Due to strong ties between Imax Corp. and filmmaker Christopher Nolan, a number of employees have gotten a look at his long-delayed film, Tenet, as it gets ready to finally make its commercial bow on August 26.
“Several people at Imax were involved with Tenet at the post-production phase,” CEO Rich Gelfond said Tuesday during a conference call with Wall Street analysts. “Their reaction was, ‘Oh my God – I forgot how great it was to be in a movie.’ Tenet is just a beautifully filmed, beautifully made, wonderful movie. … It wasn’t just one person, at one age. It was a number of Imax employees who spontaneously said that to me.”
Imax expects about 90% of its global network of about 1,400 theaters to be back open by the end of August. Tenet, which has been pushed several times by Warner Bros, will now open in 70 countries, including Canada, before it gets to the U.S. and other territories in September. The film was made entirely with Imax equipment and Nolan has plugged the experience of seeing it in the company’s theaters, where the screen and auditorium dimensions are super-sized.
Gelfond didn’t offer additional specifics about those sneak peeks, but earlier in the call he noted that Nolan’s films over-index in the company’s rooms. Dunkirk, his most recent outing in 2017, took in 22% of its domestic gross and 17% of its global haul on Imax screens. “Unlike Dunkirk, which was a European-centric movie, Tenet is a more traditional action thriller blockbuster with the potential for wider global appeal,” the CEO added.
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Descriptions of internal Tenet reactions came in response to an analyst’s question on the earnings call about the company’s staff getting to enter theaters again. That experience has remained out of reach for U.S. film fans for the past four months. CFO Patrick McClymont added to Gelfond’s comments by observing that “a number of our colleagues” were in China last weekend to “try out” the newly refined theatrical setup. Imax said 409 of its locations there have reopened, with several new precautions in place.
“There are increased safety protocols. You certainly notice that,” McClymont said employees reported. “Once you sit down and the movie begins, it feels like it always has. It was a fun, immersive experience. Prior to getting into your seat, there were differences, but once you were there, it felt quite normal.”
Gelfond said the environment of Imax compares favorably with sports arenas, concert venues or other public places that are attracting intense scrutiny over COVID-19 transmission.
“Masks are absolutely crucial,” he said, noting that Imax will continue urging its exhibition partners to require them, as AMC, Cinemark and Regal do in North America. Beyond that, “large auditoriums with high ceilings like you see in Imax theaters compare favorably to small, indoor spaces such as bars and restaurants. In theaters, social distancing, capacity constraints and traffic flow can be managed effectively. Inter-personal contact can be limited. Showtimes can be staggered,” he said.
Even more crucially, he added, “Sitting in a theater is a relatively static, passive respiratory experience. You sit quietly, socially distanced as per protocol, with people facing the back of each others’ heads, not like a sporting event, where people are screaming and drinking and standing up. And it’s not like live theater.”
Separately, Gelfond was asked about Universal’s game-changing deal with AMC, which enables films to move to premium video on demand after 17 days. He said it is “not a shocking development” and won’t have a material impact on Imax and indicated that he will need to consult with other exhibitors about their view before determining a stance. “We all have to take a breath,” he said, to get theaters back open “and see how it all shakes out.”
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