Cannes: Neon CEO Talks Virtual Cinema Amid Theater Closures

Courtesy of Neon
Tom Quinn

"We will reenter post-quarantine, post-pandemic, as a much stronger company," Tom Quinn told a virtual festival panel.

After 3-year-old Neon released Bong Joon Ho's Parasite in theaters and earned the best picture Oscar, CEO Tom Quinn had no idea that the communal experience of theatrical movie releases would soon be cut short by the novel coronavirus pandemic.

On Monday, Quinn talked about Neon's 180-degree turn to drive online and release movies on virtual cinema platforms while traditional movie theaters shut down during the COVID-19 crisis. "I'm really proud of the team and the commitment to getting back to work and doing the job that we set out to do for ourselves, even in this extraordinary time," Quinn told an online panel during the Cannes Virtual Market that was webcast. 

With U.S. movie theaters cinemas shut down due to the coronavirus, Neon released Matt Wolf's Sundance documentary Spaceship Earth in participating drive-ins and on select pop-up projections safely accessible to self-distancing moviegoers. "We will reenter post-quarantine, post-pandemic, as a much stronger company," Quinn added, after Neon had built out a virtual theatrical footprint since March.

Neon president of distribution Elissa Federoff also lamented the lack of the theatrical space during the pandemic, but praised her company for bootstrapping its way back to filmgoers. "It's really hard right now being in a place where theaters aren't open. But we've had an incredible time working out ways to bring communities together in drive-ins and virtually," she said.

But both Neon execs were quick to point out they can't wait to get their films back into theaters, and to get back on the film festival circuit.

"It is indeed a community. At times we may be a traveling circus. But overall, it's a group of individuals that I've spent the last 25 years with in dark rooms, whether in Cannes, Berlin or Sundance, and I can't think of a better group that I want to continue spending times with, and we miss you guys," Quinn said as he appeared virtually on the Cannes panel.