If 2020 began with promise, all that changed as every industry tradition we took for granted was stripped away without warning. The pandemic has seen nearly 20 million positive cases in the U.S. alone, and soon 350,000 will be dead. Every facet of entertainment was impacted: live theaters and movie theaters closed, production in TV and movies halted, agencies reliant on live events and film and TV shows saw revenues dry to a trickle. Layoffs and furloughs followed everywhere.
Then came the social protests following the death of George Floyd, the polarization and politicization of everything down to whether to wear protective masks to stem the spread of Covid, and a divisive presidential election still being disputed by the loser, and 2020 became an ugly year.
During moments of disruption, some shrink from adversity and resist change, while others step up and stand tall and find ways to turn hardship into a positive. Here is a look back at those in the industry who found ways to be memorable in a most forgettable year.
WarnerMedia’s CEO got off to a rocky start launching HBO Max, but he has ended the year as the symbol of disruption in the movie business. Most believed it would take an outsider to upend the traditions and trappings of the movie business the way Kilar did when, in recognizing the limitations that movie theaters will offer for much of 2021 with unreleased finished films clogging up the pipeline, he saw an opportunity to build the HBO Max subscription list that is an AT&T priority: By simultaneously premiering the entire 2021 slate on the streaming site when the films reach theaters nobody is going to. But he betrayed himself as an outsider by blindsiding almost all of the stars, filmmakers and their reps and even co-financiers who found out either moments before the press release announcing the move or by reading press. Truth is, studios from Disney to Universal to Paramount and Sony have placed films made for theatrical release on streaming paths in a difficult year when movie attendance was abysmal. Only difference is, those other guys followed long-held traditions of telling the participants in advance. Film is a business done on handshake agreements, and there is a hard and fast tradition of giving a heads up even when bad news is coming, so agents can brace clients, or execs can be ready to get a phone call from an angry filmmaker or star. Whoever gave Kilar the advice that it would be worse risking a leaked story than it would be to blindside major movie talent and their reps did him a terrible disservice. It will take a long time for tenured Warner Bros creative execs to gain back trust, and already the dustup has prompted reps to insist on talent deals that build in back-end buyout contingencies in the event a studio veers from a theatrical to a streaming track. Perhaps Kilar’s move will jump-start streamer subscriptions, but churn rate can be high if WarnerMedia doesn’t have killer product for 2022. Disney’s recent Investor Day presentation brought reveals of so many ambitious and expensive projects meant for the streaming service that Deadline published 50 separate stories to capture it all in real time. Will Kilar create a similar output of great streaming product? If not, the 2021 Warner Bros slate be a short-time subscriber fix, putting billions of dollars in theatrical revenue at risk on 17 films that could be marginalized by the day-and-date plan, one that theater chains haven’t said they will go along with. It will also take some time to build back trust with big talent and storytellers, the one part of this equation that is always in the shortest supply.
Just weeks into the pandemic-related Hollywood shutdown, Perry came up with a comprehensive plan to safely restart TV production. Detailed in a 30-page document sent out in May, the plan employed a quarantine bubble model, sequestering cast and crew at his Tyler Perry Studios in Atlanta for the duration of a shoot. It worked and became a model for how to re-start production at a most precarious time. Before any major TV studios and streamers returned to production with Covid safety protocols, Perry had successfully completed four seasons of TV series for BET. In addition to leading the charge to safely return Hollywood to work, in 2020 Perry was a driving force in the Black Lives Matters movement and Covid relief efforts. He teamed with grocery stores in New Orleans and Atlanta to give out gift cards to the elderly who had been financially impacted by the pandemic; he paid for private plane travel for George Floyd’s family to attend his funerals; covered funeral expenses for Atlanta’s Rayshard Brooks and Secoria Turner; and he donated 1,000 gift cards to Atlanta residents, which were handed out by police as a way to build relationships in the community. For his contributions to the industry and his charitable work, Perry received the Governors Award at the Primetime Emmys in September.
Who better to put a face on Covid and demystify it than the Oscar-winning actor? When Deadline revealed he and wife Rita Wilson had come down with the virus, it was the most trafficked story in this website’s history. Hanks was days away from starting production in the Baz Luhrmann-directed film about the formative years of Elvis Presley for Warner Bros. He allowed the public to track the progress as he slowly rallied from symptoms and made a complete recovery. He even gave his status as Celebrity Patient Zero a humorous bent, on Saturday Night Live and especially during a priceless moment in Sacha Baron Cohen’s Borat Subsequent Moviefilm. And now he’s again in the Oscar hunt for his strong performance in News of the World.
We are in a moment where a long underserved list of female directors are getting their turn behind the camera as Hollywood is responding to an outcry for inclusion. Successes will make this more than a fad, and Zhao is showing range with the Oscar-bait small film Nomadland which has put Frances McDormand back in front of the Best Actress Oscar category. Zhao, who was born and raised in Beijing and debuted as a filmmaker with the 2015 Sundance film Songs My Brother Taught Me, follows Nomadland with Eternals, a giant Marvel Studios film that stars Angelina Jolie, Gemma Chan, Salma Hayek, Richard Madden, Kit Harington, Kumail Nanjani and Barry Koegan. The film is slated for theatrical release next November.
Maybe it wouldn’t have happened if the pandemic had not weakened the resolve of major agencies by sapping their commission income. But the year-long stare down between the Big Four and the WGA over the discontinuance of packaging and the divestiture of affiliated production companies ended when the agencies blinked. It’s not entirely over yet – WGA and WME are still at loggerheads – but the outcome was one desired by WGA West Exec Director David Young and President David A. Goodman. They led the WGA East and West’s historic campaign to reshape the talent agency business, returning it closer to a service business model not seen in decades. Under the guild’s new franchise agreement, which has been signed by all the major agencies but WME — which says it also wants to make a deal with the guilds — packaging fees that require direct payments to agencies from the studios employing WGA members will be phased out by June 2022, and they’ll be limited to a 20% interest in affiliated production companies that had made them not only the representatives of writers, but their employers, as well. Few in the industry, outside of the more than 7,000 writers who fired their agents en masse in April 2019 to achieve these goals, thought it would be possible. Labor disputes come and go, and even strikes end eventually, but curbing the major agencies’ conflicts of interest will have a lasting and profound impact not only on writers and their agents, but also on the industry as a whole. And while the WGA’s “Two Davids” were battling the agency Goliaths, they also worked out a deal this summer with management’s AMPTP for a new film and TV contract that averted a writers strike just as the industry was gearing up for a return to work in the middle of the pandemic.
No stranger to speaking out against injustice, Boyega this year took to the London streets and joined his brothers and sisters from across the pond in Black Lives Matter protests. He also rallied behind the EndSARS movement, which took place across Nigeria, in support of the abolishment of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad — an organization known for its long record of abuses including kidnapping, extortion and harassment. Boyega also spoke out against two huge Hollywood entities, Disney and its Star Wars franchise, about the tokenized treatment of Black characters, which he was deemed a hero. In 2020 he also turned in an indelible performance in one of Steve McQueen’s Small Axe films.
As he did previously with the humanitarian crisis in Haiti and the Hurricane Katrina rescue effort, Oscar-winning actor and filmmaker Sean Penn placed his energy into the Covid crisis. CORE, the NGO he runs with Ann Lee, focused early on a campaign to organize and administer free testing to people living in the most vulnerable communities, including low-income groups, communities of color and other marginalized populations who otherwise would not have had access to testing. Penn, Lee and their 1,500 volunteers first established a testing template for testing and contact tracing in Los Angeles that moved to other cities, at a time when some didn’t understand the importance of availability to testing. With the dangerous spread we are seeing now and the need for those who test Covid positive to quarantine and not spread the disease to loved ones, CORE administered 4 million free tests, regardless of citizenship, insurance, or symptoms and in late March joined the City of Los Angeles and LAFD to provide free drive-through testing. Nine months later, the partnership built the largest testing program in the U.S., with the capacity to test more than 46,000 people each day. After starting in Los Angeles, CORE expanded its free testing efforts in partnership with local governments and community-based nonprofits in Atlanta, Chicago, New Orleans, Oakland, Washington, D.C. and the Navajo Nation. CORE has tailored its approach to best serve the needs of the community, whether that be contact tracing and resource coordination in Atlanta or building temporary dwellings for the Navajo. In 2021, CORE will continue to prioritize testing while planning for an equitable vaccine rollout and ensuring that the most vulnerable communities are not forgotten. To donate: www.coreresponse.org.
The bestselling author of The Cartel and The Force put down his pen to make anti-Trump movies that got shared by tens of millions. Winslow made the series of films that brought plain-spoken fog-cutting truth – and the music of Bruce Springsteen and voiceover narration by Jeff Daniels in two memorable vignettes – to what the author and his agent and screenwriting partner Shane Salerno felt were grave shortcomings in the Trump administration. Dozens of films developed a huge online following on issues ranging from how the Trump administration handled issues like Covid, border enforcement, gun control and a relationship with leaders like Vladimir Putin and Kim Jong Un, to specific segments on battleground states at critical moments before votes were cast. They haven’t been above punching after the bell; the latest film focuses on Trump being a loser who is watching his loyalists abandon him now after his status as a one-term president was cemented. The Springsteen video on Pennsylvania got 9 million views and the one Daniels narrated on Michigan passed 5 million. Asked whether it concerned him that he was in danger of polarizing readers of his books, Winslow told Deadline: “The costs that we have experienced are nothing compared to the thousands of children Trump locked in cages for years, crying themselves to sleep every night, many physically and sexually abused, or the horror their parents felt every night wondering if their children were okay. I’m 67 years old and I became an overnight sensation in my mid-50s thanks to Shane. I drove the same car for 20 years, so I am not exactly what you would call a big spender. I was compelled to do this because of the horrors that Trump has unleashed on this country.”
Zoom, the tech media story of the year — arguably more than Roku’s rise or Quibi’s meltdown — was created by Yuan, a 50-year-old Chinese emigré. Zoom Video Communications stock rose nearly 600% as its user base exploded, going from 10 million daily meeting participants in December 2019 to 300 million by April. And while its most valuable customers were high-end clients, Zoom also kept school and government functioning. It won praise for lifting the 40-minute limit on video conferences to account for lockdowns and K-12 education needs. Other videoconference options from Microsoft, Google and Apple exist, but only Zoom became a verb in 2020.
Bravely kept his disease to himself and turning in the best performance of his career (and perhaps his guttiest turn) as an ambitious horn player backing a legendary blues singer in Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom before dying of colon cancer. He was just 43 and amid a flurry of great performances including T’Challa in Black Panther. His death was an unexpected gut punch to film lovers who had no clue he was sick. Watching after the fact his many appearances to rally children with cancer, while he endured a life-threatening affliction himself, is something to marvel at. He will be heard from during awards season; actors like Heath Ledger were honored posthumously for outsized performances, and there will be no shortage of good will for Boseman.
Malcolm & Marie
When HBO’s hit drama series Euphoria shut down like every other production and everyone became unemployed, Zendaya asked Sam Levinson, the show’s creator-writer-director, if he could write a movie that could be shot safely, and that might give everyone something to do and a way to make money during a dark period. Mission accomplished: The $4 million-budget film starring Zendaya and John David Washington sold for around $30 million to Netflix during the virtual Toronto Film Festival market. It is now a contender in the Oscar race, but just as importantly, a crew that would have otherwise been unemployed and worked for back-end stakes cashed large participation checks the moment the deal was done.
Seth Rudetsky & James Wesley/Stars In The House
The duo began streaming their Broadway-related interview show shortly into the pandemic, helping to raise money for – and the profile of – The Actors Fund and its work to support an industry in crisis. In so doing, Rudetsky and Wesley pretty much created the trend of “reunion benefits,” with casts and creatives from Broadway and TV reuniting via Zoom just when the world needed some nostalgic good vibes.
Black Lives Matter LA
At the forefront of the protests that engulfed the nation after the killing of George Floyd and others by police, the Melina Abdullah-headed Los Angeles chapter of Black Lives Matter packed a realpolitik punch. At the ballot box, BLM LA was instrumental in toppling the once insurmountable Los Angeles County DA Jackie Lacey. On the streets and in the court of public opinion, the group nullified L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti’s national ambitions for a seat in Joe Biden’s cabinet, with daily protests outside his official residence and a spotlight on his real record.
The Emmy winner kicked off 2020 producing the Super Bowl halftime show, but his shining moment came with the semi-virtual Democratic National Convention in the summer. The pandemic forced Kirshner and crew to reassemble several scenarios, and the August 17-20 convention proved an entertaining show for Joe Biden and Kamala Harris. Co-hosts Eva Longoria, Tracee Ellis Ross, Kerry Washington and Julia Louis-Dreyfus shined bright as Kirshner and team literally reinvented the convention wheel. Adhering to strict safety protocols, they had cameras all over the country, with live remotes in five locations in four cities. The heavy-hitter speeches didn’t suffer from the lack of crowd noise and the 57-delegation roll-call montage was inspiring — much different from the Republican Convention.
Sacha Baron Cohen
His plan to quietly and covertly shoot a Borat sequel as a theatrical release from Universal went awry as the industry shut down and theaters closed due to the pandemic. Feeling an urgency to use his comedy as a way to poke holes in President Donald Trump and his supporters and vilify social media platforms for allowing Holocaust deniers free rein to spread false propaganda, Baron Cohen, director Jason Woliner, co-star Maria Bakalova and their small crew risked exposure to Covid to completely reframe their movie. Baron Cohen and Universal worked to put the film on Amazon Prime so it could make a difference in the teeth of election season. It became the rare streamer movie to become a zeitgeist title. While Amazon doesn’t release viewership numbers, it’s safe to say it was one of the most widely viewed global titles when it opened, fueled by outrageous scenes involving Vice President Mike Pence and Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani. All grounded by a father-daughter love story that has made the Bulgarian newcomer Bakalova one to watch.
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo
Not previously seen as a widely popular public figure — certainly compared with his silver-tongued father, Mario — the governor won over the rattled public with his forceful steps in the early days of Covid-19. His televised briefings earned him an Emmy Award and the term “Cuomo Crush” entered the lexicon. “He was coming in to rescue us,” comedian Chelsea Handler said of her crush in an interview with Howard Stern. “We had no leadership. We were so dehydrated for real leadership. Everyone felt that way.”
Elliot Page has always been an advocate and activist for the LGTBQ+ community, and in 2020, the Oscar-nominated Juno actor inspired even more people when they came out as non-binary and transgender. “I can’t begin to express how remarkable it feels to finally love who I am enough to pursue my authentic self,” Page wrote on Instagram. They continued, “I love that I am trans. And I love that I am queer.” By Page living their authentic self, they not only inspired others to do the same but continued the movement for inclusivity in the film and TV industry and beyond.
The Insecure star was one of the relentless leaders during the recent Black Lives Matter protests following the recorded killing of George Floyd, using his platform to advocate for social justice and racial equality; he was hit with rubber bullets during a protest in Los Angeles against police brutality and social injustice. He also was outspoken about the importance of voting this election season. Sampson is a co-founder of BLD PWR, a group that strives to build an inclusive community of entertainers and athletes to advance radical social change.
Anne del Castillo
The commissioner of the New York City Mayor’s Office of Media and Entertainment faced a daunting task: coaxing TV and film production safely back in a city that was an epicenter of the global coronavirus pandemic last spring — a nightmarish, surreal period with hospitals full and beds spilling into Central Park tents. Communication was key and del Castillo began regular calls and virtual town halls and launched a widely read weekly newsletter to field questions and help producers navigate a maze of city, state and guild regulations. By the fall, studio production had become a bright spot in an otherwise strapped city and that continues. Del Castillo’s MOME boosted NYC’s world-class arts and entertainment sector in 2020 with Music for the Soul to support NYC health workers and local musicians, Off-Broadway in the Boros: Pop-Ups, Made in NY training programs and NY Talks to connect creative talent. MOME will offer adapted versions of annual events including New York Music Month and JanArtsNYC for the music and performing arts communities.
While most major sports remained benched due to the pandemic, the NBA commissioner crafted a bubble league strategy to bring the game and its teams back to the court. It worked. The first league to shut down when Covid hit was the first to get up and running down in Disney World. There was no significant spread, the games were great, and social justice was at the forefront when Milwaukee Bucks players started a boycott to protest Jacob Blake being shot seven times in the back as he tried to enter a car that had his three children in the back seat, in Wisconsin. The playoffs were postponed, and the WNBA and Major League Baseball followed suit. The NBA teams made their point, returned to action, and the Lakers won the title in the bubble.
As a visual artist-turned-filmmaker, McQueen has been defying tradition with films from Hunger to the Oscar-winning 12 Years a Slave. This year, he generated the most unexpected and wonderful Small Axe limited series. The five films tell different stories that reflect the life experiences of London’s West Indian community between 1969 and 1982. From the rapturous look at a house dance party to a young man’s attempt to attack systemic police racism by joining the force, to a restaurant owner organizing to protest police brutality, each segment is overwhelming. Enough that the anthology was named top cinematic accomplishment of 2020 by the Los Angeles film critics, even though it can only be considered for the Golden Globe and Emmys, and not the Oscars.
Rep. Carolyn Maloney
The New York democrat was out early, in May, with the Pandemic Risk Insurance Act addressing the abrupt exclusion of pandemic coverage, a gut-punch to independent film and live entertainment. The bill hasn’t found a Republican co-sponsor but was key in starting the conversation and pushing ahead to November, when Congress held its first hearing on the subject thanks in large part to the senior member of the House Financial Services Committee. Modeled on TRIA (the Terrorism Risk Insurance Act passed after 9/11), PRIA asks insurers to pony up 5% of costs with the government paying 95% up to a $750 billion cap. Insurers don’t like it, but Maloney acknowledged it’s only a blueprint, one she plans to reintroduce early in the next Congress.
The father-son duo of Eugene and Dan Levy debuted the rich fish-out-of-water comedy in 2015 on Pop TV and the Canadian import steadily grew a cult following. Unlike other comedies that often become routine and trite, Schitt’s Creek grew stronger with each season. By its sixth and final season the show was roaring and on Netflix to boot, ramping up its profile. It also peaked during the pandemic, a time when the world seemed hopeless, bringing a spark of joy and hope. Its series finale was a tearful warm hug that paved the way for an unprecedented sweep of all seven Primetime Emmy comedy trophies including Outstanding Comedy Series (it won nine Emmys in all). Like the last episode’s title, it was indeed a “happy ending.”
The longtime Jeopardy! host bravely shared his stage 4 pancreatic cancer prognosis with viewers, handling adversity with grace and working right up until the end on a show he obviously loved. He had hosted Jeopardy! since it was revived in 1984, a total of 37 years until his passing at age 80.
Joe Biden’s basement
When the coronavirus crisis hit, Joe Biden embraced that it was a global crisis and he went virtual. Biden canceled campaign events and in-person fundraisers in favor of occasional interviews and speeches from his Wilmington, DE home. It was a decided contrast from Donald Trump and other Republicans, who staged major events with not a mask in sight, and ridiculed Biden endlessly for campaigning from his basement. Trump tried to tie Biden’s reticence to their caricature of him as a doddering candidate. It backfired. Trump and many who lined up beside him refusing to wear masks tested positive for Covid; and when Trump did emerge from his own White House bunker to walk down the street toting a Bible for a photo op, the result was disastrous: Military stepped in to tear gas peaceful protesters to allow Trump passage, which pointed to so much of what went wrong with his administration. Biden won the election, as his campaign contrasted the seriousness to which they took the pandemic with Trump’s dismissive attitude. Biden eventually did get back out on the campaign trail, but the decisions of his campaign — cautious and calculated — largely kept the focus on Trump’s dumfoundingly cavalier response to the coronavirus.
Daniel Dae Kim
Kim was one of the first Hollywood actors to test positive for the coronavirus. He used his diagnosis and his platform to call out anti-Asian/Asian American racism as Covid-19 began to make its way across the country, prompting a rise in incidents against Asians and Asian Americans in cities from New York City to San Francisco. Kim took shots specifically at Donald Trump, who was calling Covid the “Chinese virus.” Not long after, notable Asian stars like Lana Condor, Henry Golding, Tzi Ma, Ronny Chieng and George Takei joined Kim in denouncing the harmful rhetoric.
Chameleon: Hollywood Con Queen podcast
While Deadline broke the first major story and interview with a group of Hollywood workers preyed upon by a grafter who drew on their dreams of upward movement in the film business, pretending to be powerful Hollywood women from Kathleen Kennedy, Amy Pascal and Donna Langley to Dede Gardner, Deb Snyder, Wendi Deng and Gigi Pritzker. The caller knew exactly what buttons to push and got everyone from makeup artists to security consultants and aspiring directors to head to Jakarta where they advanced money to shadowy figures, only to realize later they had been conned. Subsequent articles fleshed out the pain felt by other victims, but it took Chameleon: Hollywood Con Queen podcasters Vanessa Grigoriadis and Josh Dean to investigate and out the alleged culprit. It turns out the suspect — Hargobind Punjabi Tahilramani – is a man, who, under the guise of those Hollywood power woman, veered talks with men into uncomfortable sex talk. Who knows where this will go, but the podcasters and others are now looking to take the scourge of Hollywood and turn the story into a TV series or film.
New York Public Theater
For its production of Tony Award-winning playwright Richard Nelson’s What Do We Need to Talk About, the first and still best of the “Zoom plays” written during — and expressly for — the pandemic shutdown. The fifth installment in the playwright’s multi-year series of dramas chronicling the fictional Apple family of Upstate New York, What Do We Need… set an early high point for art during the time of Covid and proof of the durability of theater.
Jurassic World: Dominion
While small films like Songbird and Malcolm & Marie shot earlier while the pandemic raged, Jurassic World: Dominion was one of the first tentpole films to get off the ground, a move that helped pave the way for other big films like The Batman, Red Notice and Mission: Impossible 7 and 8 to brave the perils of a pandemic and help get Hollywood back to work. Careful adherence to protocols, and a bit of luck, helped the film avoid major shutdowns, allowing production to finish on time. The protocols worked so well that they were placed in a manual created to help other productions follow similar procedures.
The president and CEO of IFTA, the Independent Film & Television Alliance, has been a tireless advocate for the independent community as pandemic insurance coverage, completion bonds and financing evaporated for new production with Covid-19. As 400 film and TV projects by her estimate may have fallen away due to lack of pandemic insurance, she was a conduit for information and connections as producers sought alternate sources of cash, moved overseas and pondered expensive new specialty insurance products. She pushed for federal insurance proposals to address the industry’s particular coverage needs, working with coalitions including studios, broadcasters and labor in the U.S., EU and UK. Strong support from California Rep. Judy Chu of the House Ways and Means Committee led in part to a coup in the most recent Covid relief package – a five-year extension of a key federal tax incentive for the industry. IRC Section 181 allows faster depreciation deductions for the first $15 million of film and TV production costs, which are much higher since Covid. The measure, which helps keep production jobs in the U.S., has been renewed annually since 2004. “I would not have been surprised at two or three, but five is great!” she said.
Coel has been quietly plotting her takeover of Hollywood. The actress made a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it cameo in Star Wars: The Last Jedi and appeared in two episodes of Black Mirror while starring in the series Black Earth Rising. She impressed audiences and critics with her BAFTA Award-winning performance in Chewing Gum, but kicked down the door in 2020 when she created, wrote, co-directed, executive produced and starred in the riveting HBO series I May Destroy You. Set in a post-#MeToo era, the dramedy followed a young woman who tries to piece together her life after being raped. The series immediately garnered critical acclaim as it pushed boundaries and prompted difficult conversations normally swept under the rug. After I May Destroy You, everyone is waiting to see what Coel will do next.
Last Man Standing writer and comedian Jenny Yang made do during the pandemic by moving her stand-up shows to Animal Crossing, Nintendo’s multi-player video game. In the process she capitalized on the popularity of the Game Awards-winning title to foster a new medium for comedy shows; the likes of Margaret Cho, Cameron Esposito and Dewayne Perkins joined Yang for her weekly show. Yang’s Comedy Crossing was a notable addition to pandemic-era video game events, which also included Fortnite appearances from Travis Scott, John David Washington and Van Jones.
Courageously chronicled via Instagram the Covid illness and tragic death of her husband, the Broadway actor Nick Cordero. She dutifully kept the industry informed as Cordero hung on to life and ultimately was lost to the pandemic, gaining a worldwide following and giving a face to a virus of historic reach. No one who followed Kloots’ missives from the front could deny her pain or her strength.
At a time when the pandemic hobbled awards shows into existing as remote affairs, and at a time when the prevailing wisdom that host-less award shows were the way to go, Kimmel stepped up to host the Primetime Emmys. Despite the Covid limitations, the show was eons more watchable than the host-less and politically correct show the previous year. It proved without a doubt that Emmys, Oscars and other awards shows work better when grounded by a good host.
The Last Dance
When the 10-part HBO and Netflix series — about Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls in the final year of their dynasty — scrapped plans to air during the NBA Finals in June and instead broadcast in late April, the story of the last gasp of dominance from the greatest player of all time was greeted by sports-starved fans like a blessing from above. Providing that service to fans who saw every sport shut down in the pandemic required series director Jason Hehir and the docu producers to rush to a finish, dealing gracefully with all the requisite challenges of cutting the documentary during the pandemic.
Black Theatre Coalition/Black Theatre United
These were just two of the Broadway community organizations formed in the aftermath of the George Floyd and Breonna Taylor killings and subsequent wave of Black Lives Matter protests. Using theater to address systemic racism – and grabbing the historic moment to challenge Broadway’s own deeply entrenched biases – the voices lifted by both BTC and BTU are changing the way Broadway thinks about itself, and the way it does business.
The star, who has hung from the side of an airplane and raced around the outside of a Dubai skyscraper 123 floors off the ground to make his Mission: Impossible movies more realistic, reminded Hollywood that it is a dream factory when he set plans to make a movie that will be filmed on one of Elon Musk’s SpaceX spaceships. He then became the voice of Covid caution when he saw crew on the film bunched together in defiance of strict pandemic protocols in place for the London leg of Mission: Impossible 7. He let the entire crew have it, stating in no uncertain terms that a shutdown due to preventable spread of the disease would be a disastrous statement for Hollywood to make while so many were jobless. Some felt he came on a bit strong, but the prevailing reaction was that this was a righteous rant and that while Cruise was surely feeling the pressure as the movie’s star and producer, his heart was in the right place.
The director who previously worked with Tom Cruise in the films Edge of Tomorrow and American Made signed on to be Cruise’s wingman in the space shoot. And in one of the bright spots during the pandemic production shutdown, he managed to direct Locked Down, with Anne Hathaway, Chiwetel Ejiofor and Ben Stiller heading a strong cast in an action heist film set during a lockdown like the one we have lived through the past nine months. HBO Max acquired the film in heavy bidding.
Love it or hate it, the Netflix docuseries following a zoo in Florida run by the infamous Joe Exotic became one of Netflix’s biggest content pieces of 2020 — the streamer said 34.3 million people watched it in its first 10 days. While some had mixed feelings on the doc as a whole, it premiered on March 20, a moment when the world was in lockdown. The awful people depicted in this series gave us a needed distraction from the horrors outside our homes.
She remembered what it was like to be a high school theater kid, and instinctively felt the pain those students were experiencing when months of hard work evaporated with the pandemic school closures. Benanti took to social media to ask students across the country to send her videos of the performances they wouldn’t get to stage. Thousands responded, and Benanti responded to them. So overwhelming was the influx, HBO Max ordered a documentary on the campaign: the Benanti-produced Homeschool Musical: Class of 2020 debuted earlier this month.
John Lee Hancock
While the pandemic and the rise of streamers has created unprecedented disruption in the movie business, Hancock provides a reminder it all comes down to great storytelling that sometimes takes its sweet time to unfold. While packages are being bought and greenlit in record time, Hancock steps up with what will be one of the first terrific films of 2021. From a script he wrote 29 years ago, about the hunt for a serial killer in 1990, before cell phones and DNA made sleuthing much more difficult. Hancock wrote The Little Things to be directed by someone else, but he has built up enough of a pedigree on his own that he drew Oscar winners Denzel Washington, Rami Malek and Jared Leto. His throwback old-style thriller becomes the first of the 2021 Warner Bros slate to open simultaneously in theaters and on HBO Max.
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