UPDATED with additional signatories. The list of people in the creative community attaching their names to an urgent appeal to Congress on behalf of movie theaters has grown to 120 names. (See the full list below.)
Talent initially joined with the Directors Guild of America, the National Association of Theatre Owners and the Motion Picture Association on September 30 to call for federal government aid for theaters. The government, of course, has a full plate and is deadlocked on an aid package for American workers despite progress in talks recently between House Majority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin.
In an online appearance Thursday at the Milken Global Conference, Mnuchin said reaching a deal before Election Day on November 3 “would be difficult, just given where we are.” He said Democrats are reluctant to finalize a deal and potentially boost President Trump’s re-election prospects.
PREVIOUSLY: Dozens of established filmmakers joined with the Directors Guild of America, the National Association of Theatre Owners and the Motion Picture Association to urge Congress to come to the aid of movie theaters devastated by COVID-19.
“Absent a solution designed for their circumstances, theaters may not survive the impact of the pandemic,” the letter warns (read it in full below).
Signatories of the letter sent to House and Senate leaders include Christopher Nolan, James Cameron, Judd Apatow, Jon Chu, Sofia Coppola, Alfonso Cuarón, Lee Daniels and Clint Eastwood.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer and House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy are urged to redirect unallocated funds from the CARES Act. The House delayed a vote on a $2.2 trillion coronavirus stimulus bill Wednesday so that further negotiations could be held between, among others, Pelosi and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin.
As unemployment soared in the spring when pandemic lockdowns began, CARES Act funds went to workers and small businesses to help them cover basic essentials during the crisis. Most of those benefits expired in July and a patchwork of state measures that followed was a far smaller amount of relief. Republicans and Democrats have been in a standoff in recent weeks over a new deal.
“The moviegoing experience is central to American life,” the letter said. “Theaters are great unifiers where our nation’s most talented storytellers showcase their cinematic accomplishments.” Along with being “an irreplaceable experience” with “critical cultural impact,” the letter adds, “theaters are economic force multipliers.” In addition to 150,000 exhibition industry jobs, they directly affect millions more across film distribution, marketing and production as well as retail environments where multiplexes are located.
Theaters have reopened in many states, but not yet in New York City or L.A. County, two critical markets. Even venues that have reopened are operating with strict capacity limits, and studios have shifted most of their releases out of 2020. Rather than face lower ceilings for major releases, as Warner Bros has experienced with Tenet, they have opted to throw in the towel on a movie year where box office receipts are apt to plummet by at least 70% from 2019 levels.
According to the letter, 93% of movie theater companies had year-over-year losses of more than 75% in the second quarter of 2020. If the status quo continues, it goes on to say, 69% of small and mid-sized movie theater companies will be forced to file for bankruptcy or to close permanently, and 66% of theater jobs will be lost.
Exhibitors, knowing they are in an existential crisis, have sought to reassure a wary public of the safety of theaters relative to bars, indoor restaurants or music venues. They have pointed to research from epidemiologists saying that no direct link has been established between theaters and COVID-19 infection. Beyond the initial safety jitters, there is also the habit of moviegoing, which is linked to other aspects of social interaction curtailed by the pandemic.
With the proliferation of streaming and other at-home options, skeptics have wondered about whether theatrical moviegoing as a ritual will survive. But proponents — and major media companies and their allies — also point to the profit motive. Big-budget movies are not able to reach the heights of $1 billion-plus in revenue without theaters, and taking that element away would irrevocably alter all of the other drops in the movie revenue waterfall model.
The coalition is urging a bipartisan solution to help theaters with existing funds or by enacting new proposals such as the RESTART Act.
“I am extraordinarily grateful for the unprecedented support from our industry partners and the talented and concerned members of the movie industry creative community,” NATO president John Fithian said. “The value of their recognition of the unique importance of movie theaters to our communities, culture, and economy, and their support before Congress of the unique needs of movie theaters in this pandemic cannot be underestimated.”
Here is the full letter:
Dear Leader McConnell, Speaker Pelosi, Leader Schumer, and Leader McCarthy:
Thank you for your leadership at this challenging time for our country. As you consider forthcoming COVID-19 relief legislation, we ask you to prioritize assistance for the hardest-hit industries, like our country’s beloved movie theaters.
No doubt you are hearing from many, many businesses that need relief. Movie theaters are in dire straits, and we urge you to redirect unallocated funds from the CARES Act to proposals that help businesses that have suffered the steepest revenue drops due to the pandemic, or to enact new proposals such as the RESTART Act (S. 3814/H.R. 7481). Absent a solution designed for their circumstances, theaters may not survive the impact of the pandemic.
The pandemic has been a devastating financial blow to cinemas. 93% of movie theater companies had over 75% in losses in the second quarter of 2020. If the status quo continues, 69% of small and mid-sized movie theater companies will be forced to file for bankruptcy or to close permanently, and 66% of theater jobs will be lost. Our country cannot afford to lose the social, economic, and cultural value that theaters provide.
The moviegoing experience is central to American life. 268 million people in North America went to the movies last year to laugh, cry, dream, and be moved together. Theaters are great unifiers where our nation’s most talented storytellers showcase their cinematic accomplishments. Every aspiring filmmaker, actor, and producer dreams of bringing their art to the silver screen, an irreplaceable experience that represents the pinnacle of filmmaking achievement.
As well as their critical cultural impact, theaters are economic force multipliers. In addition to the 150,000 employees working in cinemas nationwide, the industry supports millions of jobs in movie production and distribution, and countless others in surrounding restaurants and retailers that rely on theaters for foot traffic. Movie theaters are also leaders in employing underrepresented groups, including people with disabilities, senior citizens, and first-time job holders. Cinemas are an essential industry that represent the best that American talent and creativity have to offer. But now we fear for their future.
Theaters need specific relief targeted to their circumstances. We urge you to come together on a
bipartisan solution that provides this relief, by reallocating unspent funds from the CARES Act toward programs designed for industries like movie theaters, or by enacting new proposals such as the RESTART Act. These solutions would fulfill Congress’s intent in helping severely distressed sectors of the economy and ensure that our resources are focused on the industries that need them the most.
Please fight for our country’s beloved and essential cinemas by including relief for them in any
forthcoming COVID-19 legislation. Thank you for your leadership and for considering this request.
Jon M. Chu
Cary Joji Fukunaga
Alejandro Gonzalez Iñárritu
Chady Eli Mattar
Michael R. Roskam
David O. Russell
M. Night Shyamalan
Scott C. Silver
David E. Talbert
Michael G. Wilson