How Lionsgate Plans to Release Movies After Coronavirus Shutdowns End

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The studio says the Janelle Monáe-led horror film “Antebellum” would be its return to the theater on August 21

Janelle Monae Antebellum

It’s the billion-dollar question for Hollywood studios: Will audiences flock back to movie theaters once they reopen? Lionsgate studio head Joe Drake on Thursday told Wall Street analysts that while he’s confident moviegoers will return, the studio is being cautious in its plans to release films when theaters open their doors and will use data to inform its decisions. The studio also will keep an eye on the Warner Bros. release of “Tenet” in July. “We’re not naive about the environment we’re entering and that we’re in a very fluid situation. There are a lot of things that have to happen for audiences to feel safe and comfortable in theaters,” Drake said during Lionsgate’s quarterly conference call for investors. “From our perspective, you have to operate in a very flexible, agile way, and we’ve put a lot of plans in place to do that and the way we’re operating our business.” Earlier this month, Lionsgate said the Janelle Monáe-led horror film “Antebellum” would be its return to the theater on August 21, roughly a month after Warner Bros. is set to release its much-anticipated blockbuster “Tenet.” In addition to monitoring the box office of “Tenet,” Drake said Lionsgate’s plan for testing the waters is to collect as much data as possible on audiences as movie theaters slowly reopen. “We’re in talks with our exhibitor partners literally daily,” Drake said. “We’re digging as deep into data as we can in terms of consumer habits and what sort of proxies we can use for appetites coming back to theaters. “We’ve been very specific about the films we dated… they are specifically chosen and dated because they’re targeted audiences, and they’re targeted movies that aren’t going to require as long lead of a media spend,” Drake continued. “They’re actually set up so we can get a lot of data before we actually trigger expenditure and have the ability to move quickly if things aren’t opening quite as aggressively as we hope they will.” Movie theaters have already revealed plans to begin reopening their doors in July and slowly resuming operations. Cinemark chief Mark Zoradi said the chain would likely use its luxury reclining theaters and seating to help provide more distance between moviegoers. Before the pandemic even forced the shut down of theaters and all nonessential businesses, Regal and AMC reduced the capacity in their theaters to 50% by capping the ticket sales for each showtime in each of their auditoriums. Zoradi also said Cinemark has even considered lowering the cost of some movie tickets to incentivize moviegoers to frequent theaters again. There are still questions concerning just how cautious consumers will be once theaters, restaurants and other businesses reopen. Even if theaters reopen and take all the necessary precautions, there’s no certainty moviegoers will live up to their name, and if there’s no one to watch the movies then it doesn’t much make sense for studios to spend the millions it usually takes to release them. ViacomCBS boss Bob Bakish said earlier this month that the company’s film arm Paramount, might put the brakes on its first planned release post-pandemic, “The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge on the Run.” “It’s too far out to call if that’s definitely going to be released or it’s definitely not going to be released,” Bakish said at the time. “We hope it will release, but we will continue to look at and make the right decision in terms of the return on those assets because we’ve got great films.” Lionsgate has already pushed its Deon Taylor thriller “Fatale” to October 30, and Neil Burger’s sci-fi “Voyagers” to November 25. “We’re about six weeks out from the first big wide released movie that will give us an opportunity to see how audiences are acting leading up to that opening weekend,” Drake said. “We’re also doing our own tracking studies and the like on our material: how its working and the level of interest. We’ll be doing some extra polling to try to understand audiences’ willingness to come back to theaters as our movies start to track.”