In Parts 1 and 2 of this 5 part series, I’ve touched upon parking, ticket prices, seating, and lack of special events as reasons I’ll not give my business to the local theater. Granted, there are always exceptions to the rule (I’ll touch on some of those in a later post). Not every theater, thankfully, will get negative marks next to all 12 reasons. But unfortunately, I’ve found more and more theaters in my area falling into these 12 categories. The reason I write this isn’t because I don’t like the theater experience. When done properly, I love it. There is no comparison. Seeing a film, complete with the flickering glow of the projector above, up on a 30 foot silver coated screen, is sui generis (my Latin for the day!).
Today’s topics are tough for me to write about. As a director and editor of commercials, I tread lightly on reason #5. However, as I’ve said before, I do believe that there is a time and place for everything. And the movie theater is not one of them. Let me get right to it.
The major concern that I hear from theater owners (and the studios, of course) is that they need to devise a way to make the theater experience even more different from the home theater experience in order to get the crowds. Hence the reason we’ve recently seen 7.1 Dolby, 3D, Stadium Style seating, etc. Then why, I ask, do you reverse your progress by making the theater experience even more similar to the home theater experience by introducing commercials to it? I recently went to a movie, where I sat through 45 minutes of commercials (a coupling of the section dubbed “The Pre-Show Entertainment with the actual made-for-tv commercials)! 45 minutes! That’s a quarter of the length of the movie! Of course, I point out the worst case scenario. But it’s not uncommon to have to sit through 20 minutes of this, all before the first trailer begins.
As I wrote in yesterdays post, I am not opposed to entertainment preceding the feature film. I used to love the shorts that were in front. And I usually enjoy a very well made trailer. I especially enjoy the trailers that are filmed and created specifically for that purpose. Think the “Jurassic Park” teaser trailer that featured footage created specifically for the trailer. Or the “Spider-man” trailer.
Let me explain. I would not be opposed to commercials if they were entertainment. If they were shot as a 2-3 minute dramatic short film (or comedic, or sci-fi, etc.), but obviously were advertising a product (or two or three), I wouldn’t object. The Los Angeles times used to create theater specific ads that were mini-docs on the entertainment biz, and I always enjoyed seeing those. If they were presented as an ongoing serial (á la the Maxwell House commercials a few years back), I’d be even more apt to enjoy them. Of course, that seems, on the surface, to be out of the theater owners hands. But if the theater owners currently work with the ad agencies to secure the ads, they could lay down some rules as well. The ad agencies would likely comply, in order to get their products noticed on the level they currently do.
As you’ll see in the posts later this week, I believe that the audience’s behavior is determined by the atmosphere in which they sit. If the first thing they are presented with is a slew of 30 second commercials, something they get at their own home, they are likely to react in the same way they do at their home during commercials. That is, talk, use cell phones, play a game on their Nintendo DS (why someone would bring that to a movie theater is beyond me?), and any other distracting behavior. Of course, by the time the movie begins, they are already in that frame of mind, and it now impacts all around them.
So please do away with the commercials. In fact, if you want to raise the price (I know, what about Reason #1 right?) in order that I do not have to sit through them, feel free. After all, that is one reason why I love the Arclight cinema in Hollywood, CA so very much.
Many of you may be thinking that here is where I continue on about pricing. You would be wrong. I am not implying that the costs of concessions are outrageously cost prohibitive (they are), nor am I suggesting that the nutritional values of the snacks are worse than eating a stick of butter (they are), but I am proposing that you do away with the concession stands entirely. This is also hard for me to say, as I have fond memories of going to the cinema and eating a hot bucket of popcorn coated in real butter with a package of peanut M&M’s on top! (I was recently made aware that the Laemmle theaters still use real butter!) Unfortunately, because of (reason #10), this just no longer works.
One of the many features that I enjoy about going to a private screening of a film is that there is never a snack stand at the theater. It seems that the people in charge of industry screenings understand that the mess left behind is akin to watching a film at a recycling yard, complete with crumbs in the seats, sticky and/or wet floors, and chewing gum stuck under the arms of the chairs. The distracting noise of a cellophane wrapper being torn during the quietest part of the film, or the sounds of the last few drops of liquid amidst the melting ice cubes in the bottom of the cup being sucked through the straw slowly and methodically is exasperating. The Jumbo Size Cola needing to find its way out of the person seated next to you three times during the film is anything but welcome. Times that by 10 or so, and you have 30 people reenacting the Bugs Bunny scene from “Hare Do” in your row alone. The smell of a greasy, over-cooked, heat lamp incubated hot dog is nauseating, to say the least. The added orchestra of crunching nacho chips throughout the film only deters from the millions spent to properly record the features soundtrack.
Instead, I propose that you open a small cafe area. In fact, this may help contribute to the overall “event” of going to the movies. You can sell small sandwiches, along with the other commodities typically found at the concession stand. A couple can do a “dinner and a movie” date within the confines of your establishment, all at the benefit of your other customers. You likely would garner more business, as some people may purchase your “Dinner Date” package, which for a higher ticket price, would get them seats in a specially reserved section, as well as their own personal usher/waiter. Win/Win.
Or perhaps you create new seating (again, I point out how these reasons are all related!) that has a special section for those desiring to eat during the film. I was in Austin, TX not too long ago and paid a visit to the much talked about Alamo Drafthouse. It was a very interesting experience, in that you could order a complete meal and eat it in your seat. If there was a special section for that, I would have no qualms. Or another option would be to have a specific showing for those who desire food, and another for those that do not (The Arclight cinemas do something similar. That is, they offer a screening they’ve dubbed the “21+ screenings”, where those in attendance can have alcohol if they prefer).
This is related to costs. Let me preface this reason by giving a little backstory. When I went to see the private screening of “Avatar”, they gave us special 3D glasses that we could take home with us. I was excited to receive these freebies, as I knew that I would be able to carry them with me to every other 3D film from here on out. Fast forward to the “Avatar” showing at the AMC that my wife and I went to the other day. I have my free passes in hand, my 3D glasses in the other. I get to the window, present my passes, and am told that the total will be $10. Surprised, I ask the reason. I’m quickly told that the added fee is for the 3D glasses. I state that I am in possession of my own pair, and thus would only need to pay for the one pair. I am then informed that I will not be allowed to bring in my own pair of glasses! I retort that I’ll opt to not use the glasses, as I’ve already seen the film and don’t care to sit through it with the glasses this time out. Again, I am told that I cannot enter without paying the fee for two pairs of glasses.
Now, I understand that $10 is not that big of a deal, given that I was using two free passes. However, if I had paid for the tickets, my movie alone would have put me back $34! And I had my own pair of glasses!
I then noticed the still on the movie screen during the “pre-show entertainment” that was intended to bamboozle the audience into thinking the reason for returning the glasses upon the completion of the film was to “stay green”. Ok, how is having to produce another pair of plastic glasses “being green”? If you would allow me, as well as the many other theater goers who are like-minded, to keep our glasses, the need to produce more would be drastically reduced, resulting in a truer form of “being green”.
I wouldn’t raise such a ruckus regarding this if the glasses were free. I would happily return them as I exit the theater. However, I’ve paid for the glasses. I’ve not been given the choice to use my own over the use of those you are providing me. Don’t even get me started on the fake Imax that you also asked me to pay extra for a few months ago.
So I ask, either allow those of us who have our own glasses to bring them in, just as you allow those of us who have free passes to enter your theater. I also ask that you stop charging extra for the pair you offer. I understand that the studio “forces” you to pay that fee. But if you all would refuse to show their films in 3D unless they paid for it themselves, you would have the upper hand. In fact, you already do. They need you to show their films. Treat it that way.
And lastly, if nothing else, I ask that you at least honor the free passes in a manner that allows me to truly see the film for free.
Reason #8 – Coming Tomorrow