U.S. movie theaters prepare to switch the lights back on, but hurdles
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[June 26, 2020]
By Lisa Richwine
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - When the 60-person
Arena Cinelounge in Los Angeles opens again for the first time in
months, more than a dozen seats will be filled by cardboard cutouts of
James Dean, Charlie Chaplin and other Hollywood icons.
The seating arrangement, designed to encourage social distancing among
the 15 real-life patrons who will be allowed into each screening, is one
of the new safety measures theaters are putting in place to reduce the
chance of coronavirus spread.
"We're going above and beyond to make sure that everything is spotless
and that audiences feel comfortable and safe being with us for two to
three hours," owner Christian Meoli said.
It is unclear, however, when Meoli and other theater operators will be
able to welcome back guests.
While about 780 indoor cinemas have reopened around the country,
officials in Los Angeles County, the largest moviegoing market in the
United States, have not yet given a green light, voicing concern about a
rise in coronavirus cases. New York City, the country's No. 2 movie
market, also has not set a date for cinema reopenings.
The theater business has been devastated by the coronavirus shutdowns
that began in mid-March, laying off tens of thousands of employees and
borrowing funds to stay afloat.
The industry is hoping for mass openings in July, when nationwide chains
AMC Entertainment, Cinemark and Cineworld's Regal Cinemas are scheduled
to be back in business. All plan safeguards including limited
attendance, extra cleaning and face masks for guests and workers.
Walt Disney Co has said it will roll out action epic "Mulan" on July 24.
AT&T Inc's Warner Bros. had been set to follow with director Christopher
Nolan's thriller "Tenet" on July 31, but the studio postponed the debut
until Aug. 12.
More shuffling of the schedule could come, depending on the progress of
the coronavirus pandemic.
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Grand Lake Theater, known as Oakland’s Historic Movie Palace, seen
two days after California’s Governor Gavin Newsom implemented a
state wide "stay at home order" directing the state’s 40 million
residents to stay in their homes for the foreseeable future in the
face of the fast-spreading coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in
Oakland, California, U.S. March 21, 2020. Picture taken March 21,
2020. REUTERS/Kate Munsch
Currently, the first widely released film on Hollywood's schedule is
"Unhinged," a road rage drama starring Russell Crowe, set to debut
on July 10.
Crowe said he was encouraged to hear reports that moviegoers have
been longing to head back to cinemas, especially for thrillers.
"They wanted to be back in that place, in that safe place, in that
room, where all the craziness is just happening on the screen, not
necessarily in their own lives," Crowe said in an interview.
In Los Angeles, movie fans had mixed opinions about heading back to
"I'm a big cinema-goer, so for me, it would be just to make sure
that social distancing is in place" along with other steps such as
pre-packaging of concessions, said Sean Thomas, an accountant
visiting from Chicago. "That would make me feel comfortable."
Others were not so eager.
"You can watch movies at home, so I don't think that's super
essential," said screenwriter Matt Solsberg.
(Reporting by Lisa Richwine; Additional reporting by Rollo Ross;
Editing by Cynthia Osterman)
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