Vincent Schilling
Indian Country Today

I have been a film reviewer as the #NativeNerd for a few years now. I was a reviewer pre-pandemic, pandemic and now, slowly but surely I am easing into the realms of the potential post-pandemic movie-watching world.

Except it’s not over for COVID, not by a long shot. People still need to practice safe distances, wear a mask, wash their hands and overall, be as safe as possible.

Everyone has the right as to whether or not they want to exercise mask mandates if they have had the COVID vaccination, but we are not post-pandemic film production companies, not by a long shot.

How this whole review thing works

I deal with a lot of films’ public relations companies with a staff who are tasked with reaching out to reviewers like me who will then review the films. Sometimes, we get the films way ahead of time but we have to adhere to an embargo—meaning a specific date we can’t publish our review until.

These film PR folks must all work 100-hour weeks, and wow, do they seem to have an answer for every question, every interview request and more, I really appreciate them so very much. ‘You all do great work PR film company peeps. I appreciate you.’

How it used to work pre-pandemic

I used to get announcements from PR companies about films that were coming soon and I would get an opportunity to watch them and review them for the benefit of a curious audience. One of my all-time greatest events was getting to watch “Avengers: Infinity Wars” a few days before the rest of the world, then review it.

I have had similar experiences with a lot of great films. I would go to the theater, watch the special screening early then review it.

Pandemic screening

And then COVID happened. Now, admittedly, I was much more concerned about the welfare and safety of my family, my friends and Indian Country as well as the rest of the world. Certainly in comparison as to how I would conduct a film review. But I eventually would address the issue as time continued forward.

As the pandemic continued, the film industry still tried to hold on, but many theaters shut down and film viewing mostly went to Video On Demand. One of the biggest examples of a film release struggle was “The New Mutants” whose filmmakers had signed agreements for a theatrical release only.

The pandemic seriously affected their numbers, and in a too little too late move, the film has still struggled to earn its due. It’s a shame, because I loved the movie.

(Related: #NativeNerd movie review: ‘The New Mutants’)

(From L to R:) Five teenage mutants — Wolfsbane (Maisie Williams), Sunspot (Henry Zaga), Mirage (Blu Hunt), Cannonball (Charlie Heaton), and Magik (Anya Taylor-Joy) — must, as the movie describes, “undergo treatments at a secret institution that will cure them of their dangerous powers.” (Courtesy: 20th Century Studios)

Dear film production companies, the world is changing, you’d better take notice

So now we are slowly starting to emerge from the pandemic blues. But we are not out of the water, nor the woods yet. A lot of people in the world don’t want a vaccination, or don’t have access to the vaccine, and there are still a massive amount of COVID variants making their way through the world.

The COVID pandemic forced the world to embrace a noble virtual presence. And it worked. It was surprisingly profitable and production companies learned that they could still make enormous amounts of money releasing a film solely as a VOD aka Video On Demand.

So my question, why are these same film companies so eager to discard this profitable model?

Albert Einstein famously said, “The mind, once stretched by an idea, never retains its original proportions.”

I have family members and friends that struggle with agoraphobia and social anxiety and panic disorder and as much as the COVID pandemic placed a strain on the lives of people, it also created a world where people with social disabilities were able to participate.

So the industries that be may think that the world is just going to snap right back to everything happening person-to-person, but I have news for your friends, it’s not.

We are never going back to the way things were. The virtual world has made itself known as an extremely viable source of easy connectivity, and people are not going to let it go. The same way that email changed the way the post office has operated forever, the same can be said for our newly created virtual world.

So what am I trying to say, and how are filmmakers and production companies being stingy with movie screeners?

So here we are in the early summer of 2021, and there are about ten films I am interested in watching and reviewing.

I sent word to some of the film PR companies I work with and they told me a number of these films would not be available for me to review, they would not be playing in a theater near to my location, nor would they be available as a screener.

In case you weren’t sure, a screener is a movie that a potential critic can watch (most often before public audiences have access) in order to give a review.

The questions I have are this:

Why would you stop non-theatrical screeners for critics?

Native Nerd, Why?

Many critics do not yet want to go to a theater, and if we had access to a screener and reviewed it on our computer, the potential audience member would make up their own mind whether or not they wanted to go to a theater. To their credit, maybe they want the critic to have a “theatrical experience” to their movie? But I think I am capable of making a fair assessment of a film whether or not I see it in a theater.

Don’t get me wrong, I love, and I mean absolutely love the theater experience. Even if people might be disruptive or a baby cries, there is something special about a movie screen that is larger than life, with explosive Dolby sounds.

Why not offer both theatrical and Video On Demand options moving forward?

I have several family members that have fragile immunity levels and are elders that I frankly am not going to take a chance by going to a theater at this point. On the flip side, I am confident a lot of critics and audience film-goers want to go to theaters as soon as possible. So as a company making films, why not offer both to critics and audiences? The model has already shown itself to be profitable.

The day of conglomerate movie theaters are perhaps going to calm just a bit. More and more people are going to opt to watch their movies on computers, phones, tablets and movie theaters are just going to be one of the options.

I think production companies need to be cognizant of our changing virtual world and stop attempting to force us back into that cubby hole of just watching theatrical releases in theaters.

The entertainment world has become a mixed bag of content selections made at the touch of a button or the flip of a switch.

Not only that, people don’t want to pay 10 bucks for a tub of popcorn and a small drink as often as they used to.

Native Nerd and that popcorn tub: "I'm expensive, but you know you love me."

If you want more people to watch your movie production companies and filmmakers, you have to make it readily available to the people that critique your movies. And if you don’t, I have 100 emails in my inbox right now from independent film production companies who are willing to take that necessary virtual step in the best direction.

On that note, stay tuned for my next review on independent films that did just what I described above. Thanks for reading.

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