The future of movie theaters depends on innovation and care
When the pandemic hit full-steam in the US in mid-March, moviegoers realized that it would be much time before they would be gobbling snacks in front of the big screen again.
It was a loss for everyone, as film studios were forced to delay their releases into Q4 2020 and beyond. Big-blockbuster film productions such as The Batman and Mission Impossible 7 would have to halt all work activity. The cash spent marketing films that were delayed was all but wasted.
Theaters too have lost mountains of money by staying closed upwards of three months. AMC Theaters in particular nearly filed for bankruptcy due to its A-List program, pushing the company into massive debt. However, it was able to announce an official reopening this week, starting on July 15 nationwide.
AMC has since faced backlash for dramatic policy changes regarding its safety precautions. Per Variety, the company originally exclaimed that it would not require guests to wear masks inside of the theaters.
This likely was not a malicious attempt; rather the company just wanted to offer an open and free environment for moviegoers. And, let’s be real, to try to maximize profits above all else.
CEO Adam Aron said that the company had first made a decision because they did not want to impose masks on people who felt they were not necessary. The backlash, unfortunately, showed how critical the public takes to safety, especially in an environment which will have several strangers sitting inches away from each other.
Following the outrage, AMC announced on Friday that they would now require all attendees to wear masks.
“At AMC Theatres, we think it is absolutely crucial that we listen to our guests,” the company said.
“Accordingly, and with the full support of our scientific advisors, we are reversing course and are changing our guest mask policy. As we reopen theatres, we now will require that all AMC guests nationwide wear masks as they enter and enjoy movies at our theatres.”
Rival theater chain Regal also made changes to its reopening plan by stating that Regal too will require masks. It is a shockwave of strict measure that will flow across the theater industry, making certain that people feel comfortable to return to the movies.
There might be a solution right under our noses, though. The Miami Dolphins’ Hard Rock Stadium has been transformed into a drive-in theater for the summer. Guests can drive their cars right onto the field and enjoy the films from a designated “tailgate” space, with proper masks and distancing, or from their own vehicles. Tickets of $39 per automobile will be donated to the Miami Dolphins Foundation Food Relief Program.
This is an ingenious solution that can subsequently transfer football games to the theaters themselves, with field-play taking place in the lobbies, and locker rooms opening behind the screens. Snack bars will likely have to serve as medical tents, and wishful spectators can view the event behind retractable-belt stanchions.
This does raise the cause for more drive-in theaters however, as the added safety element of vehicle enclosure is something that theater chains can consider. Moviegoers as well would feel safer venturing out to see a new film in their whip, instead of having to weigh the risk of exposure and mask requirement.
Drive-in theaters have been something of an afterthought for nearly two decades now, but these strange circumstances could breathe new life into the concept.
It shows a level of necessary innovation for the movie theater business to stay afloat in the age of digital media. Even before the pandemic, several factors keyed into the slow demise of movie theaters. As the digital age rose with countless streaming services, patrons started to find a lack of incentives in going to the theater.
First and foremost, it can be a hassle. Especially in rural areas, the local movie theater can be at least 30-45 minutes away. Films can play at a variety of times, making it an inconvenience in one’s schedule.
When planning a showing with friends, it is much more convenient to meet at someone’s house. There, friends can comfortably watch whatever they want whenever they want, and can do so with whichever beverage or drinks that they choose.
This leads to the next point, which is that movie theaters are strict and expensive. In 2019, the average price for a movie ticket in the United States was $9.16. This does not incorporate tax, gas money, snacks, or bundling of tickets.
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A night out to the movies with three friends can end up costing well over $60. Added onto this, most theaters do not allow patrons to bring their own foods or drinks.
Finally, as nearly everyone knows, moviegoers are annoying. People chew, text, laugh, scream, spit, and kick seats like no tomorrow at the movie theater. And these are the good ones. The moviegoing experience has been significantly hampered by distracting and disrespectful people for years, and this has raised the demand for home entertainment forms.
Video-on-demand and streaming services are making a huge run in 2020. Disney+, HBO Max, and Amazon Prime are all giving Netflix a run for its money when it comes to original and accessible content.
These services offer a community engagement that theaters struggle to maintain, and have even made a cultural impact. The phrase “Netflix and Chill” is no longer even a giggling matter, it is a reality that people are incentivized to take part in due to the advantages over a classic theater date.
While the future for theaters is not looking especially great, directors like Christopher Nolan and Denis Villeneuve are fighting to keep the experience alive.
Tenet and Dune are two of the most anticipated upcoming flicks of 2020, and they are advertised to be best enjoyed in a theater experience.
“Movie theaters have gone dark, and will stay that way for a time,” Christopher Nolan said.
“But movies, unlike unsold produce or unearned interest, don’t cease to be of value. Much of this short-term loss is recoverable. When this crisis passes, the need for collective human engagement, the need to live and love and laugh and cry together, will be more powerful than ever.”
Nolan brings up the point of the joy of people. While it is true that people can easily meet up at a house for a streaming night, there is a lack of authenticity. Movie theaters give that classical and treasured experience.
When everything goes right, there is nothing quite like having the lights go dark as a Hans Zimmer score erupts through the surround-sound speakers.
There is nothing quite like turning to your best bud in awe after experiencing a shocking event unfold on a massive and towering screen. There is nothing like gathering with your friends in the lobby after the credits have rolled, laughing and praising the work of art that was just shown.
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Repost from @esquire: “In my first conversation with him, he just felt like somebody on the cusp of really great things,” says Christopher Nolan of his ‘Tenet’ star, @JohnDavidWashington. “And so from a selfish point of view as a filmmaker, you immediately think, I’d like to be a part of that actor’s journey. I’d like to harness that energy that he has.” See three exclusive images from the set of ‘Tenet’ above. The film hits theaters July 31.
Movie theaters have a challenging path ahead, but with innovation and care, nothing is impossible. The truly classical experience can continue to go on, and provide for generations to come. As Mr. Nolan says:
“Maybe, like me, you thought you were going to the movies for surround sound, or Goobers, or soda and popcorn, or movie stars. But we weren’t. We were there for each other.”