Movies, Box Office, Pandemic, and Mental Health

TCL Chinese Theatre. Photo by Danielle Solzman.

The ongoing pandemic continues to affect movies at the box office, release dates, and I also want to add a note here about mental health.

Press Screeners and Screenings

If there’s one thing that’s improved any during the past year, it’s the ability for press to do their jobs from home. To those studios who have press screening platforms on Apple TV or Roku, thank you. To those who don’t, it’s 2021 for Pete’s sake! If Jeff Bezos can invest in a rocket, why can’t Amazon Studios invest in a working press screener platform where press can watch movies on an app? Vimeo is going to remain the preferred platform of choice for press screeners. If a film I want to watch is on a press screener platform that I can watch directly on TV, it takes a higher spot on my list than a film that I have to watch from laptop to TV via HDMI.

Until Indee gets it together and creates an app for all their screeners, they’ll be frowned upon. This is the thing with Indee, there’s too much buffering and it’s not reliable when plugging in our computers to TV via HDMI. Throw in the super limited views and those films become the ones that I am more likely to pass on because of the limited views. I kid you not in that Capone was limited to one viewing last year and stopped in the first three minutes. This isn’t the way to watch a film for review. Two years ago, I had to repeatedly refresh an Indee screener of Under the Eiffel Tower because it constantly refreshed. I ran out of all five views. Because it was a weekend and nobody was in the office, it meant waiting until Monday just to watch the final ten minutes or so.

It’s inexcusable for a screener to buffer so much within the first ten minutes to where I give up. And yet, that’s what happened a few times with Sony Pictures screeners. Or, when plugging my laptop to TV via HDMI cable, the picture is so bad that I end up watching where the picture is worse than VHS quality. Here’s the thing, Sony has a press screener platform and they rarely even use it outside of awards season.

I don’t know what’s going to happen as we get further along into 2021 with the pandemic. But here’s what I do know: studios that haven’t invested in press screener platforms need to do so. Give us the option to watch from home if we must. Why do studios insist that press see films in theaters while their own employees are still at home? Why isn’t our health just as important as studio employees? I see maskholes on the bus and train and that makes me uncomfortable. Listen, I value the theatrical experience but Covid anxiety is a real thing. As long as press screenings are held during dinner time, people will eat food and that will mean taking masks off for an extended period of time.

Box Office

How I learned to stop obsessing over the box office because we’re in a pandemic and the way in which we watch movies are changing. That seems like it could be a title to Dr. Strangelove, right? It’s true though. Some box office analysts are still comparing the box office numbers to what they were before the pandemic. I’m sitting here like, why?!? Why are you making any comparisons when we’re STILL in a pandemic?!? I feel like there’s this sense of denial about what’s happening. Listen, I love the theatrical experience but we’re in a pandemic and my health is going to come first. I can’t obsess over the box office numbers when people are staying home when they would have otherwise seen at least one film a week.

While some films didn’t go to streaming and did huge numbers initially, not everyone is going back to the theaters. It’ll probably be 2022 until we see some semblance of pre-pandemic numbers at the box office. I certainly am not going to attack any film for opening under expectations. There’s still a pandemic and I shouldn’t have to stress this. Your comfort attending movie theaters might not be the same as another person’s comfort level.

Clifford the Big Red Dog
Darby Camp and Jack Whitehall star in CLIFFORD THE BIG RED DOG from Paramount Pictures. Courtesy of Paramount Pictures.


Now that the Delta variant is steadily rising, who knows what these next few months will look like. Chicago just made the terrible mistake of holding Lollapalooza and G-d only knows what the city’s numbers will look like soon. But anyway, it might not be until 2022 before we see any resemblance of normalcy to life before the pandemic. As long as the anti-vaxxers are holding us hostage, we won’t be able to truly move forward.

Paramount Pictures has already pulled one of the bigger family movies coming out this fall in Clifford the Big Red Dog. It had been scheduled to premiere during the 2021 Toronto International Film Festival. However, it appears that the film has been pulled from the festival. Again, with Delta rising, I would not be surprised if more studios follow in their footsteps. While people ages 12 and over are able to get the vaccine, children under those ages cannot. And so, if you’re a family with children under that age, what do you do? It’s either spend the money at movie theaters or find something you can watch at home.

The pandemic is changing how we watch movies–make no mistake about it. Studios are playing around with the theatrical release window. It’s been shortening over the years and now, we’re lucky if any movie plays longer than three months. Black Widow arrived in theaters and on Disney+ Premier Access in early July and it’ll be on home video just over a week after the two-month date. The Suicide Squad is among a number of film releasing in theaters and on HBO Max at the same time. Warner Bros. is giving their movies an exclusive theatrical window after the 31 days of HBO Max streaming are over. But who is to say what will happen next year? Will audiences follow back to the theaters or continue to watch at home? None of us know what the future looks like.

Mental Health

Mental health has been an ongoing conversation going back to last year. No doubt that it’s been affecting many of us. There have been many times over the last year where I’ll say yes to press screeners of several movies to review. However, when it comes to actually watching them, more often than not, I’ll just turn on comfort viewing instead. Over the course of the pandemic, I honestly don’t know what my mood will be on a given day. Even a few weeks ago, I had a terrible case of pandemic fatigue. Even though I’m fully vaccinated, my life isn’t quite back to what it was before the pandemic. I observe Shabbat every week for 25 hours. Shabbas dinner for one just isn’t the same as Shabbas dinner with a bunch of friends.

I’ve been going through books at a quicker pace than what I was doing before the pandemic. The thing about Shabbas meals for one is that you finish eating quickly and then have way too much time on your hands. Without being able to use electronics, it’s either stare at a wall or read a book. Playing board and card games are an option when you’re with other people. Shabbas by myself only means reading. Shabbas tends to set the mood for the upcoming week and while I’m going to shul every week, eating Shabbas meals by myself is never fun. Thankfully, this weekend wasn’t the case and as such, hardly any reading happened.

But back to what I was saying, there are times where I end up watching the same films over and over. Believe me when I say, I never stop apologizing to publicists and filmmakers for feeling like I let them down. It isn’t that I don’t want to watch them but if I’m not in the right mindset, it’ll affect how I watch the movies on my screener list. As Michael Phelps just said the other day during the NBC Olympics broadcast, it’s okay not to be okay. If I want to sleep or just rewatch Rogue One, Jurassic Park, Jurassic World. or Avengers: Endgame for the upteenth time, I will.

Danielle Solzman

Danielle Solzman is native of Louisville, KY, and holds a BA in Public Relations from Northern Kentucky University and a MA in Media Communications from Webster University. She roots for her beloved Kentucky Wildcats, St. Louis Cardinals, Indianapolis Colts, and Boston Celtics. Living less than a mile away from Wrigley Field in Chicago, she is an active reader (sports/entertainment/history/biographies/select fiction) and involved with the Chicago improv scene. She also sees many movies and reviews them. She has previously written for Redbird Rants, Wildcat Blue Nation, and Hidden Remote/Flicksided. From April 2016 through May 2017, her film reviews can be found on Creators.