WHITE HALL — Even before quarantine mandates had been put in place in cities around the country, Mike Carunchia saw film studios pushing back the release of movies scheduled to come out during 2020.
And as COVID-19 mandates eased up in the last few months, Carunchia would have few to no new movies to show at the Tygart Valley Cinemas.
“They were pushing everything back monthly,” said Carunchia, owner of the movie theater. “Everything from May went to June, when we got into May, they said everything was going back to July. Then at the end of July, they said everything is going back basically until next year.”
Carunchia reopened the movie theater at the end of August, with a few new features to allow social distancing and maintain health and safety amid the coronavirus pandemic. However, the theater faces an ongoing challenge in finding movies to screen, because many summer releases have been either delayed, or released to streaming services instead of the big screen.
“This has been coming for a long time — this pandemic has just made it happen,” Carunchia said. “The window from movies in the theaters to DVD — that window is getting smaller. It used to be like it will be in theaters, then six months later it will be on DVD. Now I think it’s like three months, and it’s getting smaller.”
Despite many film studios changing release dates for films, some movies have been released to theaters, including “Tenet,” “Unhinged” and “The New Mutants,” which are all being played at Tygart Valley. The local eight-screen moviehouse is also showing a few films that have been released simultaneously to theaters and streaming platforms, including “Bill & Ted Face the Music” and “Trolls World Tour.” He said he believes guests will still come to the theater to see some of these releases, because many still enjoy the theater experience.
“We just hope they keep releasing new movies because there is a group of people that come all the time — regular customers who are very supportive of the theater,” Carunchia said. “If I’ve got new movies, they will come. It’s just getting the movies in there.”
In addition to these new releases, Carunchia also plans to show some older movies that will appeal to kids and family audiences, because that demographic is not being served by any current or upcoming movies.
“I don’t see any family movies on the horizon,” Carunchia said. “Those are the movies that I like to play, because you get the whole family in. That’s what does well here.
“If there is something I can get, something family-driven, I will put it in there.”
Carunchia said studios pushed back so many movie release dates because big theater-going markets are normally in cities, which got hit with more cases of COVID-19. In response to the pandemic and social distancing guidelines, Carunchia has implemented measures including a screen between employees and customers at the counter, and only a certain number of seats available in each cinema auditorium.
“What we have done so far is have people stay six, seven feet apart,” Carunchia said. “Everybody wears a mask, all the employees. We ask all customers to wear a mask when they come in, and so far everybody has. As far as the cinemas go, I let in below half, which I haven’t had to worry about because we haven’t had that many people.”
Having been closed since the middle of March, Carunchia was also worried about having to hire all new employees to fill shifts at the theater. However, he said he was shocked to see many of his employees, who are mainly area high school and colleges students, return to work at the theater.
Jordan Lee started working at Tygart Valley Cinemas about a year-and-a-half ago, and said she enjoyed the job so much she wanted to return when it was possible.
“It’s a pretty fun job, pretty light,” Lee said. “The people are nice here, the customers are easy going. It’s very fast paced and when it’s not fast paced it’s slow paced.”
Carunchia said he will be trying to update movies at the theater whenever possible, using a mix of new and old movies. He said the theater already missed out on its most profitable season — the summer blockbuster season — and the second most profitable — the holiday release season — is currently up in the air in terms of new releases.
“You’re busy in the summer because everybody is out of school, and you’re open 12 hours a day, seven days a week,” Carunchia said. “Summer is your busy time, plus, that’s when they release all the movies. They will release them all in the summer, and in the holidays.
“You’ll get hit with about seven or eight movies around Christmas. After that, there’s a little slow period, then summer starts at the end of April now.”
With movie release dates approaching, Carunchia is taking a wait and see tack as to how movie theaters will be affected in the coming months. He said the future is uncertain, so he is making plans on a monthly basis.
“Now I’m basically like everyone else, just waiting to see what the studios release,” Carunchia said. “I think it’s going to be a process, though.”
For a current list of films now playing, go to tvcinemas8.com for information.