CLEVELAND, Ohio — The movie industry has been hit hard by the pandemic. Major productions are on pause and many theaters still haven't opened.
Theaters are being forced to get creative and adapt in order to survive.
"I’m going to see a classic from the past — The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers," said Ronald Howard, a moviegoer in Mayfield Heights, Ohio.
Grabbing popcorn and enjoying a new release certainly is a different experience due to COVID-19, especially since Hollywood at a standstill.
"Since this one has opened, I’ve come several times. Generally I’m the only one in the theater," said Howard, speaking of the Atlas Cinemas Eastgate 10 location.
After being forced to close for months, Ohio movie theaters were given the green light to reopen in June, but many still haven’t.
"If all their theaters are like this with hardly anybody inside, they certainly can’t stay in business," said Howard.
In fact, in northeast Ohio, family-owned Atlas Cinemas is one of the few options for movie-lovers looking to sit inside an auditorium in front of the big screen.
Director of Operations Chris Baxter said reopening has presented challenges.
"Just letting people know that we're here and that we're ready for them and making sure that they're comfortable. That's really the challenge is making sure that that guests are comfortable in their time to come out and enjoy the movies," said Baxter.
In hopes of bringing in more people and revenue, Atlas Cinemas got creative this July by offering a new auditorium rental special to family and friends. It’s a unique way to make getting out while social distancing a breeze.
"We're seeing that people are just, you know, looking for that outlet — looking for that opportunity to do something, and they're really happy that they can. And so we've had anything from couples to large families rent their own auditorium," said Baxter.
The Cleveland Institute of Art Cinematheque is also adapting. Now, for the first time, it's offering virtual screenings.
"We're actually showing more movies than you know we normally would. We usually show five or six different movies in a weekend. Now we're open 24/7 and we're showing 20 films," said John Ewing, co-founder Cleveland Institute of Art Cinematheque.
For the last 35 years, the Cinematheque has filled a gap in the local movie market by showing classic, domestic and foreign, independent films that Ewing said aren’t shown anywhere else in the region — many of which were first screened at popular film festivals.
"We're keeping up with new releases as much as we can because otherwise there's going to be a horrendous backlog, and we'll never be able to play it all," said Ewing.
A major change has been the revenue sharing model with film companies. Ewing said it flip-flopped, and now places like the Cinematheque are seeing 50 percent of the revenue.
"It's the absolute opposite of what it, you know, have been for in our case 35 years. You know, we booked the films, we play the films, we sell the tickets and collect the revenue and then we paid the distributor that a share of the ticket sales. Now, the film company, the distributor is collecting all the revenue through this through the whatever platform they set up, you know online," said Ewing.
The 300-seat auditorium has been closed since March and likely will stay that way until after students return to the Cleveland Institute of Art campus this fall.
For AMC Theatres, the website states the plan is to start reopening most locations on July 30.
The latest announcement from Cleveland Cinemas indicated that all theaters will remain closed indefinitely due to COVID-19, but there is a virtual screening room to stream movies from home.
Movie Scoop in Kent and the Great Lakes Science Center's Cleveland Clinic dome theater are also offering in-person showings.