NATO of New York State sent a letter Friday to top aides of Governor Andrew Cuomo begging the administration to let theaters open in the Big Apple — or at least Manhattan — to give the industry a shot at revival as the key holiday season approaches.
Movies continue to drop off the schedule largely because the New York and Los Angeles markets remain dark — and some major Western European cities have just been newly locked down.
Friday, Nov. 6, marked two weeks of resumed operations in most of the state – the timeframe the administration usually takes to assess/reassess. NATO NY wanted to note that two-week marker and stress that theaters have operated safely across the state for the past two weeks (and around the world for months) with no known spread, and that they’re confident they can do the same in New York City.
The trade group was awaiting a response as of Monday afternoon ET.
“After Disney pulled their two movies, we are trying to do whatever we can to save the Christmas release schedule,” said Joe Masher, CEO of Bowtie Cinemas and president of NATO NY. Last Thursday, two more Disney movies (Free Guy and Death on the Nile) fell off the schedule. As Deadline noted then, Warner Bros’ Wonder Woman 1984 is still officially standing on December 25 but that seems unlikely to hold.
“I don’t see how it can stay,” unless New York and LA announce reopening plans within the next two weeks at the latest, Masher said. Warner Bros. has to pull the trigger on a marketing budget.
Cuomo announced Oct. 17 that most theaters in the state could open Oct. 23 if they complied with state guidelines (not a problem for most, which already adhere to NATO’s CinemaSafe protocols). The decree excluded all of New York City, however, which had a few worrisome COVID hotspots in Brooklyn and Queens.
The announcement followed months of rising exasperation and indignation in the industry which shut down in March and over time has watched venues from casinos and gyms to bowling alleys and indoor dining reopen, as well as cinemas in most other states including adjacent New Jersey and Connecticut.
Cuomo, in a Monday COVID update and press briefing, didn’t mention theaters.
But he noted that the infection cluster in Brooklyn’s high-alarm, highly restricted Red Zone had dipped. The Red had been downgraded to Orange, which the governor called “very good news.”
That could theoretically bode well for theaters. Cases are rising in New York, as across the country, but the infection rate here is still third lowest in the nation after Maine and Vermont. Cuomo’s strategy is to clamp down on cluster zones with surgical precision, disrupting surrounding areas as little as possible.
The administration apparently hadn’t fully comprehended the ripple effect New York theater closures have on the global industry until last month, a reason they opened New York. But that might be moot if NYC stays closed much longer. Big theater chain AMC Entertainment has said it might run out of cash by early next year if things don’t pick up. Regal parent Cineworld is struggling. Other chains may be in more solid financial shape but still can’t go on indefinitely with such meager attendance and limited product to draw audiences. Separately today, NATO urged Congress and the Trump Administration to pass an aid measure for theaters.
In Los Angeles, the county looks at a set of state-imposed COVID metrics every two weeks to determine if theaters can open. Los Angeles now sits firmly within the most restrictive — or “Purple” — tier. L.A. County health officials said last week that they do not anticipate the county moving out of the Purple Tier any time soon.