In the next in our series of posts about cinema-going at the time of COVID-19, guest contributor Steve Care writes about visits to Everyman Hampstead, Genesis Cinema &, after some reopening box office trials, an ODEON Luxe. Steve shares his personal thoughts on venue safety arrangements & why his return to the darkness is so welcome.
Guest post by STEVE CARE
Since my teens (I am 54 now), I have loved going to the movies. I was into Sci-Fi as a kid and one of my earliest memories is of my dad taking me as a surprise to see a new film in 1979. He wouldn’t tell me the name of the film or what it was about until we got to the ODEON Leicester Square. It turned out to be ALIEN. I had never been so engrossed (and scared!) in a cinema before.
My dad passed away many years ago, My mum became ill some years after so I had to care for her alongside working in my full time job. Fortunately, she loved movies too, so we went at every opportunity we could. 4 years ago this November, she sadly passed away. This left me on my own and I needed to find a hobby to pass the time. Cinema was now my social life.
In a few years, I have made via social media and in person some great new friends who all have the same passion. I’ve been to movie festivals (London Film Festival and Glasgow Film Festival for example) and also got heavily involved with the movie genre I now love – horror. I have been a regular at Frightfest in London and Glasgow, attended Celluloid Screams in Sheffield for the first time last year and also attended the fantastic Soho Horror Film Festival in London since its inception a couple of years ago. Such is my love for cinema that I watched over 500 films last year in the cinema, many at my favourite London independent – The Prince Charles.
As you can imagine, when cinemas closed in March, I was mortified. As lockdown went on, I found myself becoming more alone and staring at the TV in the evenings and weekends was becoming monotonous. I started watching my old DVDs, creating my own seasons of films just like the independent cinemas do and sharing this with my friends on social media. It was fun but not the same.
When it was announced that cinemas could reopen from 4th July, I started to make plans. Such though is this horrible disease that it is going to be with us for some time. Scaremongering by the media also has split the opinion of many of my movie friends, some whom are unsure if cinemas will ever be safe and may not go again (or at least for some considerable time). Festivals are moving online and I fear that none of them will take place in the cinema this year (at least). Online festivals are not for me as staying at home on my own watching movies on a laptop is not the same. I have decided that I will be supporting the cinemas that reopen. Quite a lot of people think I’m mad, but some are backing me.
I’m going to take precautions when I go, and I know that measures are being taken by all cinemas to ensure safety, but some people will want to ride out the virus. I’m worried that by the time the ride is over, there may be no cinemas left to go back to as they will be out of business. So, what I have planned to do in this article is to share my first experiences at 3 different cinemas that have reopened in July in London. I want to try to give people an idea of what to expect and to hopefully get them back as well.
SUN 05 JULY – THE SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION at Everyman Hampstead
One of the criticisms of many people is that cinemas will have nothing to show when they reopen as distributors have pushed back new releases. But for a cinephile like me this is a great chance to see some classics on the big screen for the first time and THE SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION is one of them.
One thing we are going to have to get used to when we go back to cinemas is to book online or pay by contactless card as no cinemas will be taking cash. This is a positive move and should not be an issue. Booking was easy and as you can see from below, Everyman have also made the selection process easy and have blocked out many seats to allow for social distancing.
Upon arrival, there was a hand sanitizer unit available to use immediately. I was then greeted by a member of staff who asked me if I had booked and to see my confirmation. She then explained that all purchases would be by contactless payment inside and directed me to my seat. As Everyman is a boutique cinema, there was enough space, and with 2 aisles to enter the screen, dependant on your seat there was minimal need to pass anyone else in your row.
The screen was approximately 50% full but that classed as a sell out to enable correct social distancing measures. Another member of staff (who had a face visor on) came and asked if I wanted any food or drink and brought it to my seat for me. I doubt this will happen everywhere but with Everyman, you pay for this extra service in your ticket price. Before the film started, another member of staff made an announcement welcoming us back but reminding us to keep our own personal space and not to move around too much during the screening.
In summary, I felt very safe. Yes Everyman is a high class experience and you do have to pay a bit more than normal, but I would have no hesitation to go there again (or any of their other branches when they reopen more).
WED 08 JUL – MEMENTO at Genesis Cinema
Another film from the classics season, but this time a real treat as I had not seen MEMENTO before. Genesis had been criticised by some as they were the last cinema to close before lockdown and the first to reopen after lockdown, but again booking was good. Once I selected my seat (it looked like I was the only person going when I made the booking!) the box office system blocked out the next seat to me to allow for social distancing. I’d like to see how this works when there are more bookings, but can only go on what I saw.
When I arrived I showed my e-ticket to the security guard and he asked to take my temperature. This is a very good idea. While this was done I could see that the box office had safe Perspex guards. The bar area was quite busy but everyone was observing their space and all the staff wore masks to serve people. I passed through and went into the screen.
There were around 25 people in Screen 2 for this showing but although some were in groups ranging from 2-5 people, each group appeared to be well distanced from each other so no problems there. I would guess that they would allow maybe about 10-15 more people in if necessary but that’s about it. I’m going to go back soon because as you will see with my next “experience” I’m not in a trusting mood with the multiplexes at the moment… The Genesis gets a thumbs up from me.
Being the only chain that I have a subscription to (Limitless), I was excited when ODEON announced that they were doing a phased reopening of cinemas from 4th July and that booking for these cinemas were available. Cineworld, Vue and Picture House had put their openings back to the 31st July because of unavailability of films. So I used my Limitless card to book 2 films – THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK back at ODEON Leicester Square on their reopening date of 13th July and BLACK WATER: ABYSS at ODEON Camden the day after. All of these were confirmed as usual by email.
Glancing through social media on 4th July I was surprised that some people were contacting ODEON to ask why their bookings had disappeared. Just out of curiosity I checked my own. The one for Leicester Square still stood, but when I checked Camden, there was suddenly a notice on their page saying they were not opening on the date originally planned. My other local ODEONs (Covent Garden, Wimbledon, Greenwich, Surrey Quays) were suddenly in the same situation even though an opening date had been given of the 13th and listings had been produced.
I contacted ODEON and when I asked what happened the advisor told me that now, due to the limited availability of films, they would not open yet. This to me was poor. At least Cineworld and the other chains had not opened their booking lines and made it clear from the outset. As of the 9th July, I am still awaiting the cancellation email for Camden and now to make matters even worse, it would appear that the booking for Leicester Square has been cancelled so I cannot use my subscription. Now no Central London cinemas will be open in July. And ODEON are not even giving a revised opening date for these locations.
Some local ODEONs did however reopen on the 4th and 9th July. I travelled to the one closest to where I live at Epsom to see MISBEHAVIOUR. Epsom is one of the chain’s “Luxe” venues, and it has now occurred to me why these ones are opening before the others. Like Everyman, they are set up for social distancing having large comfy seats and ample space between the rows.
As I walked in I was greeted by a friendly staff member who asked me if I had booked. When I explained why I hadn’t been able to he directed me to the ticket desk. All staff had PPE and no cash transactions were being taken. There were plenty of hand sanitizer stations around but what I did find really commendable was that even though the seats was unreserved, a member of staff guided me to a seat socially distant from any other group (there were about 15 of us in the screen).
There was an announcement before the film started that once it finished we should remain in our seats and the team would guide us out in phases so that we didn’t all leave at once. Another very good idea. How this will work when there are larger audiences will be interesting to see but it’s definitely a positive.
I was planning to go again in the middle of next week but unfortunately the member of staff at the ticket desk told me they are closing again from Mon-Thurs and only opening at weekends as there is just not enough custom at present.
So there’s my first 3 experiences. All different, but I have to say once we can lure the cinema-goers back – and there are ample new films to keep the cinemas open full time – the future looks promising with the measures being taken.
> Follow Steve’s cinema-going on Twitter: @scare158steve <
[EDITOR’S NOTE: Steve’s account is based on his experience of the safe cinema guidelines in operation at the time of going to press. RADIANT CIRCUS will post updates as & when the safety requirements change.]
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