My Theater is Indefinitely Closed: Now What?

Theaters across America are closing their doors- are you one of them? Join the conversation about how we can stay afloat in these troubled times.

When it’s been a long, stressful day at the office, my husband and I will start to look at showtimes. We’ll watch a few trailers, make our selection, and show up to the movies. It’s a way that we know we can let our brains relax a little, let go of the cares of the moment, and be immersed in a story outside of ourselves. We are both realists- we know that there is no escaping reality, and frankly we don’t want to. Our life philosophy has us facing the challenges we’re dealing with head-on with courage and full of vigor. And a good story through film can be a welcome break from this, and it can also give us the courage and inspiration needed to tackle life’s most pressing challenges. And though we can always veg out in front of our own TV at home and binge-watch Agents of Shield on Netflix (which we do!), there is something energizing about seeing a movie with a crowd of people that you just can’t duplicate at home. We are social creatures, and going to the movies provides entertainment for introverts and extroverts alike. There’s something beautiful about these experiences together, on the big screen, with surround sound, and an oversized bucket of buttery popcorn. As I’ve researched the history of movie-going in the US, people have said at all points that “This ____ is the end of the movie-going industry in the United States.” Yet for decades, filmgoing has been a sweet reprieve for Americans, helping us through life stresses and tragedies, and even world wars and terror attacks. And here we are in one of the greatest crises of my lifetime, and for the first time on such a mass scale, theaters are closing their doors across the US.

The current CDC and White House recommendations because of COVID-19 are that we cancel any gatherings of 10 people or more. Some of our smaller-town theaters have remained open as of now, and there are also several that have closed, mandated or elected. It’s hard to say in the coming days and months whether any will remain open. How is a theater to survive during this time?

I’ve talked on the phone personally with more than 100 independent theaters, hearing about the joys and the woes of the industry. My heart is with you right now. For some of you, this is your livelihood. This is the connection point of the community. This where your teenagers go on the weekends, and their parents can rest knowing that they’re close and safe. We know that there are so many lives affected by the COVID-19, and I’m imagining the fear that may be trying to creep in about keeping your theater alive in a time like this. As a company, Rebel Cinema is in the business of helping theaters with their on-screen local ads. But during this time, we have made a few internal shifts of priority. We want to make sure that there are theaters still thriving in the coming months, for our own personal sake’s, for the sake of our businesses, but most importantly for the sake of our communities. We are putting our heads together internally as well as researching ways to help you to stay afloat. To us, this is bigger than launching a successful software website. We believe the small town theater still matters, that it can thrive, and that it can strengthen its community. We want to see you weather this storm and come out on the other side.

I’m currently connecting with a handful of people in the theater industry who are doing in-home streamings of films- I’m trying to work out the specifics of this- but some of the theaters are actually able to charge ticket prices, or some amount comparable. I doubt that this would be feasible with any of the larger studios that you’re used to working with. As many of you know, Universal Studios has decided to release ‘Trolls World Tour’ through streaming, and it’s not unlikely that others might follow their lead in the coming weeks. My guess would be that if your theater were to stream movies like the ones I’ve briefly spoken with, most or all of these would be by independent film-makers, and you’d be able to market through your social media accounts. We are currently exploring this as a means to generate some revenue for your theater during this time. In doing this, you would be appealing to your community and giving them a way to support you and have access to films that are potentially different than what they’re used to. I wish I had more information to share with you about the specifics of this, but they haven’t been worked out yet. I am aware that the idea of streaming can feel like opposition to the theater industry- I would love to hear your thoughts about how open you would be to this! I’m currently talking with a few companies to see what it might look like. I really want more feedback from YOU as to whether you’re interested in this as a temporary revenue-generator!

We are also working on resources for theaters to spend some of their down-time over the next few weeks either starting to create local ads, or revamping them. We’re working on ways that we can help you do this without necessitating any in-person contact. You’ll be hearing from us soon with some of these ideas. If the streaming idea is going to work, we are hopeful that we’d be able to actually get your local ads to show before the films!

A few resources in case they are helpful:

We will continue to share any and all ideas that come through. In the meantime, I’d really love to hear from you. What is your theater doing? What are you most in need of right now? What ideas do you have to stay afloat during this time? Does streaming as a theater appeal to you? What other ideas have you had?

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