A group of the film industry’s most high-profile and influential names – including Steve McQueen, Bond producer Barbara Broccoli and Danny Boyle – have published an open letter calling for more government support for the large cinema chains whose businesses have been threatened during the pandemic.
The letter says that “cinema-going offers proven benefits when it comes to jobs, high-street footfall and community cohesion” but that “the need for direct financial support is pressing”. The letter is designed to support what it describes as the “larger cinema operators”, which include Odeon, Cineworld and Showcase, without whom “the future of the entire UK film industry would look extremely precarious”.
The letter adds: “We very much hope that government will respond to this call. UK cinema stands on the edge of an abyss. We urgently need targeted funding support to ensure that future generations can enjoy the magic of cinema.”
As well as McQueen, Broccoli and Boyle, the letter is signed by directors Amma Asante, Gurinder Chadha, Paul Greengrass and Christopher Nolan, producers David Heyman and Elizabeth Karlsen, and actors Jude Law and Stephen Fry.
Virtually all cinemas are currently shut across the UK under tier 4 restrictions, leading to widespread release delays and sharply reduced revenue, with box-office analyst Comscore reporting a 76% drop in takings for 2020 as a direct result of the pandemic. The larger operators have been hit particularly hard, with the disappearance of Hollywood releases and the difficulties of ensuring their venues are Covid-safe, even when they were allowed to reopen in the summer and autumn.
Phil Clapp, the chief executive of the UK Cinema Association, says: “While all cinemas have been able to benefit from general business support during this time, including the furlough scheme and a business rates holiday, many of the larger operators in particular have been required to continue to pay rental on their commercial tenancies as well as the other costs that come with running physical buildings.”
The Culture Recovery Fund has provided support for smaller independent cinemas, but Clapp says that the large commercial chains – which together generate 80% of the UK audiences – have received no specific support. “As of now, there seems little likelihood that they will be able to open until this coming March, representing almost a year of closure. The resulting ‘revenue gap’ experienced by UK cinemas means that the continued operation of many cinema venues is now in question. We are asking government to look again at the support it has provided to the sector, in particular for the larger operators.
“Given the differing nature of their business operations, there is unlikely to be a ‘one size fits all’ approach, but we are asking the Treasury to come back to the table for further discussions on what targeted funding might help ensure the survival of the industry.”