Barry Sonnenfeld on Pause, Pt. 2

Barry riffs on everything from A Series of Unfortunate Events to subwoofers to
The Tick (2001) to why most movie theaters are like a bad BLT

In Part 1, director Barry Sonnenfeld (The Addams Family, Men in Black, Get Shorty, Pushing Daisies) offered his thoughts on how film distribution, movie theaters, and Hollywood in general have fared during the current crisis. Here, he gets more personal, discussing the pandemic’s impact on his efforts to get a new streaming series into production and on his viewing habits at home.  

—Michael Gaughn

Will the backlog of tentpoles and other films awaiting release in turn hold up other films from going into production, so essentially all movie production shifts by about a year?

Mike, it’s less that there’s a backlog of movies to be released and more that there’s no production going on and no one has really figured out how to get production started. I’m in Vancouver and I’m supposed to start pre-production on a television 

series this week. Vancouver has done a very good job in containing the virus, but if I were a studio—whether it’s TV or streaming or features—I would be very hesitant to start a show knowing that the insurance companies will not cover shutting down for COVID.


If a hair & makeup person or an actress or a third grip gets COVID, you could be shut down for weeks at a minimum. Even though you can test every other day, I don’t see how it can work until there’s a 15-minute, accurate, no false-positives test where the crew can get paid to come in 15 minutes early, get tested, and then wait until someone says, “Okay, you’re clear, you’re clear, you’re clear. You can come in.”


This concept of zone shooting—where the grips and electrics come in and they light, and then they leave the set and the actors come in—it’s sort of an OK idea in theory, but in execution, it’s not the way movies are made. Because if you rehearse with the lead actors, how does a crew watch the rehearsal? Do they have to watch it from a witness camera? Who puts marks down for the stand-ins to know where to stand?

Then an actress comes in, now she’s in hair and makeup, which she wasn’t ahead of time. And the DP realizes he has to move a light three feet forward because her hair is blocking her face now. Do the actors leave, and then the grip and electric come back in and move that light three feet? And then the actors come back in and you hope you don’t get it wrong. I mean, it’s going to slow down the time it takes to shoot a show by 30% or 40%.


So it’s not about backlog, it’s about if I were a studio executive, I wouldn’t be making movies, I would be buying up libraries. Or buying movies that didn’t get released properly, that were really good but it was the wrong timing. Like I had a movie, Big 

Trouble, that was about Tom Sizemore and Johnny Knoxville accidentally stealing a suitcase that’s a nuclear bomb. It’s an outright comedy, but it came out 11 days after 9/11 so it never got a successful release. But I would not be making new shows right now if I ran a studio.


Can you tell me a little more about what you’re working on?

The situation is up in the air and things can change or not. But I’m hoping to start a six-part musical for Apple written by Cinco Paul, who wrote all the Despicable Me movies. This is his first live-action feature. And it’s being produced by Lorne Michaels and his company Broadway Video. 

Barry Sonnenfeld on Pause, Pt. 2

Sofia Vergara, Ben Foster, Patrick Warburton, Tim Allen,
and Rene Russo in Big Trouble

It’s a half-hour series, and I’m not going to say who’s in it, but we hopefully will be starting prep this Monday. So that gives you an example of how things are still up in the air.


Well, good luck with all that.

Oh, thanks.


What impact has all this had on what you’ve been watching lately? Have you been going back and looking at older films?

Because of COVID, one thing I did is, in addition to my Kaleidescape, I also joined the Criterion subscription channel and I’ve been watching some stuff on that. It’s funny, Criterion gave me about 50 Blu-rays because I re-did Blood Simple for them and

Barry Sonnenfeld on Pause, Pt. 2

The Criterion Blu-ray of
the Coen Brothers’ Blood Simple

I also bought up a lot of Criterion Blu-rays, and you can’t find a Blu-ray player.


Costco doesn’t carry Blu-ray anymore, I had to go on Amazon to buy a player. Blu-ray is a dying business because everything is going to video on demand. I think catalogs are going to be where it is for a while, for sure.


Are movie theaters on their last legs? I mean, are we just drawing out the inevitable and the pandemic is just speeding that up? Or is there a reason for them to hang in there?

I’d get out of that business if I owned that real estate, although who do you sell it to? Maybe you sell it as an Amazon distribution center or an Apple store because no one wants a physical space anyway. So malls are dying, movie theaters are dying. Try to sell it and buy Amazon stock—that’s what I would do if I owned AMC.


Yes, it’s a dying industry, and Netflix and the streamers are going to really flourish. And again, Mike, because sound and picture quality is getting better and better and better for 

home theaters, the sacrifice of not going to a movie theater is now not about quality or even screen size. It’s just, do I want to be in a movie theater watching a comedy? See, for me, I think comedies rely more on big audiences than big action movies do. I had a better setup in Telluride to watch a big action movie than I ever did going to my East Hampton cinema and or even the Telluride cinema. So for me, the reason to be in a movie theater is to be with other people sharing a comedy, not watching bad VFX effects in a Marvel feature.

Michael Gaughn—The Absolute Sound, The Perfect Vision, Wideband, Stereo Review,
Sound & Vision, The Rayva Roundtablemarketing, product design, some theater designs,
couple TV shows, some commercials, and now this.

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