Not unlike the aviation industry, it’s difficult to envisage how social distancing will work in the cinema.
But as the UK Cinema Association plots its comeback, the film industry faces not just angst but conflict during the coronavirus lockdown.
Zygi Kamasa, chief executive of Lionsgate UK, has organised a streaming event to raise funds for two causes.
In a bid to bring back the notion of Saturday night at the movies, the film company is streaming its four most popular films – La La Land, Bend It Like Beckham, Eddie The Eagle and The Hunger Games – weekly on YouTube to raise money for the Film and TV Emergency Relief Fund and an NHS charity.
“We want to remind people of that irreplaceable experience of watching a film in the cinema together,” Mr Kamasa says.
“Normally you’re with 200 people, that experience of sharing those emotions with strangers… you laugh together, you’re in shock together, in awe together.”
But with cinemas closed since mid-March, the irony isn’t lost on him, and he admits the pandemic could alter the industry indefinitely.
“Streaming is amazing… it will speed up the development of that part of the industry, people will opt to stay in and watch at the touch of a button,” Mr Kamasa admits.
There is certainly a captive audience at home. A recent survey by streaming service Rakuten found 38% of people in the UK are spending more than three hours a day watching video on demand alone.
“I don’t think that [cinema] will ever go away but it will change… It may be that more films go straight to streaming and you just rent it,” says Mr Kamasa. “It would be a shame if cinemas suffer because of home entertainment, they should be able to sit side by side.”
But can they exist side by side in their current forms?
Releases slated for July include Disney’s Mulan and The Spongebob Movie, while Wonder Woman 1984 and The Secret Garden, with Colin Firth and Julie Walters, are due in August.
The big film many cinema operators are pinning their hopes on bringing in some business is Christopher Nolan’s Tenet, a big budget time-travelling sci-fi starring Robert Pattinson, scheduled for July.
Nolan shot the film in Imax 35mm and 70mm. Famed for his passion for cinema, no one would expect this one to be released on streaming platforms, but it’s a risky decision to stick with a summer release.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson will outline how restrictions will be relaxed this weekend. However, even once they are open again, whether cinemagoers actually feel confident enough to return could be the greatest challenge the industry faces in the medium to long-term.
“It is hard,” admits Mr Kamasa. “You have 200 people packed in tightly… they won’t be able to sell every seat.”
With a turnover of £14.8bn in 2017, the urgency for the industry to find a solution is rising.
The UK Cinema Association chief executive Phil Clapp told Sky News: “We are working with our members… and have shared safeguarding guidelines for UK cinemas with the government to offer them reassurance that cinemas can open safely for audiences and staff when the time is right.”
Universal decided that rather than delay the cinematic release for Trolls World Tour, it would skip it, streaming the animation instead.
The decision paid off, with the film taking £80m in its first three weeks. It has now made more money than the previous Trolls film did in its entire US cinema run, and NBCUniversal chief executive Jeff Shell has suggested they will continue to release on streaming sites alongside cinemas from now on.
This came as something of a shock to Cineworld and Odeon, who retorted by declaring a global ban on Universal titles.
The current business model has been further destabilised by the Academy’s decision to abandon the requirement that films have a cinematic release to be eligible for an Oscar.
Because while Netflix had more nominations at this year’s Oscars than any of the big traditional film studios, such as Disney, Warner Bros, Paramount and Sony, to achieve this, the platform was forced to have limited cinema releases as well on films such as The Irishman and Marriage Story.
This shift could also be accelerated as the pandemic keeps cinemas closed, but Mr Kamasa insists that while it was the right decision by the Academy for this year, in the future the Oscars should commit to cinema.
“I still think long-term the Oscars and BAFTA film awards are for films that go in the cinema,” he says. “You have the Emmys for TV films and here you have the BAFTA TV [awards].”
As for the black hole in releases caused by production having stopped for three to six months this year, that will eventually hit towards the end of 2021, Mr Kamasa says.
“Because releases are being spread back to next year the consumer may not feel that gap, but that’s based on the fact we get back into production soon.
“If the lag in production takes another three to six months then that gap is only going to get bigger.”
How will the narrative of future cinema be shaped by the current crisis? Much has been speculated about how the pandemic will influence the kinds of films being commissioned.
Mr Kamasa predicts that a demand for feel-good films will eventually overtake our curiosity with dark dystopia and current trend for films such as Contagion.