Theater Owners Asking Congress for Financial Relief

Published on March 18, 2020

Yesterday, The National Association of Theater Owners released a statement about the future of moviegoing. Theater owners know people will eventually return to enjoying popcorn and sodas in their cinemas, but as for when, they’re as clueless as the rest of us. The movie theater business is in a terrible bind at the moment, and they’re now asking the federal government for assistance.

Theater Loans

Owners are seeking aid from the government now. With hundreds of thousands of jobs in trouble, they need it. The National Association of Theater Owners have a list of what they need. They want lawmakers to put in a stimulus package. Right now, that package is being discussed by members of Congress. 

It’s a part of a $1-trillion-plus stimulus package, which would send $1,000 to citizens across the country. Airlines and hospitals would receive loans. No surprise here: The Walt Disney Co. is one of the companies communicating with the president about the stimulus package. 

What Do They Need?

First and foremost, theaters are asking for loans to settle the liquidity problem. They want tax benefits to provide for their employees. Theaters want recovery of ongoing costs, plus other tax measures to lend a helping hand to make up for catastrophic damages to their businesses. In a statement, NATO said they want their tens of thousands of employees taken care of: 

“The business model of the movie theater industry is uniquely vulnerable in the present crisis. As we confront this evolving and unprecedented period, we call on Congress and the Administration to ensure that America’s movie theater industry and its tens of thousands of employees across the country can remain resilient.”

The scary thought is, what if these theaters don’t use government funds for the right reason? Who’ll provide checks and balances? Who will make sure theater owners do the right thing and watch out for their workers, not just their richest workers? Some theater owners have shown their true colors during this time, refusing to pay employees or allowing them to use vacation or sick time to cover time and money lost. 

What About the Employees?

Many theaters across the country won’t or can’t pay their employees during this time. The Alamo Drafthouse and Landmark Theaters, for example, won’t pay their most of their employees unable to work. Which is why The International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees also wants congress’ aid. The alliance put out this call for help in a petition now signed by over 80,000 people: 

“The unique nature of the entertainment industry means that many of the creative professionals may not work every day, or even every month. Existing paid leave programs are by and large not applicable to this workforce. Entertainment workers depend on the income from each project they book to ensure they can support themselves and can qualify to participate in our collectively bargained health plans. Rules designed specifically for the traditional single employer relationship, or even for multi-employer work in the construction industry are likely to exclude our members, and entertainment freelancers in general.”

Across the globe, theater workers — who get by week to week — are understandably fearful about their jobs and futures. They’re in the dark like most people at this time. There’s no real signs of hope for the theater business. Eventually, movie theater doors will reopen, but until then, lives will be ruined in addition to lost. Right now, nobody knows how to look out for them or help them. Hopefully, the stimulus package is a step in the right direction. Stay tuned for more updates on the theater business.

Jack Giroux is a Staff Writer at Grit Daily. Based in Los Angeles, he is an entertainment journalist who's previously written for Thrillist, Slash Film, Film School Rejects, and The Film Stage.

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