WORDS Nathan Smith – The Luxe Cinema
It goes without saying that many of us find a trip to the cinema to be a bout of pure escapism, allowing us to leave the stresses of Geoff’s constant emails complaining that the office vending machine doesn’t stock Maltesers (we get it, Geoff… you like Maltesers!) behind and lose ourselves in a cinematic adventure. But then Covid-19 swept the globe, and the ‘New Normal’ means that for most of us, life has changed. So how can cinemas keep the escapism alive while the ever-present smell of hand sanitizer hangs in the air?
As a cinema manager, my number one priority is guest experience. I – like many others in the industry – hold a firm belief that while we have no control over the quality of the films you see, we are absolutely responsible for ensuring that your visit is comfortable, stress-free and enjoyable. As such, this is the area that in many ways is proving to be the biggest challenge in terms of reopening.
The fact is, many cinemas are actually in a good position to be Covid-secure, on account of having allocated seating, which makes it easier to block out specific seats to allow for social distancing, as well as having guest details as part of the booking process so if there was any suggestion that someone tested positive following a visit, we would be in a good position to help with tracking and tracing. We are also equipped with ropes and queuing systems by default, so that’s all good too … but that doesn’t necessarily cover everything, and enhanced cleaning (including some rather fancy Ghostbusters-style ‘foggers’ for sterilizing the auditorium and rest rooms between showings), sneeze guards around the bar area, and effective guest-management have become necessary for everyone’s protection, confidence and, ultimately, comfort.
Government advice at the time of writing – and let’s be honest it is almost impossible to commit anything to print that might still be accurate by the time you read it, so if the advice is now ‘Carry a Banana at All Times’, just pretend I wrote that – is that face coverings should be worn in cinemas, except when eating/drinking. This was a welcome shift, as we were always planning on advising guests to have face coverings just to keep any risk as negligible as possible. Given that the world of film is full to the brim of mask-wearing heroes and villains, it also seems entirely appropriate that the audience should have the opportunity to be cinema-going ninjas for a little while.
Sure, all these measures are a bit of a faff. We know. But they allow us all to be the hero of the hour. They allow us all to relax a little more, safe in the knowledge that we are being looked after, and for a couple of hours allow us to forget that Geoff is threatening to chain himself to the water cooler in protest of what he calls ‘Malty Discrimination’. And what more can we ask but that? So go out, support your local cinema – especially a really cool little indie one like mine – and be the mask-wearing hero.