What Will Movie Theaters Look Like in the "New Normal"?

How will the future of moviegoing change as we look to the "new normal," post COVID? Paul Peditto analyzes the options movie theaters have to attempt to open back up for film viewing, exploring different articles and opinions circulating in the press.
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crowded movie theater

Been to the movies, lately? How was the experience?

Here's a standard multiplex theater. Can you picture yourself in a sold-out, 100% capacity situation? How about 50%? How about when mandated mask requirements go bye-bye when the popcorn comes out? You're eating Junior Mints behind me, talking loudly to your friend, spreading those aerosol particles. I'm getting nervous. I knew I should never have read the NASA study on HEPA filters! Capable of filtering out the COVID particle at .125 microns—Oh wait, movie theaters don't have HEPA filters, airplanes do. Great. Hey, somebody crack that EXIT door?!

Exhausting, isn’t it? When even a trip to the movie theater becomes a dangerous event. Paranoia or safety? Check this article. You can take temperatures at the front door all day long. You can wipe down the seats after every showing. You can even limit the amount of audience (30-50% seems to be the current model). But how do you scrub the air of windowless movie theaters? Are you good with spending two hours in the dark with 100+ people who haven't been tested and might be asymptomatic carriers? For those living in Chicago that means some of these folks could very well be the fireworks freaks that blew off automatic weapons(!) and M80's for seven solid hours on July 4 and weeks before that, freaking out every beagle in the neighborhood! Every beagle in EVERY neighborhood!

OK, wait a minute, this is getting out of hand. What's this got to do with attending movie theaters, or screenwriting for that matter?

What plagues movie theaters across the country is the same woe that has closed Broadway. That knocked airplane traffic down to 20%. That has pro sports conceiving bubbles to play in (in, yes, Florida!) How on earth do you pack hundreds or thousands of potential disease-breeding folks into a confined space?

And how do we get them back into movie theaters?

Are we even past that point? I refuse to believe that TROLLS is the death knell for movie-going, but that was a very convincing opening for just streaming, without the need of movie theaters and, as the article so artfully states, "pissing off theater chains like AMC in the process."

[Script Extra: Balls of Steel - Revolution Brings Evolution]

AMC was already at war with Universal Pictures over Trolls and yes, it's hard to see who wins in this scenario.

AMC has, on more than one occasion, talked bankruptcy. Tons of debt, no money coming in. Bad combo. Wall Street has looked at the numbers and doesn't like the look.

Seems like I'm picking on AMC but I'm not. Tenet was supposed to be the savior of movie theaters this summer. Pushed back for a second time. That would make Disney's Mulan the first big scheduled release on July 24, but nobody knows if that will go either. As the Variety article states:

"Even if multiplexes across the country are able to open to a significant degree in July, it’s still unclear if audiences will feel safe going back to theaters while the disease is still spreading. Exhibitors, in an effort to quell those fears, have detailed new safety procedures that will help keep their theaters clean. Those efforts include increased physical-distancing measures, enhanced cleaning protocols and capping attendance at 50% or less of capacity. Additionally, cinema chains including AMC, Regal and Alamo Drafthouse will require patrons to wear masks.

For now, Disney’s “Mulan” remake is expected to be the first potential blockbuster to open since theaters closed in March. The $200 million-budgeted live-action adaptation is scheduled to debut on July 24. But many industry experts speculate that date could be moved back again."

I admit, I’ve cut back on going to movie theaters of late. The last one was....

Was....?

Goodness, is it just the romantic notion I have for going into that dark space? The great times had at the Music Box in Chicago when Dennis Scott kicked in with his organ live like it was still 1928...

Think back to the silent film-era itself. A thousand people decked out, silver screen comes alive with that first image, the live orchestra kicks in. Think about that! What a thrill it must have been. Then look at this picture and wince at that crowd...

old movie theater

Do we ever get back to this? I hope so. We need that silver light. But how to save it in 2020?

Recent studies show most theatergoers are not ready yet to return once theaters reopen.

WHAT'S TEXAS DOING?

Other than rampaging up the New York Times Coronavirus list? Here's a little video in case you were wondering...

How Movie Theaters Are Redefining Sanitation Standards Post-Covid-19

Lots of interesting ideas from Cinemark in this article. For example...

"Some locations plan to sell every other reserved seat in the theater, while others plan to suspend reservations and just sell 50% of the tickets per theater. The second option would allow families to sit together and moviegoers to choose their distance from others.

According to a survey of 1,500 customers who had previously bought tickets through online ticket seller Atom Tickets, nearly 43% of people said that having spaced seating in an auditorium was the most important safety measure that would make them feel confident about returning to movie theaters. Heightened sanitation methods and the use of masks by staff and guests were the second and third most popular answers.

The survey was conducted between May 11 and 18.

[Script Extra: Producer Mark Teitelbaum Offers Insights on the "New Normal" in Television]

There are other options for social distancing, too. At one Star Cinema Grill, patrons can even rent out their own theater for a showing. The venue is offering two options. One is a flat fee of $195 for four to 20 guests and $345 for 21 to 40 guests. All food and beverages are at menu price.

The second option is $25 per adult and $18 per child and includes an entree from the restaurant’s menu, a soft drink and popcorn. However, there is a reservation minimum of 10 guests. Rentals, like tickets, must be purchased online.

Theaters that are currently open are showing “library” movies, which are films that have already been released in cinemas. For example, Star Cinema Grill is showing “Back to the Future,” “Mission: Impossible,” “Jurassic Park,” “Jaws” and the Hunger Games films as well as several animated features for kids."

movie theater alone

FROM THE L.A. TIMES

Lastly, a comprehensive take on the current environment, including the not-inconceivable notion that the huge AMC chain might go bankrupt. And a piece of it...

"Lingering concerns among patrons are a major reason why the return of the movie business will be a long slog. Filmgoing in the U.S. — which generates about $15 billion in ticket and concession sales a year and employs 150,000 people — probably won’t fully recover for 18 months to two years, analysts said. Before a vaccine and reliable immunity testing are widely available, a return to prior strength seems unlikely.

Meanwhile, the closures are expected to have lasting effects on the more than century-old movie theater business. Some small, struggling chains probably will go out of business. Large operators may be forced to unload locations. AMC, the country’s largest circuit, has raised $500 million in private debt to stay afloat, adding to its substantial leverage.

Many people will be hungry for entertainment options after weeks of being sequestered at home. But the major theater chains have resisted the urge to reopen, even in states that are easing restrictions, because of the potential resurgence of the virus and liabilities if moviegoers get sick.

Most cinemas couldn’t open right away even if they wanted to. They will not only have to rehire workers but also train them in strict social distancing and sanitary standards. Auditoriums will probably have to be thoroughly cleaned between screenings, which could cut down the number of showtimes.

Multiplexes will need to block out seats to create enough space between patrons, making every other row available or eliminating chairs in a checkerboard pattern on their advance sales webpages. Some have considered temperature checks for moviegoers.

[Script Extra: Advice for Screenwriters From a Roundup of Pros on the "New Normal" in Hollywood]

For most operators, it’s far too early to make firm decisions about how to proceed.

“It will be a methodical, gradual return,” said Ted Mundorff, president of Los Angeles-based ArcLight Cinemas. “Folks will come back, we just have to see how quickly.”"

I’ve got the solution. Right out of Gattaca. Imagine, if you will….

You carry the test around in your pocket, like a pack of gum. Trillions of them sold. The days of miles-long cars lined up to stick a 10-inch stick up your nose, then wait a week for the result. They sell the test at every neighborhood 7/11. Costs no more than a buck. Finger prick or breathalyzer. 99.99% reliable. When it’s my turn to buy the ticket on the line at the multiplex, I pull out the test. Finger prick, one drop of blood. Like a pregnancy test, instant result. It turns green. I’m cool, hell yeah, all is good! I can see Tenet! Cashier sells me the ticket and I go in.

Thus, when the guy next to me starts coughing mask down on his popcorn, I won’t sweat it. I’ll know he’s green too, he’s cool, no virus. I’ll just enjoy the movie like I used to, in 2019.

Sci-fi, perhaps. But comforting.

Don’t let movie theaters die.

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