For many people, going to the movies is an escape. It’s a chance to forget about the outside world, unplug for a few hours, and become engrossed in someone else’s story.
When movie theatres closed back in March, movie-goers lost that escape. Smaller cinemas like the Apollo Cinema in Kitchener had to get creative to connect with their patrons.
Daniel Demois is the co-owner of the Apollo in downtown Kitchener, which re-opened in late July. Where their previous capacity was just over 300, the Apollo reduced their screenings to a maximum of 50 people to allow for proper distancing.
With additional safety measures in place, one of the region's few independent theatres was eager to welcome back their patrons.
“The people that are coming back are very excited to get back to some semblance of normalcy,” Demois said. “Getting to the movies is a nice escape. It’s something fun you can do. It’s relatively safe. The audience definitely seemed to be excited to be doing something different after months of being cooped up.”
In the meantime, while their doors were closed for four months, the Apollo sold memberships and gift cards for future screenings. In addition, they held a seat dedication sale where patrons could get their name engraved on a seat at the theatre.
Except for a few new releases, Hollywood has been in limbo as major studios ceased filming new movies for several months. This forced studios to put films on hold or move back release dates to 2021 or beyond.
This hampered multiplex movie theatres who bank on big-budget tent-pole release movies. Summer blockbuster season was absent this year, and so were many movie-goers. Conversely, with an indie theatre like the Apollo Cinema, it allowed them to focus on screening movies you wouldn't see on the marquee of those giant multiplexes.
“We’re playing a lot of independent stuff, and relying a lot on old classics and retro titles,” Demois said. “That’s something our audience will have noticed, that there’s less new content, but also gives them the opportunity to see old favourites on the big screen again.”
With more films going straight to on-demand and skipping the theatres entirely, studios continue to contemplate the viability of releasing blockbuster films in a time when fewer eyeballs are seeing those movies.
In the case of the new James Bond film "No Time to Die", Regal Theatres closed all their theatres in the United States after Universal Pictures postponed the release of the latest 007 movie until April 2021.
The pandemic may have inadvertently caused the beginning of the end of giant multiplex movie theatres. With COVID concerns, big money-makers like midnight screenings of giant blockbusters might be in jeopardy for those conglomerates.
This could allow independent theatres like the Apollo to thrive in the wake of pandemic, as there are no shortage of different films being screened every week, with six different movies on their screens on a weekly basis.
“I’ve always taken the opinion that as we’ve seen with so many businesses that have fallen out of fashion or out of favour with the public, like book stores or movie stores, there are always the independents,” Demois said.
“There may not be a Blockbuster Video on every block anymore, but most cities still have an independent video store that has somehow been buoyed by the fact that they don’t suddenly have that big corporate competition. Now they’re specialized; like a local book store.”
The Apollo continues to host “Apolloween”, which is their annual horror film festival. Six days a week, they’re screening classics like “Evil Dead”, “The Monster Squad”, “Beetlejuice”, and “The Addams Family”. This year’s Halloween night screening is the horror staple, “The Shining”.
If you’d prefer to have the entire theatre to yourself, you could watch almost any movie you like on the big screen with a small group of people for about $20 per person at the Apollo Cinema.
“The rental thing is a good option for people who aren’t entirely comfortable being in a public space with an audience,” Demois said. “It’s 10 people for 20 bucks per person, that’s not that different from what you’d pay for an Imax or something at the Cineplex, and you get the whole theatre to yourselves.
“That’s a cool way to do it in a way that might make some people more comfortable, but it’s a great way to watch whatever you want.”
After closing for four months, Demois was grateful to see their loyal customers back at the theatre again. For these movie fans, going to the movies still serves as an escape. Sitting down in a theatre for the first time in a long time brings back a small sense of normalcy.“The relationship with the audience has been very encouraging,” Demois said. “Knowing that we are a place that people would want to support and would want to even have their name engraved on a seat, that’s very encouraging. That makes you feel like you’re part of something special.”