I last spoke with B&B Theatres executive vice president Brock Bagby in April as businesses across the country were shutting down in response to COVID-19. At that time all of their theatres were dark and the company had furloughed nearly 2,000 employees. I recently emailed Bagby to see if he would agree to a follow-up interview. His response was to say yes, adding, “But it’s been a rough seven months.” B&B Theatres, the sixth largest theatre chain in North America, is not just any independent cinema chain. For nearly a century, the company has understood better than most of their competitors that they don’t just show movies; they are in show business. They believe that movies are magic and their theatres amplify the experience like few others.
The Big Picture
This is happening almost faster than I can write it. Even a week ago I would have said the future of cinema is safe, and yet the pace is gathering so fast, decisions made seemingly on the hop, that the direction of this narrative may well have altered by the time I get to the bottom of the page. In the UK as of this morning, Cineworld, Odeon and now Vue have either closed their doors or reduced their opening hours dramatically, at the same time as the Chancellor of the Exchequer has finally produced an overdue £275 million bailout for theatres, museums, orchestras and music venues. Cinemas have again been excluded as well as being the subject of some rather unsupportive “It’s the end of the road” speculation in the press over the last week.
Barbara H. Lange became executive director of the Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers in January 2010. “I can’t believe how fast time has passed,” she told me. “We’ve done quite a bit over the decade.” That is an understatement. In that time the Society has digitized SMPTE’s journal, conference papers, and standards to create the digital library that provides end-users access to SMPTE’s breadth of intellectual property, as well as being a sustainable revenue stream for the organization. In addition, the Society expanded its educational offerings by increasing the number of webcasts, virtual courses, and even conference programs that it delivers with excellent technical content. Today, more people are registering to attend SMPTE webcasts than ever before.
In the wake of the global COVID-19 pandemic Integrated Systems Europe, originally scheduled for February 2-5, 2021 is being postponed until June 1-4 at the Fira Gran Via, Barcelona. That includes the Digital Cinema Summit, a half-day conference produced by the ISE in association with Digital Cinema Report, originally set for February 3.
Movie theatres worldwide continue to struggle simultaneously with the ongoing effects of both COVID-19 and a lack of first run movies to show their anxious patrons. What, then, will the pandemic’s long-term impact be on a business that is more than a century old? Incredibly, the biggest issue facing the UK exhibition industry as we blindly turned the corner into 2020 was Brexit. Scary and pointless to some, justified and overdue to others, it was heralded as a great success by a few high profile, self-serving politicians but barely acknowledged by the vast majority of UK voters, exhausted after four years of endless debate, negotiation and re-imagined expectations. The exit date of January 31 came and went with little fanfare in the end. A bland, commemorative Brexit 50p coin seemed to hit just the right level of anticlimax at the time. Is that it? After all that?
Cédric Lejeune is vice president of technology for ÉclairColor, part of the Ymagis Group. He is also the founder of Workflowers, a recently formed consulting company that offers training services to media companies including quality management, color management, human resources and environmental topics. I wanted to learn about his new dual role and, in particular, hear his thoughts on how the motion picture industry can be more environmentally responsible.
Cinema history was made earlier this year when the South Korean black-comedy thriller Parasite became the first subtitled film in 92 years to win the Academy Award for Best Picture. Director Bong Joon-ho used his acceptance speech at the Golden Globes, where the film also won awards, to champion subtitles and encouraged audiences not to be put off by foreign language films. He said once audiences “overcome the one-inch-tall barrier of subtitles” they will be introduced to so many amazing films. He added that we use only one language: “the cinema."
Cinema software management company Vista Cinema has released a Cinema Reopening Kit, with the aim of supporting cinemas as their doors begin to reopen. The kit includes a series of products, features and suggestions that exhibitors can utilize as they adapt their cinemas and resume business. The company says there is a strong emphasis on a self-serve, contactless experience, to keep both moviegoers and staff safe and comfortable, providing a blueprint into what the future of moviegoing could look like.
The International Union of Cinemas (UNIC), the body representing European cinema trade associations and operators, today issued a statement condemning Universal Studios' reported decision to stream movies the same day they are released to theatres. Here is the UNIC statement:
The COVID-19 crisis is hitting many markets and industries hard. The cinema market, and specifically theatre exhibition is experiencing a big impact. Being the home of large crowds, flocking together to enjoy a fun social experience, going to the movies was put in lockdown across the world. The impact of this is not to be underestimated, because typically cinema exhibition is close to a 24/7 activity. In this article, we’ll take a forward-looking stance and focus on things to consider when starting up projection booths and re-opening cinemas again.