By Carson Lewis | Assistant Digital Managing Editor
The Regal theater chain closed all 536 of its establishments last Thursday, including the Waco theater on Woodway Drive. The closures come at a time of upheaval in the industry, as online streaming services have grown in popularity.
Even bigger theater chains like AMC have experienced a period of rapid losses due to the pandemic. According to a Wall Street Journal article, attendance is down 85% from the same period last year.
The CEO of Cinemark, Mark Zoradi, according to an Associated Press article earlier this year, believes the industry will return to normal in 2022. The theaters, however, might not have that much time. Due to the financial burden of operating with reduced or absent crowds, they might fold sooner.
Chris Hansen, chairman of Baylor’s department of Film and Digital Media, said that the COVID-19 pandemic has put a lot of financial stress on theaters.
“In the short term, right now, we all have gotten to a point where we’ve realized we don’t know when this is going to end,” Hansen said. “Regal theaters shut down their entire operation, nobody knows when we’re going to go back to theaters again. Not even when we’re going to be able to, but when people will be comfortable doing that.”
Maverick Moore, a lecturer for the department, said that the hardship for theaters has been the pushing back of movies that were intended to be released earlier. If another postponement of opening night happens again, the situation could be much more dire.
“The majority of everything that was supposed to be released in the fall has now been pushed back to the spring … It all depends on what happens in the spring,” Moore said. “If those movies get pushed back again in the spring, I truly have no idea what’s going to happen. If they stay slated to release in the spring and they do release, I think things might be a bit more promising.”
Streaming services have become an alternative to traditional in-theater movie consumption during the COVID-19 era. With Disney+ vying for market share alongside Amazon Prime, Netflix and Hulu, directors and production companies must think more about how their products can grab attention, especially for bigger film industry giants.
Hansen said that for smaller film teams, theaters have always been a long shot. For his film “Blur Circle,” Hansen said that a short showing in California theaters was important because it got the attention of California media publications like The Hollywood Reporter, who reviewed it in 2018, and brought the film to a larger audience.
“The theatrical run of a week is partially to get reviews for the digital distribution. They’re going to put in on a number of platforms, Amazon being a notable one,” Hansen said.
Alongside the evolution of online streaming, in-home showings have also developed. Home theaters outfitted with projectors and wet bars becoming popular in some American homes, viewers have begun staying home to watch new releases, further hurting the theater industry.
“I’ve said this before the pandemic, people have big screen TVs now, they have pretty good sound systems if that’s what they’re into,” Hansen said. “With the pandemic, theaters are going to have to do a lot to bounce back and get people back into the theaters.”
Audiences in the future may not engage with content in the same way, but those in Baylor’s film department said they’re still trying to teach the essentials of good film making to students, despite the challenges posed by new ways of interaction with media. They stressed the importance of a good story, regardless of the medium it’s played upon.
“Ultimately I think that storytelling remains the same. What makes a story good will remain the same whether its played on a TV or on a big screen,” Moore said. “Are there other considerations, spectacle and whatnot? Of course. But what makes a story good, and compelling and engaging, that’s the same.”