How do you save your movie business?

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The following story is an open letter to the community at large submitted by the author.

Hello, this is Jeff Knoll, CEO of Film.Ca Cinemas.

It’s the usual signature that precedes another video of me promoting our community cinema, usually wearing a set of wings, a silly costume, or playing with some of my loyal cast members, dancing in hats, balloons and streamers.

Today, the mood at Film.Ca Cinemas is not as lighthearted and our outlook is not as rosy.

As with everyone, the effects of COVID-19 have been stressful and life-altering (as well as 40 or more of those adjectives.) For filmmaking, the past two years have been a relentless test of our resolve and creativity. Hundreds of movie theaters and theaters across North America closed permanently during the pandemic, but thanks to our hard work and the support of our community, we’re still here.

It may be more difficult to see the light at the end of the tunnel, having experienced it with all of you for the past two years. Without a doubt, this pandemic will end and life will become a new normal. I am convinced that we will come out of this more aware of the fragility of our health system and, with any luck, the future will see our governments taking civil protection more seriously to prepare for the next time.

What may never be the same again is the state of our small and medium-sized business sectors, which have borne a disproportionate share of the misery. There have been ever-changing rules, mandatory closures, staff shortages, supply chain issues and big changes in consumer expectations and habits. All of these added to the challenges businesses were already facing before the pandemic.

At Film.Ca, we have met the challenges of COVID-19 head-on with the support of loyal, supportive guests and our great and patient owner – without both, the cinema would have been a sad victim of COVID-19 at this point. day.

Like all small and medium-sized businesses (or SMEs), we have taken the hits, pivoted to new ideas trying to find new revenue streams, and implemented public safety rules with a happy smile while repeating the mantra : “We are all in this together.”

We have always believed that better days were near and that our government supported us, even when it did not support SMEs enough.

In the summer of 2021, if you’re anything like us, you started to feel like this new “normal” was just around the corner. We were able to reopen the theater after an eight-month closure and found a few new business pivots that we believe could shore up our business losses and debt. Above all, we had the lucrative holiday movie season in mind.

For us, the light at the end of the tunnel came from the Christmas lights illuminating the way to see our seats fill up and our popcorn poppers follow the likes of Spider-Man: No Coming Home, Sing 2, West Side Story and other highly anticipated holiday movies that brought hope to the movie industry for the first time in years.

Then, like a terrible and unwanted movie sequel, came the Omicron variant, along with renewed panic that gripped the planet.

Do not mistake yourself; I believe and fully understand the real risks that COVID-19 and its variants pose to all of us. At the same time, I am infinitely unhappy with the decisions and reactions we have seen in the name of public health.

I understand the need to physically distance and reduce the size of gatherings, limiting exposure to potentially infected people. However, when the province announced its new measures in December that allowed restaurants to remain open with ten people at the table and hundreds of patrons in the same room, movie theaters had to ban eating and drinking on their premises. I knew these measurements were more about optics and less about science.

Because according to Ontario’s Science Advisory Board, we know that COVID-19 is transmitted when people breathe air contaminated with droplets and small airborne particles. How is it less risky to sit unmasked with nine people eating nearby, but a higher risk to sit and possibly eat in small groups in a movie theater? The cinemas have:

  • Physical distancing from other parties
  • A room with very high ceilings
  • Significant (and recently improved) airflow
  • All the guests facing the back of someone’s head

There is a simple answer: the risk is not higher. The risk of contracting COVID-19 in movie theaters is equal to that of restaurants, and in many cases is significantly lower.

In fact, throughout the pandemic, there have been no cases of COVID-19 in cinemas around the world. A study conducted in the fall of 2021 in Germany demonstrated that “regular ventilation of a cinema is sufficient to ensure that the risk of COVID-19 infection is minimal in a typical theater environment”. (You can read more findings and conclusions from this study available online here.)

Theater operators, especially independents, rely on revenue from snacks and beverages to pay the bills. When the provincial government takes that away from us, it puts cinemas at financial risk.

If you came to visit us during the opening week of Spider Man in December, you would have seen hundreds of happy guests watching the latest blockbuster. I couldn’t count the number of good wishes, congratulations and expressions of joy that all was well for Film.Ca and the cinemas.

The truth is that we could not share this joy.

You may not realize that for every $10 ticket sold to see Spider Man in theatre, $1.15 goes to the province and the federal government for HST, and of the remaining $8.85 we have to send 65% of the revenue (in this case, $5.31) back to the studio. That left us with only $3.34 to pay for staff, rent, utilities, etc. Ultimately, it’s impossible to cover the costs with just $3.34.

After a disappointing but busy holiday season, the province ordered another shutdown on Jan. 5. You can, however, still shop and pack malls and stores at 50% capacity. You could buy an essential new TV or a new car, but you couldn’t see a movie in a theater…again. It was a decision made without any scientific support.

But all was not lost as the province promised us $10,000 and offered to pay our electric and gas bills to help cover the costs of this last stop. This offer might be an effective lifeline for a 1,500 square foot cafe, but it’s a cruel joke for a 24,000 square foot cinema. It falls far short of covering our rent, not to mention our large debt and other expenses created by the pandemic. And we still haven’t seen some of that promised $10,000.

Now, along with restaurants and gyms, Film.Ca Cinemas is just days away from reopening on January 31. But without sound reasoning, we are opening without food and beverage sales until the next phase starting February 21.

Frankly, the only reason it’s worth opening is to see our guests and do what we love to do: entertain our community, provide a safe space to rest from the stresses of the day, and an outlet to relax. escape for a few hours from the realities of the lingering pandemic.

Last fall, when people expressed hope that we would survive this, my response was clear: of course we will. Now I am less optimistic about our future and the movie industry. So many people have turned to online movie streaming, coupled with studios turning their backs on the windows of exclusivity that theaters could always rely on. It is unclear if these trends will ever return to some semblance of what they once were.

The theater faces another month of losses with no food and drink sales. The government making endless promises of support is high on benchmarks to qualify for aid and low on offers. Worse still, they have the unwarranted belief that symbolic gestures are enough to help small and medium-sized businesses survive.

Additionally, the province’s “one size fits all” approach ignores the fact that not all businesses are alike. Distributing the same funds to all candidates is not the solution; a one-time grant that could save the lives of some companies is almost useless for others like ours.

We at Film.Ca Cinemas will fight to stay open with all the good efforts we have to make, but it won’t be easy. It’s going to be indescribably difficult and will require even more sacrifice on our part to stay open. The good news is that Film.Ca has more than the ability to pull it off. With your help and that of the government, we are determined to survive and thrive beyond this temporary episode, come what may.

This cinema is not just a business; it is a local institution. It’s not just a job; it is our vocation. Our customers are not only consumers of our services; they are our valued guests, friends and supporters whom we love to serve and entertain.

Thank you to everyone who purchased a seat through our “Buy A Seat” campaign (with 400 seats sold and counting!) and to everyone who purchased a gift card, bought snacks to go or enjoyed participate in our live online trivia nights.

We appreciate every penny of financial support and have been touched by every note or verbal offer of moral support you have provided us. You can always help by writing and calling your provincial and federal government members, asking them to do more to financially support SMEs. You can also help by purchasing a seat, gift card, takeout and tickets for our reopening next week.

You have all helped strengthen our resolve to be there for you and our community. Please continue to advocate for us to your friends and provincial representatives.

Above all, we can’t wait for you to come back to see a movie on the big screen.

We’ll see you at the cinema.

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