UPDATED following 1:38PM post: The former governor of California and Terminator franchise star made a big splash today at “The Big Screen Is Back” conference to exclaim, “The big screen is back, ladies and gentleman!” Arnold Schwarzenegger then led the whole auditorium at the AMC Century City 15 in a chant of “We are back! We are back!”
The conference, which was produced by the Motion Picture Association, National Association of Theatres, LA movies studios and NYC distribs, and key PR gurus Terry Curtin and CAA Head of Motion Picture Marketing Megan Crawford, is one of the first in-person events for the motion picture industry which showcased theatrical distributors (big and small) summer slates. The event, from what we have gathered, was put together at the last minute and with all good will and intentions, and it wasn’t about showing unseen footage from the next Marvel movie or 2022 theatrical release. For some it’s hard to be positive about theatrical, and there are a lot of cinema closures around town, most notably Hollywood’s luxe chain Arclight, but this was the first step to repair studios and exhibition after a year of being intoxicated by streaming.
Above all today, the words “HBO Max” and “Disney+” were not uttered, even those respective studio presentations by Warner Bros. and Disney.
With many stars and directors unable to travel due to the pandemic, Schwarzenegger was one of the few talent to show up today in addition to J.J. Abrams, Jason Blum (who closed the confab), The Protege star Maggie Q, Zola filmmaker Janicza Bravo, The Night House director David Bruckner, and Werewolves Within star Sam Richardson. Distribution and exhibition vet Kyle Davies emceed the event, and kept the show rolling along for 3 1/2 hours.
For the most part, The Big Screen Is Back was a revue of summer trailers and clips we’ve largely seen from the major studios. There was some fresh extended footage from pics like Disney’s Cruella, Universal’s F9, Searchlight’s The Nighthouse, Warner Bros.’ In the Heights and featurettes of MGM/United Artist Releasing’s Aretha Franklin pic Respect and Paramount’s Snake Eyes; more on that in a bit. As one insider connected to the event expressed before it started today “This is a great warm-up to Cinema-Con in August”. The onus behind this was to present showcases like the ones
“I’m here to tell you something that you probably already know: Marvel movies are meant to be seen on the big screen” said Marvel Boss Kevin Feige in a pre-recorded message before Disney’s sizzle reel, which included the MCU ‘back to the cinema’ piece which dropped earlier this month, with a list of new titles and release dates.
“For each one, we set out to craft an epic cinematic experience that is visually spectacular and totally engrossing with every inch of the frame. We want you to feel like you’re part of the action. It’s by far the best way to see a Marvel movie and any movie period,” added Feige whose Black Widow was designated by parent company Disney for a simultaneous theatrical and Disney+ Premier PVOD date on July 9, given that a number of offshore markets are still offline.
Even though Schwarzenegger doesn’t have any films this year, and his blockbuster B.O. pull has waned with age, he did underscore how the big screen sets everything in motion, down to stardom, setting the day’s tone: “I wouldn’t be here if it wouldn’t be for theaters. I always said to people, you can call me anything you want –Schnitzel, Arnie, Schwarzy,– but don’t ever call me a self-made man.” The star’s point being, he’d be nowhere if it weren’t for exhibition, the moviegoing industry’s infrastructure and the people who shelled out for tickets.
After detailing the path a film takes from production to testing, Schwarzenegger said, “you don’t have theaters, you don’t have nothing.”
“Yes, we’ve been in a pandemic year, and people had to watch movies on their little iPhones, little iPads…you had to put glasses on, they’re missing the special effects and visual effects on the big screen,” the star continued.
“Now is the time to wind down this pandemic period, now is the time to get back to the big screen,” Schwarzenegger continued.
A big part of his speech emphasized the economic impact that movie theaters have in its 5,8K theaters and 40K screen reach. The star called out how it employs 153K of exhibition workers. “Look at how many jobs it creates!,” Schwarzenegger exclaimed,
“These people sacrificed so much this past year,” said Schwarzenegger, “millions benefit from movie theaters opening up, the retailers right outside here, and the restaurants right outside here.”
“The gym business benefits, too,” he added.
Schwarzenegger said he got the call to speak today from NATO Chairman Rolando Rodriguez following the U.S. Capitol riot on January 6.
“He said, ‘Arnold, do you still believe in free speech?,” Schwarzenegger said. “Good, because you’re going to give a speech on May 19 in Century City.”
Abrams’ appearance midway through the day was another surprise, much like Schwarzenegger’s, and he too came with an inspiring speech about theatrical before introducing a short film from Luke Ackerman about 86-year old NYC AMC Village exhibition worker Catherine Lawrence, who was featured in The Big Screen Is Back PSA which aired during the Oscars. Abrams followed IFC’s presentation which included footage of filmmaker Neill Blomkamp in Jackie Gleason Smokey and the Bandit sunglasses talking about his movie Demonic and how it’s ripe for theaters reopening from the pandemic. “It’s a shared communal event that all of us secretly on some level really miss and really long for and I think we want to watch films that are shared with audiences around us and not in the confines in our homes. That’s one reason why I’m excited. The second reason is because Demonic is playing in movie theaters and this brings me joy on the level that I want people to be terrified in a dark theater and I want them to be a in stage of panic, really. And this may happen, which is something that brings me glee, strangely. I’m very excited for this. Let’s see how it goes.”
Quipped Abrams taking center stage, “I’ve been mesmerized by those sunglasses, I couldn’t hear what he was saying. I was seeing a reflection of the camera in his — the whole thing was amazing to me.”
Turing serious, Abrams, “Being back in a theater feels so good. I heard this thing years ago on the radio, an NPR story, the relationship between people and TV, and people and movies. The thing that always stayed with me is that with TV, the relationship is you’re the parent, it’s the child. It’s in your house, it’s smaller than you, you can turn it off, you can change it. With movies, you’re the child and it’s the parent, and you’re in this place and you’re looking up to it, and it is controlling you and it’s taking you where it wants to take you, and I think we all want to be kids again. And the idea of returning to theaters and being in a big dark room with strangers, screaming and laughing, experiencing the power of that is a human natural need. A lot has been said about the roaring ’20s, after the pandemic of 1918-19, and I think it’s an apt analogy. I think that there is going to be a hunger to live again. Personally, some of my absolute favorite experiences took place in rooms like this, so I couldn’t be prouder to support this.”
In the short, Lawrence, who worked at the AMC Village for 30 years, about how she made a career out of working at movie theaters. She began working at the Memorial Theater where she met entertainers like Nat King Cole and Ella Fitzgerald. “My favorite part of working here is when I know that I pleased someone and made them happy. If I made ten people happy today, that means I already had ten people, when they leave me, they are smiling,” said Lawrence in the short.
Calling out some of the unforgettable footage: Warner Bros.’ showed off eight minutes of In the Heights’ opening with Anthony Ramos and the ensemble cast, preceded by a heartfelt message from director Jon M. Chu about what theatrical meant to him, growing up and seeing movies like E.T. and Joy Luck Club with this family, followed by dim sum and deep discussion with his family. The movie, which is opening Tribeca, is electric (I’ve seen it), meant for the big screen, and it’s too bad that it’s available on HBO Max, because it deserves a premium delivery.
Among the fresh stuff we haven’t seen which was intriguing all because it was new: Sony showed off clips for Escape Room: Tournament of Champions showing teens trapped in a NYC subway car and Don’t Breathe 2 with grizzly Stephen Lang’s Blind Man in his spooky house with a little girl hiding under her bed from two intruders. NEON showed off Pig about a Nicolas Cage as a disgruntled truffle farmer whose pig gets stolen –and he’s pissed–, while announcing and showing footage from brand new nonfiction feature The Year of the Everlasting Storm which tells seven stories during the global pandemic from seven directors including Laura Poitras, Anthony Chen, Jafar Panahi, Malik Vitthal, David Lowery, Dominga Sotomayor and Apichatpong Weerasethakul.
MGM/UAR showed off their new trailer for Respect which was dropped today on Good Morning America and featurette with Jennifer Hudson, director Liesl Tommy, writer Tracey Scott Wilson among those talking about how the movie is about how Aretha Franklin blossoms to become the Queen of Soul. The pop song fest looks to be the next big musical feature after Bohemian Rhapsody and begs a big screen release versus a streaming drop on a mobile phone. Should Amazon snap up MGM, they’d be wise to protect their theatrical IP assets.
Many of the executives who showed up today from the studios’ distribution and marketing ops were on hand to introduce clips, and welcome the big screen back, keeping their remarks brief.
However, it was Focus Distribution Boss Lisa Bunnell who was raw and real.
Bunnell said, “As a kid, I was painfully shy, I didn’t talk, I was very, very quiet. I was a good student, but unfortunately I was bullied all through my school years. And it was hard, it was really difficult, because at that time there were no programs and nobody really talked about it. One of my escapes was going to the movies. It was a place where I could go where my world got bigger. It gave me a lot of faith, gave me the ability to know that there’s something outside of the small-minded people I grew up with in New Jersey. And it was a beautiful thing for me, because at that time, it really enlightened me that I could be something more than, at that time I thought, this poor little kid who didn’t talk and got picked on for most of her life. When I thought about it a lot during the pandemic, the thing I remember the most, was probably being in a theater and watching E.T. And it’s not just watching E.T., it’s watching E.T. with people, 200 other people; balling their eyes out. Or watching The Breakfast Club and going ‘Hey other people identify with this. They get it. They’re not like everybody else.”
Then breaking into tears, in what was an extremely moving moment today, Bunnell said, “And I get really emotional — it’s means so much to me. It’s important to have that human connection.”
“I’m very proud at Focus Features we were able to release 12 movies during the pandemic. Twelve. And not just bull***, ‘we’re going to throw the movie in theaters and see what happens.’ We actually went out there and did real theatrical campaigns and supported theaters as best we could during a very difficult time,” said Bunnell. That’s the truth: the label’s release of Promising Young Woman earned five Oscar noms, including Best Picture, and one win for filmmaker Emerald Fennell’s original screenplay.
Ethan Titelman, EVP of Content at NRG, delivered some illuminating and promising stats that U.S. moviegoers’ comfort with returning to theaters hit its highest point on Monday of 70%, besting 63% in April, 32% last May and 50% in September when Tenet was in theaters. Though overseas markets like Brazil and Germany are still closed, the globe’s comfort level stands at 55%. China is through the roof, and domestic’s envy at 95%, especially in the wake of Detective Chinatown 3 posting the biggest B.O. opening ever for a film with $398M.
In addition to making waves for the big screen today, Schwarzenegger made news today on the streaming side with news that he landed an eight-one hour-episode untitled global spy adventure series which he’ll star in and executive produce with Skydance TV.