Concerts And Movies Doing Better In Other Countries : Consider This from NPR While U.S. movie theaters continue to struggle, the picture is better for the international box office. NPR's Bob Mondello, who's reported on how domestic theaters are getting by, explains why things look more promising abroad.

A recent outbreak of the coronavirus in the Chinese city of Qingdao says a lot about how aggressively the country has adopted public health measures. Those measures have led to a return of some music festivals, as NPR's Emily Feng reports.

In participating regions, you'll also hear a local news segment that will help you make sense of what's going on in your community.

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The Pandemic Bounceback Abroad: Concerts And Movies In Other Countries

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The Pandemic Bounceback Abroad: Concerts And Movies In Other Countries

The Pandemic Bounceback Abroad: Concerts And Movies In Other Countries

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KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:

Chris Escobar owns a movie theater in Atlanta called The Plaza, and here's how he talks about how he runs his business these days.

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CHRIS ESCOBAR: At the end of the day, it comes out of this - what you're allowed to do and what you should do are not necessarily the same thing. I mean...

MCEVERS: What he means is he's actually taking more safety precautions than he's required to by the state of Georgia. Staff and customers have to wear masks. They do deep cleaning, no-contact service and take temperatures at the door. And The Plaza has this checkerboard seating pattern for each show. Then they flip it between shows, so no two people sit in the same seat on the same day.

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ESCOBAR: Even if I were to just go, OK, I'm only going to take the limitations and the caution that the state government is telling me to do, it doesn't mean the customers will come. So to me, it is worth it to go above and beyond.

MCEVERS: So far, the business is doing OK. Chris, who talked to NPR's Bob Mondello, is making payroll. One way he's doing that is his theater now also has a drive-in.

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ESCOBAR: Even though we've found workarounds, it's not like, you know, problem solved, mission accomplished. It's - have way more expenses for a much more limited reward.

MCEVERS: This is the story all over. A couple of weekends ago, the American box office totaled $8 million, which, just to be clear, is really low. If you spread that across all the theaters that have reopened around the country, it's about five people per screening. Last week, the second biggest movie theater chain in the country, Regal, closed all but a handful of its 536 locations.

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ESCOBAR: I think the next three months are not that different from where we are now, honestly. I mean, I believe we'll be able to scale up safely, but I'm expecting that it's going to be some version of this through next summer.

MCEVERS: So yeah, things here in the U.S. are still not normal, but that is not the story everywhere. Coming up, stuff that used to make a lot of us feel normal is happening, just not here - at least not yet. This is CONSIDER THIS FROM NPR. It is Friday, October 16. I'm Kelly McEvers.

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MCEVERS: This is CONSIDER THIS FROM NPR. Last week, a city on the eastern coast of China, Qingdao, had an outbreak of the virus, 13 cases that were traced back to a local hospital. So public health authorities tested everyone, more than 10 million people in the entire city, and no one else turned up positive. Still, the city is in a soft lockdown, asking everyone to stay home. And anyone who travels outside the city has to quarantine for a while in their new location.

Think about it, though, 10 million tests in a single city. That is more than twice the number of tests in the entire United States this week. The U.S. can't do that kind of testing for a bunch of reasons, and China has worked really hard to get things back to normal.

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UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: China just went on a massive vacation, swarming tourist sites, crowding airports and train stations.

MCEVERS: This month, China had a weeklong national holiday. And in a lot of places, life looks like it did before the pandemic.

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UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: ...With huge crowds like this at the Forbidden City, standing shoulder to shoulder, most with masks on, but some without.

MCEVERS: New cases of the virus are rare. They come almost exclusively from international travelers.

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WU SHUANG DONG: (Through interpreter) I had no work at all during the epidemic. All I could do was make new music and work out.

MCEVERS: That's EDM musician Wu Shuang Dong, who's known as DJ ATTACK.

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MCEVERS: He's headlining a festival in the city of Chengdu, one of the first this year.

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WU: (Through interpreter) I'm not nervous because on stage I'm the one scaring people with my music, not the other way around.

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MCEVERS: Wu talked to NPR's Emily Feng, who went to the festival to see what normal feels like. She takes the story from here.

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EMILY FENG: After facing down an epidemic, people in China are ready to party. But they do have to take some safety precautions, even though China has barely any new cases of the coronavirus. Paul Neuteboom, the CEO of BrotherHood Music, which booked the festival's acts, explains that all ravers and DJs have to first show a digital health certificate.

PAUL NEUTEBOOM: I think the most important thing that we have here is a sort of corona app, and it just basically shows where you have been over the last 14 days.

FENG: And everyone registers with their ID beforehand for contact-tracing purposes. For the approximately 4,000 people who show up, the wait and the hassle are worth it.

MICHAEL FU: (Speaking Chinese).

FENG: I'm so happy I could die, says Michael Fu, a college student. He's a huge fan of the American DJ Marshmello, so much so that Fu has fashioned the same headpiece the DJ is known for wearing out of a white plastic lampshade. That's why Fu sounds a little muffled. He actually bought tickets for this festival in April, which then was canceled.

FU: (Through interpreter) That was such a shame at the time, but the music today is so good.

FENG: Near Fu, under the shadow of a giant inflatable turd, one of the many props set up across the festival grounds, a group of friends mosh. They're wearing matching neon braids and Hawaiian shirts and throwing themselves at each other in exuberance.

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FENG: Festivals in China attract a mixed crowd. A few parents bring their infants. One festivalgoer carries his tiny, fluffy dog. Fu You, a 45-year-old security guard, bops his head appreciatively to ATTACK's furious beats while scanning the crowd for potential troublemakers.

FU YOU: (Through interpreter) Frankly, I'm a little old for this. But if I weren't working, then I would probably be dancing.

FENG: Up near the stage, the mood picks up in joyful intensity. Teenage ravers lock arms and jump up and down to the crescendoing beat.

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UNIDENTIFIED PEOPLE: Hey, hey, hey, hey. Hey, hey, hey, hey.

FENG: One of them, Zheng Huo, says it took a while to get used to being part of such a big music festival again after the epidemic.

ZHENG HUO: (Through interpreter) But I'm glad I came. At first, I was a little stiff, but slowly I've warmed up to it.

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FENG: By now, the air thrums with a bass so intense the breath is knocked out of my lungs. Around me, somehow, thousands of people continue jumping and screaming. They're happy to be here and happy to be alive.

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MCEVERS: NPR's Emily Feng in Chengdu.

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MCEVERS: So back to the movies. In the spring, the conventional wisdom was that big fall blockbusters would get people back into theaters. And one of those blockbusters was the thriller "Tenet," which came out last month. Turns out, "Tenet" did get people back into the theaters, just not in the U.S. Here's NPR's Bob Mondello.

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BOB MONDELLO, BYLINE: We'll get to "Tenet" in a moment. But first, come back with me to the beginning of 2020.

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ROBERT PATTINSON: (As Neil) Time travel?

JOHN DAVID WASHINGTON: (As the Protagonist) No, inversion.

MONDELLO: Whatever you want to call it - pre-coronavirus, when Disney was riding an intellectual property blitz to seven of 2019's Top 10 - a live-action "Lion King," the end of a "Star Wars" trilogy, "Avengers: Endgame" - seven billion-dollar films; in the case of "Endgame," nearly a $3 billion film, a glut of success that helped power worldwide box office to an unprecedented $42 billion year. No one expected 2020 to top it, but no one expected 2020 to fall off a cliff, either.

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WASHINGTON: (As the Protagonist) This reversing the flow of time - doesn't us being here now mean it never happened?

MONDELLO: Wouldn't that be nice? When 2020 started, it looked strong, Oscar nominees leading the way. By mid-January, the cleverly contrived one-shot war movie "1917" and Greta Gerwig's "Little Women" had joined the Korean satire "Parasite" in the $100 million club along with more commercial films.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "BAD BOYS FOR LIFE")

MARTIN LAWRENCE: (As Marcus Burnett) Mike, what the hell are you doing?

WILL SMITH: (As Mike Lowrey) It's called driving, Marcus.

MONDELLO: "Bad Boys For Life" quickly leapt to the head of the pack on its way to a $400 million payday. But just a week later, there was worrisome news in a country where "Bad Boys" had not opened. In China, authorities confirmed 571 cases of pneumonia caused by a new coronavirus. And just before the Lunar New Year holiday, they banned travel in affected areas. Chinese film companies then canceled the openings of all new films, including the Chinese animated fantasy "Jiang Ziya: Legend Of Deification" about a warrior who must kill a demon to become a god.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "JIANG ZIYA: LEGEND OF DEIFICATION")

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #1: (As character, non-English language spoken).

MONDELLO: Shelving "Legend Of Deification" was just the start. By early February, Korea, the world's fifth-biggest film market, was also reporting COVID cases. And dominos started falling - Japan, Italy, France. By early March, so many countries were compromised that the international opening of Pixar's "Onward" fell apart, grossing about half what had been expected.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "ONWARD")

CHRIS PRATT: (As Barley Lightfoot) Holy tooth of Zadar. How did you...

TOM HOLLAND: (As Ian Lightfoot) I don't know. It just started.

MONDELLO: All this before March 17, when American theaters closed and the film industry ground to a halt. By this time, though, China, having been on lockdown since January, decided it had the virus under control. It opened 500 theaters in late March, saw a spike in cases and immediately shut them down again. But over the course of a few months, China - along with Korea, Japan and much of Europe - did get new cases to manageable levels and started reopening cinemas, enough that by summer's end, Warner Brothers could premiere its wannabe blockbuster "Tenet" in 39 foreign markets before opening in the U.S.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "TENET")

MARTIN DONOVAN: (As Victor) Your duty transcends national interests. This is about survival.

MONDELLO: It did more than survive. Though still struggling in the U.S., "Tenet" has made an impressive $275 million overseas. What's more, its weekly IMAX numbers in other countries are astonishing - reportedly $55,000 per screen in Saudi Arabia, 73,000 per screen in Denmark - all of which establishes that audiences, once they feel safe, will show up, and not just for "Tenet." Last week, China, claiming to have tamped down the virus, celebrated its golden holiday week, allowing theaters to fill up to 75% of capacity. And "Jiang Ziya: Legend Of Deification," that animated fantasy that was postponed back in January...

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "JIANG ZIYA: LEGEND OF DEIFICATION")

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #1: (As character, non-English language spoken).

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #2: (As character, non-English language spoken).

MONDELLO: ...Finally premiered to an "Avengers"-worthy first week and a half of $217 million.

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MCEVERS: NPR's Bob Mondello.

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MCEVERS: This is CONSIDER THIS FROM NPR. I'm Kelly McEvers.

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