“I didn’t expect all these people,” says a slightly stunned employee in front of the house behind a mask and looks nervously over his shoulder. Staff have been given strict instructions not to speak to the press and most are sticking to them because they fear it will affect the potential layoff pay.
It’s been a little over five days since most Cineworld employees found out on social media that their jobs were at risk as the company planned to temporarily close all cinemas in the UK and US, affecting around 45,000 jobs. For the 5,500 afflicted in the UK, there is little clarity about the outlook after the credits expire at today’s final screening. New reports suggest that some white-collar and contract staff, with the exception of those on zero-hour contracts, are being asked to accept unpaid leave or layoff for an indefinite period until October 12.
The mood inside was understandably gloomy and uncertain. But 7:30 pm screenings of a post-apocalyptic Japanese anime film “Akira”, released in 1988, and the teen romance “After We Collided” confronted by Cole Sprouse herald a wave of moviegoers. All films are £ 4.75 ($ 6) and loyalty card members want to get the most out of Cineworld’s Unlimited program while they still can.
Most of the guests notice that this is their last outing in a long time. Fortunately, others are not aware of this. As they pull past the COVID-19 signage next to the entrance and tie up the lighted steps to scan tickets – scenes from Christopher Nolan’s “Tenet” now lit up the stairs for the seventh week – it’s hard to believe so the end is possible, at least for a while. Even the strangely quiet “Tenet” debut on August 26th in Leicester Square couldn’t have prepared for it.
“It’s a drastic step,” says moviegoer Eric Thue about the closings. “There are a lot of people who would like to go to the cinema even though there is a pandemic. Not everyone shares the same fear of going out. ”
The 26-year-old University of Greenwich videographer has seen around 10 films, including Harry Potter and Bill & Ted Face the Music, since Cineworld reopened its screens on July 31 after a four-month shutdown. But the Thursday screening of “Akira” could be his last outing for some time.
“If nothing new comes out I’ll probably stay at home and watch Netflix, Disney Plus or Amazon and maybe try to watch some older films that I haven’t seen,” says Thue, “because if I go to the other.” it will only be older films anyway. ”
For 25-year-old Aaron Szyls, going to Vue, which is currently fully functional, or Odeon, which is largely open, isn’t an option. “I’m a very loyal customer,” he grins. “I’ll just wait at home for Cineworld to open again. I got a 65-inch TV a month before the pandemic so I’m ready. ”
The Starbucks employee has been parked at Cineworld since noon, watching movies in a row and making the most of his membership. For his last show “After We Collided” he invited a few friends “to celebrate the last day”.
“In the past, companies closed when they closed [mark the occasion in some way]“Says Szyls,“ but at the moment I don’t see it [at Cineworld]. I guess there is nothing to celebrate. They gave free popcorn to members and some nachos, but I don’t know if the staff got anything. ”
Sarah L., another member of Unlimited, describes a “sad” but “calm” atmosphere. “The guy who gave me my popcorn told me it was their last day, but if you didn’t ask, they didn’t tell you.”
The 26-year-old UX designer shuttles back and forth between Vue and Cineworld, but after hearing how employees were treated over the past week, her mind changed about the latter. “If I knew what they did to their employees, I would reconsider going to Cineworld,” she says clearly. “I have a membership, but I wouldn’t like that [what happened to them] happen to me. ”
And yet many Cineworld customers are not surprised. “I work for a large company and I don’t expect much,” says Anthony Johnson, a 50-year-old software engineer. “There is not much you can do. A company of this size with no income? This is very hard. ”
A security guard in the casino next door has been monitoring the ups and downs of traffic in the cinema for two months. “I knew this was going to happen,” he says. “There was only one movie in the whole time that had a queue at the Lego store [a block away]. ”
This film was not Nolan’s “Tenet”, the so-called cinema savior, which so far only grossed 307 million US dollars worldwide, but the Chinese war film “The Eight Hundred”, which has brought in over 441 million US dollars so far. The film has only raised $ 19,516 in the UK since its September 18 release, but there are reports that fans were on the street in Leicester Square.
Best known for glitzy movie premieres, any year that includes cinemas from all three major cinema chains: Cineworld, Odeon and Vue, would have lots of fans for the BFI London Film Festival. This year, Odeon employees, where many of these screenings take place, are walking uncomfortably through an abandoned foyer, similar to Vue’s.
Odeon begins responding to inquiries from former Cineworld Leicester Square clients who are curious about the loyalty offers from the AMC Theaters-sponsored chain. Some ask if they can still come here to watch movies. “I’m telling you that you can come here now,” one employee shrugs his shoulders. Odeon has not closed any of its cinemas since it reopened, but has switched around a quarter of its cinemas to weekend hours.
“We’ll hold out until Christmas,” says the Odeon employee, “although I can’t hold my breath for ‘Wonder Woman 1984’.”