Movies & Cinema during the Pandemic? Catch-all Discussion

Michael Elliott

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One of the Indie theaters by me has been open since May and we saw around ten movies there. Another indie opened up and I've been there a couple times. All classic movies. I went to see AKIRA last night at the mainstream theater that opened a few weeks back. All three have one thing in common and that's the fact that they are dead. Most of the times my family and I were the only ones in there. Last night there were two other people in the theater. When we walked in the theater crew (three people) were sitting down because they had nothing to do.

I personally like getting to see the classics back on the big screen but I'm really not sure how long theaters are going to last. Some just don't feel safe, although it's probably the safest thing you can do considering there aren't many people there. I'd also say a lot of people finally realize how much money they are saving by not going. I think the movies built themselves up where everyone had to be there on the opening weekend to see something. People just did it without too much thought and since it went away people are probably looking at their bank accounts and realizing how much they are saving by not going.
 

Jake Lipson

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And even then there will be a large portion that won’t feel safe again ever.
I get what you're saying and wouldn't judge people who don't want to go out again after a vaccine. But my feeling is that if you're going to stay shut away from the world in your house forever because you're afraid of dying, then that isn't really much of a life. I am staying shut away from the world in my house for the vast majority of this year because there is a virus on the loose and no vaccine. But once there is a vaccine, I look forward to going out again and resuming normal activities. Otherwise, what am I saving myself for exactly? Going between my room and my kitchen area for the rest of my life would be awfully dull. It's already getting awfully dull having done it since March, even though I can't complain because I'm safe and comfortable. When a proven vaccine arrives, I'm absolutely going to go back to the movie theater and the live theatre and otherwise.
 

Josh Steinberg

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Not to be Debbie Downer, but Redfield at the CDC has said masks are probably going to be more effective for the public health than a vaccine. For a vaccine to be considered successful and garner approval, it only needs to work something like 50% of the time in more people than not. It’s much more likely that we’ll get a vaccine like the flu shot that offers some protection to some people for a limited period of time than we will get a vaccine like measles or polio which works nearly 100% of the time for life.

Additionally, they are only working on a vaccine for adults at present time. They’ve said that a vaccine for children isn’t expected until next fall at the earliest.

So a vaccine will be great, absolutely, but it’s not going to be a binary before and after situation like flipping on a light switch. It’s more likely that it’ll take a year to provide vaccine to all those who will take it, and that it’ll be helpful but may not get us to herd immunity.

I don’t think the general public or these businesses have really let that reality sink in, that it’s not going to be as simple as “vaccine is approved in January, everyone gets it by February, and pandemic is completely over by March”.
 
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Tino

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But my feeling is that if you're going to stay shut away from the world in your house forever because you're afraid of dying, then that isn't really much of a life.
I don’t think I’ve ever said or suggested that. I’m strictly talking about theater. My job has me out on The road meeting with customers regularly. Even out to eat outside. I feel comfortable in those environments. But inside is another story.
 

Jake Lipson

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I don’t think I’ve ever said or suggested that. I’m strictly talking about theater.
I know that. I didn't mean to imply otherwise.

But for me, going to the theater is so much a part of my normal life that I can't really imagine normal without it.

Edit only to correct typo.
 
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Josh Steinberg

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And you’ll one day go back and experience whatever the theatrical experience evolves into.

Just as there are a small but not insignificant portion of home viewers who prefer disc over streaming, there will likely be a small but not insignificant portion of the theater going crowd that will continue going to the theaters. I don’t think that’s really in doubt.

What will need to be addressed more urgently is that the entire business is propped up by the majority of moviegoers, and the majority only goes once or twice a year. Those are the people not as likely to come back - not because the theaters are dangerous but because they’re not the only option for seeing a movie - and the business will have to learn to adjust to its new place in the culture and marketplace, just as home video departments are adjusting to discs going from a mass market commodity to an enthusiast niche.

But that transition has been on the horizon for some time, pandemic or no pandemic.
 
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steve jaros

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Theaters in my area opened up on August 15 and I have been going regularly. I have been to the movies 16 times, at four different theaters, since then. Just now got back from a matinee at my local Movie Tavern. Free popcorn on $5 Tuesday!

I feel perfectly comfortable, my only worry is how few people are joining me. I fear my theaters will have to close down not because of government mandate but because of people just too fearful to come to the movies. Very sad, so I am going as often as I can, enjoying the movie experience while it's still there.
 
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jcroy

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This is my wild pie in the sky speculation.

If biggies like AMC, Regal, etc ... end up going bankrupt and the corpses being liquidated (ie. assets auctioned off by bankruptcy court), then my wild guess is screenings of superhero movies will shift to sports stadiums.
 

Josh Steinberg

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This is my wild pie in the sky speculation.

If biggies like AMC, Regel, etc ... end up going bankrupt and the corpses being liquidated (ie. assets auctioned off by bankruptcy court), then my wild guess is screenings of superhero movies will shift to sports stadiums.
I was saying that prior to the pandemic. Theaters were already struggling to remain open year round for what amounted to maybe four or eight weekends a year they could be profitable. Studios routinely spent billions on promotion year to year in order to drive everyone to see a movie as soon as possible. Simultaneous large scale releases at arenas and stadiums, particularly during a time when those sports aren’t in season, seems like a reasonable possibility. Less people will attend in total than today, but tickets will be priced substantially higher for those who do go. The split between those who go out to see a movie vs those who watch it at home will be similar to the split between those who attend a sports game in person vs those who watch on TV.

The era of moviegoing being a cheap, low bar to entry activity are probably near an end, but to be honest, that’s not new. For years, families have complained about how four tickets, surcharges and a snack brings the cost to over $100. It’s already out of reach for many people. It’s just that the costs are somewhat hidden.

Theaters have a problem in that sense that they’re not upfront on their costs, so the expense tends to be more than the consumer expects, which leads to negative reactions among the general public. If theaters can’t afford to run without patrons buying $10 tubs of popcorn to subsidize their costs, they’re already in trouble. It reminds me a little of how restaurants say that they can’t afford to stay in business just selling food at the prices marked, but also need their customers to pay 20% more than the listed price on the honor system or the employees don’t get paid. Either way, the asking price put in front of the customer doesn’t pay the expenses, but rather than being honest about the cost of business and adjusting prices accordingly, the customer is just expected to somehow come up with more money than is being asked for in order for the business to survive. How is that a workable system longterm?
 
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Malcolm R

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Theaters have a problem in that sense that they’re not upfront on their costs, so the expense tends to be more than the consumer expects, which leads to negative reactions among the general public. If theaters can’t afford to run without patrons buying $10 tubs of popcorn to subsidize their costs, they’re already in trouble. It reminds me a little of how restaurants say that they can’t afford to stay in business just selling food at the prices marked, but also need their customers to pay 20% more than the listed price on the honor system or the employees don’t get paid. Either way, the asking price put in front of the customer doesn’t pay the expenses, but rather than being honest about the cost of business and adjusting prices accordingly, the customer is just expected to somehow come up with more money than is being asked for in order for the business to survive. How is that a workable system longterm?
I'm not sure how theaters do this when the studios take a percentage of the box office. If they raise ticket prices, studios just take a larger amount. If they raise them high enough so that their percentage of the take covers their operating expenses, no one would buy any tickets. I'd think the studio contracts also preclude the theaters from adding any surcharge to the ticket prices that could be kept entirely by the theaters.

As I noted in the box office thread, a chart of the last 25 years shows that theatrical exhibition has been remarkably sturdy and steady over that period. The number of tickets sold annually and annual grosses (inflation adjusted) have been steady within a relatively small range over 25 years. But theatrical operating expenses have likely been increasing (rent, utilities, food, supplies, labor, equipment, facilities), which makes theaters very vulnerable if they have to be closed or at reduced capacity for an extended period.
 

Josh Steinberg

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I'm not sure how theaters do this when the studios take a percentage of the box office. If they raise ticket prices, studios just take a larger amount. If they raise them high enough so that their percentage of the take covers their operating expenses, no one would buy any tickets. I'd think the studio contracts also preclude the theaters from adding any surcharge to the ticket prices that could be kept entirely by the theaters.

As I noted in the box office thread, a chart of the last 25 years shows that theatrical exhibition has been remarkably sturdy and steady over that period. The number of tickets sold annually and annual grosses (inflation adjusted) have been steady within a relatively small range over 25 years. But theatrical operating expenses have likely been increasing (rent, utilities, food, supplies, labor, equipment, facilities), which makes theaters very vulnerable if they have to be closed or at reduced capacity for an extended period.
I think you’re absolutely right and that we’re ultimately in agreement about more than we’re not. The old arrangements with the studios isn’t working anymore. What was a viable business plan for both sides a half century ago is no longer appropriate for today’s media landscape. That needed to be addressed before the pandemic and it’s even more urgent that it happens after it. It’s not a tenable situation where studios design release strategies to get the vast majority of their audiences to see the film in its first week, and then insist on an arrangement where the theaters basically get nothing for the first month. They’ve both locked themselves into protecting a system where movies are done making money before theaters are entitled to any meaningful cut of that money.

And to your other point, it seems there is a commercial real estate bubble that at some point needs to bust for some sanity to return. Locally for me, it’s something insane like six entities control nearly all of the commercial real estate market in NYC and the surrounding areas, and the prices don’t reflect any sort of reality as a result of that. At the same time, even before covid, retail real estate is becoming inherently less valuable as our economy changes to one where people don’t have to go to a physical location to acquire a product or participate in an activity. As a society, we’re going to have to make some tough choices about a lot of businesses - there either needs to be a correction on real estate prices to reflect the reality of what brick and mortal is capable of earning in a home delivery economy, or we can accept out of control rents killing current businesses and serving as insurmountably high barriers to entry for future businesses.

It sucks that movie theaters are getting hit from all angles right now. But I don’t think the issues they’re facing are unique or will remain contained to just that industry.
 

Josh Steinberg

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If they raise them high enough so that their percentage of the take covers their operating expenses, no one would buy any tickets.
As a side question, isn’t that a problem that’s going to have to be dealt with at some point? If there’s no business model that supports selling your product at its true cost, how can a business based on that product expect to survive?

Thats why I keep thinking that there’s a possibility that moviegoing becomes an activity that was once in the reach of many that will become primarily for the wealthier members of society. Football is the most popular sport in the country, but how many football fans actually see a game at a stadium compared to how many watch it on TV? It could very well be in the not too distant future that some people will spend $100 a ticket or far more to see a premium spectacle of a movie presentation at Madison Square Garden for the new tentpole, while most of the audience will be watching from home.
 
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jcroy

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It could very well be in the not too distant future that some people will spend $100 a ticket or far more ...
(On a tangent).


This is already a reality for tickets to big major rock concerts, etc ... Especially when tickets are heavily dominated by professional scalpers who resell them online. (To get a decent non-scalper concert ticket nowadays, one has to buy within the first few minutes after the ticket sales first goes live online).

Besides old classic rock bands looking more and more pathetic on stage as they get older, this is the primary reason why I don't go to rock concerts at all anymore.
 

Colin Jacobson

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That's what smileys/emojiis are for.

Unfortunately not everyone is tuned in to nuances of sarcasm / satire, and will take what one says literally.
The person who responded as if I spoke literally definitely should've known better.

And I'm pretty free with my use of emojis, but man, if someone thinks I would actually state seriously that people here claim that anyone who uses the letters "A", "M" and "C" will die... yeah, a ";)" isn't gonna help!
 

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