Tuesday, August 02, 2005


In a theater near you: the box-office blues : Will death become theatres? : Some fear that rotten box-office revenues will lead to theatres closing. : The end of the movie is nigh : Movie critic Chris Vognar discusses the box office slump : Theaters Hope Hollywood Takes Page From This Script : Movie fans surrendering the multiplex to barbarians : Drop in moviegoers could send industry reeling

I realized something yesterday. Nobody wants to go to the movies anymore. Now don't misunderstand me here. People still want to see movies. And there are some (like me) who have always loved going to the movies and go the same way you have to go to your hometown every few years. And, as Martha pointed out there are some who go because the movie needs to be big - like when we saw Batman on the IMAX. But everyone else just goes because they have to. Because there's no other place to see a particular film. Because there's nothing else to do on a Friday night. Because there's no other place where people can go without their parents. And everyone resents the fact that they know they don't HAVE to be there, yet they are... almost against their will. From there, it doesn't take much to push people over the edge. And every one of the articles above touches on one or all of the reasons that people find to make them miserable while they are forced to go to the movies. And anyone who has an out, takes it. If they have a serviceable home theater and a netflix account, they more than make do.

It's not laziness, despite what I quoted in a previous post. It's the human exercise of gravitating towards an optimum. People want to do what's easiest, not because they don't want to do anything, but because they want to make the most out of their time and money.

The piece that Ty Burr wrote is probably the best of this bunch, and gives the industry transformation the most context, and I think the most hope.

Like any industry that has given way to it's more convenient and in some cases better suited successors, the movies as we know it have no reason to go on existing. Small restaurants that serve bad expensive food can't and shouldn't compete against McDonalds where you can get bad cheap food or any top tier restaurant where you can get good food. There's just no place for them... and right now that's what movie theaters are.


So where is there hope? For one, we need to stop doing this
"The medium has evolved, as mediums do, in the direction of ease and efficiency. If there's still a reason to go to a movie theater -- call it communal dreaming -- exhibitors are chipping away at it to make their weekly payroll."
One of the great ironies of this whole situation with theaters is that as theaters start losing viewers naturally (to the shift in home video availability, etc) they compensate for the loss by doing things that only turn more people away. They continue to raise ticket prices because they have no choice, they increase the margins on their concessions even more. They show more prominent ads when they didn't before. And now they're losing people through their own doing.

If a theater isn't going to be committed to making it easier for people to go to the movies... really easier, then it should just go out of business. Because they have to realize that people just don't need to go anymore.

So if everyone would rather watch their movies at home, why not just shut down all the theaters and let them? There are three reasons. And a theater needs to do all three of these or, like I said before, it should just close it's doors and turn off the marquis.

1.) People need to be around other people while watching movies.

If all of the world's knowledge can be put into books or on the internet, why go to universities? Because being around other people open up avenues for interpreting, understanding and enjoying that would never even be possible by yourself. Movies, as much as Hollywood may try to convince us are business, are literature. They're more accessible to most than printed books, and available on more media. People need to be able to tell other people what they thought was funny or what they thought was sad, or what blew their minds.

2.) Some movies need to be big. There are movies whose art is so large or so universal that they need to swallow you up with huge screens and immersive sounds to demonstrate that they're more than entertainment, they're modern monuments.

3.) People need to see movies they wouldn't normally see. Not only does seeing movies with fresh perspecitives, open up the world, they also remind seasoned movie-watchers of the joy of watching films. The great moments in film watching happen when they're unexpected. when you didn't think a movie would be that good, when you didn't expect that a scene would move you, when you didn't expect to root for the bad guys. If people only watch the movies they're used to watching, chances are they'll be expecting most of what they get.

And these are the things that a physical space such as a movie theater can do better than sitting at home (at least right now).

3 years ago when I first realized that I wanted to own a movie theater, I couldn't sleep because I was so excited about all the ideas I had. I wanted to have a theater that also sold home theater equipment (my other obsession) and had equipment demo rooms that doubled as movie screening rooms. The place would be able to print on-demand dvds so that literally any movie would be available to take home with you if you were suddenly inspired to watch a movie's prequel, sister film, or original source material.

I abandoned most of these ideas, because I thought that I might have to adopt a more pure definition of movie theater to have it be successful at first. But now it seems that I was right on with my first instincts. Maybe what the industry needs to evolve into is precisely the movie-megastore that would combine every imagineable way of bringing movies to people and have each individual medium benefit from the cross pollination.

The hope, as I see it, lies here in what Rick Munarriz of Motley Fool says:
"The fact that so many movie chains have either filed for bankruptcy or have been taken private in desperation doesn't bother me. In fact, if you read my article "5 Pretty Stocks in Ugly Places," you may appreciate my position that the harder a sector struggles, the more likely it is that a true innovator will emerge and reshape the industry."
If someone doesn't beat me to it, he's talking about me. I'm sure of it. I always wanted to innovate because I thought it could be done better. I didn't think the industry would ever need saving. But now that it has to happen, I want to be a part of it.


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