After 14 months of closure local theaters are coming back to life, luring cinephiles with the promise of fresh popcorn and strict safety protocols.
While the Arclight theater permanently closed, the AMC Broadway 4, AMC Santa Monica 7, Laemmle and Aero theatres are all reopening or reopened.
The Santa Monica Laemmle, a venue that specializes in independent films, was one of the first theaters to return and has been running movies for over a month. Its lineup includes foreign films, indies, and documentaries with a sprinkling of big budget films. It has also brought back its popular Q&A screenings where viewers can hear directly from filmmakers.
The President of the family-owned theater chain Greg Laemmle is thrilled to be back in business, but recognizes that the road to economic recovery runs steeply uphill.
“A lot of people are on the fence. For a lot of people sitting inside for two hours is not the first activity on their agenda,” said Greg. “But as more information gets out about the effectiveness of the vaccines, I’m really hopeful that people will feel comfortable coming out to the movies.”
The Laemmle is running with a series of strict safety precautions in place, which Greg acknowledges hurts its ability to turn a profit but posits are essential measures for the time being.
Capacity is currently restricted to 50 percent, but with 6 feet spacing between parties, is actually closer to 35 percent. There are also less screenings daily to allow for more time cleaning between seatings and less crowding in the lobby.
The Aero Theater, which has been around since 1940, recently announced that its grand reopening will take place on June 10 with a special advance screening of “Into the Heights”.
The historic building has undergone a series of renovations since its closure. The lobby has been repainted, the vintage film protectors restored and the sound system enhanced.
Both the Aero and the Laemmle believe that their unique offerings of films and interactive movie-going experience will successfully draw back customers, even as theater chains across the country close down.
“We believe that cinema is a communal experience with the power to entertain, enlighten and inspire,” said Deputy Director of the American Cinematheque Gwen Deglise, the company that operates the Aero. “If you’re looking for retrospectives, classic films, new films, or amazing Q&As with filmmakers, the Aero Theatre is the perfect theatre to immerse yourself and find fellow film lovers.”
One obstacle theater owners face in drawing back visitors is the lack of money currently being spent on film advertising.
Laemmle describes it as a “chicken or egg” scenario: distributors are hesitant to spend on advertising if people aren’t going to the movies and people aren’t going to the movies if they don’t see films being advertised.
While theaters wait for demand to grow and capacity restrictions to ease, most are relying on PPP funding and other government relief programs. Many also hope to receive money from the Small Business Association’s Shuttered Venue Operators Grant.
“Ultimately it is a unique experience to be able to see a movie in a movie theater,” said Greg. “We’ll get back to a place where we can operate without government support.”