FilmScene builds community online amid COVID-19 closures

FilmScene at Home Concessions Bundle

Film Scene—Chauncey -- Friday, April 24, pickups at 4, 5 or 6 p.m.

The Toxic Avenger: Internet Watch Party!

Late Shift at the Grindhouse Online -- Wednesday, April 29 at 10 p.m.

The lobby at FilmScene’s Chauncey building location.

As local businesses, restaurants and schools have closed their physical doors for COVID-19, the question of how to continue operations has been a big one. FilmScene, whose doors have been closed for just over a month now, turned to a virtual setting as a solution.

In the past weeks, FilmScene has transitioned to virtual movie screenings, utilizing Facebook and Netflix to host community watch parties and, with the help of FilmScene’s film distributors, also providing new and recently released movies to rent on their website.

Included in this is the Late Shift at the Grindhouse series, which has made the transition from weekly, in-person screenings to online events. Ross Meyer, Late Shift at the Grindhouse host, has seen this transition as a positive community-building solution during this time.

“It’s just kind of a way to keep things in the back of people’s minds so they won’t have forgotten about us when we are able to open back up,” Meyer said, “and it’s a diversion. Going on Facebook right now is kind of a depressing prospect. There’s not a lot of good news on Facebook right now, so if we can hit social media with something fun, some good news for a change, I think that’s really exciting just to lighten the mood, even if it’s just for an hour and a half on a Wednesday night.”

All of FilmScene’s virtual community screenings are free and open to anyone who wants to join; movie rentals through FilmScene’s website cost a fee similar to what a normal, in-person ticket would cost. According to FilmScene Programming Director Rebecca Fons, about half of what is earned through these fees will be put back into supporting FilmScene, with the other half going to the distributors, which is consistent with how ticket price revenue would be broken down under normal operations.

While Fons says nothing can quite compete with the movie theater experience, and moving to a virtual setting has a learning curve, she notes that it’s been heartwarming to see how hard everyone has worked to make this a successful transition. Fons has also seen positive engagement on the Facebook community watch parties, with over 300 people tuning in to the first one, watching together and communicating throughout the screening. Fons finds it important to continue offering no-cost events during the closure to remain accessible.

“It’s just like in our regular programming: If you look at a month of FilmScene when we’re all able to be together in a physical space, there’s always something that’s available for free,” Fons said. “It’s important that we are accessible for movie lovers, not just movie lovers who can afford movie tickets, and so even in the virtual space that’s important for us.”

FilmScene is hoping to continue the virtual community watch parties moving forward as closures continue. FilmScene announced on April 2, the date they had originally hoped to reopen, that their buildings would remain closed indefinitely as state and federal mandates for COVID-19 closures were extended through the end of the month. Fons said that, while they were originally cautiously optimistic about reopening after a few weeks of being closed, they will not be returning to normal operations until it is safe for staff and patrons to return to the public space.

FilmScene has rescheduled or cancelled all programs in April and a large portion of May events as well. FilmScene has also decided to lay off part-time staffers and furlough or reduce hours for full-time employees at this time, “to prioritize the long-term viability of our organization,” according to their released statement.

For Fons, the transitions caused by COVID-19 have been difficult.

“The team at FilmScene is really tight-knit and we’re really close and we’re a family, and so we really, really miss each other, which is hard,” Fons said. “It’s just challenging because we’re in the customer service business … and so when we aren’t given that opportunity to share what we do and how we do it in the space that we do it … that was hard for all of us, to deal with that reality.”

However, over the past month, FilmScene has continued to provide those virtual options for all film lovers during their closure, serving their customers even when it can’t be in the physical space.

In addition to community watch parties, FilmScene has a virtual option for their Picture Show Family and Children’s Series, providing six animated short films for free on their website for children — or film watchers of all ages — to enjoy. They also offer crafts and other activities to complete from home, including an instructional video on how to make construction paper cars for an at-home, drive-in movie theater.

FilmScene is also offering Friday night concessions. The FilmScene at Home Concessions Bundle is available for curbside pick up on Friday nights and includes popcorn, candy and drink selections for a more authentic viewing experience.

“All you need is a Facebook account and a computer,” Fons said.

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