Interview: Hollywood returns from the pandemic as Russell Crowe Leads the way back to US theaters

It has been a perpetual game of ”gotcha’’ in Hollywood regarding the reemergence of the entertainment complex. For months we have seen the promise of theaters opening scuttled repeatedly as major studio releases have been shuffled across the calendar. All the while contempt has surfaced between studios and exhibitors as the desire to use video on demand as a revenue solution has become a haggling point, and audiences are even tiring of the streaming medium.

Well it appears we may be FINALLY seeing the light at the end of the tunnel to allow us back into the darkness of cinemas. Yesterday AMC Theaters announced it will be opening 100 of its locations, with a plan to broaden that number to 300 in the near future. Helping to spearhead the reopening is the first major theatrical release. Next Friday brings the debut of ”Unhinged’’, the new thriller starring Russell Crowe.

I spoke with Crowe, as well as the director of the film Derrick Borte, and producer Mark Gill about the specific challenges they faced in both finishing a movie during a pandemic, and the battle to release a film in a completely questionable marketplace. The US is a unique case globally in that we are still in a state of shut-down, while many industrial countries are already returning to normalcy. Crowe reflected this at the start, indicating how eager he has been to see productions return to the normal workflow.

We need to get you guys back out, head over to where we can work like Vancouver, or London,’’ he said to Borte and Gill, indicating how those areas have already begun opening up in the pandemic era. ”Even come out here to Australia – we’re working again.’’ 

While showing this desire the actor revealed how he has been able to use the down time to accomplish things he normally has to set aside while working abroad. ”Besides working the property I have been able to do so much. I’m writing songs, getting other writing done, and the amount of scripts I am getting through is immense. You should see my desk back there,’’ he said with a thumb pitched over his shoulder. ”You cannot even see it under all of the screenplays. Everyone has time to write something nowadays, so as a result I am getting sent stuff I never would get normally.’’

To this Gill chuckled. ”Not only that, but everyone is writing their Covid-style screenplays — more scripts on tight sets. They are ”My Dinner With Andre’’ types of story.’’ It is another way of peeling back the curtain to see how the industry is shifting and adjusting in this period of uncertainty.

  • Watch Crowe deliver the film promo reel in a manner that demands he do these for all films.


Crowe seemed to miss the chance of being outside and working. Speaking of the shoot for ”Unhinged’’, made on location in New Orleans, he spoke of how much he enjoyed being on set. ”It worked out great, as we were set up in a former Macy’s store — that had been converted into our soundstage. The place I was staying at was just a few miles from the set, so I could ride my bicycle in each day.’’ He said he appreciated the change.

I just got finished with ‘The Loudest Voice’,’’ mentioning the miniseries based on FoxNews, where he portrayed Roger Ailes. ”That involved something like 36 layers of makeup and prosthetics. So to be able to just go out and work was really a great relief.’’ He smiled a bit. ”One day we had 8 miles of highway blocked off for us, so I can just go out there and do nothing but drive between stunt cars, Derrick is on the radio if needed, and you just go.’’

Following the filming the work was far from over, and the roadblocks mounted. Post-production was hampered by the inability to gather crew, and reshoots or other editing methods had to be altered. Gill noted how the technology was advanced as a result of what they could not do. ”Working with digital panels for backgrounds has come so far in the past few months, out of necessity. That is not only becoming more of the norm, but that technology has been pushed forward in what would have taken 3 to 4 years.’’

Then after the tech issues possibly the bigger challenges were faced with the release. The original debut of ”Unhinged’’ was slated for late next month, but as numerous films had to be pulled from their schedule they soon realized they were facing competition from far larger films. But instead of looking at later dates they decided to look earlier, with an uncrowded calendar. As Crowe told the producers, ”Think of how great it would be with no other cars on the road.’’

One thing that helped is that ”Unhinged’’ has already played in areas in Europe, so they have a working model. They also had a curious result. ”Normally when a movie opens Friday is the bigger audience day,’’ said Gill. ”But we were seeing that right now on a weekend Sunday was having larger audiences. This was due to word of mouth, but not based on the quality of a title. People were holding back to see how the theater experience worked out, and when they learned it was not so bad they would show up.’’

I asked if they were using the recent experience in Europe to leverage the opening of things here in the States? ‘‘Exactly. We were able to show that this can be done in a responsible way. Then with the capacity restrictions, we could compensate by being on additional screens. If they have 50% tickets available we can get 2 screens, or if it’s 25% then maybe 3 screens.’’

In preparing to release into such an unknown US marketplace Gill says they did extensive polling of audiences to measure the interest, and to adjust their marketing. As it turned out there was not much they needed to alter. When asked about the possibility of a VOD release director Borte resisted. ”The one phrase we have come to hate is ‘from the sofa’. We want to be in theaters.’’

This was something Gill noted in the polling. ”We found there is a level of fatigue with streaming. People are very eager to get back to theaters; so much so that ‘anything’ was the answer when we asked what they wanted to see. We had to adjust the questions and add, ‘What do you MOST want to see’ — and the preferred choice was ‘Thrillers’, so we were thrilled to see that.’

This has been reflected in the digital realm. In the advance promotions for the film Gill and Borte had target metrics to hit. ”We were aiming to land somewhere near 100,000 digital impressions,’’ Gill stated, referring to the measure of internet interest in the title. ”Because we are the first title to make it back into theaters it is generating interest —  we are currently at 500,000 impressions.’’ 

These are the hurdles distributors and production companies are currently facing in the pandemic climate. Studios will be paying close attention to how things develop after next weekend, as Russell Crowe and ‘’Unhinged’’ are leading the charge back into theaters. 

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