COVID-19 and the Film Industry

It takes a lot of effort to make a movie. Out of all of the different art forms, films are largely a collaborative project that can employ thousands of people. As a film critic, it’s important to maintain a level of respect for the process; most movies are the result of (on average) two years worth of dedication and hard work, and every finalized product is an accomplishment in itself.

Looking from the outside and wanting in, 2020 was the year I decided to finally make the first step and try my hand at making my own film, with the aim of entering it into festivals. It was going to be relatively simple; just a short seven-minute documentary that highlighted the benefits of certain therapies in aged care facilities.

…I think you know what happened. The coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2. As its spread got closer to home, it soon became obvious 2020 wasn’t going to be the year after all. I had to shut down my production. It got me thinking—if this virus impacted my little project, then how was it affecting everything else in the industry? As the weeks rolled on and the news snowballed faster, the answer has become clearer, though there are still a lot of unknowns.

This article will be filled with a combination of facts and anecdotal reports, but mostly whimsical predictions, along with an assessment on the future of GUG’s movie-loving department. It’s important to note I am not a virologist, immunologist, pulmonologist, or doctor of any kind, so if anything I say ends up going against the advice of health experts, then please pick their words over mine!! I do know film (or at least pretend to), possess some random expertise in zoology and criminology, and I’m an INTJ, which apparently means I’m gifted in noticing trends and seeing the bigger picture, even though that whole MBTI thing is a pseudo-science in itself… Anyway, let’s just roll with it!

The Impact on Film Productions

How this coronavirus has impeded a specific film project will depend entirely on how far along it is in production. There are three main stages: pre-production, production, and post-production.

Pre-Production

Pre-production includes all the tasks that need to occur before physically shooting the movie: Location scouting, hiring crew who is experienced background checks using an online people search finder, casting, storyboarding, creating shoot schedules…among many other things. Unfortunately, a lot of this prep work will now be null and void, particularly when it comes to work contracts. A shift in dates means a shift in availabilities. Productions that were close to their shoot deadlines would be the ones affected the most, as they’d need to reschedule to a later time, though that may prove difficult if the cast and crew are already booked for something else.

Arguably the most famous movie that will be affected is Marvel’s Thor: Love and Thunder. Helmed by Taika Waititi and planned to be filmed in my hometown of Sydney, Australia, originally there were fears this production would be delayed by the country’s devastating bushfire season. Waititi was set to come to Sydney in April to begin pre-production, aiming to start shooting in August. Suffice it to say, with multiple countries around the world closing their boarders and enforcing strict rules on social gatherings, this schedule simply seems unfeasible. Yet with Hemsworth and Portman already attached to other future projects, the halt of this production will prove to be a headache for producers when it comes time to reboot it.

Sadly, Waititi delayed work on his Akira film adaptation in order to make room in his schedule for the Marvel movie, which means anime fans will have to wait even longer for this project to see the light of day.

Production

The production period entails the actual physical filming of the movie. This is where production and set designers roll in and perform their magic, makeup and hair artists spend hours on their creations, gaffers light up the room, costume designers transform the actors, cinematographers see all their planning come to fruition, whilst the boom operators lament about being forgotten once again in the pre-production phase and why no one thought filming under a flight path would be a problem (I feel your pain).

Depending on the size of the production, this could mean there could be hundreds of people passing through the set every day. Also, a lot of Hollywood-level productions are filmed in far-flung locations and seek to hire veterans in their respective fields, meaning the most prestigious films tend to have older cast and crew members. With social distancing rules in place, cities and even entire countries in lockdown, and with a responsibility to keep their older workforce safe, this makes your typical Hollywood film impossible to make.

The film productions caught in this period of their life cycle will be hurt the most. Mission: Impossible 7 was one of the first movies to be postponed due to filming on location in Italy. Baz Luhrmann’s upcoming Elvis flick is suffering the same fate, with the shoot being delayed due to Tom Hanks testing positive for COVID-19.

One of the biggest question marks is over Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings. This was the biggest production in Sydney, with casting calls for hundreds of extras being listed for months prior (I even auditioned, though they were predominantly looking for Asian actors). Essentially everyone in the Australian industry knows they were planning on filming in early March. There was a brief window of time where this could have been successful, although the shoot schedule was delayed when director Destin Daniel Cretton decided to voluntarily self-isolate for the sake of his family. This pushed back the production by two weeks, which not only caused Marvel to bleed $300K a day for the wait, but was also during this time Australia toughened their workplace laws. How close were they to finishing? No one really knows. Whether it can still be completed while also complying with new social distancing rules remains to be seen.

Similar to features that were caught in pre-production, this postponement will affect contracts and it may be a while before everything can align again so filming can resume. Don’t be surprised if a few studios decide to cut their losses and cancel the project entirely. Worse still are those productions that almost finished shooting and only needed an extra day or two—there may be a few that’ll end up botched with a “we’ll fix it in post” mentality, resulting in a product that will share the same fate as the horribly made The Snowman, where they tried to piece together a story that wasn’t entirely filmed.

Despite an A-List cast, The Snowman couldn’t be saved because they simply ran out of time to shoot all of the script.

Post-Production

Given the current circumstances, this is the best position for a film project to be in. Post-production is when the footage is edited, the dialogue is tidied, sound effects are designed and mixed, visual effects and animation are rendered, the score is composed, and everything comes together under the director’s vision. A lot of this work can be done through online correspondence and in relatively isolated workspaces.

Essentially, if you see a film listed as being in post, then consider it mostly safe; it’s just more of a question as to when and how it will be released.

The Impact on Cast and Crew

SARS-CoV-2 has made a massive dent in the livelihoods on thousands of people working in the arts. Producers are hindered by an uncertain future, unable to make decisions surrounding upcoming productions. Whether a person finds employment depends on their role in a film’s life cycle. Those in pre-production positions will find themselves stuck in limbo, whilst production crews cannot operate at all. As above, it is those in post-production positions that may still obtain work, at least for the time being and only if they were already hired on a project when everything shut down. Simply put, very little is being made and eventually that will trickle down to the editors, sound designers, and composers once their current gigs conclude. Animators may actually be in the best position, as their work isn’t dictated by live sets, and voice acting can still take place given the right set up.

There is some glimmer of hope and that’s actually with the little-discussed corporate sector. Most people think of the film industry as being a choice between movies and television, but businesses make up a large portion as well. As there is a sudden push for online content, this has equaled a surge in corporations needing short videos for either advertising or communication purposes.

When I made the call to cancel my own film production, my cinematographer decided to meet with me anyway if only to commiserate over these dark times. While he agreed the corporate sector had fired up, he expressed a fear it may bring about a change where businesses may realize it’s not too difficult after all—he worried their dependency on film professionals may come to an end as they seek to source talent within their own ranks and slash quality to preference efficiency.

As an older gentlemen who had already paid his mortgage many years ago, he considered himself blessed to be in a position where he could stop work and still survive, and instead focus on writing for a while. Yet many of his workmates are not so lucky. Many cinematographers operate their own studios, where they can be approached by businesses seeking their film expertise. This essentially means they’re paying the rent for two places: Their workplace and their home. When the work started to dry up, I saw various film professionals (many of which are regularly hired for television, films, and corporate shoots, so certainly not novices) scramble to find job listings for any kind of work. My cinematographer feared many might not have a choice but to pack up and live in more rural areas where the rent is cheaper, effectively leaving the industry for a substantial amount of time.

This virus will turn the world upside-down in many different ways. While those at the very top won’t be financially affected (I mean, do the likes of Spielberg, Hans Zimmer, and Roger Ebert ever have to work again?), those mid-career might find themselves struggling to make ends meet. Ironically it is those just starting out, still living with older relatives and running around with DSLRs, that have the better chance of seeing this through.

As for actors, there are still a surprising amount of job listings. When one of my gigs fell through, I was shocked to suddenly get a call for a voice over job. Admittedly some casting calls are questionable; Universal Studios Singapore are still looking for cast members, causing everyone to wonder how exactly that’s possible considering the border is now closed. As someone who is currently considered to be at risk to a more severe presentation of COVID-19, the paranoia is starting to take hold. Who are these people that think they can still shoot? How many will be on set? Where have they been and are they infected? A gig-based work culture means constantly adapting to many unknowns, though while it’s usually exciting and refreshing, now it’s a world filled with caution.

Celebrities

Many eyes will turn towards celebrities. Their role in a crisis such as this will be analyzed for decades to come. They play both sides of the coin: Since they are famous, they are in contact with an above average number of people, and yet they can also be highly reclusive and have the privilege and means to survive without work. When Tom Hanks tested positive for COVID-19, some feared he would be Australia’s equivalent to patient #31 in South Korea. A number of news reporters needed to self-isolate whilst the Sydney Opera House shut down for immediate cleaning. Thankfully meeting Tom Hanks is a memorable event, and so cases were tracked down more easily than normal.

No, he wasn’t given a volley ball whilst in isolation. That was fake news. …Although it would’ve been funny.

They are role models and fans may take comfort in the fact even people as powerful as them are also stuck in their living rooms just like the rest of us. Expect to see an increase in online content from celebrities that are just trying to do their part to make this world a little brighter. Though there is a limit: With many in society losing their jobs, or worse, their loved ones, to this horrible virus, a performance from an out-of-touch celebrity may ruffle feathers as opposed to smoothing them.

The internet is an unforgiving place with a long memory, and celebrities misusing their position may find themselves incredibly unpopular and out of work once this time has passed. Evangeline Lilly, for instance, has been outspoken in the past about how she won’t alter her current lifestyle, going as far as to downplay and politicize the outbreak. She has since apologized for her remarks, though only time will tell whether the masses will opt for forgiveness.

Sadly, Hollywood legends are predominantly made up of people over the age of fifty. Just take a moment and think about your favorite actors or artists; I’m guessing a significant number will be skewed towards the older demographic. As depressing as it is, brace yourself for a few famous faces to pass away this year. This is when the severity and non-negotiability of this virus will finally sink in for those who are still dubious about this entire pandemic. Death is the great equalizer everyone must experience one day, whether rich or poor, famous or unknown, no matter their beliefs or lifestyle.

Studios, Cinemas, and the Rise of Indie Film

With many cinemas forced to close across the country, film studios are faced with a massive financial conundrum. “Tentpole” features, like Disney’s Mulan, are nicknamed as such because they are the production that raises enough funds to prop up the rest of the film projects within the company. Once again, we’re now living in an upside-down world, where these big-budgeted blockbusters are now seen as black holes of debt; they were incredibly expensive to make and now there’s no clear way to obtain that return on investment.

For the films already out in theaters with their runs cut short due to closures, studios were quick to make them available as video on demand (VOD) as a way to still capitalize on their hype and marketing strategies. Yet there are a number of problems with this method. The biggest issue revolves around the fact the outbreak will peak at different times for different areas. With tent pole features relying on overseas markets more, it is important to note not every country has needed to close their theaters. Even within the United States, there might come a time where some places will be fine to reopen whilst it won’t be recommended in other areas.

Take Onward for example. As a kid’s film, its release in Australia was being held back until the April school holiday period. Yet as cinemas closed across the United States and the film was plonked on VOD, Australian theaters had to quickly organize preview screenings. Why? Because piracy sadly exists. As soon as a film moves online, it risks being stolen and distributed without permission worldwide. This is devastating for cinemas (why would you risk contracting a potentially deadly virus when you can see something “for free” in the safety of your own home?) and cuts into the profits of studios.

So VOD is not the answer to everything, though the question remains as to how long production companies and distributors can last before they need to see some kind of return for their hefty film product? There are two timelines being bandied about the industry, although both are completely arbitrary. Judging from what happened in Wuhan, China (even though other countries might have different experiences), it seems places will regain some semblance of normalcy within three months, whilst other theorize it’ll still take an additional three months for confidence to return to the market and for people to attend the cinema once more. That is why a lot of studios have opted to postpone their releases within a three to six month time frame, even though this schedule appears to be more of a result of wishful thinking as the pandemic worsens.

Regardless of how long things will actually take, it does seem there’ll be an uneasy time when theaters do finally reopen. If it’s simultaneous across the States, then some studios will be quick to drop one of their blockbusters and hope for a quick return, as it’s not ideal for all the tent pole features to be competing for release dates among a crowded schedule. But what if, for example, cinemas in Texas reopen and those in Washington state remain closed? A half online and half theatrical release would only invite piracy and cut into profits.

The Blumhouse Model

With the world turned upside-down, studios may quickly realize their tent pole features may not be the answer and instead look for low budget productions to ease their pain. Blumhouse has been doing this for a while—creating content on small budgets so even if the films perform poorly, they still make a profit even with mediocre attendance. Fantasy Island, for instance, had a $7 million budget and generated $47 million at the box office. It was also made in only a few months.

Disney will no doubt flick through their forgotten film production library, theatrically releasing films that were caught up in the Fox merger, like what happened with Underwater. Every studio has a few risky completed projects in their proverbial closet, and with little to lose, they might see how they perform should nationwide releases be an impossibility and where limited screenings are the only way forward.  

What if cinemas reopen, but the studios decide to hold back their films in hope for a better time? Or if they decide to release on VOD? What can theaters show when there’s no new content? Speaking with my brother, who works for a subscription TV service, made me realize both television stations and cinemas face the same dilemma: How does one make old content feel new? Both have potential access to a wide library, but will need to play to their niches.

For theaters, expect to see a resurgence in the old drive-in format. It’s both a novelty and oddly succeeds at keeping viewers quarantined, easing people’s paranoia. With streaming services eating away at the market the last few years, cinemas have needed to rely on the spectacle of their big screens. Films like Avatar and Gravity, especially in their 3D format, make use of every inch of that screen that is otherwise squandered on something smaller.

Right before Australian cinemas closed and after the moment most Hollywood blockbusters pulled their upcoming line-up, what remained were European/UK-based productions, Bollywood films, and local talent. Whilst American audiences have never really taken to foreign cinema, should Hollywood snub theaters during the first few chaotic weeks of theaters reopening across the States in favour of online distribution, then expect movies like The Secret Garden to enjoy the spotlight on the silver screen.

This is an excellent time for independent filmmakers. Whilst rare, successful micro-budget feature films do exist, with The Blair Witch Project, Paranormal Activity, and The Endless being prime examples. If a small-time director managed to complete their low budget feature before the lockdown, then they could be in luck as distributors might be keen to snap them up and secure a deal.

Their Finest and the Narratives of the Next Age

Their Finest is a movie about filmmaking during a very turbulent time in history.

Their Finest is a fascinating period drama that’s set during World War II and details the struggles of an almost-abandoned film industry. It’s a story that touches on many things, but one aspect that stands out is the fact art never stops even during the darkest times; the show must go on.

Studios may be closed, but millions of creatives are sitting at home, and if they’re not currently making something, then they’re certainly planning their next masterpiece. They are chomping at the bit and as soon as humanly possible, there will be an explosion of talent and creative expression. I’m so excited to see what narratives will come out of this time period. Make no mistake, just as many films say “set in WWII” in their loglines, so, too, will this moment we’re in now be a defining time frame in human history.

It’s easy to see the documentary genre will continue to flourish. I’ve already seen three different directors requesting people to film their days in isolation, hoping to collate the footage. It’s a genre that can be easy and cheap to produce, and lower cinematic quality is usually forgiven more so compared to fictional stories. There’s also a lot of footage. In case you haven’t noticed, journalism hasn’t been shut down, and the lucky people working on news crews are the few that still have a guaranteed job within the film industry. So it’s not a question as to whether documentaries will be made, rather it’s going to be more about how to stand out from the crowd. There will be an entire smorgasbord of COVID-19 documentary entries into future film festivals (and critics will tire of them very quickly), but only the most unique will become successful.

Picture from Unfriended. Horror films, self recorded pieces, found footage genre flicks, and stories set in one location might see an immediate future in the film industry.

Another staple genre is horror. People turn to scary movies as a way to cope, process, and understand their own fears regarding current events and the inevitability of death. This is why virus-related films are suddenly gaining popularity, such as the thriller Contagion, whilst zombie flicks are experiencing their second wind. Whether there’ll end up being a spate of “What if?” scenario films based off this time period, you can bet every post-apocalyptic movie made from here on out will contain an inside joke about toilet paper.

Horror movies often have small budgets and frequently succeed in getting large returns. Don’t be surprised if you see yet another entry to the Unfriended series, as it would actually be fairly easy to film even whilst in lockdown. Found footage-style films have fallen out of fashion in recent years, though being stuck in isolation may offer a new perspective and bring life to the sub-genre once again. Maybe this time around they won’t all be about ghosts and demons, and rather focus on other fears concerning isolation, domestic violence, and agoraphobia. They may even start to bleed into different genres, and we might see a wave of one-set-location dramas using this cinematic style.

Yet for every person that wants to seek out more information about current events, there are also those that are completely over it. There’s always that other side of coin, though the question will be what type of film will balance out the current horrors of the world? Traditionally that spot is reserved for superhero movies, with Superman famously gaining popularity as a beacon of hope after the horrors of the second World War. Yet this sub-genre is already looking fairly well worn (and very expensive given studios will be trying to dig their way out of a financial crisis, if they can at all).

It may even be foolish to rely on these types of films for much longer. Once this is over, there will definitely be a pre-coronavirus and post-coronavirus set of ideologies. When people have lost their livelihoods, teetered or plunged into a world of poverty, or worse, have personally lost loved ones, are superficial comic book heroes fighting against vapid threats really going to cut it anymore? Will people yearn for something more visceral, more real?

Before this virus hit, the Western world was a vastly affluent yet bored civilization, marred by unscientific philosophizing and dictated to by an outrage culture. Now that COVID-19 has dominated the news headlines and sucked air away from other issues, only the most important problems in the past will survive in such an anaerobic environment. Hollywood in particular has been accused of pandering to certain demographics and subsequently alienating the masses, labelled as being too out-of-touch from time to time. If they’re not careful in adjusting their narratives to suit the current times, then they risk being deemed irrelevant, and will lose their market share to the indie and foreign filmmakers; a sector typically seen to preference a genuine exploration of the art form as opposed to creating films as a business venture at the forefront. This is evident in the resonance of the critically popular film, Parasite, and the surprise popularity of Netflix’s newest Spanish movie, The Platform.

The Platform released at the perfect time.

Yet for every deeply cynical drama, there will be a light-hearted family film that will take the edge off the horrors of the world. I also predict we’ll see a resurgence in the romance genre. Having been pushed to one side over the last decade to make room for big-budget spectacle flicks, a Renaissance of sorts is starting to take hold, with the modestly popular latest retellings of Little Women and Emma. Wanting to save money, studios won’t always opt for period romance narratives, so hopefully we’ll come across some original tales regarding love in the coming future. After all, it is said a plague tends to be followed by a period of great altruism. Let’s all hope love will be in the air!

Get ready for some long distance romances!

Film Festivals Vs Online Streaming Services

When I cancelled my own film production, my immediate instinct was to try and scramble together a “Plan B”; to film a narrative that could be accomplished within the restrictions of an ever-approaching pandemic, so I could still enter the film festival I admired. Yet as every day passed, the more I found my expectations and dreams were being stripped away and eventually I found myself asking, “Will there even be a film festival?”

Even the prestigious Cannes Film Festival has now been postponed. Meanwhile, for those events that can, many have scrambled to adapt to an online submission and program. This is a turning point in the film industry because there has been a rather elitist mentality about what really constitutes as cinema. There was essentially a war between movies that had gained theatrical releases verses those that debuted online, with Cannes and notable directors leading the charge, wanting to preserve the tradition of the collective experience gained by watching stories on the silver screen. Try as they may, Netflix gained a reputation for producing lower-quality productions, causing a rift in the industry as to whether their films should be included for submission, particularly when sometimes the rules for eligibility were measured by its theatrical release data.

Now the tables have turned and the vulnerabilities of the traditional cinema format have been exposed. The benefits of online streaming are clear for all to see. Netflix is taking the time to upend the industry’s biases, creating a sense of good will by devising a $100 million virus relief fund to financially compensate registered filmmakers—after all, it’s also in their best interest to ensure there are still artists at the end of all this. It’s fair to expect the industry won’t be so uppity in the coming months.

Whilst the glamour of most film festivals will be lost when they’re forced to convert to an online format, they may actually become more accessible. SXSW’s Short Film entrants have been given new life online after having their screenings cancelled, and are now available to watch for free thanks to Mailchimp. Meanwhile, distributors will no doubt be trawling through online film festival finalists, hoping to pick up a bargain that will eventually recoup their costs. Don’t be surprised if you stumble across a festival that’s been specially made for movies created during this time in self-isolation.

What About That Dark Shadowy Place?

Like Simba, you must never go there.

There is one “genre” that hasn’t been discussed yet, and that is adult entertainment. Whilst we at GUG certainly do not condone its consumption, these are interesting times that have brought about a new sense of analysis.

With most adult productions being produced in Los Angeles and Las Vegas, they are currently unable to make content just like other studios. Yet this isn’t the first time this offshoot of the film industry has been shut down because of a health crisis. They have famously been locked down in the past due to HIV scares, which from then on has lead to stringent testing measures of cast members conducted on a fortnightly basis. Obviously due to the nature of viral infections and the lack of testing kits, this system doesn’t work with COVID-19.

Yet the real tension exists within the old age war between the “professionals” and the “amateurs.” Prior to the invention of the Internet, the adult entertainment industry belonged only to magazine publishers and other regulated sources. Though when the average person’s bandwidth expanded, their kingdom was suddenly lost to anyone with the ability to record and upload footage. In order to differentiate from the masses, the official industry needed to specialize, and sadly this greatly contributed to the rise of the sexualization of violent acts against women, among other things. Soon there developed an arms race of sorts for who could produce the most wild, degrading content, though the official industry was still reigned in by rights and regulations, and prided themselves on their sense of community.

The point is this is an industry that doesn’t want to see their sense of control slip away even further. I mention all of this because this pandemic might present a turning point that raises a number of pressing issues and interesting questions. You see, “COVID-19” is quickly becoming the hottest search term on porn sites (bizarrely in major outbreak areas like Washington state and New York City). Yep. You read that right… it really shouldn’t shock us to learn there’s always someone finding pleasure in someone else’s tragedy. Yet what this does is essentially date the footage which will inevitably open a can of worms.

First, will we start to see the production companies in LA and Las Vegas call out distributors, such as PornHub, for hosting content that’s abhorrent, unethical, and unsafe? This content will be like rubbing salt in a wound. Here they have shut down during a time when the demand for content has arguably never been higher, and coupled with the fact many members of their own industry might be tempted to go rogue due to financial distress, it stands to reason studios might be irritated enough to put their foot down, even if it’s a case of the pot calling the kettle black.

Second, will this emerging viral pandemic “sub-genre” break porn’s alluring “fantasy” element, or rather the viewer’s suspension of disbelief? There are several aspects to this. The science regarding porn consumption is out, and the majority of it is bad news for viewers. Though just how studies linking smoking and cancer are largely ignored, so, too, do addicts seemingly disregard the findings about the damaging effects of porn. But there’s another emerging anti-porn argument, and that centers around its ethics. The Christopher Johnson case made headlines late last year when a missing teen was found on adult entertainment sites. Crimes such as sex trafficking are mistakenly seen as a foreign, faraway issue, whilst people have a tendency to compartmentalize violence on screen compared to violence in real life. So when this case came to light, it shook the industry as it struck too close to home, raising the point as to whether porn is a product that can ever be ethically verified or consumed.

Similarly, now with the emergence of “COVID-19” themed adult entertainment, will this also hit too close to home? It would be interesting to rummage through the data and see if it’s a popular search term in Italy—a population currently surrounded by death where citizens can personally witness the army trucks drive down their streets, removing the hundreds of corpses from medical facilities on a daily basis. Instead of arousing, will this sub-genre simply be seen as tasteless?

This is coupled with a growing sense of “uncoolness,” where people are justifiably quick to slam those not taking the virus seriously. If there are adult productions that blatantly ignore social distancing rules, or news surfaces that the people in these videos do contract COVID-19, it essentially further breaks down that mental barrier between fantasy and reality, causing society to see this form of entertainment as less of an issue of informed consent, but rather as irresponsible and exploitative.

There’s also the “Double Mumbo Jumbo” factor to consider, as coined by screenwriter Blake Snyder. It goes back to mental compartmentalization. A classic example is with supernatural themed movies: A story can feature demons and ghosts as they’re somehow considered related, but if you suddenly add in aliens as well, then it’s too much for an audience to suspend their disbelief. Notice how Supernatural has featured every monster under the sun except for extra-terrestrials? With adult entertainment, it seems any bodily function is perfectly acceptable, but if you add a virus/illness/sickness to the mix, will it have the Double Mumbo Jumbo effect? Like the infamous erotic scenes in The Room, it seems there is a fine line between arousal and disgust, so will this produce the “ick factor”?

Lastly, it’s clear that during this pandemic and forced isolation, people will fall victim to their vices. The studies have shown there’s a novelty factor regarding the nature of arousal; over-exposure to repeated material over time will dull a person’s tastes and physiological response. Putting everything together now, does this mean people will not only be possibly grossed out and ethically conflicted, but also eventually find it boring as well? Is it possible to overwhelm and burn through an addiction until it loses its appeal?

The reason I bring all of this up is because this might be a rare moment for Christians to raise these sorts of issues and concerns surrounding pornographic culture. Whether that’s bringing further light to the horrors and immediacy of sex trafficking, or modelling a better, more productive way to spend time or conduct relationships, or to check in and catch people before they fall further in their addiction. We must be ready. We must keep a close eye on this industry (not literally, but following the news surrounding it) so when the opportune time comes, we’re able to be the light away from this dark, shadowy place.

Film Criticism and the Future Direction of GUG’s Movie Reviewers

It goes without saying if there’s a decrease in film content being produced, then there’s less for a film critic to critique. Newspaper columnists will be the most impacted, since they focus solely on new releases. Yet for bloggers—both of the written kind like at Geeks Under Grace or through video sites like YouTube—there’s more freedom regarding content. We’re lucky that not only has the cinematic art form been around for over a hundred years, but we’re also living in a time when we can easily access past classics from the comfort of our living rooms.

Suffice to say, there are still plenty of films to watch and therefore review. At GUG, while it is no longer possible to write such articles like the monthly Boom, Bust, or Meh predictions since it relied on theatrical releases and box office data, we will still endeavor to critique and analyze films through a Christian lens.

As everything has been moving more online, my church has been challenging the congregation as to how believers can continue to go “out into the world” when it’s now physically not possible. What does John 20:21 now look like when it says, “As the Father has sent me, I am sending you”?

The key might be related to purposefulness. This can be hard to find in an unstructured environment, so it’s best to start with building some small-scale habits. As mentioned previously in this article, this is a time when people will naturally fall victim to their vices. As a film critic, if there’s anything I’m an expert in, it’s watching movies. As amazing as it sounds, let me tell you, sitting in one spot and watching film after film begins to feel gross after a while. Once you view over a hundred a year, it’s also apparent the vast majority of films are simply mediocre—not fantastic, but not utterly awful either. This humdrum can quickly lead to fatigue, constant dissatisfaction, and depression if you’re not aware of these pitfalls.

This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t watch movies—far be it from me to recommend such a thing! Just aim to be purposeful about your day and the way you approach your film selection, otherwise you might feel lost in a sea of mundane and pointless narratives. Check out the IMDB top 250, the American Film Institute’s lists, or if you’re feeling particularly bleak, go through the 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die book (whose title now brings on a whole new meaning). Mix it up. Don’t merely watch things for the sake of passing the time. Setting goals, having aims, or working through lists continues a sense of discipline we may have lost in our current situation, and is a trait typically required when it comes to following God.

We’re here at GUG to help guide you through your decisions on what parts of the media are worth engaging in, whilst movie-based Bible Studies assist in breaking down and separating the muck from the thematic gold, if there is any to be found. Since we’ve always been an online community, our presence is unhindered, so be sure to make use of our resources and reach out if you need help, clarification, or are otherwise looking for a community, and we’ll do our best to assist you during this difficult time.

Aside from watching copious amounts of movies (which I don’t recommend doing all day if it’s not your job) be sure to take breaks from the screen. Exercise. Darebee features several superhero themed workouts, none of which require equipment. Now’s also the chance to up your skill levels. Try out new foods and recipes. If you’re wanting to get into the film industry, start trying out free editing software, creating a voice over reel, or otherwise experiment and complete those things that have always been on your “to do” list. Don’t be afraid to grieve about society’s changes from time to time—it’s natural to want to decompress every so often. 

Trust me, watching film after film does get a bit gross after a while.

The whole reason is that the idea of being sent implies a destination, which therefore acknowledges purposefulness and requires discipline. I’m finding myself constantly surrounded, overwhelmed, grieved, and distracted by the news of COVID-19, though by designating a set time in the day to reflect upon God’s Word and pray, I try not to lose sight that everything is still within God’s provenance.

By finding structure and purpose within the day, I’ve discovered the fog of all the hours blurring into one has lifted, good habits are developing, and I’m finding myself becoming more open to God’s input. This might be a season of reflection or self-improvement, or God might put on your heart to reach out and find ways to care for those that are otherwise forgotten, whether it’s through donation drives, phone calls to check in on others, or even by spreading the importance of just staying home, as hard as it surprisingly might be.

After all, there is still an underlying ugliness when people speak about this virus. How “it only affects those that are old or already have health issues,” and even though there a more cases popping up every day that challenge this notion, it still conjures up images of people already on the road to death as though their lives no longer matter. The statement is dismissive in its very nature, reeking of ableism. Scripture has always cared for “the least of these” (Matthew 25:40), whether it’s through the Old Testament laws that remind farmers not to harvest all the crops and to leave food for those less fortunate, Jesus’ actions of interacting with those suffering from leprosy, or Paul directly addressing and acknowledging women when it was culturally uncouth at the time. An individualistic, apathetic, “it won’t affect me” mentality contradicts the entire overarching narrative of Scripture. We’re all challenged as Christians to try and help those in need, and if all that means is staying indoors, then it shouldn’t be viewed as a meaningless reaction. Our choice to self-isolate should be seen as the front line assault on this pandemic, not the hospitals.

So in summary, keep in contact with God. We may feel hopeless in the fact all we’re doing is staying at home, but we must find contentment in what little we can control and leave the rest to the Lord. No need to feel guilty if you are enjoying yourself and catching up on the films you’ve always wanted to see, as by restricting yourself to your home, you are indeed helping those most vulnerable in our communities which is in line with God’s commands. Just be aware of your personal vices and keep them in check. Remember to be purposeful and not lose the trait of discipline, and if God presses on you to be sent in other ways that still abide by current health advice, then be sure to listen. Lastly, even though we’re not reviewing many new releases during these uncertain times, we at GUG are still here for you should you need us. Don’t be afraid to reach out to your fellow geeks. Stay safe, and be sure to live long and prosper!

Juliana Purnell

After obtaining a Bachelor of Dramatic Arts, Juliana Purnell has enjoyed a successful acting career, working within theme parks, businesses, and on film sets. She has also taken on crew roles, both in film and theatrical productions. When Juliana isn't working, she enjoys watching movies of all genres at the cinema, writing, and playing with Samson, her pomeranian.

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