Local theaters have already been screening classic films and a few video-on-demand releases for a couple of months now, but the largest cinema in Central Oregon, Regal Old Mill 16 & IMAX has yet to see their films flicker.
That ends next week.
Regal Entertainment Group has chosen a staggered reopening of their theaters across the country, with some opening this Friday with the release of the Russell Crowe-starring action flick “Unhinged.” Oregonians will have to wait until Aug. 28 before our Regal-owned multiplexes start back up (with the exception of Portland-area theaters, as they remain closed due to local restrictions). According to General Manager of Bend’s Old Mill 16 & IMAX, Jessica Leuenberger, the reasoning behind the delay comes down to safety.
“Oregon was kind of delayed because initially we had some questions on the restrictions, and we just wanted to make certain we did it … absolutely right. And … once we kind of got everything clarified … we kind of missed that 8/21 deadline to reopen,” she said.
The company, along with other national theater chains, had previously announced dates in July for its reopening, but as studios pushed their film’s opening dates, so did the movie houses.
Company-wide, Regal theaters have committed to certain safety measures for its staff and guests. These measures include requiring masks throughout the lobby and in the individual auditoriums (except when eating or drinking).
But you won’t find a full concessions menu, at least for a while.
“When we first open,” Leuenberger said, “We’re not expecting much business. … It’s just going to be popcorn, soda, candy, nachos and hot dogs. And then we’ll slowly bring back the menu.”
Leuenberger adds that there will be stickers on the ground as visual reminders for social distancing and “a lot of reminders for people about the kind of the symptoms to look for.”
A full list of the precautions the chain has enacted can be found on its website, regmovies.com.
Locally, the auditoriums will also be limited to 50% of their normal capacity.
Leuenberger also notes that while the theater normally operates with four or five show sets (meaning each film is shown four or five times per day), with the new limitations, they’re whittling it down to three per day with staggered start times for each film and no screening going past 10 p.m. to comply with state requirements.
She also made clear that one employee would be designated for cleaning and disinfecting common areas and using a fogger to clean between screenings.
For Oregon, advance tickets are also required. Leuenberger notes that since the capacity is limited, there is the chance of sell-outs so she encourages getting tickets early.
So far the preparations are going well with most employees returning after the brief intermission.
“You’ll find that…the employees we get are very passionate about film,” she said, “They love people, they love the guest service experience but also they love movies, so we’re really lucky that we have a great staff here that’s ready to get back at it.”
When the doors are finally reopened, Leuenberger said guests can expect long-awaited new movies such as “New Mutants” and “Tenet” as well as classic ones including “Jurassic Park,” The Lord of the Rings trilogy, and all films in the “Rocky” franchise.
When Bend’s Regal Cinema does reopen, it will leave just one local movie house shuttered. Sisters Movie House continues to press pause on welcoming guests back.
Though owner Drew Kaza hopes to reopen later this fall, he thinks even that might be a stretch, “It may be later in 2020 if things ease up a little bit,” he said, “If there is no second wave in the fall, if the governor’s restrictions ease up a little bit, if we get some movies coming … it’s a bunch of ‘ifs,’ right? So we’re kind of preparing ourselves for the long haul and thinking we may not possibly open up until 2021 to be quite honest.”
Kaza points to the studios themselves as another reason for the continued hiatus. Even with the releases of “Unhinged,” “New Mutants” and “Tenet,” there is a dry spot in between those and other films set for holiday releases, and many studios pushing releases until next year altogether.
“The die was kind of cast when Disney made the decision to put ‘Mulan’ onto its streaming service,” he said, “And we knew we didn’t have something to follow up ‘Tenet’ with.”
Financially Kaza is in the same predicament as smaller, independent theaters around the country. “Of course, we’re losing money not being open. But the question is when can we reopen and actually make money, or lose less money than staying closed,” he said laughing.
But there is always light at the end of the tunnel.
With many other art venues on the receiving end of grants and government loans, and while Kaza admits they deserve the help, movie theaters are also in need of assistance. Currently, there is a movement organized by the National Association of Theatre Owners called #SaveYourCinema that is urging people to write to Congress in support of the RESTART Act and to encourage “more relief measures for cinemas of all sizes,” according to the website saveyourcinema.com
While he doesn’t know exactly when they’ll be able to start showing movies again, he is lucky in one sense.
“Unlike some theaters,” he said, “We’re not sitting under mountains of debt. And unlike other places, we own our own property, so we’re not going to be into some sort of fight with the landlords…so we kind of control our own destiny in that way.”
As for Central Oregon’s largest cinemas, it’s time to set the reels in motion.