This year the US will see both the 89th Oscars and its 45th President. The nominations for this year’s award may be looking back at the 336 eligible films released in 2016, but many in Hollywood are currently thinking about the future following another key event of last year. Donald Trump won the Presidential election and is due to take power on the 20th of January.
Trump may have come from Hollywood, but many in the industry do not feel as though they have ‘one of their own’ in the White House. Much has already been said about Trump’s policies and political views, but how will these affect the US movie making industry? Is there a risk Hollywood could lose its dominance?
The US is currently a top destination for film buffs, thanks to a combination of the fantastic studio tours and theme parks the country offers and the sheer number of times we have seen iconic American landmarks on screen (being destroyed more-often-than-not). Universal Studios Hollywood offers a range of attractions on the site of the world’s largest working movie studio, including The Wizarding World of Harry Potter.
Meanwhile Warner Bros. Studios gives visitors the chance to see the lots used to film some of the biggest American TV shows, including The Big Bang Theory. DC fans will particularly enjoy the Batmobile exhibit, which features the cars used in numerous Hollywood outings for the Caped Crusader, right up to the Tumbler and Batpod from Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight Trilogy and the Batmobile from Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice.
But could Trump stymie the Hollywood movie industry with his ‘America-first’ policies and his potential to sour diplomatic relations with other nations? If so, where might movie buffs want to turn their attention?
While shooting in famous locations around the world is one thing, many studios use indoor facilities outside of the US for much of the work on their films. The indoor work for Disney’s latest blockbuster hit Rogue One: A Star Wars Story was shot at England’s world-famous Pinewood Studios. While the US has plenty of film studios, there are many competing facilities worldwide.
Morocco is home to the world’s largest film studios in terms of acreage, with Atlas Film Studios having been used in the production of films such as Gladiator, The Mummy and several films in the Star Wars franchise. Berlin’s Studio Babelsberg was used for parts of Marvel’s giant Captain America: Civil War, The Hunger Games – Mockingjay and the 21st Century Fox TV series Homeland. Both also offer studio tours and, while there, film fans can peruse locations such as Ait Benhaddou Kasbah in Morocco, featured in Lawrence of Arabia, or the historic Checkpoint Charlie in Berlin, as seen in Octopussy.
But it’s not just space that is on offer across the world; New Zealand’s famed Weta Workshop is well known for creating the stunning props, costumes, armour and visuals of Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit trilogies. Weta is now considered one of the world’s most innovative visual and special effects studios, pioneering the crowd simulation software Massive which, since being used in LoTR and the Hobbit, has used to create epic battle sequences and crowd scenes in films including iRobot, Vantage Point and The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor. A tour of Weta’s props department is a must for lovers of fantasy and swordplay, with a trip to New Zealand offering the chance to visit the actual set of Hobbiton.
In addition to Pinewood Studios, the UK also offers some of the world’s leading visual effects companies, including Double Negative, who worked on the Harry Potter films and Christopher Nolan’s Inception, as well as Framestore, who created the effects for Captain America and Gravity.
It remains to be seen how Trump, who is very against companies manufacturing overseas when it could be done in the US, will view Hollywood studios making their movies around the world.
Trump has recently lashed out at General Motors as the company manufactures cars in Mexico and then brings them across the border tax-free due to NAFTA – the North America Free Trade Agreement. Although the automotive and cinematic industries are very different, Trump’s focus on creating jobs in America and boosting the domestic economy could see him target all industries using sites and talent overseas.
This may prove problematic for Hollywood for several reasons. The UK, for example, is just one country which offers tax breaks to overseas studios who make films in the country. This, combined with the current strength of USD GBP exchange rates, means Hollywood can get more bang for its buck; quite literally when making action blockbusters.
Furthermore, it could present Hollywood with an interesting dilemma. The US movie industry has become more global in its focus, aware that audiences are tiring of seeing the same US cities featuring in every film. Much of Thor 2: The Dark World, including the climactic end battle, was set in London; the aforementioned Transformers: Age of Extinction ends in Hong Kong, while the largest ever collaboration between Hollywood and China sees Matt Damon star in The Great Wall.
Were Trump to object even to this diversification of filming locations, it could sour overseas appetite for films, as Hollywood will be perceived as snubbing overseas locations. You might not then need to travel to the US to see the locations of your favourite films, as they will have been recycled so many times by an inwardly-focussed industry that you’ll have seen them from every angle possible on screen.
Trump has Hollywood particularly worried due to his aggressive stance on Chinese trade. The Chinese government places a limit on the number of foreign films it shows in its cinemas – currently 34 per year – and studios only receive 25% of the profits from ticket sales. Were Donald Trump to anger Chinese officials further, or go as far as initiating a trade war, this could curb Hollywood’s influence in the Asian superpower at a time when it is trying to expand further into the Chinese market.
As University of Virginia Professor of Media Studies Aynne Kokas explains;
‘A Trump presidency will likely lead to a more heated relationship with China. His rhetoric could generate anti-Americanism that could affect box office sales, new theme-park investments, and even the quota for film imports.’
Hollywood, despite its enthusiasm, is already finding it difficult to crack the potentially lucrative Chinese market – with the exception of a few franchises like Marvel’s Avengers; practically all of the films in the series have made at least 10% of their final box office take from China.
Other studios are having less luck, with attempts to feature Asian locations and products in films such as Independence Day: Resurgence and Transformers: Age of Extinction seen as shallow attempts to pander to Chinese audiences. Marvel’s Dr Strange caused controversy when it avoided the potentially tricky issue of featuring a Tibetan character present in the source material by casting white actor Tilda Swinton as a Celtic version – all in a bid to avoid provoking the ire of Chinese officials.
So Hollywood’s forays into the Chinese movie market are currently cautious and shaky; a little additional animosity towards US films thanks to the actions of Trump could therefore easily scupper the plans of studio bosses.
As has been seen from the UK economy’s response to the Brexit vote so far and the surprise rebound of the US Dollar following Trump’s election, there is a tendency to instantly take a scenario to its extremes. While no one yet knows what Trump’s Presidency will mean for Hollywood, despite the concerns within the industry, there is a chance little will change.
As Syracuse University Director of the Bleier Center for Television and Popular Culture Robert Thompson explains;
‘As long as there’s continuity of government, I don’t see this having a big effect on Hollywood. How the entertainment industry makes movies isn’t going to change in the short term.
People are always tempted to predict major change after big and surprising things happen. That’s the mistake we made after Sept. 11, when everyone said ‘Irony is dead’ and we’re not going to make more movies with explosions in them, and that kind of thing.’
Regardless of whether Hollywood continues to thrive or sees its relevance waning under the Trump administration, movie lovers and travel enthusiasts will still have a huge array of locations and attractions across the globe that feature in, or help to produce, the films they consume. The US might not be quite so high up on the bucket list for some film fanatics, but the rest of the world has the resources, the places and the talent to more than pick up the slack.
And as far as Hollywood is concerned? Maybe all that will really happen is that, as President, Donald Trump will be too busy to cameo in any more movies.
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