What used to be a place of communal entertainment is now a setting of uncertain anxiety. Drawn by Ethan Williams.

Deciding to go to a movie or not used to be one of the easiest decisions in the world, but for some these days, it could be a matter of life or death.

Brandon Winchester used to see over 50 films in theaters a year. Photo Provided by Brandon Winchester.

As state public health officials announce Orange County entering back into the more flexible red tier, theaters surrounding Chapman University such as the AMC Orange 30 and the Century Stadium 25 and XD have reopened their doors to Chapman film fans, but under a few conditions.

Senior film studies major Brandon Winchester has not seen a film since Orange’s newest transition into the red tier. But he did have the opportunity to see “News of the World” at the AMC Orange 30 in January under the same COVID-19 regulations that are in place today.

Winchester shared that while he enjoyed his time watching the film, he felt a lot more apprehensive about his safety.

“I’m not going to lie, when I first stepped foot in the theatre I felt instantly uncomfortable, almost outside of my element,” said Winchester. “It all felt taboo, like something I should not be doing.”

On August 14th, 2020, AMC revealed their ‘safe and clean’ plan, partnering with Clorox to create a healthy moviegoing environment for when they reopened their theaters.

The AMC Orange 30 welcomes audiences with the release of “Mortal Kombat.”
Photo courtesy of Ethan Williams.

The plan is quite similar to that of Cinemark’s with one of the biggest differences being AMC allowing refills on drinks and popcorn upon request.

Once Winchester finished the movie and left the theater, he felt confident that the theater took all their precautions for his safety. That being said, he shared that he understands if those do not feel ready to return to the theater this early.

“I think it’s totally up to the individual,” said Winchester. “If you are fully vaccinated or are fine with socially distancing, then I think it might be time to buy a ticket, get some popcorn and go see something on the big screen.”

According to the California Department of Public Health, movie theaters are allowed to open their auditoriums in the red tier with a max capacity of 25% or 100 people, whichever is fewer.

Senior creative producing major George O’Connor saw the highly anticipated “Godzilla vs. Kong” at the Century Stadium 25 on April 1st. O’Connor hadn’t seen a film in theaters since March 2020, but he was surprised with how little the moviegoing experience felt to him under COVID-19 regulations.

Signs that indicate “The Cinemark Standard” are found by every doorway at the Century Stadium 25. Photo courtesy of Ethan Williams.

“Aside from wearing a mask, the only major difference was the announcement before the film that the theaters are regularly cleaned by the employees,” said O’Connor. “It felt like a normal moviegoing experience from before the pandemic.”

In a public video message from Cinemark CEO Mark Zoradi, he announced the ‘Cinemark standard’ plan to assure guests that theaters such as the Century Stadium 25 would operate at the utmost levels of safety.

This policy involves requiring guests and staff to wear masks at all times, but allowing them to be briefly removed to eat or drink in the theater, contactless pay and cashless for concessions, with drink and popcorn refills suspended for the time being. 

“We wanted to ensure the time was right before we reopened our doors,” said Zoradi. “The health and safety of our guests and communities is a top priority.”

O’Connor clarified that he saw the film during a Thursday matinee. So while the theater may not have been as packed as it could have been, he felt comfortable enough by the staff’s dedication to keeping a clean space.

“It’s good to know that the staff are well trained and regularly clean the theater,” said O’Connor. “It’s good to know that theaters are taking the virus seriously.”

The Century Stadium 25 and XD opens its doors on a sunny Sunday afternoon. Photo courtesy of Ethan Williams.

Katie Walsh, Chapman University professor and film critic for the LA Times, shared how important it is for theaters to open up for both Hollywood and film lovers across the country.

“I’m glad that theaters are re-opening, if only to ensure their financial future, which has been ravaged by the pandemic,” said Walsh. “There’s nothing like the theatrical experience for a true movie lover.”

However, Walsh urged that in order to preserve this experience that film fans have been yearning for over a year, safety precautions must be put in place.

“If the theaters and most importantly, the patrons, are able to enforce and abide by the COVID safety protocols, I do think it’s safe to go back to the movies,” said Walsh.

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Ethan Williams is a senior film studies major and visual storytelling minor at Chapman, as well as the art manager and writer for ChapBook Magazine.