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Canadian cinemas brace for slowdown as Hollywood strikes continue

Theatre-owners just getting over the pandemic concerned flow of content could dry up soon

Canadian movie theatre owners say they’re nervously watching for developments in dual Hollywood strikes and plan to show more classics, cult favourites and live events if the labour disruptions stretch on.

The owners are expecting striking stars represented by the Screen Actors Guild-American Federation of Television and Radio Artists, and talent backed by the Writers Guild of America, to be on the picket lines for months as they seek better wages and protections from artificial intelligence.

The strikes, which immediately stopped the production and promotion of films and television shows, stand to slow down the flow of content as studios and distributors run out of movies completed before the strike to release.

“I am absolutely petrified about it,” said Jeff Knoll, chief executive of Cinemas, an Oakville, Ont. theatre.

“We barely survived the pandemic…and we are quite nervous about what the future is going to hold with all that’s going on in Hollywood right now.”

This week alone, Knoll’s theatre has scheduled screenings of “Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One” and “Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny,” along with the hotly-anticipated “Barbie” and “Oppenheimer.”

Knoll, however, fears that flow of Hollywood fare moviegoers have waited months, if not years, to see could ease up soon.

“There’s no question that if the strike drags out, (studios) are going to have to either start spreading out their content or simply postponing it until a point in the future when they anticipate the strike will be over,” he said.

Even if they don’t switch up their release schedules, Knoll thinks theatres will be hit hard by a lack of promotion around films.

The strikes are preventing stars from walking red carpets, participating in press junkets and interviews and taping new marketing materials.

The cast of “Oppenheimer,” for example, walked out of their premiere in solidarity with striking workers last week, while Disney sent Mickey and Minnie Mouse, Maleficent and Cruella de Vil down the “Haunted Mansion” red carpet in lieu of stars Tiffany Haddish, Danny DeVito and Rosario Dawson over the weekend.

Knoll also suspects “Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One” had a rough ride at the box office because of the strikes.

“It didn’t perform the way it was supposed to perform over the weekend and it could very well be because there wasn’t as much publicity with the stars, particularly Tom Cruise, leading up to opening day.”

If films do slow down, Knoll said he will toy with bringing in more Canadian fare and movies from parts of the globe not as impacted by the strike. Bollywood films and screenings of hits like “Harry Potter” could also factor into’s schedule.

Corinne Lea, the chief executive of the Rio Theatre in Vancouver, also plans to get crafty with programming, but said it’s nothing new for indie theatres.

Before the strikes, the Rio had to wait between three and six months to screen some films Cineplex, the country’s biggest cinema chain, had for months.

As a result, the Rio often screened new films months after they were released and relied on a rotation of previously released fare, burlesque and drag shows and Canadian hits.

Its July calendar shows “Star Wars” screenings, a “Grease” singalong and Jean-Luc Godard’s 1965 New Wave drama “Pierrot le Fou.” Hundreds of people show up to its classic screenings of hits like “the Rocky Horror Picture Show,” Lea added.

“We’re used to not being able to get current content,” she said.

“This strike is going to hurt Cineplex actually more than it’ll hurt us because all the theatres that actually rely on current content are the ones that are going to have a problem. But because we’ve been denied access to it for so long, we’ve become these like creative shape shifters.”“

In May, when the 11,5000 film and television writers represented by the Writers Guild of America walked off the job, Cineplex chief executive Ellis Jacob didn’t expect the strike to have a material impact on its business.

Network TV and streamers, whose content is completed shortly before it is released, tend to feel the brunt of such strikes, not theatres, he reasoned.

“I always say to people yes, it will impact us, but it’ll take a long time to impact us,” Jacob later told The Canadian Press in an interview.

“We’re talking three years from now because a lot of the movies are already in process of being produced.”

In an email, a Cineplex spokesperson said, “Like everyone in the industry, we hope that SAG-AFTRA and the WGA can come to a quick resolution with the AMPTP.”

As for Knoll and Lea, they are anxiously awaiting any new developments in the strike.

“It’s definitely one that we’re all keeping an eye on,” Lea said.

“I think everyone is nervous.”

READ ALSO: Hollywood actors join screenwriters in historic industry-stopping strike