A pedestrian walks past a closed movie theater, with the message ‘Stay Safe and Healthy’ posted on the marquee, on March 19, 2020 in Los Angeles, California.
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Moviegoers aren’t the only ones afraid to return to theaters during the coronavirus pandemic. Film critics are “dread-filled” at having to return to cinemas and screening rooms, especially if face coverings are not required.
“I’m excited to see movies back in theaters,” a New York-based film critic and freelance editor told CNBC. “I don’t know when I will, though. I don’t trust big chains that don’t require customers to wear masks. I think that’s incredibly reckless.”
A number of major movie chains in the United States have made wearing a mask optional. Cinemark will encourage masks, but will not require customers to wear them unless local health officials make it mandatory. AMC had to follow a similar policy due to a desire not to be “swept up in political controversy”. However, backlash from consumers on social media forced the company to back down. As a result of this backlash, Regal also changed its policy and requires masks to be worn by customers.
Reviewers, who were already uncertain about the safety of spending several hours in an enclosed space with recirculated air, also found the comments disconcerting. CNBC spoke to a number of critics based in New York and Los Angeles, most of whom wished to remain anonymous for fear of reprisals from theater owners.
One reviewer compared businesses that don’t need masks to the mayor in the movie “Jaws.”
“As far as I know, the companies that are so cavalier about masks are putting profit opportunities ahead of public health, it’s the move of a horror movie villain,” she said. .
And masks may not be the only deciding factor for consumers and reviewers. Even after AMC changed its policy, that didn’t seem to appease the critics CNBC spoke to on Friday. There were concerns that cinemas would not be able to enforce their mask policies once the house lights go down.
“I don’t wait for movie studios or movie chains to tell me it’s safe to go to the movies,” said the New York-based freelance film critic and editor.
This sentiment was shared by several other critics, who felt that these movie chains “put the dollar before public safety.”
“It’s disgusting,” said a Los Angeles-based reviewer and editor with 8 years of industry experience. “Nobody’s happy about it. Certainly not the film critics.”
Many fear it is too soon for public gatherings to take place in confined spaces like theaters. Although there are fewer cases in early hotspots such as New York State, cases are accelerating in other parts of the United States such as Texas and Florida.
Ultimately, the federal government allowed states to set their own guidelines for managing the outbreak. And, in some cases, the blame fell on business owners, who weren’t really equipped to make those kinds of health and safety decisions, an industry insider, who wanted to stay, told CNBC. anonymous.
“The lack of consensus on advice and information and the best way to be safe, that doesn’t give me much confidence,” said a New York-based reviewer with 15 years of industry experience. “It seems everyone is allowed to keep their own rules.”
This lack of consistency and the uncertainty of how theaters are actually safe for patrons has made some critics “uncomfortable”.
“I wish they didn’t put critics in that position,” the Los Angeles-based reviewer said. “I hope we will have the possibility of having digital screens, but I doubt that will happen.”
Movie reviews are an essential part of a movie studio’s marketing because positive reviews can increase ticket sales and consumer interest. Often, studios use snippets of reviews in commercials and posters, touting favorable reviews.
For the most part, movie reviews are done either in a movie theater or in a studio screening room. However, on occasion, studios will send digital copies of films to critics. Critics are skeptical that the studios will choose to send these digital screens, especially since director Christopher Nolan has been adamant that his upcoming movie “Tenet” needs to be seen on the big screen to be appreciated.
“There is a lot of concern among critics about this, because for our jobs, we might be forced to choose between an assignment and our health,” the New York-based critic and editor said. “And not just ours but those of our homes.”
Other films like “Mulan”, which was due out in March, have already been reviewed by critics. They’re just waiting for the embargo to be lifted to share their thoughts on the film.
“I really think critics in the future have a greater responsibility,” said Kristen Page-Kirby, a critic based in Washington, DC. “It used to be that part of reviewing a movie was telling readers whether or not the movie was worth the often high ticket price. Now the price is higher. How good does a movie have to be for that I feel comfortable telling people do you really have to see it in a full house?