When exhibitors and studio executives travel to Las Vegas later this month for CinemaCon, they’ll enter a state in which 19 percent of viral lab tests came back positive for Covid-19 last week — one of the highest in the nation, according to a report released Wednesday by the CDC, which also labeled Vegas’ Clark County a “sustained hotspot” for Covid.
The pandemic forced the cancellation of last year’s CinemaCon in March 2020. As the Delta variant sees case numbers rise across the country, several studio executives told IndieWire that they and their colleagues don’t feel comfortable going and wish the National Association of Theatre Owners would cancel.
At the same time there’s little appetite at studios to back out, at least at this point; they respect NATO’s work and the pains that exhibitors have endured during the pandemic.
Last month, Disney decided not to send executives and talent to the convention. Instead, it will screen its upcoming MCU installment “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings.” Said Cinemacon managing director Mitch Neuhauser, “The screening is scheduled and confirmed for the show. There is nothing virtual planned from a CinemaCon standpoint.”
The CinemaCon schedule includes presentations from Universal, Warner Bros., Sony, Paramount, MGM, and Lionsgate. However, studio reps declined to discuss their CinemaCon plans — or even give on-the record confirmation of their participation.
This year’s event runs August 23-26, marking the first time in more than two years that representatives from theaters and studios have gathered to learn about studios’ slates. Kicking off the conference is a 6 p.m. Sony presentation, “The Big Screen Is Back,” a slogan that echoes the NATO- and the MPA-sponsored media showcase event held May 19 in Century City.
Still, multiple studio sources said they believed it would be better if NATO focused on CinemaCon 2022, set for next April, in the hopes that the pandemic will truly be calmer by then. All spoke off the record over concerns of offending NATO with their comments.
Neuhauser said he is confident he and his team can stage a safe and productive event later this month. He said it’s crucial that it take place — in whatever modified form may be necessary.
“CinemaCon is a statement on behalf of exhibition and distribution that our industry matters, it matters to the world,” he said. “The importance of the show is for distribution and exhibition to get together, because we’re partners.”
He recognizes this will not be a typical CinemaCon. He’s expecting 2,000 attendees, down a third from 2019’s registered attendance. Many international delegates are unable to attend due to travel restrictions.
Then there’s the pandemic protocols: Masks will be required at the convention and throughout Caesars Palace, in accordance with Nevada state law. CinemaCon is taking the additional step of requiring proof of vaccination or a recent negative Covid test. Vaccinated attendees will receive an orange wristband that will be required to participate in any CinemaCon events.
Neuhauser expressed his appreciation for studios’ continued support of the event, including Disney’s modified plans and any other studios that feel the need to change the nature of their participation.
“Their support is incredibly meaningful to the future of our industry, the future of exhibition,” he said. “I’ve said to studios, ‘If you have to get in the car with a DCP in the backseat, drive up to the backstage door of the Coliseum, hand over the DCP, get on the stage and talk to exhibition — which you haven’t been able to do in two years — … then you grab your DCP, get in the car, and drive back to LA, God bless you, thanks for your support.”
NATO clearly believes that CinemaCon 2021 is essential for the industry’s survival; to cancel it would risk a negative message about the safety of gathering in large auditoriums, i.e. movie theaters. That said, there’s a clear distinction between watching a movie while wearing a mask in a local theater and mingling with delegates from around the country in a tourist-heavy vacation spot.
“I think the studios are going to absolutely continue to support the show and if there has to be any modification for how their presentations are made, we’ll work with them hand over foot to accommodate them,” said Neuhauser. “We’re putting the future of our industry as our priority.”