Amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, Hollywood executives worry 70% of small-to-medium size movie theaters could close.
According to the Los Angeles Times, fears come as Regal Cinemas, the second largest theater chain, announces temporary closures of nearly all locations across the country and the United Kingdom, affecting roughly 45,000 employees.
The National Association of Theater Owners, the Motion Picture Association of America and the Directors Guild of America, which includes directors like Steven Spielberg, James Cameron, Christopher Nolan and Clint Eastwood, signed a letter addressed to the Senate and Congress to plead for help.
According to the Times report, the letter asks for unspent funds from the CARES Act, the stimulus package President Donald Trump signed in March, to programs that include theaters. According to the Times, “These solutions would fulfill Congress’ intent in helping severely distressed sectors of the economy and ensure that our resources are focused on the industries that need them the most.”
Questions around the future of the film industry extend to Salt Lake Community College and its faculty and students in the film program.
“Movies are the most American form of art that exists,” said David Lehleitner, an assistant film professor.
“The government has been known to fund the arts,” said Stuart Heimdal, an SLCC adjunct and a production manager at Western Governors University. “You look at the theaters [and] their profit margin was so tight on the movies themselves. They’re making their profit on concessions, basically, so they’re counting on tons of people to show up.”
News has also circulated regarding changes to the Academy Awards because of the suspension of theaters and the shift towards streaming.
In the past, the Academy placed strict restrictions on streaming services including a rule disqualifying films from consideration if released through streaming before or simultaneously with a theatrical release. This year, given the current restrictions placed by the pandemic, the Academy has made changes allowing films released by streaming platforms like Netflix and Amazon to be considered immediately.
Netflix, in particular, has early frontrunners for Best Picture, including “Da 5 Bloods,” “Mank” and “The Trial of the Chicago 7.”
“Streaming filmmaking has reached or surpassed, in some ways, traditional theatrically released films,” Lehleitner explained. “The pandemic certainly accelerated the question of what is a theatrical release. Streaming is becoming a bigger piece of the pie chart. More content is being produced, more students — like the ones here at SLCC — are getting hired because more people than ever are getting paid to create content.”
As far as what happens with film in the future, SLCC student John Olson feels there are a lot of changes coming.
“There’s going to be a lot more competition in different venues,” he said. “There’s certain applications, like VR [virtual reality] for example, for other viewing options that are safer.”
Despite the changes, Heimdal believes film — and its future — are crucial in the arts landscape.
“Films shape our culture, and vice versa,” he explained.
Olsen agreed, noting that film also offers an important escape: “They’re not the end all be all, but they’re important because we need that release.”