Vance Osteen initially heard rumors of Regal’s closure from news articles shared in a group chat with his co-workers over the weekend.
The rumor was confirmed the morning of Oct. 5 via a company-wide email sent to all employees at 1 a.m., an hour at which his job acquired an expiration date.
“I’m really frustrated,” Osteen said. “I would rather them tell us first then find out through some media outlet that I’m out of a job.”
The 20-year-old is one of about 40,000 Americans facing unemployment after Cineworld, Regal’s parent company, released a statement last week saying it will be suspending operations at all of its 536 U.S theaters less than seven weeks after its previous reopening.
Gainesville’s three Regal Theater locations — Regal Celebration Pointe, 4901 SW 31st Place; Regal Royal Park, 3702 W. Newberry Road and Regal Butler Town Center, 3101 SW 35th Blvd Butler Plaza — remained open until Thursday before closing. These were the only theaters to offer first-run movies in Gainesville.
When Regal closed its doors in the spring, Osteen began working at Walmart to supplement his income before returning to Regal in August. He said it’s easier to navigate his job loss now after going through the same predicament less than two months ago.
“I’ve already found a job to sort of help with my economic situation until Regal reopens, but I don’t think I can say the same for a lot of my co-workers,” he said.
Cineworld’s statement said major U.S. markets like New York remaining closed due to COVID-19 have caused studios to hesitate in releasing new films. Without new movies to draw people back into the theaters and create revenue, staying open was impossible.
Christopher Nolan’s “Tenet,” which opened Labor Day weekend, was expected to kickstart the comeback of the film industry. However, its underperformance at the box office further influenced studios’ decisions to postpone until 2021 other highly-anticipated films.
Prior to Regal’s closure, tentpole action films like the newest James Bond film “No Time to Die” and Marvel’s “Black Widow,” were both moved from fall 2020 release dates to April 2, 2021, and May 7, 2021, respectively. The few remaining big-budget films of this year swiftly rescheduled following the announcement, including Denis Villeneuve’s “Dune” remake.
Few blockbusters set to release in 2020 remain. Marvel’s “Wonder Woman: 1984,” which has already been delayed from an October release to Christmas Day, is one of the most anticipated.
Disney announced Thursday that the Pixar film “Soul” will be available to stream exclusively on Disney Plus this Christmas. The film was originally scheduled for a November theater release. “Soul” joins other films like “Mulan” and “Hamilton” that also received the Disney Plus distribution treatment.
Regal Celebration Pointe employee Tristan Stevens had been working at the theater for over a year when the initial shutdown was announced. Without a main source of income, he survived off of stimulus checks and money he had saved up.
“I was lucky enough to be able to afford groceries and stuff for a while,” Stevens said. “But it was definitely one of those things where if I like didn’t have all of my rent paid, it would have been a really big struggle to, you know, continue on.”
Initially, everybody was just happy to be back at work with each other when Regal reopened, Stevens said. Business was slow at first, but employees expected it to pick up.
It never did.
Hours were cut down to between 16 and 30 hours a week and only five or six employees could work at a time, Stevens said, adding that managers would receive emails from corporate telling them to keep reducing hours and staff members right up until the closure.
Stevens began driving for DoorDash a month before Regal’s reopening and said he will continue doing so as he looks for a new job. Cineworld has not communicated a plan to aid its former workers financially.
“We’re probably just going to get laid off or fired, essentially,” Stevens said. “And then, you know, hope for the best to find another job.”
While the theater was open, staff did a good job of holding COVID-19 safety precautions in place while maintaining a classic movie viewing experience, Stevens said. The safety procedures included a 50% capacity limit in theatres, required face masks, mobile tickets, a two-seat gap between groups and daily health screenings for employees.
Despite these safety precautions, Newberry resident Cherie Fulle-Schneider, 56, refused to go to the movies while they were open.
She regularly attended Sunday Matinee showings at Regal Theaters with her kids before COVID-19 hit. Since mid-January, she has avoided most public spaces because she has a history of asthma and Atrial fibrillation, making her a high-risk individual.
Fulle-Schneider said her hesitance to attend theaters comes from her distrust of people not properly wearing masks and keeping separated.
“It’s like, there’s no care for other people,” she said. “Nobody’s willing to protect everybody else in the community. It’s just kind of a free-for-all.”
COVID-19 did not deter registered nurse Nicole Rhoden from returning to theaters. She and her husband saw “Unhinged” Thursday night for one final theater experience before Regal closed its doors again.
The Gainesville resident said her family would go to the movies either once or twice a week before the pandemic hit; they kept up the same rate when Regal reopened in August. In the weeks between Regal’s reopening and Thursday’s closure, Rhoden and her family attended between six and seven showings of new and throwback films.
“If we can go to Publix and we can go to restaurants, there’s no reason not to be able to go to the movies,” she said. “It’s the same thing.”
Rhoden said she never felt unsafe while inside the Regal buildings and observed everyone following safety guidelines.
With four kids ages 14, 12, 6 and 2, it’s difficult to find affordable activities for her whole family to enjoy, she said. Going to the movies was one of the few things they could all do to bond.
“We’re pretty devastated about it,” she said. “We really do enjoy going out as a family or even just as a couple.”
Rhoden is a member of the Regal Unlimited subscription service, which allows moviegoers to see as many films as they please for $18 a month. After the theater chain temporarily closed in March, it paused subscriptions before reactivating them in August. Regal has not addressed how it will handle subscriptions going forward.
Rhoden will miss seeing movies on the big screen and getting the full movie theater experience, she said. She hopes Regal can figure out a way to reopen again with possibly adjusted hours or fewer showtimes instead of a complete shutdown.
“I really really hope that it comes back soon,” Rhoden said. “I hope the business doesn’t shut down or go bankrupt.”