Portland’s independent theaters are once again welcoming audiences, but what does the simultaneous VOD and theatrical release mean for businesses?
As if movie theaters weren’t threatened enough by a virus that spreads fastest among closed crowds, the exhibition industry returns this spring to the same old questions of survival, plus some new ones.
Still, the morale of Portland theater operators is high. Cinema 21, Living Room Theaters, Clinton Street Theater and Cinemagic are once again snapping up tickets for limited-capacity audiences. The Hollywood Theater announced a return on July 2. Regal Cinemas began reopening its venues in late April and, judging by the box office returns, saw booming business over Memorial Day weekend with A Quiet Place, Part II. Cautious optimism abounds, not to mention seafaring.
“It often feels like we’re starting a new business,” says Prescott Allen, owner of the Laurelhurst Theater, whose East Burnside Street and Northeast 28th Avenue venue is aiming for a return on June 11, after a year of renovations and upgrades. HVAC day.
The feeling of starting over is common across the city, although until this spring reopening strategies varied. On the one hand, Cinema 21 and Living Room have been ping pong alongside changing Oregon COVID regulations since last fall – launching private rentals, shutting them down, reopening, closing again, reopening. Other Portland venues, such as Laurelhurst, Academy and Roseway Theaters, closed in March 2020 and have remained so.
“Part of the complexity of wrestling with this company over the past 14 months has been holding two opposing ideas at the same time,” says Erik McClanahan, director of Cinema 21, of the balance between security and ambition. “What I appreciate most is that [reopening] must happen at some point. In a way, it is about giving confidence to distributors.
Speaking of which, after a 15-month hibernation (total or relative), Portland’s screens are waking up to a changed studio landscape. While the simultaneous release of titles in theaters and on streaming platforms (“day and date” in industry terms) has become increasingly prevalent over the past five years, this approach has never touched so many people. mainstream films than today. With Warner Brothers making their entire 2021 roster available on HBO Max the same day, Disney + simultaneously offering PVOD options and Amazon purchasing MGM, what does the day-and-date practices become an industry standard for Portland theaters mean?
“I never saw [day-and-date] as an existential threat, ”says Nicholas Kuechler, director of Cinemagic and Moreland Theater of the practice before the pandemic. “I thought it would take more of us away than it did.”
Many local independent theaters rely on their spaces which have more influence on audiences than theatrical exclusivity windows. Kuechler points out how well the clientele of Cinemagic’s Hawthorne neighborhood work in the service sector – apartment dwellers, he infers, often with small TVs. Pack in Cinemagic, turn up the volume, and vibrate so loud with a movie that their beer laps are half the appeal.
“The idea of watching Godzilla vs. Kong on my 30-inch TV just sounds wrong, ”he adds. “There are films [where] you just want this size. They were built for that.
What Kuechler noticed during Warner Brothers’ last Godzilla The blockbuster starring at the Moreland Theater on Southeastern Avenue in Milwaukie in April is that surprisingly strong crowds declined dramatically in the weeks following the opening. This observation fits with McClanahan’s personal take on the present and future of the film exhibition: hip moviegoers flock to theatrical openings (regardless of streaming availability) and generate excitement, then the movie. glides to its eternal resting place online with a real buzz.
“We support [films] for their eventual life on VOD or streaming, ”explains McClanahan. “A theater like [Cinema 21] becomes a version of the film festival ecosystem; you want the people who love movies the most to come and see things that need help finding them. “
In this version of events, theaters reserve more titles with faster clips for shorter durations. Fortunately, cities don’t change as quickly as media strategies.
As Kuechler says, even though Cinemagic or the Moreland are showing the Marvel movies Black Widow in July, theaters are not under the same pressures of being “everything for everyone” that global blockbusters sometimes hit their screens. Knowing their path can be not only a boon to theaters on the return trip, but a relief. Serve and trust the neighborhood crowd and Kuechler thinks the cinema might look normal again this summer.
“You’re not going to make a lot of money that way,” he says, “but it’s a lot nicer.