A movie theater restarts in Beijing, China on July 24, 2020, amid continuing worries over the new coronavirus COVID-19. The number of seats is restricted with 30% of the normal number to keep the social distance.     ( The Yomiuri Shimbun via AP Images )
China Reopens Movie Theaters With New Safety Measures.jpg

When AMC reopens with 15-cent films on August 20, it will be one of the theater chains that signed up to NATO's new security guidelines. How many more will agree?

AMC Theaters' reopening plans announced on August 13 included more detailed security measures, a phased rollout, and several ticket and concession promotions. The element that got the most media attention was that mentioned in the headline of its press release: “AMC Theaters will reopen its doors on August 20th, celebrating 100 years of operation with 'Movies in 2020 at Prices 1920 &' # 39; celebrates. "

There's nothing wrong with one marketing tactic, and the stunt could get some people to learn more about AMC's overall strategy. However, this is the world's largest exhibitor, announcing its return to business after being hit by the ongoing pandemic. It reads like an industry through the trumpet of one-day 15-cent ticket prices at around 100 locations that allow audiences to watch blockbuster classics like "Ghostbusters," the same films that played drive-ins all summer that deals with an existential crisis William Castle gimmick.



The irony is that the National Association of Theater Owners has begun to internally distribute an important security document, NATO's proposed Health and Safety Guidelines, to its members. IndieWire reviewed the eight-page document we received from a source outside NATO and was prepared in collaboration with UCLA epidemiologist Daniel Z. Uslan and in accordance with the World Health Organization, Center for Disease Control and Occupational Safety and Health Organization.

The report, dated Aug. 6, goes beyond the jumble of state and local rules that govern theaters. This includes the enforcement of masks at all times, with exceptions only for eating and drinking, with those who refuse being denied entry. daily symptom and / or temperature checks for employees; Disinfection of auditoriums between performances; staggered screening times to avoid crowds; and publicizing the rules through signage, social media, and screen announcements. However, NATO has no authority to enforce this.


Warner Bros.

A NATO letter to the exhibitors indicated that they were looking for signers who would volunteer for the upcoming public and government communications. Current signers include the 19 chains that represent members of the NATO Executive Council and Operational Task Force, including AMC, Regal, Cinemark and Alamo Drafthouse. The publication of those who sign could mean tacit criticism of those who do not.

If NATO can find full consensus among its members, it would be a tremendous win: it would mean industry agreeing to contradict a national narrative where masks are political and science is controversial. Only a few days before the start of the reopening of AMC and less than three weeks before the onslaught of "Tenet", all those involved have to work overtime to get this message across to an audience that is surprised by a confused nationwide pandemic reaction and constantly changing publication dates their own exhaustion in the face of an upside-down world.

A theater audience reflects the public. For many, the idea of ​​leaving their homes to sit in a dark room with dozens of other people is a non-starter. Others may be ready to leave but shy away from adhering to the mask. We've seen it many times on viral videos documenting clashes in public settings from McDonald's to Walmart. There is no reason to believe that something like this wouldn't happen in theaters.

Theaters face almost impossible circumstances, but further delays in reopening are not an option. You have hard costs, including obligations to landlords; The big chains have fearful shareholders. You also have PVOD on your neck. Nature abhors a vacuum, and streaming is more than happy to fill the void in cinema attendance.

For years, studios and exhibitors fought increasingly for theater windows, and the exhibitors were already in debt. When AMC broke away from its competitors to create a 17-day window with Universal, it created another disruptive element.

Black widow

"Black widow"

Disney / Marvel

Even now, the reopening will serve as a test and momentum is key. Will "Tenet" meet expectations on September 3rd, enough to kick off its next major release on October 2nd, "Wonder Woman 1984", followed by "Black Widow" on November 7th and "No Time To Die" on November 2nd 21st November? What if you take into account the CDC warning that this fall could be "the worst ever" for public health? The studios will evaluate their PVOD alternatives, continue and see their time.

Dealmaking complications make things even more difficult. Many film distribution contracts are based on total national gross – that is, the more a film makes, the higher the percentage a studio can collect. If social distancing and other COVID circumstances result in a movie making $ 100 million instead of $ 200 million, what does that mean for studio incentive? The theaters' fragile operating margins remain unchanged.

All exhibitors, large and small, and NATO deserve credit for their imperfect struggles against multiple crises. Even if the reopening turned out to be disastrous, the model wouldn't change overnight. There are too many one-way properties; too many finished, enormously expensive films that need a shot at theater revenues; too many exhibitors who each have to face their own complex circumstances; and too many people who value having theaters nearby. As is so often the case in our COVID world, a return to normal can be asking too much.

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