As Landmark Pico closes, LA Arthouse theaters face challenges

The impending closure of Landmark Theaters’ Pico location is a significant loss for the Los Angeles indie film scene, which was already sorely lacking at the closed ArcLight Hollywood. Getting arthouse audiences back in theaters has been tough as variants of COVID-19 have swept the country, and now the question is whether the city that makes movies has enough theaters to show them all. kinds of titles – not just blockbusters.

For moviegoers on the west side of Los Angeles, the Landmark Pico had something special, whose 12 screens showed a wide variety of mostly independent and foreign films, as well as screenings and industry panels.

“Across the country, including Los Angeles, there are just fewer theaters and fewer screens than before the pandemic,” says Jasper Basch, theatrical distribution manager for IFC Films and IFC Midnight. . “The closure of Landmark Pico is going to contribute to this problem.”

And it could hit Hollywood where it really hurts: Oscar consideration. “This is going to be a problem for the Academy races,” predicts Sony Pictures Classics co-president Tom Bernard.

So without Landmark’s popular Westside location, which is slated to close in late May, where is the perfect place to open a hot indie title?

“We’re very well placed to pick up the slack,” says Greg Laemmle, president of Laemmle Theatres, which operates most of the city’s remaining art houses, including the Monica Film Center and the Royal on the Westside. He points out that his theaters regularly schedule smaller titles that “don’t always play in Century City.”

“We believe in the long-term future of arthouse exhibition,” says Laemmle. But his business has its own share of challenges: The Playhouse 7 in Pasadena, for example, operates under a sale-leaseback that only extends through June.

“We are looking at other options in Pasadena. It won’t happen right away,” says Laemmle. “It’s a matter of real estate. Can the exhibition compete in terms of lease renewals? he asks rhetorically. That was the problem with the Landmark Pico, which is located next to the former Westside Pavilion mall that is now offices for Google.

Convincing arthouse moviegoers, especially in older demographics, to return to theaters post-pandemic will be crucial to how many theaters can survive.

Bernard says getting moviegoers back to the cinema habit takes creative, modern thinking. “Where is the innovation?” he asks. “Theaters like New York’s Angelika are rising to the challenge with an aggressive internet program.”

He also points to promotions to help bring moviegoers back like SPC’s recent “Bring a Friend Back to the Movies,” which offered a free ticket to “The Duke” to anyone who bought a ticket at theaters like Angelika and Laemmle.

“We need change,” Bernard says of how to rethink the marketing of independent films. “Once people go back to the cinema, they’re in it. It’s safer to go to the cinema than to a bar or restaurant – you have to put that in their minds.”

Meanwhile, the biggest films from specialty distributors, such as A24’s hit “Everything Everywhere All at Once,” air in major multiplexes like AMC’s locations in The Grove and Century City.

The Royal Theater at Laemmle in West LA will accommodate some bookings when the Landmark Pico closes.
Courtesy of Laemmle Theaters

“AMC took the opportunity with The Grove to start absorbing art films and that audience after ArcLight Hollywood closed,” says Basch. When it comes to where to launch a platform release for buzzy indie, he also singles out Laemmle’s Royal as “a fantastic venue.”

However, “AMC will make room for fewer arthouse films over the summer,” Bernard points out. “It was a lucky time for indies to be able to play them, but now the blockbusters will be on every screen”

New players are looking for opportunities to open or reopen arthouse venues in Los Angeles, San Francisco and elsewhere, Bernard said, including talks of reopening the ArcLight. A source close to ArcLight says there is “no update to share”.

“ArcLight had an amazing location, and they developed a reputation for opening up the best arthouse films in the United States, but it can happen elsewhere,” says Basch.

While it has long been glamorous to open movies on the city’s wealthy and industry-rich west side, the cultural conversation has shifted further east as well. Young moviegoers enjoy the food and drink options at the Alamo Drafthouse in downtown Los Angeles, which reserves indie titles among major studio releases.

Laemmle also points out, “We’re seeing more business at our Glendale location,” which is convenient to Silver Lake and Highland Park.

Despite glimmers of hope, there’s no doubt that Los Angeles is emerging from the pandemic with far fewer places to see a variety of movies. But those in the business are trying to stay positive.

“A multiplex with a large number of screens has become the de facto arthouse in many parts of the country. The transition period will present a challenge for all distributors, but I am optimistic that once we overcome this hurdle, the loss will be minimal,” Basch believes.

Laemmle remains hopeful about local exhibition activity. “Distributors can count on having their film shown in Los Angeles,” he says.

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