The world has shut down.
Well, it’s not, really. But for a lot of businesses, it might as well be the case. Many are struggling to engage their customers from their homes, an act that proves difficult for businesses that promote a collective experience.
Take movie theaters, for example. As someone who has worked at one for over six years, I cannot tell you how many times we’ve had the conversation about competing with digital content. There’s certainly no shortage of movies to watch on TV or online. But movie theaters stay in business because they push the idea of movie-watching as an event.
There’s nothing quite like seeing a film projected on a screen several times the size of your TV screen or that moment when the lights go down and everything gets silent for just that one second. These are things you can’t experience in your own home. And not only is it the experience of choosing the perfect seat or enjoying your favorite concession, but it is an experience best shared with others—collectively with strangers, many worlds colliding together to take in one story. There’s an energy you feel in a crowded movie theater. Funny scenes become funnier when you have others to laugh with, and upsetting scenes hit closer to home when there are dozens of other people in the room amplifying that emotion.
But, unfortunately, being a part of a crowd right now is the last thing that people want to do. So. What will happen to the movie theaters?
Cinemas across the world are struggling with this same question. If people can’t go to the movies, then will cinemas be able to survive the temporary closure?
Well, bigger theaters had already sort of answered this question before COVID-19 even came into the picture. Some chains (e.g. AMC) have even made their own video-on-demand (VOD) platforms, simply to capitalize on more than one market. When communities began adhering to social distancing orders, many larger theaters had the luxury of closing down without worrying about breaking the bank. Sure, they wouldn’t make any money, but they wouldn’t go under either.
But for independent cinemas, the situation was more dire. In the beginning stages of social distancing, many cinemas, Midtown Cinema included, sent a message to their patrons: “We’re closing down. We’ll be back. We’re still selling gift cards and memberships that you can use when we do.” And that, initially, was all that independents put their hope in. There was a lot of speculation and a lot of finger-crossing.
Luckily, film distributors, especially the smaller companies, understood that, if these smaller, independent cinemas were to go out of business, they would lose a lot of the screens where their smaller films play. So, many distributors worked out a deal with the independents. Since most of the smaller films that were slated for release are instead going straight to VOD, independent cinemas now have the chance to provide their patrons with a link discrete to their own cinema, for which they get a portion of the proceeds every time the film is rented. This is not unlike the arrangement for a film that plays on the cinema screen—the distributor takes a good percentage of any ticket that is purchased. Except that, now, the cinemas get a cut instead of the distributors.
So why does this work? Like I said before, we may be small potatoes, but those potatoes add up in the end. Distributors need us. Or, at least, they want us, because a lot of indie film fans look to their cinema to guide what they watch. These films would go unnoticed if not for the cinemas.
Independents like Midtown Cinema know that they have a loyal fan base waiting for them to open up their doors, people who want to be supportive and keep the cinema alive. Really, right now, independent cinemas are receiving more support than they’ve ever received—from both distributors and patrons. And Midtown Cinema, for one, is very grateful.
Midtown Cinema is located at 250 Reily St., Harrisburg. For more information, visit www.midtowncinema.com.
Midtown Cinema currently has the following video-on-demand titles available through www.midtowncinema.com:
“And Then We Danced”
“Best of CatVideoFest”
“Diana Kennedy: Nothing Fancy”
“Dona Flor And Her Two Husbands”
“The Hottest August”
“No Data Plan”
“Once Were Brothers: Robbie Robertson and The Band”
“The Perfect Nanny”
“The Roads Not Taken”
“Slay The Dragon”
“Sorry We Missed You”
“The Times Of Bill Cunningham”
“The Wild Goose Lake”
“The Woman Who Loves Giraffes”