Bay Area movie theaters hammered by new COVID-19 blows

Like many entrepreneurs and film fans, Orinda Theatre operator Derek Zemrak held onto the hope that people would finally feel safe going back to the movies around Thanksgiving, when “No Time to Die” was due for release in theaters.

But this week, the potential billion-dollar James Bond blockbuster was pushed back to 2021, joining a cascade of other delays, including “Dune,” “Wonder Woman 1984” and “Black Widow.” Meanwhile, Emeryville’s Pixar announced Thursday that its was putting off the theatrical release of “Soul” and would instead begin streaming it on Disney+ on Christmas day.

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The delays struck a major blow to the U.S. movie exhibition industry and have ended any chance of salvaging a movie year ravaged by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The delays also complicated an already dire situation for Zemrak and other operators of struggling Bay Area theaters. In Zemrak’s case, he could reopen, but his independent three-screen venue needs two money-making films a week to cover operating costs. But there are other reasons he has decided to stay closed right now.

“I think in general, we’re just not rushing to reopen because we want to make sure it’s safe,” Zemrak said.

Among other things, he feels protective of his theater’s loyal patrons, who have donated more than $130,000 to a GoFundMe campaign help keep the nearly 80-year-old venue afloat. The last thing he wants is for people to get sick at his neighborhood theater.

The operators of 3Below Theaters in downtown San Jose have similar safety concerns, which is one reason they have begun showing movies again as part of special four-week series of films with social justice themes — but only outdoors, with limited capacity and Plexiglass barriers, and on the roof the city-owned garage they are located in. It’s one of the many innovative ideas Bay Area theaters have come up with to generate much-needed revenue.

“Our goal is to reopen, when it makes sense safety-wise,” said Shannon Guggenheim. Added Cynthia Mortensen, manager of the Stanford Theatre in Palo Alto: “We do not anticipate re-opening until there is a vaccine, and until we can assure the health and safety of our patrons.”

Such concerns remain among many operators, even after Gov. Gavin Newsom gave the green light in late August for indoor movie theaters to reopen if they’re in counties that have sufficiently contained their COVID-19 outbreaks. Drive-in theaters have been operating throughout the Bay Area since the summer.

National and regional chains Cinemark, AMC, Landmark and Maya have welcomed audiences back to locations in Contra Costa, San Mateo, Marin and Santa Cruz counties. The theaters must …read more

Source:: The Mercury News – Entertainment


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