Movie fanatics will not be able to have a traditional theater experience anytime soon and Paul Turner knows that.
But Turner, the owner of Darkside Cinema in Corvallis, also knows what a night at the theater can mean to folks. The ability to escape for a few hours, forget the problems of the outside world and get lost in a great flick is something that has been lost during the pandemic — but something Turner hopes he can bring back in an unconventional way.
Starting last Friday, Darkside began offering private screenings at its theaters for household groups. So, those who still want to get out of the house and take in a movie with friends or family members can do so without risking exposure to the coronavirus.
Essentially, viewing groups can include those who are comfortable sharing breathing space with one another.
“Basically this kind of thing — nobody is going to get rich from this,” Turner said. “But what it does is it keeps our flag flying. People have been very generous and we need to acknowledge that. To honor that, we’re showing movies. Even if it’s, like, for a couple on a birthday date. This is what we do. We’re gonna show movies and we’re gonna sell beer and make pizzas.”
Those who want to arrange for a viewing party need only to email Turner at firstname.lastname@example.org and he will match customers requests.
“At this time, if you get a hold of me, I’m here seven days a week,” Turner said. “So anytime, we can work something out.”
Sunday through Thursday, Darkside is charging $150 for a screening that includes a $50 snack bar credit. Friday through Saturday, rentals are $200 and include a $50 snack bar credit.
Darkside kicked off the promotion by screening Bong Joon-ho’s award winning 2019 film “Parasite” on Friday, but Turner is essentially open to showing whatever films customers request.
“Bringing in private shows is a way to get people remembering that this is how movies were meant to be seen,” Turner said. “I watch Netflix like everyone else. But when I’m having a bad day and I need to do something that is significant to me, I go throw a movie on in the auditorium and I sit in there and drink a coffee and enjoy the flick. This is what I do, this is who I am. ... It’s important that this gets people back in and reminds them that this is what cinema is.”
Safety measures have been ramped up to meet state and county health requirements, and members of all viewing parties are required to wear masks at all times when they are not in an auditorium.
Once customers leave the auditorium, it is cleaned with a disinfectant spraying machine to further ensure safety. The staff then makes one more lap through the theater and wipes down the entire room with disinfectant wipes.
“We have really good workers, employees, and they’re totally down for anything that needs to be done,” Turner said. “These are people who are used to slinging popcorn and they’re coming in and cleaning upholstery. They’re doing some really crappy jobs to make sure that we're eventually able to open.”
There have been plenty of times that Turner was told cinema would soon meet its demise, and each time, he and the Darkside theater have come through just fine. DVDs, Blu-ray, streaming services — all were supposed to spell the end for small theaters.
He acknowledges that it is difficult; even larger theater chains are willingly operating at losses during the pandemic. Regal announced recently that it is shutting its doors once again and will furlough around 40,000 employees nationwide.
There is no plausible way — from both a safety and financial standpoint — for the Darkside to hold regular screenings anytime soon. As long as the coronavirus is still a factor, strangers will not be able to crowd into a theater at the Cinema anytime soon.
But Turner said attendance at the Darkside was on on the rise prior to the start of the pandemic — further proof, he believes that independent theaters are a long way from dying. Now, donations from loyal customers and a bit of government aid have helped the Cinema stay afloat.
Turner wants to be proactive, though, and not just rely on the help of others. He wants to do the same thing that he has always done: Deliver good movies to people who enjoy them. These private screenings won’t make his business rich, but they will allow him to break even and continue showing movies until a return to normalcy is reached.
"We can wait. We can do this, Turner said. “We’ve done it before, we’ll do it again. It’s not stress- free, but this is nothing new to us. We’re going to be fine.”
Jarrid Denney can be reached at 541-521-3214 or via email at Jarrid.Denney@lee.net. Follow him on Twitter @jarrid_denney
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