems of production were majorly disrupted by the Paramount Consent Decrees, a decision motivated by a national antitrust sentiment in the wake of World War II forcing studios to divest their interest in exhibition (Gardner, 2020). On top of the restructuring caused by the Paramount decision, the entire film industry faced a serious threat in the advent of television. The post-war era saw mass migrations outside of city centers to the developing suburbs, as well as a renewed interest in family life and domesticity. In such a cultural climate, the television was widely adopted as a luxurious home appliance offering families a wealth of entertainment in the comfort of their own home, not entirely dissimilar to the popularization of streaming services over the last few years.

In the face of a threat to the viability of not only cinemas but the medium of film as a whole, studios were forced to diversify and work in conjunction with exhibitors to revitalize the theatrical experience, differentiating it from the in-home appeals of the TV. Out of this necessity came the grand epics of the late 1950s and 1960s featuring innovations like Cinerama, VistaVision, and Cinemascope, which took advantage of wide theatrical aspect ratios to create a sense of magnificence and scale, as well as improved audio and visual technologies. Films like Ben-Hur (1959), Lawrence of Arabia (1962), Dr. Zhivago (1965), and The Sound of Music (1965), showcased glorious technicolor, lengthy runtimes, and impressive production design to impress upon audiences what a television set never could (Sklar, et al., 2021). Many gimmicks like Sensurround and Stereoscopic 3D came out of this urge to draw people back into the theater, the remnants of which still remain today with most major multiplexes featuring Dolby and IMAX theaters and of course the occasional 3D flick, inescapably dominant in the early 2010s. To combat the popularity of television, the infrastructure of theaters evolved to better fit the needs and expectations of the consumer, with the revelation of air conditioning adding an extra level of comfort. The concept of the multiplex largely sprung up in following the development of middle class suburban communities as opposed to tight individual auditoriums in city centers (Stewart, 2020).

With the 1918 pandemic spawning the Golden Age of Hollywood and the threat of television forcing the boundaries of cinema to be pushed far wider and eventually into the blockbuster era, the cinematic experience has always been resilient. Fascinatingly, one of the key operating parameters under which the industry developed for decades has recently been dissolved, drastically altering the future of potential distribution and exhibition. In August of 2020, under the vague deregulatory fervor of the Trump administration, U.S. District Court Judge Analisa Torres repealed the Paramount Consent Decrees of 1948. Torres defends her decision by stating that in considering the nature of the marketplace and the value of a wide theatrical release, “the Court finds that it is unlikely that the remaining Defendants would collude to once again limit their film distribution to a select group of theaters in the absence of the Decrees and, finds, therefore, that termination is in the public interest”. Additionally, the Court assumes that the nature of streaming as a supplementary model of distribution eliminates any likelihood of block booking, another practice protected against in the Paramount decision (Gardner, 2020). This game changing move opens up the possibility for studios and distributors to own and operate theaters themselves, beyond the few individual prestige theaters already owned by Netflix largely for the purposes of Academy Awards qualification: The Egyptian in Hollywood and The Paris in New York City, as well as Disney’s El Capitan.

A few months ago, the debate over the future of theaters seemed focused on concerns of health – how safe it would be to actually go to a theater before a vaccine – and business – the logistics of opening a movie without major markets like New York and Los Angeles. Now that we have a vaccine and society seems to be on the mend, these particular concerns have subsided a bit. Perhaps the most significant lasting question now becomes how theaters will adapt in an era where the predominant method of distribution is now streaming?

Just as was the case in response to the 1918 pandemic and the threat of television, the industry must revitalize itself and once again prove to audiences why the cinema is so special. In the words of Variety’s Owen Gleiberman, “the issue is that between the streaming revolution, the rise of COVID, and the fact that so many viewers have been grousing about the theater experience for years (the ads, the cell phones, the sticky floors — we all know the mythic litany of complaints), the notion that going out to a movie simply isn’t worth the trouble has taken root” (Lang, et al., 2020). As an avid lover of theatrical moviegoing and former employee of an enormous multiplex, the validity of Gleiberman’s thoughts concern me. Throughout the industry and across the general public, similar worries have taken hold, from Tom Hanks, who concedes that a sea-change has been a long time coming (Hanks, et al., 2020) to President of ArcLight Cinemas, Ted Mundorff, who derided the industry’s “awful release patterns” even before the pandemic (Kohn, 2019).

In conversation with Kevin Reilly, I was lucky enough to hear the prolific TV executive and former Chief Content Officer of HBO Max’s take on the future of theaters: “{Theater chains} were a terrible monopoly with a terrible consumer experience. You can only see it now either in old reels of people watching movies or in films where they show people going to the theater – the early talkies, the first time people heard sound. That was an amazing experience, decades later you’re sitting in a shitty movie seat that hurts your back with a sticky floor and a $30 popcorn and it’s not a good consumer experience. Now they’re going to have to think about how they work in tandem with the streaming business. It’ll ultimately be: release a product, market it once in different experiences” (Reilly, 2021). Besides the lack of care given towards consumer experience from the highest levels of corporate oversight to the often sub-par service of film crew to which I can unfortunately attest, the way theaters functioned pre-COVID also exacerbated unfortunate industry trends. Tight theatrical windows and evolving attendance patterns shifted the evaluation of a theatrical run from a longer term experiment like the legendary performance of James Cameron’s Titanic (1997) to a make or break sprint focused disproportionately on opening weekend totals (Crucchiola, 2020). Thus, little opportunity remained for the midrange movie to succeed, or the sleeper hit to find its footing.

As was the case in the years after the 1918 pandemic, some, like Forbes’ Rob Salkowitz, view movie theaters as the “bargain basement deal of the decade” for those willing to take on the risk (Salkowitz, 2021). According to the magazine’s cardinal rule of investing – “buy low/sell high” – theaters are in the optimal position to be bought up by large corporations like Amazon, Netflix, and Disney. These major players have the capital and leverage to potentially acquire theaters either on an individual or chain level and “invest heavily in enhancements to the viewing experience along with other perks to get butts back in seats”. This eventuality is even more apparent given the recent repeal of the Paramount Decrees (Salkowitz, 2021). Among the more unusual results of the scramble for revenue during the pandemic came about via separate models of distribution and exhibition employed by each of the major studios, integrating streaming and theatrical to varying degrees. The majority of these models build off an initial theatrical release combined with a significantly shortened (traditionally ~75 day) window before having the option to move to paid video-on-demand (PVOD): 45 days in the case of Paramount, 30 or so for Lionsgate, and a mere 17 days for Universal, with Sony expected to follow suit (Clark, 2021). Disney has been releasing films on streaming both at no extra cost (Soul (2020), Luca (2021)), catching some flack from those at Pixar who feel they’ve been gypped (Sharf, 2021), and for an additional $30, dubbed “Premiere Access” (Mulan (2020), Raya and the Last Dragon (2021)), the latter of which also played in theaters (Clark, 2021). They’ve claimed, however, that they plan to return to a purely theatrical model by the summer, though this is not set in stone. Warner Brothers, on the other hand, has perhaps the most controversial strategy. The studio’s announcement that all of it’s 2021 releases would simultaneously debut in theaters and on HBO Max shocked the industry, but according to a Morning Consult survey, general audiences seem to be on board with the strategy (Clark, 2021). Though, I personally find it tragic that Dune (2021) will be relegated to a streaming venture with an adjacent theatrical component, potentially diminishing its potential to be recognized as a cultural juggernaut among the likes of Star Wars and Harry Potter.

Though we cannot yet attribute much in terms of success or failure to any of these individual strategies, though it will certainly be interesting to follow how these different models influence the studio’s respective revenue streams, and consequently their continued viability in the marketplace. There are some concerns in regards to how streaming revenues will compare to direct box office revenue given the opacity of streaming data compared to the relative transparency of box office reports: a byproduct of the multiple parties involved in the pipeline of theatrical distribution. Tom and Jerry (2021), Godzilla vs. Kong (2021), and now Mortal Kombat (2021) prove that there is at least some appetite for theatrical moviegoing, even when PVOD and streaming options are available (Brueggemann et al., 2021). It seems unlikely that corporations would risk letting go of such a powerful potential for revenue; “nothing to sneeze at” boasts Disney CEO Bob Chapek on his company’s $13 Billion in 2019 box office receipts (Whitten, 2021).

In examining and predicting the future of movie theaters, it’s impossible not to reconcile with the fact that streaming has revolutionized the industry from both the consumer facing and business facing perspectives. Streaming platforms undoubtedly provide many benefits, from socialization via adjunct services like Netflix Party (now Teleparty) to the breadth of content and personalization of the user interface. The weekly release strategy of Disney+ has particularly revitalized a sense of communal engagement with content with shows like The Mandalorian and WandaVision. Despite these positives, streaming is not the end-all-be-all. It’s been said that streaming reduces every piece of content down to essentially an item on a list, a row on a balance sheet with minimal differentiation or individual identity.

Collider’s Matt Goldberg professes that “it’s hard to make anyone care about one thing over another” when everything is reduced to a mere piece of content (Goldberg, 2020). Kevin Reilly echoed these sentiments, positing that we might not “even get to appreciate the greats, does it all just come and go? If it drops, then you stream it, then it’s gone – is that cinema?” (Reilly, 2021). Reilly elaborated a concern that streaming sanitizes and commoditizes content to an extent not experienced through theatrical distribution, stripping it of potential value and acclaim (Reilly, 2021). Gleiberman of Variety optimistically pleads for the return of the cinematic experience, rhetorically asking if we are willing to enable the dissolution of the cinema “so we can spend the next 100 years sitting on our couches watching a never-ending stream of product? Moviegoing in theaters will survive if we as a culture — theaters, studios, politicians, audiences — decide that we want it to survive” (Lang, et al., 2020).

On a final note, I clearly find the theatrical experience to be invaluable: a social indulgence that deserves to persevere, though it rightfully must adapt to survive. Examining the issue from a social, as well as an economic standpoint, theatrical distribution as a business model may likely end up serving more of a niche market than it has in the past as a result of both the decline in the quality and consumer experience of exhibition venues and the post-pandemic dominance of streaming. However, theaters have always made it through rough times and came out of it stronger than before. Goldman rings true once again in that “nobody knows anything”, but what we do know, and what might ultimately propel the future prosperity of theatrical moviegoing is that “humans are social creatures, and we want the communal experiences, especially after a year where they’ve been denied to us” (Goldberg, 2020).

Works Cited

Brueggemann, Tom, et al. “Why Anyone Who Claims to Know the Future of Movie Theaters Is Wrong.” IndieWire, 12 Mar. 2021

Clark, Travis. “Warner Bros.’ Strategy of Releasing Movies to Theaters and HBO Max on the Same Day Is Very Popular with Consumers, According to a New Survey.” Business Insider, 10 Mar. 2021.

Crucchiola, Jordan. “On the Future of (Going to the) Movies.” Wired, Conde Nast, 1 Oct. 2020

Gardner, Eriq. “Judge Agrees to End Paramount Consent Decrees.” The Hollywood Reporter, 7 Aug. 2020

Goldberg, Matt. “Streaming Is the Future for 2021, But I’m Not Convinced It’s the Future of Movies.” Collider, 4 Dec. 2020.

Kohn, Eric. “Here’s How Movie Theaters Will Survive the Next 10 Years: Exhibitors Speak Out.” IndieWire, 29 June 2019.

Lang, Brent, et al. “The Future of Movie Theaters In the Age of Coronavirus: A Dialogue.” Variety, 9 Oct. 2020.

Salkowitz, Rob. “Here’s Why The Future Of Movie Theaters May Be Brighter Than It Looks.” Forbes, 8 Jan. 2021

Sharf, Zack. “Pixar Staff Speaks Out Against Disney Moving Its Films to Streaming Only: ‘It’s Hard to Grasp’.” IndieWire, 28 Apr. 2021.

Sklar, Robert, et al. “The Threat of Television”. Encyclopedia Britannica, 16 Feb. 2021.

Stewart, James B. “Movie Theaters Are on the Brink. Can Wine and Cheese Save Them?The New York Times, 15 May 2020

Taylor, Drew, and Tom Hanks. “Tom Hanks on the Future of Movie Theaters: ‘A Sea Change Was Due.’” Collider, 17 Dec. 2020,

Tight, Andrew, and Kevin Reilly. Katch Media, 14 Apr. 2021. 

Whitten, Sarah. “Movie Theater Owners Are Frustrated about Streaming, but Their Survival Depends on Studios.” CNBC, NBCUniversal, 2 Jan. 2021

History of 1918 Flu Pandemic.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 21 Mar. 2018.

Categories
film oscars

Do the Academy Awards Still Matter?

Since 1929, the Academy Awards have long been the defining term for success in Hollywood. Whether someone is nominated or wins, they will forever be known by it. This title helps to sell movies and guarantee some level of success. While the golden statuette might hold some power, does it still mean what it used to? Declining viewership and growing criticism over the lack of diversity within the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and among the nominees has led many to question the value of this award ceremony. There have been quick fixes and hope that the long-term ones will pay off in the end, but it’s hard to think about the ceremony without the issues that plague it. To continue with a more modern era, these awards will have to adapt to a changing social landscape. 

For the past ten years, the Oscars have struggled to stay relevant. While they are recognized by everyone, there is the issue of viewership and if the award still means what it used to. While the awards are still televised, it has struggled with a steep decline in viewership. They recently made the switch to cap the ceremony at three hours and to have an earlier air date. While the Academy hoped that this would boost their chances for better ratings, they were wrong. For the past couple of years, live viewership has been in the mid-20 million range. While this year was different due to the pandemic, viewership plummeted to 9.85 million viewers. Other award shows are struggling as well but this doesn’t seem like a good sign.

While the awards might continue to be telecast, a large percentage of people will continue to watch highlights the next day or just check the updates on their phones. Attempts were made to entice viewers to watch it live, but most fall flat and there are usually more criticisms than praise reported the day after. While the ceremony itself is seemingly losing its golden edge, the value of the award itself is having similar issues. 

While a lot of value is given to the award itself, can this still win over modern audiences? The unexpected win of Parasite last year helped to usher in the possibility of seeing more than just the same directors and types of movies win each year. Movies such as this have done well across the world at film festivals such as Cannes and Berlinale. Due to this, should the Oscars evolve to follow their format? It’s no secret that there has been an ongoing debate about how the Oscars and Cannes rarely award the same award to films. Rather than ignoring that, is this hinting at a possible need for change? It’s no secret that Cannes and Berlinale receive a large number of submissions from many country’s which in turn has led to smaller films getting the limelight. These same films wouldn’t have the chance for that opportunity at the Oscars. This issue extends past the problem with relevance and connects with the multitude of issues concerning diversity that continuously plague these awards.

Diversity is not a stranger to award shows and this issue can be found in every one of them. With the Oscars, they have had many opportunities to try and do something about it. Six-hundred-and-five of the nominations in the past decade have gone to white people as well as 91 wins. Due to high numbers like these, social media has tried to call them out with hashtags such as #OscarsSoWhite in 2015. Ironically the year before this hashtag was more diverse in its nominations. While this prompted a lot of controversies, it has seemingly only led to a series of guidelines that movies will need to follow in order to qualify for a nomination. 

These rules will not go into place until the Oscars in 2024, but they are sure to keep coming up as they are not the easiest to follow. An article from Variety attempts to explain them by using 1917 as an example. It explains how the film must fall into two of the four categories in order to qualify. 1917 easily does that which brings the guidelines into question. If it’s not difficult to follow them, will studios do the bare minimum to qualify or actually put in the effort to make sure that there is diversity within cast, crew, and story? A recent analysis of box office performance showed that films with more than 40% minority in their casts make much more money than those with a white-washed cast. Studies like these only prove that studios can financially benefit from making an effort at least with their casting choices. Only time will tell when it comes to seeing if these guidelines actually make an impact. 

Another avenue to consider when it comes to diversity is the Academy itself. While they have made efforts to bring on more diverse members, should it be restructured? Out of 7,000 members, only around 35% are women and under 20% are non-white. This will automatically cause some sort of influence when it comes to the winners. This year saw a rise in more wins going to minorities but will this continue?

There were more female directors than ever before but did they have to work harder to get there? The average cost of female-directed films came to somewhere under $17 million. While the male-directed films were given tens of millions. Regardless, Nomadland still won for best picture, director, and actress. Yet, a New York Times article ponders on whether this will hold true for the Oscars next year. Steven Spielberg’s remake of West Side Story will debut next year and probably in time for the Oscars as well. If (and when) it gets nominated, will trends fall back into a place of celebrating the same creators or will more films fight to stay in the small spotlight? This hypocrisy among the Academy and the Awards might continue but for their sake, more effort should be made in order for viewers to still view it with some credibility. 

With all of this being said, this years awards definitely had its ups and downs. On the plus-side, there were many firsts when it came to the winners of some of the awards including Chloe Zhao for Best Director and Yuh-Jung Youn for Best Supporting Actress. The Academy included content that didn’t have a theatrical release which helped to expand the nomination pool. Due to this, films such as One Night in Miami… and Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom were nominated and brought home awards. These pros, if continued, will help the Oscars to evolve and appear more inclusive. There was also many attempts by the different presenters to encourage viewers to go back to movie theatres once they open again. While their minds were in the right place, some of it felt a little too staged. This starts off a list of negatives from this years show. 

Many of the cons for this year can be attributed to the new format that was created because of the pandemic. Production-wise, there was a lot of silence and awkwards angles. Things were shaky and having the presenters move around felt a little forced. It was interesting to hear the little quips they gave to each nominee but it wasn’t always the most smooth. Another awkward moment was when they did the “In Memoriam” piece. It was rushed and they omitted a few names including Naya Rivera and Jessica Walter. With a year filled with so much death, it would’ve felt more appropiate if it was slowed down a bit more. Lastly, the choice to rearrange the last three awards was definitely a bold one. While there were good intentions, the Best Actor award should never have been assumed. If Chadwick Boseman had won, it would have been just as touching even if the award wasn’t last. It just brought more criticism to the show. 

Overall, the Academy Awards this year were different in many ways. It will be interesting to see how they proceed over the next couple of years. If they are able to figure out how to run the actual ceremony a little better, I think it would help to bring up viewership. It will also be interesting to see how they run with the addition of films that chose to postpose their theatrical release. Will this drown out the indies that made this year so unique or will they continue to have a place on this infamous stage?

One of the biggest questions we can ask ourselves is: will the Academy Awards continue to have the same impact? As members of the film industry, these awards have sometimes felt like the end-all and be-all of our careers. While there are many other honors that are just as important, Hollywood has mainly embraced the tradition of these awards. Another one is: as students graduating into the industry, should we continue this tradition? Is it so engrained that we all just accept it and continue to uphold it or should we be furthering something else? In seven years, it will be the 100th year for the ceremony. Will it still be around for another hundred years? The Oscars definitely has its flaws but they can be fixed. If these awards try to change, and are given the encouragement and support, this tradition should be able to continue and should reflect the time that it’s in now.