As long as people get back into the habit of going to the cinema and exhibitors can put trailers in front of them, the NSW independent sector should recover “quite well”, according to Independent Cinemas Australia (ICA) president Scott Seddon.
However, he identified the issue of unvaccinated patrons as one of the key challenges facing operators who were reopening post-lockdown.
From today, entertainment facilities in NSW will be able to operate at 75 per cent of their fixed seating capacity or with one person per four square metres, provided they have a COVID plan in place and follow the vaccination rules outlined by the state government.
The rules stipulate that businesses must ensure any person over 16 who is not fully vaccinated is not on the premises, and that anyone under 16 who is not fully vaccinated is accompanied by a vaccinated member of their household, or is there for work.
Seddon told IF the popularity of going to movies as a family pastime required exhibitors to be extra vigilant when it came to the new guidelines.
“It’s going to really difficult,” he said
“There’s the fact that people of a certain age that are unvaccinated only being able to come if they are with their parents and not someone else’s parents, but also the question of how we’re going to deal with extra staffing needed to look after that and to what degree we are going to push that issue.
“To be honest, I think trying to get open with all these issues is more stressful than any time during COVID. There is a fear from our staff that they might get abused.”
Programming offers another potential problem for cinema businesses as they negotiate a backlog of titles, including Free Guy and Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, while also preparing to welcome a host of new releases throughout November and December.
Seddon, who runs Scotty’s Cinemas in the Hunter region of NSW, played down the issue while expressing optimism for what was to come.
“There’s a bit of a backlog but not a huge amount,” he said.
“In many ways, we’ve had all these promises of films that were going restart the lawnmower and I think No Time to Die is probably it.
“It’s coming in from really good results overseas and countries such as New Zealand began screening it last week, so I think we are going to come in with that fairly well.”
“Encanto will look good and I think Dune is a movie that will do well as long as the critics don’t pan it.”
Denis Villeneuve’s Dune is among the films earmarked for a hybrid release in the US, following Warner Bros. announcement at the beginning of this year that its 2021 slate would open simultaneously in theatres and on streaming service HBO Max. Here, Dune will release exclusively in theatres.
Seddon is philosophical about the pandemic’s impact on theatrical windows and the increase in day-and-date releases, saying that “the world is a faster place now”.
“Sure, the window has shortened but we’ve also got more movies and the world is moving faster,” he said.
“The big thing we have is that people do want to get out of their house.
“Houses have kitchens but we also have McDonald’s, so people do want that mixture of staying at home and going out.”
He expected cinemas to settle into a new normal like “just about everything else”.
“There’s a lot of really good product out there,” he said.