Demotion or Step into the Future of Streaming?
On July 6th, actor Tom Hanks sat down for an interview with The Guardian to promote his new movie “Greyhound.” However, this interview was not done face-to-face between Hanks and the correspondent. Like almost all other professional interactions nowadays, it was done remotely, with the two parties talking via computer screens in their homes—practicing social distancing due to the coronavirus.
This particular interview with Hanks was especially telling, because the actor was actually one of the first American celebrities to contract COVID-19 back in March, and “Greyhound” was among a long list of movies meant to hit theaters this summer, but got sidelined because of the pandemic.
Now, Hanks—along with his wife Rita Wilson, who also had coronavirus—is fully recovered and well. Nevertheless, his beef with the pandemic is not entirely settled, as the coronavirus’ consequential theater shutdowns has forced him to release his new film on a different platform: Apple TV+.
Of course, there is nothing wrong with Apple TV+. As far as streaming services go, Apple is a rising phenomenon and has brought about several praiseworthy shows since it launched last November. All the same, Hanks intended “Greyhound” for a theatrical release, and in the interview he called the film’s ultimate home on Apple TV+ “an absolute heartbreak.”
Again, this is not necessarily a jab at Apple, but it is indicative of what many filmmakers are going through right now. Streaming vs Theatrical releases was a hot debate in Hollywood long before COVID-19 ran everything amuck, but now that releasing movies in theaters is not an option, many movies have no choice but to sell out to the streamers and debut online.
“Greyhound” for example, was meant to hit theaters in March with Sony Pictures as distributor. However, the pandemic pushed the release date back perpetually, and in May, it sold to Apple for $70 Million, getting an official July 10th release date on the site.
Hanks continues in the interview, “I don’t mean to make angry my Apple overlords, but there is a difference in picture and sound quality [when viewing a film online rather than in a theater].” He is not the first filmmaker to voice this opinion, but he is also not the first filmmaker to have his creative work siphoned off to an unanticipated platform during these unprecedented times. Paramount Pictures, for example, sold the Kumail Nanjiani-starring rom-com, “The Lovebirds” to Netflix earlier this year despite initially banking on a theatrical release.
Triple Threat Thwarted by Timing, perhaps, but will be enjoyed nonetheless
The alternative would’ve been to hold out on releasing these films until theaters re-open. Given the fact that the theaters are closed indefinitely, though, only the movies that are more-or-less guaranteed blockbuster hits are taking this risky option—Marvel’s “Black Widow,” Universal’s “Fast & Furious 9,” DC’s “Wonder Woman: 1984” and Warner Brother’s Chris Nolan-directed “Tenet” are among them.
“Greyhound”— which Hanks wrote and produced as well as starred in— might’ve had blockbuster potential, but the clock was ticking a little too temperamentally on production company Columbia Pictures and the film’s $50 million budget. Returns simply could not be left up to a temporally unspecified gamble.
Luckily, the stigma around direct-to-streaming releases has diminished in recent years, as Netflix in particular has garnered a large number of Oscar nominations with prestigious projects like Martin Scorsese‘s “The Irishman” and Alfonso Cuaròn’s “Roma” going straight to the service. Likewise, even the studios are also transitioning to the streaming world these days with Disney+, HBOMax, and Peacock headlining the ongoing streaming wars.
Still, with “Greyhound” being a war epic set at sea, we can empathize with Tom Hanks for wanting audiences to experience it on the big screen. In fact, we can empathize with all of the filmmakers who put their hearts into creative projects for 2020, and are now seeing them shrunk down to something smaller—but perhaps not lesser—than their expectations.
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