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Future of Hollywood: Post-COVID Storytelling

by | Aug 6, 2020 | Futurist Thomas Frey Insights

Futurist Speaker Thomas Frey Blog: Future of Hollywood and Post Covid StorytellingThe COVID-19 pandemic has put pop culture on hold. What we’re facing is not just a summer without popcorn blockbusters, but a fall television season with many series put on hold in mid-stream (nearly literally) and an Oscar season devoid of contenders for those coveted golden statuettes. This production lull is exhausting all our entertainment content inventories and it could take years to recover.

And once TV and film production does begin to fill the pipeline again, we’ll see different kinds of content because the world will be different. Because, well, 2020 has been a different kind of year!

Film production considerations

TV and film production closed down quickly in mid-March due to state and local government mandates and the impracticality of social distancing on set. After all, who wants to see their favorite actors wearing masks or blowing kisses?

Post-production work was able to continue of course, but to what end? Movie theaters were shuttered and quickly became nothing more than anchors threatening to sink suburban malls.

Production companies faced the option of delaying releases for as long as a year or biting the bullet and sending their work directly to streaming services. Both happened. As a result of locked theaters, Netflix has millions of new subscribers.

At this time, production has begun again with many safety precautions in place. Experts say that for the foreseeable future there will be smaller crews on sets, fewer shooting locations, fewer cast member extras, and more reliance on virtual effects.

A new era for making movies

But what’s really interesting to me is not how or when TV shows or movies will once again be made and released, it’s the kind of content and themes we’ll see. Will our experience with COVID-19 change content? Yes, but probably not in the ways you’re thinking.

Have you noticed how jarring it is these days to see a pre-2020 filmed scene with a crowded bar, a packed arena, or close-talking groups of people? That’s because it doesn’t reflect the reality of our life at this moment in time. But when we finally get the all-clear to shed our masks, and when social distancing is once again by choice and not necessity, those kinds of scenes on film won’t seem odd anymore.

Film reflects everyday life, and our life will not always be about avoiding respiratory droplets or worrying about invisible aerosol particles. Accordingly, the only masks we’ll see on the big screen will be in scenes with doctors, caregivers, or bank robbers.

Our shared COVID experience, though, should and will change movie content in a much more fundamental way. When we come out on the other side of this pandemic, we’re going to have to reflect on what we went through and what it all means. Movies and shows can help with that internalization process. For people all over the planet, the COVID crisis has been a deeply personal experience, and we’ll be looking to storytellers to help guide our thinking and even help us formulate some newly calibrated life priorities.

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A new era for content

Of course, COVID isn’t the only challenge we’ve been confronting as a society in the last few months.

We’ve seen the emergence of a new level of social consciousness on matters related to diversity and equality. In light of that, have you noticed how many episodes of our favorite television series or movies now feature cringe-worthy scenes or plots with noticeable stereotyping?

Moving forward, movie and television show themes, plots, portrayed relationships, and dialog will be forever changed, reflecting a new awareness of racial and gender equality and related sensitivities. The general public will be super-attuned to these themes, so filmmakers and script writers will need to be very careful to stay on the right side of the shifting boundaries related to these social issues.

Would these areas of social conscientiousness have emerged as strongly had we not been in a COVID-induced state of vulnerability? That’s for others to decide. I would simply say that our global consciousness changed in 2020 and this is the perfect time for a new breed of storytellers to pave the way in healing our psyches and even helping us understand some new social norms.

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Pay Attention, Hollywood!

The old ways of thinking in Hollywood just won’t cut it anymore. We’re in a new age, and script writers will need to take heed. Our definitions of heroes, success, and achievement are changing. So are our thoughts on villains, fairness, virtue, passion, and our quest for accomplishment.

If film and television producers don’t realize this and if they fail to seize the opportunity to give us what we need and want, they too risk becoming irrelevant in the post-COVID world.

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