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Taylor Swift's tour was a blockbuster in theaters. Hollywood is paying attention

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

It is the highest-grossing concert tour of 2023.

(SOUNDBITE OF DOCUMENTARY, "TAYLOR SWIFT: THE ERAS TOUR")

TAYLOR SWIFT: Welcome to the Eras Tour.

(APPLAUSE)

CHANG: Taylor Swift's massive global tour is still going, and she's on track to break Elton John's record for the highest-grossing tour of all time.

(SOUNDBITE OF DOCUMENTARY, "TAYLOR SWIFT: THE ERAS TOUR")

SWIFT: (Singing) I love you. Ain't that the worst thing you ever heard?

CHANG: But you know another thing bringing in megabucks for Swift? The nearly three-hour-long concert film of her tour out last month. It's already grossed more than $200 million worldwide. Hollywood studios and musicians - oh, you bet they are paying attention. Mia Galuppo wrote about it for The Hollywood Reporter.

MIA GALUPPO: It's a situation where there's a lot of money to be had. It's a space that hasn't really been looked into much by artists because it hasn't really been embraced by exhibitors, by Hollywood. But as with anything, where Taylor Swift goes, many people follow. So as soon as people started seeing the success that Swift had, people have started paying attention.

CHANG: Well, Beyonce is going to be coming out with her own concert film next month, right? So I'm just thinking, yeah, OK. She is also a huge global economic force like Taylor Swift. I guess my question is, is there even space for smaller or lesser-known artists to come out with concert films, or do you have to be a mega-huge star to draw people out to theaters?

GALUPPO: No, you don't have to be, you know, this Beyonce- or Taylor Swift-level star, which, you know, are two of the top recording artists of all time. I was talking to the head of the National Association of Theater Owners. He made a great comparison where, just as at the summer box office, you see the blockbusters, you know, the Marvels of the world, you also see those independent films that still make a lot of money.

CHANG: Well, what about artists who are no longer alive? Like, I noticed you wrote in your piece there might be a 1970s David Bowie concert film coming to theaters soon. How big of a draw is archival stuff like that these days?

GALUPPO: A really interesting thing happened recently with the film "Stop Making Sense," which is the Talking Heads film that was recently rereleased by A24. Sixty percent of that opening weekend audience was actually under the age of 35, which means that the majority of that audience that was going to see that film wasn't even born when the Talking Heads were a band. They had disbanded by that point. So it's really fascinating. And that movie did incredibly well at the box office. So there is this market there which exhibitors are trying to say, please make more of this type of film because audiences, as evidenced by something like "Stop Making Sense" or Taylor Swift...

CHANG: Yeah.

GALUPPO: ...Are going to show up to the theaters.

CHANG: But are these new concert films that are coming out more of the same? - because, I mean, way before Taylor, there was already a pretty large canon of concert films, from Aretha Franklin to Led Zeppelin, from Prince to the Talking Heads, as you mentioned. Is there anything that sets Taylor Swift's film apart that maybe would signal a new direction for this whole genre?

GALUPPO: Yes, definitely. One of my sources who has been in the concert and live performance film space for a long while said a very interesting thing, which was concert films were ruined by poor execution. The technology just wasn't there. It was a situation where you set up three cameras. You were looking at the stage. And that's not a very cinematic experience.

CHANG: Yeah.

GALUPPO: For "The Eras Tour," which filmed over multiple nights at her SoFi Stadium tour here in Los Angeles, it employed a small armada of cameras and cameramen.

CHANG: How many are we talking?

GALUPPO: We are talking upwards of 40, according to reports.

CHANG: Wow.

GALUPPO: And this is including not just stationary cameras but drones and cranes. You know, this is a situation where the barrier to entry for that technology has lowered for artists, and you are able to create an incredibly cinematic experience. And that is something...

CHANG: Yeah.

GALUPPO: ...That - you know, when I was there for the opening weekend of "The Eras Tour" in theaters, that's something that, you know, fellow moviegoers told me was so exciting to them - is it was the closest thing to being there without being there. It is that communal cinematic experience that is beautiful on its own.

CHANG: Mia Galuppo is a film writer at The Hollywood Reporter. Thank you so much, Mia.

GALUPPO: Thank you so much for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Gabriel J. Sánchez
Gabriel J. Sánchez is a producer for NPR's All Things Considered. Sánchez identifies stories, books guests, and produces what you hear on air. Sánchez also directs All Things Considered on Saturdays and Sundays.
Christopher Intagliata is an editor at All Things Considered, where he writes news and edits interviews with politicians, musicians, restaurant owners, scientists and many of the other voices heard on the air.
Ailsa Chang is an award-winning journalist who hosts All Things Considered along with Ari Shapiro, Audie Cornish, and Mary Louise Kelly. She landed in public radio after practicing law for a few years.