ARCHIVAL:ANNOUNCER: Suppose for a moment that the lights of this theater of ours went dark. What then? What would serve instead?
NARRATION: Covid 19 isnt the first time Hollywood has been disrupted by a pandemic the 1918 flu influenced the strategy of studio titan Adolph Zukor of Paramount Pictures.
WILLIAM J. MANN (AUTHOR, TINSELTOWN): Zukor sensed an opportunity when the pandemic happened. So many movie theaters were closing and the exhibitors were losing their shirts. This fit very well into his plan for vertical integration. And so hes now controlling two aspects of filmmaking: production and distribution. What he needed was a chain of theaters that were obligated to only show his films and keep all of his competitors out.
NARRATION: Movies had only been a force in American culture for about a decade when the flu hit the United States. Mann says, like today, the Hollywood ecosystem struggled to manage the threat of outbreaks.
WILLIAM J. MANN: Douglas Fairbanks, one of the top swashbuckling heroes of the screen, refused to wear a mask in his public appearances, and this was because he didnt want to appear weak or timid. Not long after that, his his lady love Mary Pickford, who is the biggest star of the screen, she gets the influenza and is very, very sick for for a number of weeks. Harold Lockwood, who was a big, big star at the time he actually died of the influenza.
NARRATION: Despite trying to impose social distancing at theaters, many were forced to close and Zukors Paramount acquired some of them, helping to create the studio system.
WILLIAM J. MANN: And the golden age of Hollywood comes out of this very efficient factory model of production. It is predominant in the industry. The economic impact of the 1918 pandemic on Hollywood and on American filmmaking was significant.
ARCHIVAL (F.I.L.M ARCHIVES):WOMAN: You know, Im glad we have television, but I wish we get some modern up to date feature films or Broadway stage plays, something like that?
NARRATION: Today, the consumer is in charge. When the covid pandemic disrupted Hollywood last year, studios started bypassing exclusive theater releases allowing audiences to stream new movies at home.
ARCHIVAL (FOX NEWS):NEWS REPORT: Universal Pictures released the animated movie Trolls World Tour exclusively on demand taking in a record nearly 100 million in three weeks.
ARCHIVAL (TRAILER FOR REMINISCENCE):ANNOUNCER: Youre going on a journeyall you have to do is follow my voice.
KIM MASTERS ( EDITOR-AT-LARGE, THE HOLLYWOOD REPORTER): Warner Media was saying this is pandemic rules, nobodys going back to the theaters for all of 2021. At the same time Warner Media is saying, Were the future. Streaming is the future.
ARCHIVAL (TRAILER FOR KING RICHARD):KING RICHARD: Gonna shake up this world.
KIM MASTERS: The innovation has arrived.
WILLIAM J. MANN: Zukor would be cheering on Netflix and HBO Max and all of these streaming services because theyre using his model in many ways, theyre controlling the production, the distribution and the exhibition of these moving pictures that theyre creating. And that was the most efficient model in 1919, but it was also the most efficient model today.
NARRATION: While Warner Media has since announced it will return to theatrical releases in 2022, its clear the movie-going landscape has changed.
WILLIAM J. MANN: One of the unintended consequences of Adolph Zukors new model was that many independent filmmakers, the mast majority of them, could no longer compete because they didnt have they didnt have access to the theaters anymore. I think the structure is being different now in that streaming and cable provide so many different platforms for content. And while that makes me concerned about the future of the theatrical part of the industry, I think the consumer is the one whos going to win here because the numbers of choices they have are so much greater.