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One Hell Of A Bumpy Ride

The word on “Tenet” has it making between $9.64 million and $20 million during its first weekend. This week it was released that “Mulan” made $270 million releasing this movie on Disney+ for $30. These numbers are significant and will shift the dynamics of the business of theatrical distribution. In the words of the Vice Chair of Lionsgate, “I think the theatrical business is changed forever. And it probably took a pandemic to actually start to move that along, The idea that we have three weekends theatrically and then some sort of rev share arrangement… that’s certainly interesting.”

Now if you want to believe that rev share thing is going to stick around, well I have a bridge in Brooklyn I want to sell you.

My eyes were on “Mulan” and not “Tenet”. I knew “Tenet” was going to have a mediocre performance. Warner’s knew it and they had a series of layoffs Saturday morning as a result, other studios know it….false hopes were built up in the hearts of exhibitors. These hopes were summarily dashed on the rocks of a market that is forever changed. Success in exhibition depends on one thing, a packed house. In the minds of today’s audience a packed house is dangerous and a threat to one’s health. I do not know if a vaccine will counter these fears. You get bit by a dog, you get a rabies shot…but you are probably still scared of dogs.

The studios, instead of showing solidarity with an industry which sustained them for a hundred years, bailed and bailed quickly. Last week, Warner Bros. moved “Wonder Woman 1984” from October to Christmas, and Universal gingerly pushed “Candyman” from Oct. 16 to somewhere in 2021. Disney’s 20th Century delayed “The King’s Man” from Sept. 18 to Feb. 26, 2021. STX threw its movie, Greenland on the bonfire of postponements telling the industry it would be delayed until the 4th quarter.

Like the planes lined up in DIE HARD 2 there is Disney’s “Black Widow” and given the success of “Mulan” they are probably moving that to VOD, Pixar’s “SOUL” does not look promising to be projected and heaven help us, if they delay the Bond Picture “No Time To Die”. Until the skies upon up, all there is “Tenet” in terms of a major studio release.

While “Tenet” is doing some business, it has totally bombed in the smaller cities and the rural markets. The cold British cleverness of Christopher Nolan does not seem to play there.

“The theatrical business is broken right now,” says David A. Gross, head of the consulting firm Franchise Entertainment Research. “This is an unfamiliar situation. The challenges from the pandemic are beyond the business’s control.” He is more than right. This is a business that has lost all its control and a good part of its audience very quickly. It is in tailspin that must be countered by innovation and imagination.

So for the past ten years, I have had to bear the insipid MPAA commercial warning about the dangers of piracy prior to the showings of a movie. The MPAA twisted the arms of the exhibitors to play this and got the exhibitors all riled up about piracy in general. I hate piracy don’t get me wrong, but I do not see Disney playing an ad yelling that theaters are safe and open for business prior to the streaming of “Mulan”. I do not think it even occurred to them. I do not see any ads supporting theaters play on Disney+, no banner ads, and not even studio supported web mentions on getting back to the theater. The only good thing about those ads that are shown is that for a brief minute Austin Pendleton, from the Peter Bogdanovich movie, ”What’s Up Doc” appears. I love that movie.

Mark Zoradi, the reflective head of Cinemark makes a really valid point, he commented that getting theaters open in California and New York is crucial to the health of exhibition as the second largest U.S. chain has 70% of cinemas open but lacks these key markets — keeping it “behind the eight ball.”

Los Angeles and New York remained closed and the Governor, Andrew Cuomo on Thursday stated , "Between managing Covid and opening businesses, that’s an ongoing tension. We’re opening businesses all across the state. We have precautions, we have regulations on reopening businesses, but every business wants to be reopened," Cuomo said during a press conference off the coast of Long Island. "Movie theaters want to open, concert theaters want to open, New Yorkers want to get back to normal life. Yes, I understand, but we’re not yet at a point where we can get back to normal life."

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Science once mandated that in order for a feature length motion to be nominated that it had to have exhibitions in both New York and Los Angeles. This because of COVID has changed, In order for movies to more easily meet theatrical exhibition requirements, the Academy will expand the number of qualifying theaters to include commercial venues in additional U.S. cities: Los Angeles County; City of New York [Five Boroughs]; the Bay Area [counties of San Francisco, Marin, Alameda, San Mateo and Contra Costa]; Chicago [Cook County, Illinois]; Miami [Miami-Dade County, Florida]; and Atlanta [Fulton County, Georgia]…..and of course show up on a streaming channel.

Things have changed, and in my mind this industry is about to face the bumpiest of rides. I can point to the future release and proclaim “when Wonder Woman gets released things will be great”, but I can’t. Sometimes if you truly love something the best thing you can do for it is to be honest. This is not going to be easy. You are going to have to go this one alone.