“For perspective on the scale of need before us: If we were to pay a week’s missed wages to every [movie theater employee in New York City] who applied, we would need approximately $185,000.”
On Sunday, March 15, Gov. Charlie Baker established a ban on gatherings of more than 25 people in Massachusetts, set to take effect on the 17th and to last until April 7. This was in line with decisions made in both New York City and Los Angeles, where mayors Bill de Blasio and Eric Garcetti had announced the enforced closure of movie theaters and various other businesses that same night.
On Monday, March 16, the corporate multiplexes of Boston opened their doors to the public anyway, and played movies until they were pretty much legally prohibited to do so. The following notes detail when they announced their respective closures, when they’re currently slated to reopen, who owns them, whether they’ve made any public statements about paying their workers, and whether their workers have made any public statements about getting paid.
AMC Boston Common 19, AMC Assembly Row 12, and AMC South Bay Center 12:
All three locations opened for business on Monday, albeit with reduced schedules that seem to have been instituted earlier that weekend. They are each owned and operated by the largest U.S.-based movie theater chain, AMC Theaters, which announced Monday night that as a result of the pandemic all of its locations would be closed “for up to 12 weeks.”
Reports online suggest that AMC will not be paying most of its theater staff during the shutdown, and at least one petition is circulating asking the corporation to reconsider that position. AMC Theaters is a publicly-traded company whose majority owner is the Wanda Group, a Beijing-based entertainment conglomerate that reported $5.461 billion in revenue during 2018. Requests for comment were directed to an AMC-specific media line that was not accepting calls.
Was scheduled to open for business on Monday, per a company representative who I spoke to that morning, but parent company Arclight Cinemas announced the closure of all its locations later that day. On Tuesday morning I was told that “as of today, the Boston location is closed”, and that “we [Arclight Cinemas] are also working diligently to make sure our employees are taken care of as these closures impact them in the short term.”
When I asked a company representative “whether all employees will be receiving their full pay during the closure”, that individual stated that “the details regarding employment are personal and confidential between employer and employee. Our human resources team is working with our employees to answer questions about their employment status as these weeks unfold and to assist them in accessing available government relief.” Arclight Cinemas is owned and operated by The Decurion Corporation, a Los Angeles-based parent company that oversees two different theater chains, a senior living center, and Robertson Properties Group, “one of the leading real estate development, acquisition, and property management companies in Southern California.”
Embassy Cinema and Kendall Square Cinema:
Both locations were “showing movies tonight”, per a representative at one who I spoke to early Monday. The Embassy and Kendall Square Cinemas are currently operated by Landmark Theaters, which later that night announced the temporary closure of all its locations “until further notice.”
Online reports suggest that the vast majority of employees at Landmark-owned theaters will not be receiving any pay during the closure, and we’ve corroborated that fact with regards to the Embassy and Kendall specifically. Landmark Theaters itself was recently purchased by the Cohen Media Group, which also functions as a distribution company and is led by CEO and chairman Charles S. Cohen, whose net worth is currently listed by Forbes at $3.5 billion. Inquiries were directed to a Landmark-specific media line that did not answer our call nor return our message.
Regal Fenway & RPX:
Was open for business on Monday but with an earlier closing time than usual, per a company representative I spoke with that day. Later that night the Regal corporation announced that all of its locations would be temporarily closed for an indefinite period effective Tuesday.
Reports online suggest that Regal will not be paying most of its theater staff during the shutdown, and at least one petition is now circulating asking the corporation to reconsider that position. The Regal Cinemas chain is owned by Cineworld, a London-based and publicly-traded theater operator that reported approximately £4,370 million in revenue across 2019. Inquiries were directed to a Regal-specific media line that did not answer our call nor return our message.
Showcase Cinema de Lux Legacy Place, Showcase Cinema de Lux Revere, Showcase SuperLux Chestnut Hill, etc.:
All were open for business on Monday but with an earlier closing time than usual, per an employee I spoke with that day. A few hours later, Showcase Cinemas’ parent company National Amusements announced the temporary closure of all Showcase locations beginning at 8 pm that night, “with operations expected to resume by April 7.”
Multiple reports online indicate that most Showcase employees are not receiving their pay during the shutdown. The Dedham-based National Amusements, which also controls ViacomCBS (and various other subsidiaries with it, including Paramount Pictures), is jointly owned by Sumner Redstone, whose net worth is listed by Forbes at $2.7 billion, and Shari Redstone, who owns 20 percent of the company. When I requested comment on whether their workers are being paid during the shutdown, a company representative directed me to a press release that included no comment on worker pay.
ShowPlace ICON Boston:
While the ICON did open for shows on Monday, it was also the only theater reached that morning to provide DigBoston with immediate confirmation that they’d be closed within the next 24 hours. A few hours later, showtimes for Monday were off the website entirely, and later that night ShowPlace announced the temporary closure of all theaters under its umbrella.
The ShowPlace ICON Boston is one of six theaters currently owned and operated by the Kerasotes Group, which in 2010 sold the vast majority of its prior holdings to AMC for $275 million. At the time of this article’s publication, a company representative could not yet offer comment on how they were handling worker pay during the shutdown.
To fully illustrate the breadth of movie theater employees suddenly cut off from their income, one would do well to look at the statistics provided by the Cinema Worker Solidarity Fund, a fundraiser started five days ago by a group of film-industry professionals and organizations based in New York City. As reported on their page, the Fund has thus far raised about $60,000 for “newly out-of-work NYC movie theater employees,” and has already reached its cap of 300 qualifying applications. Because the organizers plan to increase the application cap in line with overall funding, each applicant will receive about $200 even if the total goes up significantly during the coming weeks. “The things that are going to be responsible for theater workers’ survival are basic worker protections—guaranteed paid leave, benefits, and so on,” said Sierra Pettengill, one of the four intial organizers, per a Vox report written by Alissa Wilkinson. “This fund is only a temporary emergency measure, to try and help them get through this week and next.”
That math reflects the situation outside New York City just as much as it does within it: Even the most successful fundraising efforts and generous donations will represent but a minor stop gap against the unimaginable extent of financial losses being incurred by workers and independent or nonprofit exhibitors right now—especially since many of the most well-funded operators in the game have added onto the burden by cutting their own staff’s pay without even a week or two’s notice.
And even to just provide those “basic worker protections” that Pettengill cites, the largest chains have already requested a bailout. Per reports published yesterday by news outlets including The New York Times and Variety, the National Association of Theater Owners (NATO) has petitioned the Trump administration for extensive financial relief including loan guarantees and new tax benefits.
“We are doing everything we can to help our employees through this difficult period, but with zero revenue coming into our theaters, we need Congress to provide loan guarantees so our lenders will continue to extend credit to us, assistance for mortgage and rent payments, and to suspend collection of payroll tax so we can continue to pay salaries,” said Rolando Rodriguez, chief executive of the Milwaukee-based chain Marcus Theaters, in an interview with the Times.
His choice of the word “salaries” rather than “employees” is a notable one given that the same Times report states that “movie theaters across the country [are now] furloughing the majority of their hourly workers”. For a rough idea of the numbers we’re dealing with: NATO reports that its members employ roughly 150,000 workers across the U.S. right now, and at the end of 2015, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics found that the 144,000 people then employed by non-drive in movie theaters were receiving an average annual pay of $13,345. That second figure is on the very low end because so many theater workers are part-time employees, which in many cases prevents them from receiving employer-sponsored healthcare, not to mention keeping them at the bottom of the pay scale. And on that note: Payscale.com estimates that at AMC Theaters—which at the end of last quarter employed 34,754 part-timers to 4,408 full-timers, and had a total liquidity of “$597 million [including] $265 million in cash”—the average worker pay rate is currently $11.06/hour.
To what extent can those workers expect help from this association of theater owners? According to their own press release, the executive board of NATO has authorized the use of $1 million raised from the group’s funds and Hollywood studios “to aid movie theater employees who are out of work due to movie theater closures.” Numbers compiled by Variety in conjunction with the organization indicate at least 1,910 of the movie theater locations operated by major chains in the U.S. are currently shut down as a result of the pandemic. With that in mind, if the $1 million were to be split evenly among those 1,910 movie theaters, then payments would amount to a total of about $525—not per employee, but per theater.
This is the second in a series of DigBoston articles regarding the status of local film institutions and theaters during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. The first entry reported on the Brattle Theatre.
Special thanks to my friend Peter Labuza, who provided crucial edits and notes on this article.