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Interview: John Stevenson on the impact of COVID-19 in cinema and the change in movies distribution

By Carolina Piras

Animated feature film director and puppeteer John Stevenson held an online Q&A session with London Met students, discussing the impact of COVID-19 on the cinema industry and how the fast change in movies distribution is affecting this generation.

The British filmmaker, who directed well-known animation movies as Kung Fu Panda and Sherlock Gnomes, has over 40 years of experience with the animation movies environment, but he’s also known for working for many years in the art department of movies as Shrek, Shrek 2 and Madagascar.

 He discussed with Verve the rapid and intricate change of cinema distribution system, and how tech-giant movie platforms are affecting our era.

“I’m very old [laughs]. You know, born in the ’50s and grew up in the ’60s, where TV was black and white, you would get what it was on television, or you didn’t. If you missed it, it was just gone, you wouldn’t have the possibility to call it out.”

“In the 1960s I was seeing on television very big images of dragons and monsters fighting. It just completely blew my tiny little mind and I made a decision, as I was watching films, even though I had no idea what I was watching,” he says, explaining how he started approaching his passion for animation movies.

“There was no technical information about the filmmaking, but in the library there was one book about filmmaking. So I had no idea what I was doing, what the directors do, how special effects work or how the film was made, but I just thought that was fantastic, and I wanted to do that.”

Johnson revealed since he was kid he “wanted to be one of those people that make that stuff get into the theatres. And I told my mom I was going to do that.”

The 62-year-old director has emphasized the role of Disney+ and Netflix in today’s movie distribution. “Netflix and Disney+ are much more powerful and relevant in this kind of lockdown world that we are. In a way I think you see a lot of more interesting animation, because there is such a desire for content, you know, on a business level.”

“Disney+ wants you to subscribe to them, HBO Max wants you to subscribe to them, so in a certain way they want the library to entice you. You know, even Disney+, it’s not just Disney movies, it’s Marvel movies and Star Wars etc.,” he concluded.

Johnson pointed out that he thinks is a very good time for animation in general.

“Platforms like Netflix are heavily investing in animation and not only family animation, they’ve got anime, original animation like The Willoughbys, there’s all this sort of stuff on Netflix, there’s everything.”

“At the beginning of the pandemic, we went straight away from Hollywood studio to streaming services. What Warners Bros did last year is they decided all the releases were gonna go day by day to HBO Max. Warner Bros basically stop being a movie studio and became a platform supplier,” Johnson reveals.

“In terms of communication with kids audience, is much easier, cause it’s at home! You don’t have to be taken by your parents to the movie,” he added.

“Soul was on Disney+ for example. The $ 200 million movie is launched on Disney+ not in the theatre.”

“But the demand of content, of any kind, whether is a cooking show or an animation show or drama, is immense. And you get it in your home. You don’t have to get your car, or the tube.

“I think is an interesting thing, but I also think is the end of blockbusters.”