No Films, But We’re Open: Working at a Cinema During A Pandemic

The cinema industry was one of many brought to a halt back in March due to national lockdown.

The steady flow of guests at my Odeon cinema in Newcastle was already beginning to falter as major distributors pulled blockbusters from their schedule. No Time to Die, Mulan and A Quiet Place Part II all disappearing from the March-April timeline. When we reopened, guests tentatively started to return. Realising it was still business as usual gave more the confidence to come back. Fan favourites were shown over the summer, such as The Empire Strikes Back and The Lord of the Rings trilogy. Staff waited patiently for announcements of new films.

The few new releases, including Tenet, Unhinged and After We Collided, are the only major films in rotation. After a guest has seen them once, they probably don’t want to see them again. The lack of variety leads to a very quiet shift becoming all too familiar, as more films are postponed into 2021. It also asks a very big question: why go to the cinema if there are no new films to see?

I have worked at Odeon since last October, and the difference in this year and last is hard to ignore. There would be a never-ending queue of guests dying to see an abundance of new releases on the weekend. More than one sold out screen would be a common occurrence. Now, we’d be lucky to get more than one screen having over 30 guests. Not knowing if your cinema can stay open is a scary feeling, especially when the news of other chains closing is in the headlines. Odeon has announced redundancies within leadership teams across the country, mine included. But with further feature delays, it’s uncertain how long this will last.

With the risk of COVID and dwindling box office sales, it is clear distributors do not want to risk releasing a film to immediately make a loss. But for the arts to survive, risks must be taken. Blockbusters such as No Time to Die will not achieve the same profit if this were a COVID-free world. But guests would still come to experience seeing a new film on the big screen, as they did with Tenet.

Not having the cinema was something myself and thousands of others missed during lockdown. The excitement of watching a new film in a cinema was a feeling I missed terribly. That excitement has once again turned into a distant memory, as films are postponed further into next year and beyond.

In lockdown, the public relied on Netflix, Disney + and YouTube to entertain themselves during the day. Families drew giant rainbows and created pompoms to decorate the streets for neighbours walking by. For ten weeks, people played musical instruments every Thursday evening on their doorstep. All of this is art. Art is everywhere in society, yet is so undervalued by the people who can fund it the most. Chancellor Rishi Sunak gained controversy for suggesting artist retrain to work in another sector, as if this passion is merely a hobby and not something they have trained at for years. The arts have become one of the worst-hit industries of the pandemic, and this looks to only grow bigger as the likes of music venues and theatres cannot reopen to their full capacity. But galleries and bookstores can, allowing the chance to experience art outside of the home.

A cinema is unique as it has the potential to reopen to most of its full capacity. They may have fewer seats in screens, but still enough screens to give a guest a variety of entertainment. Blockbusters, family favourites, special screenings, concerts, theatre – the list could go on. They are safe and secure.

The joy of sharing the experience of watching a film with others is like no other. People have missed the arts and audiences want them to return. Try to imagine a world without cinema, television, music, photography. These are engraved into our every day and it is impossible to imagine them without. The consequences of lockdown could see the arts slowly disappear if not given the attention they desperately need.

Appreciate, fund and save the arts.

Words by Sarah Storer


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