Distributors start scheduling a stack of movies from July onwards

Colin Firth in ‘The Secret Garden.’

On the reasonable assumption that cinemas are trading in July, albeit with staggered seating, audiences can look forward to a raft of Hollywood films and, perhaps, several new Australian releases.

Distributors have started scheduling titles in an orderly fashion, avoiding a logjam of product, from early July until the end of the year and beyond.

Exhibitors expect that if the 4 square metre distancing rule applies, that will limit the average capacity to around 33 per cent, which would be viable for cinemas and distributors.

Executives on both sides of the fence are confident business will rebound quickly. “I don’t think it will take long for punters to return to cinemas; people are tired of the restrictions COVID-19 has placed on their lives and there is a desire to return to normalcy,” says Studiocanal CEO Elizabeth Trotman.

“Films are still best enjoyed on a big screen with surround sound and in the context of a social outing with your partner, family or friends.”

Natalie Miller, executive director of Sharmill Films and joint executive director of Cinema Nova, concurs: “We feel very optimistic about our future. I think audiences will be looking forward to going out.

“One cannot replace the wonderful feeling of seeing a film on the big screen and with an audience complete with choc tops and popcorn, even with a restricted audience.”

Stephen Basil-Jones, Sony Pictures executive VP, says: “Like everyone, we are so excited in the expectation of cinema doors opening once again in late June or early July.”

Sony plans to re-issue Bloodshot, whose run was cut short when cinemas shuttered, and repertory titles including Jumanji: The Next Level, Little Women and Bad Boys for Life.

The first major Hollywood releases will be Chris Nolan’s time-travelling thriller Tenet (Warner Bros) on July 17, followed a week later by Niki Caro’s live action adventure/drama Mulan (Disney).

Hayden Orpheum Picture Palace GM Alex Temesvari observes: “We couldn’t really ask for better mainstream films but the expected capacity restrictions are not ideal. The fact that JobKeeper will still be offsetting a major portion of our wages bill until the end of September certainly helps.

“With less product in the market initially it will allow us to spread audiences over multiple screens but hopefully the restrictions will be reviewed and expanded upon quickly. We would hope to be back to normal capacities by October at the latest.”

Warner Bros has dated Patty Jenkins’ Wonder Woman 1984 on August 13 and Madman Entertainment has scheduled Dean Parisot’s Bill & Ted Face the Music, the sequel reuniting Keanu Reeves and Alex Winter, on August 27.

John Krasinski’s A Quiet Place 11 (Paramount Pictures) and Paul W.S. Anderson’s video game adaptation Monster Hunter (Sony Pictures) will go head-to-head on September 3.

Universal will launch DreamWorks Animations’ Trolls Worlds Tour (which controversially bypassed cinemas in the US as a Premium VOD release, provoking the ire of major chains AMC and Regal Entertainment) on September 17.

The big caveat, of course, is that the Hollywood pipelines won’t flow freely again until cinemas in the US and the majority of international markets are functioning.

Studiocanal will be ahead of the pack when it launches French/Belgian animated family sci-fi adventure SamSam, a spin-off of the TV series, on July 3.

The distributor plans to open Marc Munden’s British drama The Secret Garden, starring Colin Firth, Dixie Egerickx, Edan Hayhurst and Julie Walters, on September 17.

Studiocanal will participate in the Virtual Cannes market, which runs from June 22-28. Trotman says: “It will be interesting to see how many projects there are and the likely time frame for production along with filming locations.

“There are already a few territories that have established safe work practices for returning to film sets so whilst COVID-19 will cause disruption to where filming takes place I’m sure there will be solutions and short-lived delays.”

‘The Burnt Orange Heresy.’

Among the upmarket releases, Sony Pictures will weigh in with The Burnt Orange Heresy, a neo-noir thriller in the vein of Body Heat, directed by Italian Giuseppe Capotondi on July 23.

Claes Bang plays James Figueras, an art critic who’s trying to make a living on the lecture circuit in Milan when he embarks on a steamy affair with young American tourist Berenice (Elizabeth Debicki).

Universal MD Mike Baard tells IF he is looking to release a raft of films, which were originally slated to go out between March and August, in the July-September corridor.

They include Gregor Jordan’s Dirt Music, Shannon Murphy’s Babyteeth, Judd Apatow’s The King of Staten Island and Nisha Ganatra’s The High Note.

Kelly Rogers’ Rialto Distribution intends to roll out English writer-director Mark Jenkin’s Bait on July 16, Ladj Ly’s thriller Les Misérables on July 23, French writer-director Nicolas Bedos’ La Belle Époque on August 13 and Eliza Schroeder’s Love Sarah on August 27.

Sharmill Films will resume screening alternate content such as The Met Opera, National Theatre Live and Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess as well as Maryam Touzani’s debut feature Adam.

Miller says: “We need to stay positive and audiences can be reassured that every possible measure will be taken to keep our cinemas safe.”

Majestic Cinemas CEO Kieren Dell, who operates eight cinemas in regional NSW and Queensland, is planning staggered sessions and more time in between sessions to carry out extra cleaning.

“Assuming we have the 4 square metre rule applied, we will have around 33 per cent total capacity, but it will vary for each auditorium from 20 per cent to 45 per cent,” he tells IF.

“That will reduce sessions per screen from six to five per day, which will further reduce capacity. However, given we are expecting a slow start as people ease back in, and we usually have a fair bit of extra seat capacity, I don’t think it will be a problem in the first few months.

“Once the blockbusters start to release, we will have to put in more staggered sessions than we normally would and probably run longer seasons than we normally would, which will reduce diversity of content to a degree.

“The 80/20 rule still applies – we make 80 per cent of our profit from 20 per cent of the movies – so I think it will be OK financially for us and for the distributors of these movies, but smaller movies might struggle for as much screen time as usual due to the limited capacity in the short-to-medium term.

“My modelling shows that while we have JobKeeper going and assuming our rent drops in line with our revenue for the first three months and with deferred bank payments, and if we can get to 50 per cent-plus in July and increase that by 10 per centor so each month as it builds, we should be OK until the end of September.

“If we are not able to get to 100 per cent by October, we will need JobKeeper/rent reductions/bank deferrals to continue in some form until we do to remain viable.”