Saturday, August 20, 2005

My "Home" Theater Experiment

A lot of important things have been coming together recently and leading me to some great ideas about how to shape the prospect of my movie theater.

First, I ran across a fantastic article a few weeks ago (that I wasn't able to blog about) by Edward Jay Epstein, 'The Hollywood Economist". Of all the articles about the recent/current box office slump, this one has been the only one that shed any real light on the issue. In addition to being far more well informed than every other critique of this issue, Epstein provides the only perspective that doesn't involve some sort of doomsday prediction. For Mr. Epstein, everything is simple evolution, for better or worse, and all there is to do is to understand the mechanics and forces that are driving this evolution.

Obviously I was intrigued. He seems to know more about what's going on than anyone, and driven to comprehend it not by some emotional attachment (like me or say the movie critics) or desire to see Hollywood fail (like the public who is pissed about being sold overpriced garbage at the movies) but by his own (almost twisted) fascination with the monster that is Hollywood. For those two things, I value his perspective very highly. I bought his book "The Big Picture: The new logic of money and power in hollywood" and it's fantastic. I know I recommend a lot of things on this blog, but this book is fabulous. I haven't finished it (I'm only about 3 chapters in) but I can't put it down. Like the way most people would read Harry Potter. The Non-fiction equivalent of crack.

In any event, the major idea of the book so far is that studio's care very little about their theatrical release platform as a way of generating revenue. All of their interest is in the endless possibility of home entertainment (well really in capitalizing on the long term success of their marketable intellectual property -- such as characters and personages that can be sold as books, movies, toys, etc). So I've been mulling over that for a while (since one of my principal ideas about having this theater and necessarily doing business with studios is that they need to have a vested interest in getting some return from operations like mine so they'll be eager to help out when they're needed)

The other thing that has been going on, is that I finally bought a home theater grade projector which is great for a couple reasons (aside from the obvious one which is that I have a totally sweet projector for watching movies.) 1.) I can finally check out the quality of these devices, train my eyes and ears to detect quality, survey their long term maintenance needs, etc. 2.) I can now test out all of my concepts about small groups watching movies.

So with all that in mind, here's the thought that has been brewing. Epstein asserts that the studios are no longer movie production factories, but giant multi-media home entertainment conglomerates. The reason they will always be relevant in the near future (until all media becomes public domain -- which doesn't appear to be the trend) is that they control all content. Even independent movies eventually end up in their domain thanks to their independent distribution arms (i.e. Miramax, Sony Classic, Fox Searchlight). But if the trend is to maximize the experience for home entertainment (which is essentially the personalization of content) the next step for public venues should be to become a client of these home entertainment services and options. It should just improve on the home experience by offering better audiovisuals, accommodating more people, and making it easy to access more content.

I envision these ubiquitous media screening rooms where you can sit down in front of a small to medium sized screen, and watch anything from the Lakers game, to your favorite TV show, to the newest Spielberg release , to your email. You can bring your own content (on DVDs, memory cards, whatever) or purchase it there by renting, downloading, buying discs, or buying a ticket to watch a premade selection. The role of the theater would be to maintain the complex schedule of how to rent out the time in the theaters, how to help people get access to whatever movies they want, maintaining the quality of the theater experience. Obviously these places would be the perfect places to sell dvds (for example, you go in to rent a movie you've never seen, but after you watch it, you decide you'd rather keep the movies, you can waive your rental after you purchase the dvd on your way out) or home theater equipment (since the venue is essentially a showroom for products) but selling these things should not be the primary business. One, despite what the profits may be, there are already companies that do it better and you can just hook up to their websites and collect a commission for helping the process. Also it removes the potentially costly and volatile dependency on specific technologies that are bound to change.

So here's one part that could be really cool about this. Since people would be choosing their own content for the theater, they become business partners. If you can capture their imaginations with this idea, they can take ownership of individual shows, or festivals (for profit or just interest) and provide innovative programming, local interest, diversity, and marketing all in one logical, scalable package. Let's say local kid wants to show his favorite cartoon series. He sells the idea to all of his friends who show up and diffuse the cost of the rental. Or the local filmmaker who wants an audience. He'll do all the necessary things to draw attention to his movies. Meanwhile, all these people are coming through your doors and enjoying all nature of cultural communal experience.

I think I'm starting to get really close to the exact model of what I want to do. This is similar to what I did with my dvd collection college, and I think that's a good sign. It's also respectful of the logic of Hollywood which is an even better sign.

And before I forget, one other thing I learned from the 100 movies Saturday, when watching the abbreviated version of movies, always fast forward instead of chapter skipping so you always get to watch the good parts. Also the "I get it" progression of influential movies to the masterpieces that refer to them is a great way to string together a day a movies (Like Ray Ray's the 10 movies that explain all of the jokes in the simpsons, or watching prince of Egypt and Indiana Jones temple of doom in one sitting). It'll certainly be something I'll put on the program for my "media centers". Our version of employee picks.


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