The 2020 edition of CineEurope got underway online today with executives chiming in on what exhibition and distribution will look like as coronavirus restrictions ease. The studios normally would have been in Barcelona this week to show off their upcoming slates to European exhibitors. Instead, Film Expo Group did a nice job of pivoting to an online conference that on Day One served up messages from executives, and even Christopher Nolan.

Nolan’s Tenet is one of the most anticipated films of the year, and certainly one of the first due to open as theaters come back online (Warner Bros recently moved it from July 17 to July 31). The director, who is a big proponent of the theatrical experience, sent a taped missive to CineEurope participants. Here’s what he said:

“We’re in the final throes of it. I don’t want to say too much about it other than we’re extraordinarily excited about what we’ve been able to do with this material. I think of all the films that I’ve made, this is perhaps the one that is most designed for the audience experience, the big screen experience. This is a film whose image and sound really needs to be enjoyed in your theaters on the big screen and we’re very very excited for you to see what it is we’ve done. We’ve made big films in the past, but this is a film whose global reach and level of action is beyond anything we’ve ever attempted before. I think we only would have been able to pull off this film with the level of experience we’ve had doing action films in the past. The movie has an incredible ensemble cast led by John David Washington who gives the most extraordinary and iconic performance as the protagonist at the heart of Tenet and I cannot wait for you guys to see what he’s done with his character. I’m very much looking forward to sharing the film with you. I’m going to get back to finishing it right now and I look forward to your reaction.”

Elsewhere during the online conference’s first day, Cineworld’s Mooky Greidinger, Disney’s Cathleen Taff, Sony’s Steven O’Dell and Kinepolis’ Eddy Duquenne discussed the industry’s future, each with an optimistic outlook. That despite a potential global box office loss of $20B+ for the year.

While 2021 is looking much better at the moment, Griedinger allowed that it may not be easy in the first few months this year, but said he is “fully optimistic that by 2021 we will be back. So many people said this is the end of the theatrical business. This industry is strong. We should remember only last year we generated over $42B, this is not something you give up quickly.”

Health and safety are a priority for exhibitors, and Greidinger, whose theaters will be back up and running from late June through early July, warned that, “We must be very careful in order not to overdo it. We don’t want to create a hospital atmosphere in the cinemas, we don’t want to be running after the customers… We need to remember people are coming to the cinema to clear their head for two or three hours, we don’t want to remind them every ten seconds they should be afraid of the virus.”

Taff, who currently has Mulan dated for July 24 domestically, concurred, and added that sanitizing and social distancing levers “are in our control” and people should feel “reassured by it.”

She noted that while “people want to return to cinemas, and have the communal experience,” the studios also need to be on their game. “Films are going to have to stand out. There is probably going to be a bit of skepticism. We are going to have to over-deliver on why people are going in the first place.” Films must be “an immersive experience and have characters they can relate to.” Moviegoers should “feel like it was exceptional (in order) for them to come back again and again… If we deliver on the film experience, then word of mouth is going to be ‘go to the cinema, I had a great experience, it was great value and I got out of the house finally’.”

With regard to getting folks off their couches, O’Dell said, “You can have the biggest TV in the house and people are pulling out their hair to get outside. We’re social beasts, this is what humans are, we are meant to socialize, meant to hug, meant to kiss, meant to embrace each other and socialize with each other. The movies do that.”

He feels that the difference in the theatrical experience “is more obvious today to (audiences) than it was before. When we look at it going forward, we’re going to see people that just long for that and recognize the difference in that social experience.”

Sony is coming off a strong weekend for Little Women in Japan and Denmark which O’Dell pointed to. “What’s made me optimistic about everything has been to see our first tests out there. You don’t rreally know what a market is going to be or how people behave until you show them something. We could not believe the response (to Little Women), for it to be six months later with all the naysayers about piracy and people wanting to see things at home and certain demos. This is a film that’s for young and old, they came out not only well but better than in January when it was in the zeitgeist and had all Oscar nominations.”

He predicts a bright future that will see the studios and theaters “react to what the consumer wants more than ever… There’s a reason why we’ve got our biggest slate ever in 2021, it’s because we believe in it. One thing movies do is remind poeple of creating that expectation, that zeitgeist movement, the water cooler moment and cultural imperative. That’s what movies bring and that’s something we’re going to see again. Every time someone has challenged the movie business, the movie business has walked through it with flying colors.”

Taff also sees flying colors ahead but commented that distributors and exhibition companies “need to assess what success is going to look like” and must make sure that “expectations are based on reality.”

Duquenne saiid the initial signs in markets where Kinepolis is open “are rather positiive.” Last Saturday, for example, his theaters in Switzerland did better than pre-virus days. Otherwise, he believes that some trends will have accelerated like premiumization and consolidation as well as online experiences. “We’re going more and more to online sales exclusively. In that way, we can control maximum capacity.” Sales of concessions are also online. “We need to learn a lot, but the first experiences are very good,” he said. During the crisis, “We all learned how valuable it is to spend time together with families and loved ones in a bar, a restaurant or a theater. I think that value will be much more highlithed than before.”

Added Taff, “This business has been resilient and evolved and adatped. If we do it right, we can inspire a deeper relationship with our consumers and drive consumer loyalty in a way we haven’t seen before, but we have to continue to strive for excellence in the theaterical experience, making sure people are welcomed into a safe space, and the studios have to deliver content that is compelling and makes people escape. If we deliver on those two things, I think we’ll come out stronger than we’ve ever been before.”

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