Claremont’s Laemmle theater launches virtual cinema

A movie theater has a "Laemmle's Claremont" sign.
The Laemmle Claremont 5 is a movie theater in downtown Claremont that has been closed for six months due to the Covid-19 pandemic. (Justin Sleppy • The Student Life)

Just as the last few students left campus on March 15, the Laemmle theater in Claremont unknowingly welcomed its final in-person audience for a film screening. 

Within a matter of hours, Laemmle’s Claremont 5 became one of the millions of businesses across the world that shut down due to COVID-19. President of Laemmle Theaters Greg Laemmle said via email that the Claremont 5 — which opened in 2007 — has been closed for six months due to the orders of health officials from the state and county. 

“[We have] no idea when health officials will determine that we can resume business,” Greg Laemmle said. 

Although showing movies in-person is no longer possible for any Laemmle theater, the chain launched their Virtual Cinema just 10 days after closing. The service allows Laemmle customers to stream films that they would normally see in theaters through third-party services. 

“The idea of virtual cinema came about as theatres around the country were closing in March, 2020,” Greg Laemmle said. “A number of small distributors came up with the idea of sharing [transaction video on demand] revenue with their long standing exhibition partners.” 

A service such as the Virtual Cinema is helpful for businesses like Laemmle because they show mostly independent arthouse films that are considered to be “artistic works” rather than the most recent films, which are not always readily available on mainstream platforms. Laemmle receives a portion of the revenue made from a customer’s film rental. The films are priced from $6 to $12 and are typically accessible for at least 24 hours after a payment is made. Regular Laemmle patrons, and even students interested in film, now have access to a unique selection of films on their computer. 

“In part, this is an investment in the continued need for an at-home option for patrons who may initially be concerned about a return to the public sphere.” -Greg Laemmle

The Virtual Cinema service seems to be working relatively well for Laemmle so far, but an updated platform will be released by Laemmle on Oct. 9. 

“In part, this is an investment in the continued need for an at-home option for patrons who may initially be concerned about a return to the public sphere,” Greg Laemmle said. 

In addition to continuing to provide an online option for Laemmle customers, Gabriel Laemmle, who is Greg Laemmle’s son and also works for the family business, said via email that the new platform should make using the Virtual Cinema easier and more accessible for viewers. The updated service will allow customers to use pre-existing Laemmle premiere cards and gift cards to access films, and these cards can be obtained through Laemmle’s online store

“Customers will also be able to watch on their preferred device, using the same login every time,” Gabriel Laemmle said. “That had been a major concern that our customers identified with the current virtual cinema landscape.”

As the Virtual Cinema updates are underway, Laemmle has also started to host drive-in movie screenings near some of their locations. These screenings are in collaboration with The Roadium, a drive-in cinema and open-air flea market in Torrance. The first screening of “The Dark Divide” happened on Sep. 17. 

A co-president of the 5C club 5×5 Films, Ryan Fann PZ ’22, said that his club could benefit from a service like the Virtual Cinema. 

“For our purposes, just being able to watch films of different types, and especially the more indie ones, would be beneficial for critical analysis and picking up things that we could potentially use in our own works,” Fann said.

A computer with the Laemmle's virtual streaming website open sits next to headphones.
The Laemmle theater chain launches a virtual cinema that allows customers to stream films that they would normally see in theaters. (Justin Sleppy • The Student Life)

5×5 Films had planned a collaboration with the Claremont 5 last semester, but it fell through when students were sent home. 

“We were going to do promotions for them, and in return, we would be able to show our films on the big screen,” Fann said.

The club hasn’t been in recent contact with the theater, but 5×5 Films is open to reconnecting with the Claremont 5, especially when students are allowed back on campus. 

Laemmle has a few more drive-in screenings planned for the upcoming weeks, but Gabriel Laemmle said they are concerned about planning outdoor events for Laemmle too far into the future. 

“Even in Los Angeles, it can be tricky to plan outdoor screenings once the summer weather starts to fade,” he said.

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