Local theaters struggle to fill seats, rent out private screenings

Local theaters struggle to fill seats, rent out private screenings

Posted on October 12

Movie theaters have been taking a hit financially for years – and that was before the coronavirus forced the months-long closure of most theaters across the country. Thankfully for owners, Orange County moved from the purple “substantial” risk level tier to red “widespread” risk level tier on California’s COVID-19 county watchlist Sept. 8, allowing movie theaters, restaurants and places of worship to open at 25% capacity.

However, there are still plenty of safety concerns associated with the reopening of the venues. Jerika Lam, a viral infection specialist at Chapman, said movie theaters should mimic classrooms and operate at a carefully monitored capacity.

“Movie theaters in Orange County must ensure the safety of the public by making sure there is not going to be a full theater … and making sure the theater is cleaned before and after the moviegoer is in the theater,” Lam said. 

Perhaps due to COVID-19-related concerns, movie-goers haven’t flocked theaters as one might expect. In fact, Regal Cinemas temporarily closed all of its 543 theaters in the United States, including its 13 locations in Orange County. Regal Cinemas’ public relations did not respond to The Panther’s request for comment.

Regal Cinemas has already closed its Regal Edwards Mira Mesa theater that Jacqueline Fisher, a senior screenwriting major at Chapman, visited near her home Oct. 6. She said although they closed Oct. 8, they plan to reopen in 2021 when the next “James Bond” movie releases.

“There was only one person working there, and it just felt like this is it for the theater,” Fisher said. “I don’t see it reopening unless they get money from the government.”

Rival movie theater company Cinemark, meanwhile, introduced a private watch party program and announced they are giving away 1,000 free private watch parties in order to boost interest. Cinemark’s public relations did not respond to The Panther’s request for comment.

However, Fisher and Joseph Rosenberg, an associate professor in the Dodge College of Film and Media Arts, both agreed that even reserving a private movie theater with a maximum of 20 people wouldn’t deter their stance on staying away from the movies.

“There isn’t any experience right now that’s worth trading in your health for,” Rosenberg said. “Even if you were invited somewhere that was exclusive, I still think with the stress of the potential of getting the disease – which spreads very rapidly and is potentially deadly – is just not worth it.”

Rosenberg pointed to streaming services as an obstacle in the way of movie theaters remaining relevant.

“What the streaming services have shown is that there is a lot of great content available from your own home,” Rosenberg said. “If you look at ‘Tenet’ and the fact that, unfortunately, it underperformed given that people didn’t feel safe – that to me says it all. We need to wait a while.”

Despite Fisher and Rosenberg’s clear stances, Lam told The Panther that if proper safety precautions are taken, a screening inside theaters wouldn’t be impossible. 

“We can be creative, but in doing so we also need to be mindful of the safety of everyone involved,” she said. “We’re not living in an invincible bubble, so we still have to be on alert and be cognizant of our actions. If each of us play our part in being respectful of these guidelines, it has a ripple effect in creating a safe environment.”