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Four Ways the Pandemic Might Change Entertainment

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Brian Grazer and Ron Howard, during WSJ’s Tech Live 2020, talk about consumer trends toward home entertainment and say that cinema will return as an art form after the pandemic. Photos: Chris Pizzello/Associated Press and Loic Venance/Agence France-Presse/Getty

The year 2020 will be remembered in the entertainment business as a time of delayed movie releases, suspended filming schedules and canceled concert tours. But the industry is also preparing for the coronavirus pandemic to reshape its means of creating and distributing art.

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Hollywood producers and Imagine Entertainment co-founders Brian Grazer and Ron Howard said the future of cinema is heading into uncharted territory, speaking Tuesday at the WSJ Tech Live conference, which was held virtually. And in a separate conversation, Grammy-award-winning singer, songwriter and producer Jack Antonoff explained how Covid -19 has altered both his creative process and fans’ ability to discover new music.

“I feel terrible for new and younger artists who need to be out there, performing [to establish themselves],” said Mr. Antonoff, who has produced songs for Taylor Swift, Lorde, the Chicks and St. Vincent, among others. “People are still making records, but what great talent have we missed out on because that path to pulling yourself up in the industry has gone?”

Here are four ways Messrs. Howard, Grazer and Antonoff think coronavirus-related disruptions will impact the production and consumption of music, TV shows and films in the coming years.

Movie theaters will return—but not as we know them.

“Multiplex cinemas are going to become like Broadway,” said Mr. Howard, who has directed Netflix’s coming adaptation of J.D. Vance’s “Hillbilly Elegy,” out Nov. 24. “They’ll be where the expensive projects go.”

He added that as movie theaters try to bring customers back in large numbers once social-distancing restrictions lift, popular TV shows will be broadcast on the big screen.

“It may not always be movies you see at the cinema,” he said. “More and more high-quality TV shows—season endings and premieres—are going to be popping up there to draw audiences.”

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Imagine Entertainment co-founders Brian Grazer and Ron Howard foresee movie theaters hosting screenings of popular TV shows’ season endings and premieres.

Photo: WSJ

Hollywood will tread lightly around the pandemic.

Don’t expect Covid-19 to play out on screen, Mr. Grazer said. Once the public-health crisis is over, we probably won’t want to relive it through fictional storytelling.

“You’re never going to see somebody in a mask, because this period of our lives on the planet will not be in the history of film. Ten years from now, we’ll know about it, but you’re not going to see an action movie with Tom Cruise where he’s wearing a mask.”

Mr. Antonoff expressed a different view. He believes writers will tell stories about this period but they’ll be selective about which moments and details they focus on.

“What I’m still trying to wrap my head around is: What piece of this are we going to want to forget? Is it the period from March to June? Or is that the part we’ll always write about, and the July-to-December stretch becomes the bit we don’t tell our kids about or write songs about?”

Musicians’ creative process will become more intimate.

One of the records Mr. Antonoff worked on during lockdown was Taylor Swift’s “Folklore.” Her eighth album, it broke numerous records, including achieving 80.6 million streams on Spotify in one day, the highest-ever number for a female artist.

Mr. Antonoff believes that much of the album’s success stems from the fact that it was written and recorded remotely, which limited the number of stakeholders capable of shaping. He sees more records being created in intimate settings once the pandemic is over.

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“It’s an example of a project that was helped by this time,” he said, adding that only a very small group of people were involved in the day-to-day production process.

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Producer Jack Antonoff attributed the success of Taylor Swift’s latest album, which was recorded under lockdown, in part to the limited number of stakeholders capable of shaping it.

Photo: WSJ

“The pandemic got everyone else out of the picture. When you make something, there is such an amazing amount of insecurity, and you want to answer-shop, so you invite people into the studio and send people stuff,” Mr. Antonoff explained. “Something about the pandemic makes that so irrelevant, and you don’t have to feel bad for not inviting your whole label into the studio.”

He added, “The center of the work is not to have loads of people around saying, ‘This is great.’ It’s to make something that you believe is great and that there is space for.”

Concerts will be back and better than ever.

Like many artists, Mr. Antonoff craves being able to perform in front of an audience after months of solitary work in the studio, and he expects performers’ collective hunger to return to live venues to drive a resurgence in high-quality concert experiences.

“What we all culturally agree there is no replacement for is being in a room with a large group of people who all care about the same thing,” he said. “The alternatives I’ve witnessed to live experiences during the pandemic almost make you feel more acutely aware of what we’re missing. We’re all ready to go back. After all of this, I think we’re set up for the most iconic decade of public gathering.”

Write to Ellie Austin at eleanor.austin@wsj.com

Copyright ©2020 Dow Jones & Company, Inc. All Rights Reserved. 87990cbe856818d5eddac44c7b1cdeb8

Appeared in the October 22, 2020, print edition as ‘Covid Pandemic Is Expected To Reshape Entertainment.’

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