What Movie Theaters Have Been Doing Right (and Wrong) During the COVID-19 Pandemic

Hey everyone, Jack Drees here! During the second half of 2020, I have been to the movies 13 times so far. In a normal year, this would be a pretty decent number, especially when the second half is only halfway through. During a pandemic like the one we are going through today, some might question why I go to the movies. SPOILER: It’s not just for fun, although that is part of it, but I need to make content, and much of it is brought to you courtesy of the theatrical experience. Now, as one of the first penguins to dive into the water, I wanted to take this moment to go over some of the things I like about what the theaters have been doing during the pandemic, and some things they should improve on. And I think a lot of people who read my stuff and know me in real life think I’m some evangelical for movie theatres, which… I wouldn’t say you’re wrong. But I consider myself a brainy evangelical as I am willing to recognize their flaws. So let’s dive in, here are my pros and cons regarding cinemas during the COVID-19 pandemic!

PRO #1: Cheaper tickets

You may have noticed that there are not many new movies coming out. So with that in mind, theaters have to get creative. They started showing throwback movies like “Back to the Future,” “The Goonies,” and “The Dark Knight.” For shows like these, tickets are often discounted, usually around the $5 range. Now you can watch an old film at home on a service such as HBO Max, Prime Video, or Disney+ for free on top of your subscription. But if you went to throw a few bucks out the window, you can see these movies with surround sound and a bucket of fresh popcorn. Sure, those costs can add up depending on where you go, but movie theaters provide one thing that streamers and “at home” methods of viewing content cannot, an experience. When I saw “Back to the Future” in a cinema, I felt things there that I am not able to feel while watching it in my room. I think I even laughed harder too. Also, I’d like to give a shoutout to AMC for their reopening deal, where they sold tickets for fifteen cents! This was done in honor of the chain’s 100th anniversary, but it is nevertheless a grand way to welcome patrons back to the theater. I also noticed that for regular shows, AMC’s afternoon prices were also a little cheaper than usual. Pre-pandemic, there was one theater near me that had tickets for a price a little over $10 until 4PM, now, the prices are under that mark until 5PM! Good job, AMC! Now don’t be jerk about those prices down the road… I’M WATCHING YOU.

Pro #2: Cleanliness

Keep in mind, this could change depending on how things go from here on out, in fact in the state of Massachusetts, the governor required that ALL indoor gatherings must have a maximum of 25 people. However, that has recently been altered, and the indoor max capacity for places such the cinema has since been increased. I should also note for a period of time, said state did not allow food in theaters. But every time I went to a theater during the pandemic, everything is spotless! Who’s running this place, Howie Mandel? Everything is very well kept, and I feel incredibly safe. The major chains like AMC and Cinemark have implemented new cleaning protocols, part of which includes new electrostatic disinfectant sprayers, HEPA filter vacuums, and proper air filters. Theaters also give a longer break between each showtime, which can allow for a greater cleaning process. They even encourage guests to stay clean themselves by providing hand sanitizing stations! Bravo! Personally, I’m more of a wash your hands guy, but I like the commitment!

Pro #3: Mask requirement

Now, this next part is going to be agreed upon by half of my readers, and probably get hammered by the other half. But I don’t care! Many theaters require masks in their policies. They must be worn in the auditorium, the lobby, the restroom, pretty much anywhere you can imagine. The only time you can take it off is when you are enjoying food or drinks. Kind of like when you’re at a restaurant, you have to wear a mask once you walk in, but you’re all good when you get to your table. Although, difference is, in a theater, if you’re not having food, you must keep it on. Given how masks are required everywhere else, it makes sense that theaters would jump on the train. I should also note that I’ve been to AMC a lot and they’ve added a new video to their preshow stating that masks are required at all times. So I hope that other theaters are focusing their efforts on reminding their customers to obey safety precautions not only enforced by the theaters themselves, but the areas in which they reside. Also, Regal Cinemas posted something that I honestly admire, because it speaks to much of the American audience on both sides of the mask debate.

Do I like wearing a mask? Of course not! I barely know one person who does! But we might as well suffer together! I do want to say one thing though, even though I am often focused on a film at the cinema, I sometimes get a little concerned that someone fails to abide by the mask policy. Of course, that’s not what I want to focus on, as I have no desire to confront anybody. I don’t want to be one of those people… But this brings me to my next point…

Con #1: More in-person monitoring needed

I will be completely honest with you. I don’t like being watched. It gets me a little anxious. But in a theater, it may be necessary at this time. One thing I think theaters need to do right now is have someone either monitor an auditorium for an entire screening, or occasionally check in on screenings to see what’s going on. Honestly, there are times I wish they had this BEFORE the pandemic, given how the big concern back then was about whoever would be the butthead fiddling with their phone. I get it, we’re attached to our phones. But we paid for AN ESCAPE. I went to the Chinese Theater in Hollywood one time and they have a great warning for using your cell phone. There’s a guy who comes out, introduces the show, reminds you not to use your cell phone, and he adds on that the images up on the big IMAX screen are going to be much more magnificent than what’s on the phone. Thankfully, I have not noticed as much cell phone use in a cinema, allowing for quieter experiences. However, it is still something to be concerned about, and with masks being enforced due to a health crisis, it gives an even greater reason to make sure everyone is following the rules. Such monitoring could also prevent people bringing in outside food and drinks, and piracy, which is of greater concern now in areas where theaters remain closed.

Con #2: Minimal Marketing

This is partially a con for the theaters, but also a con for the flicks. And honestly, I think it is part of why “Tenet” could not make as much money as Warner Brothers would have wanted. It did fine given the circumstances, but still. I’m noticing that a lot of the advertising for theaters coming back and “Tenet” comes my way through the Internet. Granted, a lot of people use the Internet nowadays, but I also think television would be a very effective tool. As for movie theaters themselves, this topic could be somewhat debatable, but when a company like Lord & Taylor has recently decided to promote their going out of business campaign on television, I think theaters and “Tenet” need to step up. I’ve seen more TV ads for “Bill and Ted Face the Music” than “Tenet” for crying out loud! The only TV ads I remember seeing for “Tenet” since its theatrical debut were during a golf tournament and during the recent “Saturday Night Live” premiere. If “Tenet” wanted to save theaters, they should have advertised on television, which many people resorted to in some way during the pandemic as it was the go to option for watchable new entertainment. If “Tenet” ads got more airtime on television than I’m pointing out, let me know, but I’ve watched a lot of television during the pandemic, and I can’t say “Tenet” was in my circles that much. If you want customers back, get their attention. Sure, it might cost some money, but if you spend enough money, you’ll make some money!

Con #3: AMC and Universal are crazy

This last con has less to do with theaters being open, and more to do with theaters existing, and what can happen to them in the future. Movie theaters and studios have maintained a 90 day theatrical window. Granted there are some smaller movies that have a shorter run before it hits streaming or DVD, some movies might even debut at home and theaters at the same time. But for a studio like Universal to come in and suggest that they can play some movies in theaters for a reduced theatrical window, it’s just a little preposterous to say the least, especially during a time where theaters are struggling as it is. In a recent deal negotiated by AMC and Universal, the studio is now allowed to release movies at home as early as 17 days after its theatrical release. I get it, studios have nothing to put out, and them putting movies on VOD early is a good way to get the film out there. However, 17 days is not a long time for a movie to be in theaters. Don’t get me wrong, a lot of movies would be lucky to play in a theater for one week! But Universal is one of the richest and most valuable movie studios out there. They’ve got tons of intellectual properties, a couple big animation studios, and they have a rich history when it comes to film. They’ve been around for over a hundred years and many of their films have been critically acclaimed throughout. I don’t just blame Universal here, but I also blame AMC for giving into this. Originally they were flat out against Universal’s shortening terms, thus leading them to ban their movies from playing at their locations. In fact, the day afterwards, Regal alleged themselves on the side of AMC by initiating their own Universal ban. Thankfully, studios like Warner Brothers, and filmmakers attached to them like Christopher Nolan and Patty Jenkins have expressed the importance of theaters. Sure, the option of the movie coming home early will be convenient for the consumer, but it’s lost money for the theaters. These are community businesses, and it’s hard to tell where things will go from here, but local jobs could be lost if this is taken to heart.

Universal, let me ask you this… Why would I want to watch the new “Fast & Furious” movie for the first time at home? I’d literally lose much of the excitement, exhilaration, and maybe even some laughter. Remember how “F9” was supposed to come out in MAY?! REMEMBER MOVIES COMING OUT?! THAT WAS AWESOME! I bought tickets for that film as early as February! I was outright convinced it would be the highest-grossing movie of the year. “Fast & Furious,” even though it is not my favorite movie franchise, is made for the same format that we get to experience a new “Spider-Man” movie every year. Not the same format where I can watch two old guys “debate” for U.S. presidency and hopefully not pass out. I don’t talk politics, but you cannot help but be concerned for both candidates while standing on stage.

Speaking of AMC being a little crazy, one of the big concerns many people had before AMC’s reopening was that they were not going to enforce masks. The company’s CEO Adam Aaron suggested that he did not want to get involved in a political debate. I can’t believe I have to say this. CORONAVIRUS IS NOT A POLITICAL ISSUE (unless you bring someone like Facui into this). CORONAVIRUS IS A HUMAN ISSUE. CORONAVIRUS IS A HEALTH ISSUE. MASKS ARE NOT A POLITICAL ISSUE. IT’S A MATTER OF LIFE AND DEATH. And trust me, I would love it if I were told that masks are not allowed, because if you want my honest opinion, they are uncomfortable and they make me look like an out of shape “Mortal Kombat” character. But if everyone else has to deal with it, I do too. Thankfully, they reversed course on this. But even so, it reveals how the United States treats this pandemic. They say we’re all in this together, but our mask-wearing views may suggest otherwise.

In the end, I have enjoyed my ventures at the movies since times changed, and I think there’s a lot that they’ve gotten right. In fact, I’ll be honest, I had an easier time coming up with things I think they’ve gotten right than things I think they’ve gotten wrong. If I had to add a few more things, I think the seat distancing protocols are effective, I like how some theaters have been doing curbside popcorn, and speaking of popcorn, to celebrate Massachusetts bringing back theater concessions, Showcase Cinemas gave out popcorn for free on Monday, October 5th at all Massachusetts locations. I think that’s a sweet deal, and I’m somewhat sorry for myself for missing out on it. I think the theaters are getting things right, both in terms of value and safety. I would love to see more theaters open. But it’s 2020, ANYTHING CAN HAPPEN. WHERE ARE THE MURDER HORNETS?!

Thanks for reading this post! Just this past Tuesday, I watched the new Amazon documentary “Time,” which is about a woman whose husband was sent to prison for a 60 year sentence. The film hits theaters October 9th, and will stream on Prime Video the following week, starting October 16th. I will have my review up as soon as possible. Be sure to follow Scene Before either with an email or WordPress account so you can stay tuned for more great content! Also, check out the Scene Before Facebook page! I want to know, have you been back to the movies yet during these times? If you have, tell me about your experience! If not, what have you been doing instead? Let me know down below! Scene Before is your click to the flicks!

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