It was all going so well. Somehow it felt like we had cracked it. Restaurant doing better than ever and the cinema, while still prey to the ups and downs of product supply, remained busy too. The added bonus of event cinema meant cash flow was steady and we were looking forward to the now rather ironically titled No time To Die.
In all honesty, that last statement is with 20/20 hindsight after four months sitting at home in my pants.
I’ve been fairly busy podcasting and recording shows for local radio, if it’s not oversharing I’ve also been doing that in my pants. Stopping the business took a few weeks. It was like coming out of hyperspace and a lot of stuff needed shutting down, not least dealing with the many thousands of pounds of refunds for events up to a year in advance. Large numbers of our audience have been lovely, happy to accept a credit for when things return to normal.
Normal? What that will be, I, or you, have no idea. You certainly don’t need my take on it. There are plenty of experts on the news with bad internet and show off bookcases to tell you what’s coming.
The cinema industry has not been immune to this endless conjecture both internally and externally. A large number of trade articles and seminars entitled “What Next For Cinema?” and the usual cinema industry bashing from the likes of The Guardian who seem to revel in the notion that cinema may be finished for good. It’s a baffling line of attack, normally cheered on in the comments section by blokes with big tellys shouting about how they haven’t been to the cinema for 30 years because it’s shit. You may well wonder how they know it’s shit if they haven’t been for 30 years? There is little point in engaging them in an argument though.
We have no doubt been saved by the governments furlough scheme and the rates grant as well as having a bit in the tank from such a stonking start to the year. 1917, Jo Jo Rabbit, Little Women et al. Oh, happy days.
So after months of seminars and meetings and snarky newspaper columns we are finally back open. I would be lying if I said it has been a massive success. The combination of Covid fear, weak or old films and hot weather have conspired to make our opening weekend rather anemic.
I chose this date as it was a week before Warner Brothers had rescheduled the release of Christopher Nolan’s big new film Tenet, giving us time to blow out the cobwebs and have all of our Covid procedures in place for the optimistically expected onslaught. Then, as we sort of expected deep down, they went and took it off the calendar.
Many of my fellow independents decided that opening now remained the move of the insane and cancelled their plans. For reasons I can’t entirely justify, I decided to soldier on. It may simply have been an emotional decision, wandering around my empty cinema for four months, even in the comfort of my pants, was a depressing affair. If I say so myself, it’s lovely, one of the best cinemas you will ever go to, a life’s work to get it that way and it felt like a ship wreck without the sound of people and movies.
I do have business nous, honestly. It seems to me you need a bit of the hard headed and the emotional, but that’s a different discussion.
So open we did, at the same time Warner Bros fixed a date for Tenet at the end of August.
Some cause for optimism perhaps, but then everyone else took a powder as my dad would have said. Is that a real phrase? Does anyone else say that? It means went away, disappeared.
Paramount buggered off to next year taking all their films with them and Studio Canal have sold a film we were relying on to Sky. The final insult has been Disney deciding to bypass cinemas and put Mulan on Disney plus.
Whether people will be prepared to pay the premium is also a discussion for another time, but it really feels like a kick in the teeth. A tweet I sent out went a little bit viral, I hope that doesn’t signal any kind of payback as that would be unnecessarily harsh and I only spoke the truth. Whoops.
So here we are in Never-Never land, with the very lifeblood of our cinema, the films, being denied us and taken from us on an almost daily basis. It seems pointless to explain what an impoverished world it would be without cinemas and I have no power to influence events. I just have to sit here and even if I finally put trousers on I can’t be sure how it’s all going to end.
The only thing I can say is that they will have to drag me screaming from the place, I’m not convinced you or I are the target of the government arts fund, there are some rather ridiculous strings attached and the chances are the same people will get funded that always do, but we can give it a go.
If the covid situation worsens and we have to close again, then I don’t know. We can survive a while, don’t worry. Better wash all my pants if I’m going to be at home again.