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Laemmle Theaters President: ‘Maybe We Just Need to Wait’ to Lure Cautious, Older Moviegoers Back

If older audiences aren't ready to go back to the movies, Greg Laemmle wonders if it's best to focus resources on those who are ready to return to the theater.

"The French Dispatch" Searchlight Pictures

“The Private Dining Room of the Police Commissioner” from “The French Dispatch”

Searchlight Pictures

Older people, who have historically been a core component of arthouse theater audiences, have been more reluctant to return to to the cinema amid the pandemic compared to younger people. Now, the leader of one of Los Angeles’ most prominent chains has raised an idea: Maybe it’s just too early to try to bring them back.

“It’s going to take some time to acquire an audience, to reacquaint them with moviegoing. And you have to be careful — I mean, how much effort do we put into outreach during this environment versus do we need to save our ammo until the coast is clear?” Laemmle Theaters President Greg Laemmle said in an interview last week with The Boxoffice Podcast.

Laemmle offered some insight into the state of his eight Southern California locations. He said the company has focused its efforts on catering to an audience that’s ready to get back to the movies.

“Some theaters are doing better than others and, in part, that’s about the age of the audience that will support those locations. Art films, and films in general, that are appealing to a younger audience are having an easier time at achieving a higher percentage of box office,” Laemmle said. “The older audience is still very much on the fence.”

Laemmle said he saw “good momentum” between April and the beginning of July, but then the surge of the Delta variant “just really kicked our ass.” Asked by host Rebecca Pahle about a movie that has performed particularly well at his theaters, Laemmle said Wes Anderson’s “The French Dispatch” has been a standout. Released on October 22, the film has grossed $15.9 million domestic to date.

“It’s a name director and a younger-appealing audience,” he said. “Unfortunately, I can’t look at films like ‘Belfast,’ films like ‘Spencer,’ even films like ‘Titane’ to some extent and really see ‘God, this would have done so much better in a pre-pandemic environment, why is this film struggling to find an audience?'”

Laemmle said it’s all an uphill battle. And as the emergence of the Omicron variant has shown, the pandemic is not over.

“That real effort to acquire the audience that has some reasonable concern about coming out, maybe we just need to wait till it passes. It’s kind of like the riptide concept — the last thing you want to do is swim against the tide,” he said. “The tide takes you where it’s going to take you, eventually you’ll get out of that riptide and you can move to the side and then get back to where you need to get back. Save your energy until you can have some impact.”

Zooming out, Laemmle talked about a broader philosophy of “meeting the audience halfway,” through price and programming. One example: Laemmle knows there are larger populations of Farsi speakers near his Encino location, so he’s more likely to program Iranian films there compared to in Pasadena.

“Maybe the traditional arthouse audience does not want to see a really great horror film, indie horror film, or they may not want to see a film from a country or a region or a language that is not something that is traditionally on their radar,” he said. “But there is an audience that wants to see those films and you have to put them in a theater and give them a shot to see it, and then obviously tailor your marketing.”

You can listen to The Boxoffice Podcast’s full interview with Laemmle here.

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