Arena Cinelounge in Los Angeles is facing the same challenges as with all movie theaters during this COVID-19 pandemic.
As social distancing guidelines are lifted nationwide, movie theaters—large and small—are preparing their re-openings with drastic changes for safety.
Arena Cinelounge is re-opening tonight to the public in full compliance with County of Los Angeles public health protocols. The indie theater is one of the most well-known arthouse film destinations in Los Angeles that plays indie, classic, and award-winning films over the years.
LRM Online spoke with Arena Cinelounge owner Christian Meoli exclusively over the phone about his grand re-opening scheduled for tonight and the state of the movie theater industry going forward.
For ticket information, visit www.arenascreen.com.
Read our exclusive interview below.
Gig Patta: Congratulations on your opening, Arena Cinelounge. That’s one of my favorite arthouse theaters in Los Angeles. First of all, how does it feel reopening your theater after all these weeks and months?
Christian Meoli: It feels great. I love it. I love what I do.
I’m looking forward to running and ensuring that we are entirely on top of offering the safest experience that we can for our audiences returning to theaters.
Gig Patta: Absolutely, but we’re still in the middle of a pandemic. Why is this a perfect time to reopen your theater?
Christian Meoli: Cinelounge on Sunset is our concept cinema for what we hope will be the return of neighborhood theaters in the years to come. We have a small footprint as a 2,500 square foot theater. That’s unheard of. Because of our small footprint–we only have 60 seats. We’re decreasing the seat count as per County guidelines. Thus, we’re making 15 seats available.
Additionally, we have checked all the boxes of County guidelines–offering a contactless individual entry experience for our audience, six-foot social distancing, spaces between the seats, and closing of rows. All of our concessions are pre-packaged. We require face masks to be worn, except when people are eating or drinking for that time. We reserve the right to temperature check, as well.
As the restaurants have reopened wit now gyms, beauty parlors, and nail salons, we’re ready to be open again. I’m not sure that that can be said the same for my peers and multiplex associates. They need more time to open. We’re ready.
Not only that, but we’ve also purchased two medical-grade air purifiers that clean the air in the theater and the lobby every 30 minutes. They have a heat H-13 air filter, medical-grade, top of the line with an ionizer. In addition to everything that I laid out for you, we’re going above and beyond to be conscious of our venue, recognize and minimize touchpoints that are in the space. We potentially can offer one of the safest venues for people to come in to have some popcorn and drink, sit down, and enjoy a story again in a communal setting for two to three hours.
Gig Patta: Financially, is it worth it to only open 15 seats? Are you going to make this work?
Christian Meoli: I’m going to make it work. My two-month future projections were as a loss leader because I didn’t expect audiences to return or film distribution companies to be ready to release films. We’re going with repertory films for our first two weeks. Baby Teeth is in the first new film, but the next week we have two repertory films. Then we have two films potentially opening on July 3rd. It would take some time for audiences to feel comfortable, even with all of our measures, for them to want to return. It’s a confidence game. Our job now, as theater owners, is to go above and beyond to offer our audience as many measures for them to feel safe with us. That’s what I want–I want you to feel safe.
Gig Patta: Do you have a fear of another shutdown? I know the government said there’s not going to be one.
Christian Meoli: Yes, I do. That’s my fear of the unknown, based on the fear of another shutdown. We will have to adjust and pivot. The shutdown is one of the major reasons that I refocused our business on our new signature gourmet line of cinema popcorn. Within the last three months, we’ve been able to sell our popcorn across the country. We worked with companies, such as Amazon, to promote some of their new films like The Vast of Night. There were promo blends in association with that film, in which Amazon promoted as at home concession boxes that they sent to influencers and reviewers. That’s the business we were able to bring in during the shutdown.
When you have no money coming in or no income, it’s scary about how this is going to work out. The gut feeling that says to me that it’s all going work out for the better. Our Cinelounge, the modality, is very attractive to moviegoers because of our intimacy and our personalization. As a smaller venue, we’re able to get ready quicker and be more hands-on during this process.
Gig Patta: Did you reduce the number of showings? If I recall, the Cinemalounge only had a few shows in the first place.
Christian Meoli: We keep a pretty solid schedule. It’s running anywhere from 35 to 56 shows per week. I like to program my theater like it is as a six-plex theater. I show more films at Cinemalounge then a lot of other independent theaters. For now, we are decreasing shows just to get up and running again.
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Gig Patta: Absolutely, I know NATO (National Association of Theater Owners) has been addressing the decline of movie theaters in the past few years due to home viewing and mega-mergers of megaplexes. How would an independent theater, like yourself, be going to survive or outlast these guys?
Christian Meoli: We survive by screening independent films. Most of the time, these films can’t get into a multiplex due to marketing budgets or release plans. There is a pool of films that we advocate and present on an annual basis that are not studio films. Since we have relationships with the smaller, mid-tier distributors and independent filmmakers, it’s a different stream of content accessibility. I’d love to show studio films. They have the biggest marketing budgets, but then, our business is not dependent on studio films to survive. That’s the difference between us and Cinemark, Arclight, or Regal.
Gig Patta: To wrap things up, could you give me a preview of what movies we could be expecting? What’s going to be at Arena Cinelounge shortly, especially with the open tonight?
Christian Meoli: We’re going to be running a masterpiece of a film by Philip Kaufman that stars Daniel Day-Lewis, titled The Unbearable Lightness of Being. It’s a new 4k restoration of the film from 1988. We’re opening that [tonight], as well as the brand-new film titled Baby Teeth. That movie is an ensemble drama with outstanding stars and features a wonderful actor, Ben Mendelsohn. We have those two films lined up for this week.
Then we have a great classic film by Akira Kurasawa titled Dersu Uzala for next week. It’s an extremely rare film to be screened. It won the 1976 Academy Award for Best Foreign Film. I’m also showing Stop Making Sense, which is Jonathan Demme’s movie, a concert film about Talking Heads and David Byrne. To me, they’re both the classic repertory films that I’m going to be running. They’re very relevant to today.
Lastly, we’re going to be running a new film titled The Outpost, which stars Orlando Bloom. That’s a brand-new film that Fathom scheduled to release on 1,500 screens, but the majority of screens won’t be ready on time. It’s being offered and promoted to independent cinemas, such as myself. I’ll be playing The Outpost on July 3rd, as well as a new genre film titled Game of Death from Cleopatra Entertainment.
Gig Patta: Sounds like an excellent lineup. Do you recommend everyone to buy their tickets beforehand on your website?
Christian Meoli: We have reserved seating now, which is excellent. It’s going to help us to track all of our audience members better. You get to choose your seats, which is the benefit of advanced tickets.
But I do want to highlight something called Cinelounge Unlimited earlier this year. It is the most affordable way, and it’s the best deal for seeing movies in Los Angeles for $15 a month. You could see a movie a day with us for the month. That’s like 30 films for $15 total. That’s our starting point for the unlimited app. As a special introductory, we’re offering the first month free. You can virtually see two months of movies with $15 total with us. Nobody can beat that deal.
Gig Patta: That does sound pretty good. Congratulations, Christian. I look forward to stopping by your theater once again. I missed it.
Christian Meoli: Well, thank you. You’re not the only one. We’re almost sold out for Friday night. There’s a group of us that want to return to what we love. It’s a privilege, and I’m grateful for your time for giving us a potentially a platform for independent film and independent theaters, such as ourselves. Have a great day.
For ticket information, visit www.arenascreen.com.
Source: LRM Online Exclusive