Theater Execs Explain the Challenges of Reopening Amid COVID-19

Film theater
Credit: Dollar Photo Club
Execs debated the plausibility of returning to theaters this year. 

The idea of going back to theaters is a tough one. No one quite knows what it will take to be able to sit in front of the screen again, but execs Chris Aronson, Dori Begley, Bob Berney, Ted Mundorff, and John Vanco, representing some of the largest theatrical chains, did a webinar for IndieWire talking about ways to reopen. 

I watched the webinar mostly because I miss going to the movies more than anything in the world. If I had my choice I would pass away peacefully in a movie theater at the end of my long life. But I'm hoping that doesn't happen any time soon. 

The reality is that COVID-19 posts such a risk to many people that going to the theater any time soon does not seem plausible. 

At least, without a plan. 

Let's dig into some of the lessons inside the webinar, which you can watch here.

What We Learned From the 'Return to Theaters' Webinar 

Right now there are lots of ideas on how to reopen, but some are more plausible than others. Theater owners know that there is no easy fix and things won't be coming back quickly. It will take time and patience. 

Right now, the idea of limited seating seems most plausible. 

But that really makes it hard to make money when you have to pay employees, split with studios, and all the other expenses that come along with reopening. Most people think this will lead to a rise in drive-ins. 

You can pack cars into these spaces and not worry about client separation because they'll all be inside their cars. Also, parking lots are not that expensive to lease across the United States. 

What about Tenet?

The real insane problem people see is that when big movies come back, like Tenet, they may come back in midwestern cities and not on the coasts. That means no New York and maybe no Los Angeles. 

New York is still recovering from the worst of corona in the USA, so there's a chance it does not have the ability to put the film in theaters. 

Chris Aronson, Paramount’s President of Domestic Theatrical Distribution, said New York and Los Angeles area theaters account for 14-15% of annual domestic box office.

That would be a big hit. 

Dori Begley, Executive Vice President, Magnolia Pictures, stressed that international theaters are also important when it comes to returning. And with some many countries with varied responses to the coronavirus, theatrical is going to limp back, not sprint. 

The National Association of Theater Owners (NATO) will be responsible for helping plan the comeback. 

But the damage has been done 

Much of the public focus has been about what movies they will go out to see. With movies like Trolls World Tour cleaning up without even hitting theaters, and studios making even more money since they didn't have to split the profits, signs might be pointing toward an uphill battle to convince not only moviegoers but movies themselves back in the theater.

While returning to theaters is an exciting prospect for many, it also will never be the same. At least, not until there is a definite vaccine that takes care of corona completely. Until then, people are going to prioritize watching at home.      

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1 Comment

This is a real bummer. There is no right answer despite what people might say. My personal opinion would be to open and make people aware of the risks. I know others strongly disagree and I respect that, but I honestly don't believe you are any safer going to a walmart than a theater. I support whatever decision is made. I do fear if they do not reopen soon we may loose many theaters for good. Especially if studios can make more money without them.

June 4, 2020 at 5:28PM

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