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Heading To The Movies? What To Know Before You Go

The Santikos Palladium on May 14, 2020.
Nathan Cone | Texas Public Radio
A few dozen cars line the lot at the Santikos Palladium on May 14, 2020.

Movie theaters in San Antonio and around the country are slowly coming back to life as business restrictions are being lifted by state and local governments. 

In San Antonio, City Base Cinema announced they are reopening the South Side theater on Friday, May 15 at 25% capacity with open seats between parties. Guests will be pre-screened, but masks are not required for entry. EVO Entertainment's locations in Schertz and Kyle are open under similar guidance, and the Stars and Stripes Drive-In in New Braunfels is also open for business.

Santikos Entertainment opened their three largest locations (Casa Blanca, Palladium, Cibolo) on May 1. Andrew Brooks, Executive Director of Sales and Marketing, says their limited capacity screenings have been successful from an operational standpoint, despite traffic running at “about 15% of what we would do if we were completely open at this same time.” Santikos Entertainment plans to reopen the Mayan Palace theater on Thursday, May 21.

TPR caught up with Brooks by phone to learn a little more about what going to the theater is like now, and what may be ahead for the movies. This conversation has been edited for clarity and length.

Nathan Cone: How many employees are currently on active duty?

Andrew Brooks: We've brought back around 120 employees, out of the almost 700 furloughed.

Santikos CEO, Tim Handren, on a Facebook live video, mentioned furloughed employees are still getting medical benefits. I guess that's for the full time ones, obviously?

Yes, sir. That's correct. So if anybody was eligible for the benefits package, whatever they had opted into, Santikos is picking up 100 percent of the costs while they remain furloughed.

So, the furlough for them is basically until their particular location opens up? Is that how it works?

A little bit. When we opened up those first three locations, we reached out to those particular staff members first, and we had about 85% that said they wanted to come back. The other ones, like Tim mentioned in the video, gave some really good reasons why they weren't ready. They had a significant other that worked in nursing or a hospital, and they just didn't feel comfortable. They were caregivers for elderly family members. And there were some that they themselves had underlying conditions that are at the top of what you might see for the highest at risk. And so we really respected those (decisions). So, we did have to reach out to some other locations (for personnel). But as we open a location and bring it back online, we do start with the core group that was working there.

Are y'all at all worried about what happens if you have to close again? What could that mean for the business?

To say we're not worried about it wouldn't be true. So, what we've done is mitigate against having to shut down again. All of those safety precautions that you've seen and heard about are to keep us from having to regress... We helped write the National Association of Theater Owners white paper on how to reopen. And just yesterday there were five more chains across the country announcing plans to open. And we had more in Texas yesterday. Strike + ReelCinergyis open... So, it's about being responsible in how we open. Not just us, but every other business, to make sure we can remain open.

Are you guys expecting any newer titles? Obviously not big things, because the “Mulans” and the “Black Widows” of the world have all been pushed back, but are any newer pictures that maybe slipped through the cracks going to be shown, or is it going to be mostly the kind of second-run titles, or classics, as you describe them?

We're actually going to have five new titles next week. One of them is “How to Build a Girl,” which looks like a really good title. “Military Wives” is another one. And then we're in talks for three others that we'll be able to announce. And then the other big news, the action thriller with Russell Crowe, the movie “Unhinged” ...They actually pushed their opening date to July 1. So, that looks like it's going to be the first big studio release now. Then it looks like Warner Brothers and Christopher Nolan are going to hold "Tenet" (in July), and then Disney has come out and said they're committed to holding "Mulan." I'll also say we're going to announce next week some really cool series. We're working on a military series. We're working on a comedy series. We're working on a superhero series along with the “Fast and Furious” series.

And on the Facebook Live video you also were taking some suggestions from the audience. Is that still something somebody can do?

We'd love to hear suggestions. You know… on the overall experience, what they like, what they didn't like. Maybe a suggestion on touch points, or safety. And then, of course, any suggestions on what we could play inside the theater. We're all ears.

That reminds me of a safety question because it’s unclear. Masks are voluntary when you're inside the theater, but what about in lobbies and other areas? Are you strongly recommending, suggesting, requiring?

We recommend the mask, but right now they are voluntary. And the reason we did that is because, firstly, we have to understand what the mask is for, that's keeping you from spreading your germs. And so that's why all of our employees have to wear the proper PPE equipment at all times. But when we laid out the theater and when you walk through it, you'll see, (what look like large) poker chips on the ground, through the restroom (for distancing guidance). So, the whole theater has been laid out. As soon as you enter the door, to when you sit down for the movie, you are at least six feet away from anybody else.

It's been really encouraging because we've been watching people. We've been getting feedback every day from guests and our employees, and everybody is really, really adhering to it, because we reserve that right to make (masks) mandatory at any time. So if at any time we were getting complaints… or something happens, we're going to reserve that right at any location across the city to make masks mandatory. But right now, they are voluntary for guests, and all of our employees will be in proper PPE equipment at all times.

Santikos Entertainment released a video on their safety protocols here.

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