Quebec has been the Canadian province hardest-hit by COVID-19, but unlike in California and New York, cinemas were allowed to open in Montreal starting on July 3.
Vince Guzzo, president and CEO of Cinémas Guzzo, has been eagerly awaiting the release of Christopher Nolan’s “Tenet.” Guzzo has 10 multiplexes in the greater Montreal area, but there hasn’t been much new product to screen.
“All of a sudden, I’m losing more money than when I was shut,” Guzzo says. Pre-COVID, he was open seven days a week with five shows a day, and that hasn’t changed.
In the interim, as Guzzo waits for his big studio releases, he has been showcasing animated films, mainly from France. He also found small horror films like “The Parish” which have brought in some revenue, but none like “Mulan” or “Tenet” or the Hollywood summer blockbusters would have in a normal summer.
With “Mulan” going to Disney Plus, Guzzo conjectures, “The fact that the film moved, there’s a lot to say about what they [Disney] thinks of the movie.”
But Guzzo is ready for “Tenet” to open on Aug. 27 across his 151 screens. COVID guidelines mean cinemagoers have to wear a mask in the mall, but once they are inside the auditorium, there is no obligation. “They can have popcorn, soda and eat whatever they want. If they get up and go to the bathroom, they have to put a mask on.”
In terms of safe seating and social distancing, his rows are 48 inches apart. “People can sit in every row, but you’ve got to be two seats away from any family cluster that isn’t yours.”
Theaters are limited to 50 people per auditorium. “That meant our smaller auditoriums were at 50% capacity and the larger ones were at 12%,” he says.
Guzzo plans to blow out “Tenet” across as many screens as possible. “In an 18-screen complex, I would typically have a film like that on two IMAX screens. Two French screens and two English screens — so six in total. For “Tenet,” I may go up to nine screens. Or 12.”
He also intends to space out screenings, not just to disinfect the auditorium [by electro-statically cleaning them], but to avoid crowds in the lobby.
Furthermore, he hopes to draw audiences in with films like “Spongebob Squarepants: Sponge on the Run” and “Unhinged” starring Russell Crowe. “That’s very significant,” Guzzo points out of the advantage Canada will have over the United States when it comes to certain titles. “It’s a great achievement that we’ve been able to have a conversation with Warner Bros. and Paramount and have them release those titles in Canada first. It means one doesn’t prevent the other from releasing pictures.”
If the uncertainty of the pandemic persists, Guzzo foresees it becoming the norm where other countries will see a movie ahead of the United States. “But, only on the big titles. I don’t see that happening for so-so titles. If the film is going to be destroyed by critics, I think the studios will avoid giving the movie to people and countries ahead of time.”