The big screen drama not coming to a cinema near you, writes Nina Nannar

This weekend I sat down to watch a new film release - not in a cinema of course - but at home on my laptop via a streaming platform.

It cost me £9.99.

The Assistant is a truly powerful story of a young woman working for a film company with an abusive boss.

It is a compelling film for the #MeToo era, released in a manner befitting the coronavirus lockdown era.

Brilliantly written and directed by Kitty Green, it had proved a big hit on the festival circuit, and had been destined for a big screen release here on April 3.

But with cinemas closed, The Assistant has become the latest film to be released straight to digital platforms and streaming channels.

AMC, the largest cinema chain in the US, says it will refuse to play Universal movies. Credit: AP

In a pre Covid-19 world, the usual journey for such a film would be a theatrical release in cinemas for up to three months, before the streamers and video on demand platforms would get a look in.

But the pandemic has changed everything, and the fear amongst some in the film industry is that some of the old rules may be gone forever.

It is not surprising that distributors are using online platforms to release new films right now, with cinemas closed worldwide, how else would those films get an audience and the studios some revenue.

Waiting for the lockdown to be over later this year is not an option in many cases - there will be other films slated for release after the summer, some being lined up for the lucrative christmas market.

But it is the row over the children's film Trolls World Tour that has brought the tensions - simmering since the advent of the streamer Netflix into the original film market - to the surface.

Originally destined for a cinema release in April, Universal Pictures chose to premiere the film on streaming services - and it seems to have paid off with reported digital sales of £80 million in three weeks.

Of course the fact that families are stuck at home, and a captive market, goes some way to explaining the success of Trolls World Tour.

Netflix has similarly experienced a huge leap in subscribers globally during lockdown.

But with the boss of Universal announcing that, in the future, the studio would release films in cinemas and digitally - in other words not observe the normal "cinema first" rule - theatre chains have been quick to fight back.

AMC, the owner of Odeon in the UK, said it will ban Universal's films from its cinemas when they reopen.

Cineworld followed with a strongly worded statement in which the chain said the ban in its cinemas would apply not just to Universal but to any studio that does not “respect the windows”, adding “it does not make any economic sense for us”.

The Studio has already announced another big release, Judd Apatow's The King of Staten Island, will premiere on digital platforms in June.

A sign to thank the NHS is displayed as trees are reflected on the Leicester Square Odeon cinema in London. Credit: AP

There is no doubt streaming platforms are having their moment.

After years of stand-offs, the American Film Academy has announced that films released straight to streamers (without the usual theatrical window) can now be eligible for competition in next years Oscars - providing they had planned a cinema release date before the coronavirus pandemic.

At the moment, the fall out between Universal and AMC is just a war of words.

And studios do seem to be holding onto their big blockbuster movies for release when cinemas reopen.

Why would you lose out on a potential billion dollars at the box office when you know you can then get a second revenue stream months later when the films go to video on demand?

Daniel Craig's final Bond movie has been pushed back and could be delayed further. Credit: AP

Chief among these blockbusters is of course the next Bond movie - No Time To Die.

The film will be distributed by Universal worldwide outside of America, but it would be unthinkable that this would go straight to a digital platform, despite concerns that this might happen as a result of the row.

The film's release date was pushed back from April to November when the global lockdown happened.

Bond films are box office giants - the kind of film events that bring people to the cinema to spend spend spend.

The Chinese box office is one of the biggest in the world - far bigger than its digital video market - so the Bond filmmakers, for now, are sitting it out waiting for the lockdown to end.

They are even reported to be looking at pushing the release date even later than November this year, perhaps to next year.

Cinema chains have shut their doors across the UK and worldwide during the lockdown. Credit: PA

And yet, it is hard to know what going to the cinema will look like when this is over.

Will we really be filling every seat in the auditorium, like we used to, at least for the immediate future after lockdown?

If we have to maintain social distancing for many more months yet, surely that means we will have to sit at least one seat apart in cinemas.

Does that mean new film releases will have to have many more screenings? How will that impact on the number of films cinemas can show?

The communal experience of sitting in a cinema with an audience all watching the same film, reacting together, is for me, unbeatable. But the longer the current situation goes on, the more we get accustomed to a new way of watching the very latest film releases. A

After years of heated arguments, streamers, studios and cinema groups will surely have to sit down together to work out what the future looks like post pandemic.