reopening movie theaters

How are movie theaters planning to bounce-back from the current coronavirus shutdown? John Fithian, CEO of the National Association of Theatre Owners (NATO) just gave an in-depth interview about the steps being taken to get theaters back on their feet. Task forces are being assembled, several options are being weighed, and a commitment to the theatrical experience is holding firm. And as we’ve already reported, the impending July releases of Tenet and Mulan are the goalposts theaters are looking towards to reopen. But no one can predict the future.

Variety has a very detailed interview with NATO CEO John Fithian about the plans to reopen movie theaters. First things first: while some states, like Georgia, have already declared theaters can reopen right now, Fithian says: “I have not talked to one exhibitor who is going to open up this week.” No surprise there. But what about the future?

July remains the target month for theaters, with some even hoping for a June reopening. “Right now, our plans are based on the advice of the CDC and health officials, who project that the number of new cases will have dissipated enough by that point where it will be safe to open up with the right precautions,” Fithian says. “First, they’ll start by showing repertory films. That will allow them to have systems in place so they’ll be able to showcase big movies in July.”

The “big movies” in July, as of now, are the Warner Bros. Christopher Nolan movie Tenet, and Disney’s live-action Mulan. Even if theaters are ready to open for these movies, they won’t be operating at full capacity. To compensate for that, Tenet and Mulan will likely play on more screens. “Theoretically that’s something we can do,” Fithian says. “We’ve been having conversations with Warner Bros. and Chris Nolan about Tenet and with Disney about Mulan. It’s not like we will have had five weeks of new releases leading up to those films, so we can devote many more auditoriums to screening them.”

The NATO CEO goes on to say that “some states will be able to reopen relatively quickly,” while others “may take a while.” To ensure people are safe when theaters start reopening, NATO has put together a task force, as “well as experts on health and safety and supply chains. We’ve sent guidance to theater owners. Different states will have different things in terms of what is mandated, but we are trying to think comprehensively. We’re planning for how we open up our seating so we can adhere to strict social distancing guidelines…Members are staggering showtimes so everyone isn’t arriving at the multiplex at the same time. We are considering innovative ways to sell concessions in order to reduce human contact. And we’re making sure that employees stay home if they feel sick.”

Fithian goes on to say that an advertising campaign is being worked out to inform people theaters are open again, and that it’s safe to return. And while all of this sounds good in theory, much of it sounds like wishful thinking to me. Perhaps it’s the pessimist in me, but I remain skeptical that theaters will be able to reopen in the summer.

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