UPDATED June 13: Cinémas Guzzo CEO Vince Guzzo isn’t listening to the critics and pundits who’ve declared movie theatres dead — this time, and so many times in the past. In fact, he foresees a post-COVID boom for the film and cinema industries, as well as a reopening date for movie theatres in Montreal and the rest of Quebec that may come sooner than you think — July 3 to be exact, four weeks prior to the release of Christopher Nolan’s Tenet, the summer blockbuster that cinema owners are eagerly anticipating.
While Guzzo decries Quebec public health authorities for being overly restrictive and fear-mongering — he compares Horacio Arruda to his Italian mother discouraging bad behaviour when he was a child by saying “God is looking at you” — Guzzo already had a plan in place to reopen all nine of his Mega-Plex movie theatres in the Montreal area when we spoke in late May, with hand-sanitzer stations, visors and other PPE, increased sanitization and washing. But he also recognizes the need for people to get out of the house and socialize, for the sake of their mental health, even in the dark, two metres apart.
Vince Guzzo: The date everybody’s looking at is July 3. That’s the discussion we’re having. We’re saying, “Guys, you can’t keep us shut down forever.” That date is very symbolic because it falls four weeks before the opening of Chris Nolan’s Tenet, which will be one of the biggest movies of the year. It will take us two to three weeks to get people used to the new way of doing things, then we’ll be ready to accommodate more people.
Lorraine Carpenter: I’ve read that theatre chains in some cities are considering reopening single-cinema locations just for Tenet, to reduce the number of people who are in the building at one time — and because it’s one of the only new movies opening soon.
Vince Guzzo: That doesn’t make any sense. Technically the multiplex would allow you to have more people in the building, but spread out, and you can actually make them come in and leave by scattering (the schedule). In one of my theatres, I’ve got 14 screens, so what I do is I open up all 14 screens and I play Tenet on eight of them and I scatter the showtimes. Even with eight screens at 50 per cent capacity, I have the equivalent of four full screens. Not only am I spreading out the people inside the auditoriums, I’m also spreading them out in the lobby area.
LC: Will the shutdown and reopening measures have an impact on ticket prices?
Vince Guzzo: What’s going to happen is when we reopen on the 3rd, until we get Tenet, we might actually be at a 50 per cent discount because we’re going to be selling old movies. By the time Tenet comes out, we’ll probably be back at regular price and, let’s say right before U.S. Thanksgiving, we’ll have a better understanding of what this is costing us on an operational level, so we’ll be able to adjust pricing. I don’t foresee prices staying the same.
In the summer, we’ll be okay, but when we start getting back to regular movies, we’re going to start having a problem. The problem that we’re going to have when we reopen with old movies in June is the same problem we’re going to have in September, because September is festival time and festival movies don’t really appeal to a mass public.
I’m hoping that the same reaction that occurred with schools in Quebec will happen for movie theatres, which is some of the media and some people — the new germophobes as I like to call them — will say nobody’s going to go to the theatres like they were saying nobody’s going to send their kids to school, and then 60 to 75 per cent of people sent their kids to school. You’ve got to listen to the silent majority and ignore the very vocal minority.
LC: Has Cinemas Guzzo received any government financial support?
Vince Guzzo: No, apart from the 75 per cent Wage Subsidy. There’s no special program just for movie theatres. Live theatre venues are being helped, they’re being subsidized. I can guarantee you that if there’s somebody who’s going to make money off this it’s going to be the whole creative side. They’re going to milk it for everything they can get. (Increased costs due to COVID-19) is something that we can see in the construction business, but nobody would listen to us. If I tell (the government) that the new construction guidelines with COVID-19 could increase my costs of construction by 15 per cent, let’s say, too bad for me. But if a movie producer who is subsidized by Telefilm and SODEC, they turn around and say, “Look, you approved a budget of $2-million, the problem is it’s going to cost me $2.6 million now because of this, because of that,” what’s the government going to say? Too bad? They’re going to write a cheque.
If somebody is supposed to be making out in the in a movie, you either rewrite the script so they don’t make out or else they’re making out. It is what it is. I’m not 100 per cent sure yet that there is a consequence in terms of increase of cost for movie production, but I’m sure the provincial government will throw money at it. [Ed.’s note: The day after our interview, Quebec announced financial aid for film and TV production.]
LC: What are your thoughts about Amazon looking into acquiring the AMC cinema chain?
Vince Guzzo: In terms of a realistic impact on my business, I don’t see it as a negative or a positive. What’s positive about the purchase is that for an online company like Amazon to look at the possibility of investing $5-billion to $10-billion in brick and mortars is very interesting to me because it sends the message that I’ve been saying: If they had locked us up for a week or two, maybe it wouldn’t have changed anything, but you lock me up for three months, I’m done. I want to get the hell out of the house, I don’t want to see TV anymore.
One night recently I couldn’t sleep, so I got up, went to my theatre in Terrebonne, put on a movie and I watched a movie till 3 in the morning. I got back, my wife says, “Where did you go?” “I just wanted to watch a movie.” She says, “You could’ve opened the TV!” But 70 inches ain’t 70 feet.
LC: I’ve heard that movie theatres were dying a bunch of times in my lifetime, but even though you can foresee a decrease in income and rise in ticket prices this year, you don’t think COVID-19 will have a more long-term impact?
Vince Guzzo: Look, everybody knows I’m a lawyer, everybody knows I own movie theatres and everybody knows I’m on Dragon’s Den, but very few people know that I have an economics degree from Western. That experience has shown me that after every great event, like 9/11, things adapt but normality comes back. Yes we’re still living with the goddamn insane travel restrictions where we have to get to the airport three hours before (a flight), but we all still travel, we still take vacations. It will take a little longer for the airline industry (to recover), sure, but people will go back. I always say to people, an old psychological quote, which is basically what has made humanity survive all of these centuries is its ability to forget.
When the Hong Kong flu pandemic happened in 1968 and ’69, there were some theatres that had to close, but when theatres reopened, and throughout the ’70s, there was a great boom. For movie theatres, we expect the same thing to occur and that’s why Amazon is doing the math. They know they’re probably going to get killed on the streaming side because people have overdosed on it.
Basically there were germaphobes before and there are going to be a lot more by the time we finish this thing. So we will adapt, but we don’t need radical changes. The evidence of that is going to the movies hasn’t really changed in the last 100 years. Sure, there are more comfortable seats, more leg room, better sound, bigger screens. That’s all amazing, but you still go to the movies the same way. Teenagers still have their first dates at the movies.
People are actually going to rush to resocialize, and movie theatres are amazing for socializing. You can actually be in a room with 200 people, watch a movie, laugh at the same time, get scared at the same time, get anxiety at the same time, but you don’t have to talk to anybody (laughs). ■
Cinémas Guzzo website.
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