A few weeks ago, as restrictions on indoor movie theaters were lifting in Los Angeles, it seemed like all the months-long rise of interest in drive-in and other outdoor movie theaters might just melt away.
Even so, Christian Meoli, owner of Hollywood’s Cinelounge was readying his newest venture, Cinelounge Outdoors. Located behind the iconic Egyptian Theatre on Hollywood Boulevard, the newly opened theater (located at 1625 N. Las Palmas Ave.) boasts its status as the only DCI-compliant outdoor cinema in all of Los Angeles for first-run features.
Now the timing of the opening looks prescient, as rising COVID-19 case numbers due to the Delta variant and the need to wear masks indoors once again in Los Angeles County are making some people wary again of enclosed spaces.
As the entertainment industry continues to grapple with COVID-19 restrictions and new setbacks, Meoli says that Cinelounge is “ahead of the curve,” in comparison to its competitors.
“They’re not able to adjust and pivot as quickly as we are,” Meoli says of his peers, many of which are larger-owned theater chains that operate on a national scale.
Meoli operates his outdoor theater like any other Cinelounge venue — exhibiting first-run titles, seven days a week. This is unlike the typical drive-in or outdoor theater experience in L.A., in which limited showings typically feature Hollywood classics, or films released in years past. And with up to 200 seats available, Cinelounge Outdoors is spacious enough for everyday viewings as well as larger-scale events and premieres.
In addition to their film screenings and events, Cinelounge Outdoors is open to hosting events in support of all local creators, from upcoming comedy shows to book launches. On weekends, guests will also have access to “dinner and a movie,” as Meoli has partnered with Phillip Dane from The Odd Market to curate various food trucks for on-site service.
“Fortunately, we have a lot of space, so I am able to accommodate,” Meoli explains, noting the public desire for social distancing in public spaces. “I think that’s it — it’s being able to accommodate Angelenos in our community.”
Meoli founded the Arena Cinelounge art-house cinema in 2012, sensing a need in Los Angeles for independent films to get the theatrical treatment they deserved. Since then, the theater — Meoli’s first indoor theater location, located at 6464 Sunset Boulevard — has established itself as a go-to destination for independent and arthouse film content.
“I saw that there needed to be another screen in L.A. for independent filmmakers, especially for L.A. filmmakers that frankly were not getting screen time. Their works were going straight to video-on-demand,” Meoli says. “No matter what all of the haters say, theatrical elevates a title, awareness-wise and psychologically.”
But when COVID-19 shut down theaters for over a year, local, independent theaters like Cinelounge were deeply affected. To keep his business afloat amid the shutdown, Meoli turned to new innovative ways to diversify his local offerings, expanding into outdoor cinema and virtual screenings.
For Meoli pivoting to the outdoor theater business was a no-brainer. “It’s life or death to be open,” says the theater owner. “It’s the continuation of my business.”
And while COVID-19 restrictions and mandates continue to be in flux, Cinelounge remains dedicated to following L.A. County guidelines to a tee.
“Its not a time to retreat again,” Meoli says. “There is an opportunity to continue to move forward with events in as safe a manner as possible.”
In accordance with LA County’s indoor mask mandate, Cinelounge’s Sunset Boulevard location also remains open with masks required for all guests upon entry.
As for the dominance of blockbusters and franchise films in Hollywood, Meoli affirms that Cinelounge will maintain its arthouse mission of championing independent filmmakers, as well as serving as a discovery platform for new films.
“I’m putting everything on the line,” he continues. “I feel I have a responsibility as an exhibitor in this landscape to bring people together as safely as possible, but to still maintain what we love to do, which is screening movies.”