Six weeks into COVID-19 closure and delays, Iowa City's film scene still uncertain
The Hollywood Reporter's Rebecca Keegan talks about the changes to the 2020 summer movie season due to COVID-19 global pandemic. AP Entertainment
Robert Jury's "Working Man" film seems to be getting more topical as time goes by.
“It was post-2008 (when I wrote it). We were seeing this financial meltdown and a lot of places being closed," the local screenwriter and director told the Press-Citizen in a 2019 interview. "Unfortunately, we’re in a lot of the same economic situations today, especially in American manufacturing.”
Now, in the midst of a global pandemic, millions of Americans are finding themselves out of jobs for now as the world experiences economic turmoil.
"Working Man" follows a man laid off from his factory job who nonetheless continues to go to work. It's a film Jury was able to helm last year and screened at multiple film festivals; it even had an Iowa City screening early this year in advance of a wide release.
"Actually, the last time it was seen in a theater was here at FilmScene," Jury said. "Now, we're going to be released like a lot of other movies: on demand."
The movie had originally been planned to kick off a nationwide theatrical release March 27 in Los Angeles. This timeline was ultimately scrapped because of concerns surrounding COVID-19. Now, the movie will be available through major digital video rental platforms beginning May 5.
Under the circumstances, this digital release could have a silver lining. Not only has "Trolls World Tour" shown that a digital model can prove profitable, it means that "Working Man" will not be saddled by how many theater screens it finds it way to.
Although most major theaters wouldn't have been chomping at the bit to dedicate a screen to "Working Man" when they could be showing the most recent franchise blockbuster or Disney film, the movie will now show up "next to the big guys," as Jury put it, on streaming.
Another potential boon is that some truly massive releases have delayed their movies for a later timetable, thinning the competition on the digital platform.
But how this movie shakes out is, like so many things in the world today, uncharted territory.
"Who knows what ultimately will be the reaction or how we'll fare coming out of this," Jury said. "It's brand-new rules in the age of coronavirus."
There is no official word on the status of the as-yet unfilmed, Nile Kinnick-focused film "The Ironmen," which made major progress toward production over the past year. Screenwriter Nicholas Meyer was brought on for the script, a director was lined up with Shane Dax Taylor, and Shane Graham was cast as the 1939 Heisman Trophy-winner .
As of last fall, the production was projected to start filming sometime this spring. At the time, some filming was planned to occur in Iowa City and Kinnick Stadium. Filmmakers declined to comment on the state of the film or speculate whether any filming would be done this year.
For wider context, the past few months have seen other studios delay filming on a variety of projects because of COVID-19, from A24's adaptation of "Macbeth" to Disney's recently acquired "Avatar" sequels. Meanwhile, in the sports world, it's unclear what the coming season of college sports will look like, when and if it occurs.
Both "Working Man" and "The Ironmen" have had gatherings at FilmScene over the past year. The local nonprofit movie theater has also faced a shifting landscape as it attempts to plan a film festival just before this fall and time its eventual reopening.
Even with Johnson County businesses expected to begin reopening as early as May 15, FilmScene founder Andrew Sherburne doesn't think the cinema will reopen in May.
"For us, the primary consideration is the health and safety of our patrons," he said. "We're looking at possibly opening at some point in June or July."
In the mean time, FilmScene has continued to do some programming. Late Shift at the Grindhouse has continued to be held on Wednesdays and has been holding weekly general screenings on Thursdays.
The theater has also been selling concession bundles from 3-6 p.m. each Friday. Items include popcorn, candy, soda and beer or wine that people can order and pick-up from the Chauncey location.
After having to reduce some staff hours, the venue has also begun to bring back full-time staff as of this week.
"We did receive a paycheck protection program loan from the FDA as part of the CARES Act," Sherburne said. "That allows us to keep people employed, or in our case, bring people back and we're working toward the potential opening in June or July."
Isaac Hamlet covers arts, entertainment and culture at the Press-Citizen. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or (319)-688-4247, follow him on Twitter @IsaacHamlet