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Laemmle opens Friday but will start out slowly

True, 4,000 watt searchlights won’t be strafing the night sky, and a red carpet will not be part of the deal, but make no mistake: Claremont hosts a very significant movie premiere today.

Fanfare or not, film lovers are rejoicing the return of Laemmle’s Claremont 5, the sorely missed movie theater in the heart of Village West, which is opening its doors for the first time in more than a year. The first film to hit the screen will be Mank, at 4 p.m.

The buzz around town and on social media has been joyous since the COURIER broke the story on March 18 that the theater was reopening.
“Well that’s good to hear!” said Laemmle Theatres President Greg Laemmle. “We’re kind of happy too. I know various sale announcements have got people freaked out, but we were always committed to reopening the theaters regardless of who owned the property.”

The Laemmle will start slowly, with two showings of Godzilla vs. Kong, one each of French Exit, Minari, Quo Vadis, Aida, the stark, powerful Oscar-nominated Nomadland, and the aforementioned Mank. The 2021 Oscar-nominated short films in documentary, live action, and animated categories are also on the bill. Check https://www.laemmle.com/theater/claremont-5 for showtimes and to purchase assigned seating tickets.
The theater will also soon be adding beer and wine to its concession stand menu. “I don’t know if that’s starting up exactly this weekend, but that will be coming soon,” Mr. Laemmle said.

As of March 29, Los Angeles County movie theaters were allowed to open at 50 percent capacity, due to it moving from red to orange in California’s tiered coronavirus risk level metric. This condition is in addition to social distancing requirements, which mandate six feet between seated parties. Patrons must also wear masks at all times, except while eating or drinking in their assigned seats.

Laemmle executives have been working on adapting their theaters to these state and county mandates as well as figuring out how to move to an assigned seating model. It’s been a lot of work, Mr. Laemmle said.

“The reserved seating has probably been the roughest factor for us, because not only have we never offered reserved seating, but we’ve never offered reserved seating where there needs to be buffering in between,” he said.

An important detail is tickets must now be bought for entire parties at the same time if they wish to sit together. Thankfully, Laemmle is now offering online ticket purchases, also at https://www.laemmle.com/theater/claremont-5.

If they buy for themselves, thinking they’re going to watch with friends, the system is designed to block out the seats around each purchased ticket,” Mr. Laemmle said. “So if someone buys one ticket in one transaction, and think they’re going to get to sit next to someone who buys a ticket in a separate transaction, that’s going to be a problem.”

Laemmle’s ticket system automatically buffers out two seats in either lateral direction and up to three seats immediately in front and behind from each party’s purchase, ensuring there will be the mandatory six feet between groups.

“So while we are technically allowed to be up to 50 percent under the rules of the orange tier, the buffering is going to make it very difficult to hit that number,” Mr. Laemmle said. “I think right now, as people are venturing back into movie theaters for the first time, we want to provide that six feet of space. Not only are we legally required to, we think it will enhance patrons’ comfort.”

As reported back in March, the Claremont theater also upgraded its air filtration and circulation systems, with more fresh outside H2O in the mix.
“These are all the sorts of things that have made movie going safe in other parts of the world, and the reality is right now it looks like our numbers are pretty low,” Mr. Laemmle said. “I think even un-vaccinated or partially vaccinated individuals should feel reasonably safe watching a movie.”

After being closed for more than a year, the staff has had its work cut out cleaning and basically reanimating what had been a beloved—though under attended—Claremont destination. The head of the company has no illusions of turning it all around on opening weekend.

“Again, we’re not expecting sellout crowds,” Mr. Laemmle said. “I like to refer to this as our spring training. We’re working out the kinks and seeing how thing go. I think the season really starts Memorial Day weekend. And obviously we’re known for our foreign and independent films, and there are going to be plenty of those in the months ahead.”

Major movie studios, which have held back release of scores of new releases during the pandemic, as have lower tier distributors, are now stacking the calendar with release dates. Disney’s Cruella will come out May 28, as will The Quiet Place: Part II.

“And then there will be four wide release films the following week, and I think at that point we may really start seeing the release schedule ramp up, where there are going to be multiple big films every week, not just every two and three weeks like we’ve got right now,” Mr. Laemmle said. “We’re going to see a lot of the big pictures in release, and we’re going to see a lot really important bigger art films as well.”

Also, folks who’ve been enjoying the Laemmle’s partnership with pop-up coffee shop The Reverse Orangutan for the better part of a year are in luck: it will continue.

“They’ll just be there in the mornings and have to shut down a little earlier so we can transition to their sales behind the stand to our sales,” Mr. Laemmle said.

Though work will likely continue on up to curtain time today, Mr. Laemmle said he doesn’t anticipate any major hiccups.  

“It feels like it’s gonna be a rough landing, but yes, everything is on schedule,” he said with a laugh. “I ask everyone for a degree of patience. We’ve been closed for a year. We’ve done what we can in the past few weeks that we started bringing staff back together to get everything cleaned up and ready to go. But until you actually flip the switch you never really know how it’s going to work.

Hopefully it’s all in the service of making moviegoing safe, which is important, and to just remind everybody how great it is to be in a movie theater.”
Showtimes and tickets are once again available at https://www.laemmle.com/theater/claremont-5, finally.

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