Helped along by a few recent blockbuster releases, movie theaters are beginning to open their auditoriums and allow customers indoors.
“We’ve been so lonely, everyone that works in a movie theater company … we’re people people, we love serving people,” said Bria Naylor, marketing manager for Picture Show Entertainment, a theater in Berlin.
Without the possibility of a big box office weekend, as theaters have been shuttered amid the Coronavirus pandemic, studios have held off on releasing blockbusters that are typically shown throughout the summer.
As a few of those movies have been released in recent weeks, namely Unhinged and New Mutants, theaters have felt confident that the demand is there for them to begin powering up their projectors.
Both AMC Theaters in Plainville and Southington are open and have various showtimes with a 40 percent theater capacity restriction and a mask mandate. Cinemark movie theater in North Haven also currently has showtimes with required masks and other COVID restrictions in place.
Though theaters have been permitted to open in Connecticut since mid-June, the Picture Show in Berlin waited until Aug. 21 to open.
“I think the movie theater industry as a whole has been waiting, holding their breath to see what Hollywood is doing,” Naylor said. Major releases were sometimes delayed just days ahead of their first showings, sending theaters back to the drawing board on their own reopenings.
With more major releases on the horizon — particularly Tenet, set to premiere on Sept. 3 and Wonder Woman 1984 coming out in October — Naylor believes demand will only continue to rise through the fall and into the winter, when many of the movies pushed off over the summer are set to be released.
“As more new movies draw crowds out to the theaters we’re anticipating seeing a parallel reaction with our customers,” she said.
The Berlin theater got through the summer, typically its busiest season, by setting up a drive-in with a screen set up against the back wall of the building. Starting June 5, they aired older classics like Jurassic Park, Jaws and E.T., which proved to be so successful that they’ve decided to show some of the new releases outdoors as well. Naylor said they’re also considering bringing the drive-in back in future summer seasons.
The smell of the candy and soda wafting from the concessions stand and the low hum of excitement as the lights dim can’t be replaced by streaming a movie at home, Naylor said, and people have been missing opportunities to be together outside the home.
“You're in this room, you're experiencing this huge storyline with other people and you have these high highs,” she said. “ … I think parents want to share that experience with their children, and friends want to share that with their other friends.”
To keep customers safe as seats fill up, the theater has extended the down time between showings to give staff more time to clean theaters before the next movie begins. Their ticketing system is also set up to automatically ensure that there’s at least two seats between each party and larger groups will be clustered away from other patrons. Staff have been provided with gloves and masks, undergo temperature checks before the start of each shift and social distancing detailing has been installed on the floor.
“Yes, it looks a bit different to our customers that it did, but were trying to preserve as much of that normalcy,” without compromising on following health guidelines, Naylor said. She was glad to see that customers have been abiding by requirements that they wear their mask at all times, except when they’re actively eating or drinking in their seats.
Before reopening on Aug. 21, staff at Holiday Cinemas 14 in Wallingford rearranged the theater to improve the flow for customers as they checked in, purchased food and drinks, and made their way to their theater, said manager Olivia Taylor. The theater has also reduced the capacity for each of the 10 rooms it’s operating down to 30 percent.
“We did have to put thought into how we wanted the theater to flow for sure just to make sure everyone was able to remain social distancing … as well as we’re making sure we have enough staff on to make sure everything is cleaned down and everything is up to par,” she said.
While the first week has been slow, Taylor believes that as customers see all the precautions that have been put in place more will start to come out. Customers have been calling in to ask if they’re open and the theater has put up signs and made social media posts to encourage people to come in.
“We’ve gotten some new movies the past week, so we’re starting to get a little busy again,” she said.