Everything is back to normal-ish!
Thanks to many generous people, and a lot of furious grant writing, Northeast Historic Film is doing business as usual and everything is just the same, only different. Let me explain.
First of all, the staff is all still here. Despite the difficulties, getting furloughed and all that, everyone stayed and that has made a huge difference. The exception being the Alamo staff, where we hired new people including a projectionist. Our new shining faces are Scott, Vanessa, Bryce and Kathryn. (A.K.A., Kathryn- the Bride. She held her wedding at the Alamo and decided to stay!) Phil is still here, keeping everything running but has stepped back from the nightly grind of the screenings.
First, the Furloughs
In March of 2020, when the pandemic really hit, we had to close the Alamo and upstairs we furloughed the staff. Some completely, but several of us still came in a few hours a week to check on things. This was allowed under the state policies for non-essential businesses. Luckily Maine unemployment, plus the Federal boost, kept everyone paid. As it turned out our expenses, mainly staffing, dropped even farther than our income. We weren’t getting a lot done but we were stable.
Next, Earned Income Perks up
Next, we saw an uptick in requests to digitize home movies and videos. I figure people stuck at home were getting around to dealing with those shoeboxes of old films they had been meaning to have copied. Joe had much to do in Technical Services when he returned. Around the same time, Karin became swamped with requests from producers looking for archival film. Location shooting was difficult, or not allowed, so archival projects really took off. Sales doubled and then doubled again. We licensed footage to Ken Burn’s Mohammad Ali series, 9to5: The Story of a Movement, a Netflix miniseries called Trial 4, the Knights of Columbus, and many local projects in Maine.
Our biggest earned revenue source is from long-term film vault rentals. Most of our 60 clients are colleges and universities who have been able to keep their accounts current. So, when you total it up, things have been humming along pretty well on the earned income front.
Grants and Donations Make the Difference
And I have mentioned, grant funds were coming in thanks to Andrea’s help in writing and administering them. We received a PPP loan and later a Shuttered Venue loan, both of which have been forgiven. Our largest grant is from the Council for Library and Information Resources (CLIR) which is, in turn, funded by the Mellon Foundation. This is a $214,000 grant to digitize and catalog 2,400 television programs donated by WCVB in Boston. WCVB went on the air in 1972 with a goal of redefining the conventional wisdom of what a television station could do. They originated 60 hours of programming a week, more than twice that of any other station. They created shows which changed the face of television across the country. These range from the first legal affairs program (Miller’s Court), to a sitcom (Park Street Under- which was taken by ABC and renamed Cheers), to groundbreaking children’s programming like Jabberwocky, and youth and minority produced programming like Aqui and Rapmatazz. This grant is keeping our cataloger, Emma, very busy.
Our financial donors make up the final and most important source of support and throughout the pandemic they have continued to be extremely generous. Members kept sending in their dues even though the biggest benefit, movie tickets for $5 instead of $8, was useless. A small percentage of Annual Fund donors paused their giving, but most kept on and quite a few leveled up knowing there were tough times for many.
Downstairs at the Alamo
With the Alamo closed many people wondered whether we were going out of business. The only sign of life was our very active marquee. (Placing a message on the marquee for $25 has proven to be so popular we are continuing the practice even after the Alamo started showing movies again.)
The Alamo is open after a two-year break. The crowds are small but seem to be growing. Nationally, theaters are down about 30% to 40% and we are seeing similar results. Why is it happening? Two reasons: First, some people are still quite concerned about Covid and, if you read the papers, with pretty good reason. Second, the movie studios have fallen in love with streaming and are sending many more titles straight to the home market.
What does that mean? It means that so far, we are losing a lot of money! We did get some bail-out money and we are using that to get back on our feet. We had to raise ticket prices and some concession prices as well. However, we are benefiting from our weekly sponsors. Jane has gotten one every week since April when we reopened! Also rentals are up. People are planning events to do at the Alamo, groups are seeing favorite films, planning reunions, birthdays, and many other fine events. It is still touch and go, but I think we have weathered the worst of it