*The Journal., from The Wall Street Journal and Gimlet (a Spotify company) is sharing highlights from today’s interview with Lee Daniels, award-winning film director, producer, and screenwriter.
The global COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted nearly every industry around the world including that of the motion picture business where it has wreaked havoc on the box-office and raised larger questions about the future of film distribution and theatrical launches.
With movie theaters largely shuttered since March of 2020, and some audiences reluctant to return, many filmmakers and studios have been forced to grapple with alternative ways of reaching the millions of people who are stuck at home, and looking to be entertained. While many of the big-budget blockbusters have continued to defer their release dates in hopes of theaters reopening, others are moving forward, and exploring digital alternatives like going straight to streaming.
Lee Daniels, the creative mastermind behind award-winning films such as Precious, Monster’s Ball and The Butler, to name a few, is among those in Hollywood taking a chance on this new route of streaming. Today, his latest film – The United States Vs. Billie Holiday is making its debut, not on the silver screen as he originally hoped, but instead online via Hulu. Having a virtual premiere is a significant change, especially for a decorated filmmaker like Daniels who debuted his previous films in-person at tentpole events like Sundance and Cannes. In the run-up to his film’s “virtual premiere” today, Daniels sat down with The Journal. to discuss the impact COVID has had on his new film, including its effect on his creative process, why he decided on streaming and how it may change his potential profits from the film, what it’s meant for his actors and crew, and what he believes the future of the film industry might look like moving forward. Daniels explores all these questions and more in today’s episode.
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Below are specific highlight quotes below from Daniels’ interview on The Journal Podcast with host Kate Linebaugh:
- On why he felt compelled to tell Billie Holiday’s story: “I was blown away by the story of this woman that I had no idea, no clue that she was the civil rights leader. When you think of Billie Holiday, you don’t really think of her as a civil rights leader. You think of her as a troubled jazz artist who had been in and out of jail, trouble with the law.//BUT // She’s the godmother of civil rights. So I had to tell this story.”
- On his original vision for a theatrical release: “I thought it would be // at a festival where we would, you know, slowly roll it out. // like Precious at Cannes. I knew that the Europeans would eat this up and particularly Cannes would eat it up.//
- On the challenges and limitations of making a film during COVID and his painful choice to throw in the towel on screen testing: “And so we try to do it with small groups of people. But then it was becoming illegal. You couldn’t do it. So I’m like, OK, so how do I test the movie? And they put me in a. On a virtual thing with like, 100 people on the computer screen in these little tiny boxes and people were picking their noses, eating pizza, smoking cigarettes, smoking weed, going to the bathroom, walking away. As a filmmaker, it’s the most painful thing ever. I put the computer down as I don’t want to know about what these this is going to be a movie that will have to roll the dice. Guys, we’re going to just see what this is like. And so I haven’t really tested the film.”
- On weighing the decision to stream his film or wait for a theatrical release and why he ultimately chose the latter: “So then. The clock is ticking. It is very clear that theaters are not going to open and everybody’s wishing for the best over at Paramount and finally. I go, this isn’t happening, guys, and you know it’s not happening. theaters are not opening and I got to get this movie out. I think this is an important time to tell the movie right now where people have to see the movie. // We didn’t do the movie because of George Floyd. George Floyd was in the air and it was clear that, you know, that people were singing strange fruit in the streets. Like people were sending me videos of people singing strange fruit in different cities in the middle of these riots. There was no way I was not going to uh… this movie had to come out now. //And and the decision was made to go to sell it to streamers and in it, it was for the survival of the film itself, always protect the baby under any circumstances.”
- On whether or not a lot of what he would have made financially on the film pre-COVID would have been based on the box office and how predicting film revenues has changed during COVID: “A good portion of it, yeah. So you see why it’s hard for me to even do the math right now because I’m trying to figure out the math. It took me a long time to answer that question because I couldn’t. I’m still trying to process what it is that’s happening. And a lot of it is going to depend on overseas. What we’re making overseas. So now we’re just trying to figure out how to sell different territories, you know, more money. How so? It’s it’s a whole new equation that makes me not seem like I know what I’m talking about because I don’t know what I’m talking about.
- On having to break the news to his cast that the movie would not be opening in theaters and their reactions: “Sad. We were sad. Painful because, you know, one of my films, people don’t make money up front. The laugh really is at the end. You know, I get great actors to work for me for close to nothing. I don’t make any money, you know, because studios, for the most part, don’t want to do a Lee Daniels film. You know, it’s too provocative. It’s too, it’s too black. It’s too real, it’s too whatever. And we ordinarily have the last laugh because we sell it and then we make money at the end and we do make money at the end. But this was not the case, and so had I known that, I would have padded the budget and really paid the actors more in the beginning. And that’s sad. It’s really sad.”
- His thoughts on the magic of the movie theater, the trade-off of watching at home and the loss to audiences as a result: “The collective experience of watching it together. It was made for people to react, people react differently than they do watching it at home. I know it, I’ve seen it. I’ve witnessed it. You act a certain way. But when you are given permission to laugh or to cry from other people, it’s infectious. It’s it’s a beautiful thing to watch as a filmmaker to see the power that you have over people. It is why I do what it is that I do.”
- On the future of the film industry and what it could mean if it shifts to primarily releasing films via streaming moving forward: “Well, the film industry has been changing slowly in front of my eyes. And so I felt even that the types of films that that I grew up on are becoming obsolete. Almost. That was already changing. That experience was narrowing year by year. And now this has sort of made a statement in a big way about the fate of cinema ultimately. And I don’t think it’s good.”
- On what he’ll be doing during the films debut today and how he’s actually feeling now that the day has arrived: “Crying probably really, really upset. Emotional. I’m trying to keep on a good face for you because I’m not in a good place about it. I’m really sad about the…well I won’t be crying. Maybe that’s a dramatic. But I’ll be upset. I’m not happy about this. I don’t understand the world that we’re in. I’m trying to understand it. And I know that that’s probably not the correct answer that my press people want me to, you know, have out there in the world, that I understand — I don’t understand!”
- How they plans to celebrate the film’s release today and whether or not he or Andra Day plan to dress up today: “I mean, I haven’t really dressed up for anybody on the zoom, but maybe. Well, it’d be nice right. // She’s not going to dress up, but I’m going to tell her to I think I’m going to have to put a flower in her hair. I’m a put my tux shirt on and some jeans and maybe I will dress up. I think I’m going to dress up.”
The Journal. is a daily podcast about money, business and power, hosted by veteran Wall Street Journal reporters Kate Linebaugh and Ryan Knutson. You can listen to today’s full episode here above.
source: Shannon Donnelly – email@example.com