Saturday, June 25, 2005

Loews, AMC, and Farmer John

Movie theater chain AMC to buy Loews Cineplex
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I swear this was supposed to have already happened...
"The deal will consolidate AMC's already formidable presence in large, urban markets. AMC is known for its huge movie complexes -- nearly three-quarters of its screens are located in "megaplexes" that have 14 or more movie screens -- and a large number of its theaters are located in California, Florida and Texas.

Most of Loews' theaters are in major metropolitan markets. The company lays claim to the biggest share of the market in New York City, Chicago, Detroit and Mexico City.

Once the deal is completed, the new AMC Entertainment will have about 5,900 movie screens in 450 theaters, including its interests in various joint ventures, and be run by AMC Chairman and Chief Executive President Peter Brown.

AMC rival Regal Entertainment, which operates Regal Cinemas, United Artists Theatres and Edwards Theatres, has more than 6,200 screens in more than 550 locations and has theaters spread more broadly across suburban areas."

In any event, I didn't realize there was such a clear industry divide between the urban and suburban. I think it's kind of neat. :) Maybe we'll see some interesting divergent evolution as a result. I'm not really sure what I have in mind, but one has to think that a business that operates in the big city has to be different from one that runs in the 'burbs.

And one other thing this seems to highlight is that there appears to be no market in the rural areas of the world that wouldn't be able to support multi/megaplexes. I think the rural markets are something that could end up being the "long tail" of the exhibitor market. While the big chains are fighting off box office slumps and people that would prefer to watch their movies at home, the people in rural areas may actually need movie theaters to be an affordable way to watch high quality first run films. For people who either can't afford, or don't have access to fancy home theaters, the community supported movie theaters are the best way for them to enjoy movies.

Unfortunately, this hasn't been feasible. Prints are a commodity and can't be sent to remote areas when they could generate a lot more money and exposure if they were played in NYC as opposed to the middle of Alaska. Furthermore, theater economics and way box office profits are shared make it impossible for a small (probably single screen theater) to survive or turn a profit. Especially when the population is small and you can't count on a consistent flow of people.

But I think the technology has made the impossible possible. If movies are going to be distributed in a digital format, you no longer needs physical film prints. Copies of the movie will no longer be scarce and can be shipped anywhere, at will. (Arguably, this already happens with internet piracy and dvd piracy, which just goes to show...) Improved home theater technology makes it possible to create a megaplex quality experience for a fraction of the people at a fraction of the price (I'd estimate you could do it very well for 7K-10K and a typical megaplex screen comes in at 500K-1 Million)

I think this makes room for a new kind of theater that I call the "microplex" (which is a combination of the standard popular progression: mini, multi, mega and this wave of cinema I've been following in San Francisco called microcinema). It would consist of a 3 or 4 low cost, high quality screening rooms, and be completely digital. The profit structure would be such that they wouldn't need concessions (much like some of the small screens I saw in Paris) which would bring their overhead down, but they'd have enough variety and be able to show movies for long enough that they'd still manage to turn a profit. These microplexes could fit anywhere and any job. Whether it's bringing big budget movies to remote communities or more convenient locations and closer to small neighborhoods in big cities or bringing arthouse/foreign films to large communities that don't have enough of a market to support one of Landmark's houses or a Regal Cine'arts.

I actually have a great plan for creating these, that was inspired by my trip to Maui. We spent part of our time after the Film Festival at the tip of the island in Hana which is a beautiful coastal rainforest. There's no theater there and the nearest community that's large enough to support one is 3 hours away. But why not build one in Hana?

A small amount of capital (10K) from some source (Martha's peace corps experience came in handy here when she suggested Peace Corps grants) would get it started by paying for euipment and maybe some permit fees. Then you could get a piece of land or commercial space donated by the local government, a private landholder, a resort, or by the community. Then the community could all come together to build the structure over a couple of months (hopefully using local building techniques and traditions that preserved the culture of the community). Voila! Anything from Star Wars to Whale Rider to The Real Dirt on Farmer John could play there.

This has gotten a little out of hand. It was originally going to be one line long... but all of the rest of this just flowed out. I have plenty more ideas on this subject, though, so if you have any questions or feedback, I'd love to talk.

America Loves It's Living Room

Home beats theater for movie viewing, poll says
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"Almost three-fourths of Americans say they would prefer to stay home and watch a movie on their DVD player, VCR or pay-per-view.

That's more than three times the number, 22 percent, who said they prefer to watch films at a theater, an AP-AOL poll found.

Young adults, single people and those with college degrees were most likely to say they preferred going to the movie theater."

I guess there's at least one reason more people should go to college :) I suppose this makes sense. The people who are unlikely to prefer going to the movie theater are families (who have to spend 50-100 dollars every time out or have comfortable homes) and elderly people for whom going to the movies may be extremely inconvenient. It's also unsurprising in light of people who feel like this. I don't really know if there's much that theaters can do about people disliking being around other people. I feel it's more of a cultural epidemic than a condition of being in movie theaters. In any event, I wish more people liked going to the movies :)

I also found this equally interesting.

"Most Americans think movie stars are poor role models, and almost half say movies generally aren't as good as they used to be.

Movie stars don't set a good example, said Earl Ledbetter, a movie fan who lives in Ventura, Calif. "They just don't have the morals. They marry and divorce, sleep around a lot."

It's fascinating that 1.) American's seem to be so caught up in the gossip about celebrities, yet so out of touch with the realities that apply to both their lives and those of celebrities. Marriage, divorce, and promiscuity are prevalent in all of American life, and maybe it's not a question of moral fortitude, but of difficult internal conflicts that our culture has pushed everyone into. 2.) That judging other people's actions is not only viewed as acceptible, but as laudable.

Personally, I think it's a problem that's deeply ingrained in the free market mentality that our society is built around. But the simplified version, is the way the media capitilizes on our good natured interest in being close to people to create a market out of other people's lives.

None of this is particularly relevant to the issue of movie theaters, so I'll get off the soapbox. But I'm starting to think American culture is making it really hard to want to go to the movies.

Friday, June 24, 2005

Theater Going Rage

A few choice words for movie-theater chatterers
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In what would turn out to be superb timing, I recently received this feedback to some of my suggestions for the nationwide downturn in theater attendance (generally referred to these days as the box office slump).

"I think much of the attendance downturn at movie theaters has to do with the environment at the theaters. First, the public seems to have the opinion that it's alright to dump trash and uneaten snacks on the floor and in the seats, something most adults would not do in their own home but feel it's acceptable at theaters; and, they allow their children to observe this disrepectful behavior and do likewise through their formative and adult years. Second, moviegoers no longer have the common courtesy to remain silent during the movie, whether it's unwarranted comments or explanations during the movie, ringing cell phones, failure to control disruptive behavior by infants or young children, and loud, obnoxious eating of noisy snacks like popcorn or nachos. Who in the world decided it was a good idea to begin serving messy nachos at theaters? Why should anyone subject themselves to this abuse at a movie theater when we can watch the same movies in the comfort and silence of or own homes. I believe that many former moviegoers feel the same way and have expressed their opinion via declining box office attendance."

Meanwhile, I was planning on posting about rather scathing editorial piece about movie theater "chatterers". Here are some of the highlights.
"So, in lieu of invoicing you for 113 minutes of my life, I’m letting you know – sweetly –- that during the movie, you TALKED EVERY SECOND. (Sorry, my caps stick sometimes.)

Judging from the flakes of Dolby Digital sound that sneaked past your conversation, “Crash” seemed to be about coping with deeply flawed individuals in Los Angeles. How’s that for coincidence?

Here’s a bigger coincidence: Profiling seemed to be another theme of “Crash,” and you neatly fit a movie-talker profile: A long-married couple who check Blackberries during the movie but don’t share popcorn, arm rests or enough common interests anymore to carry on a conversation in your empty nest, which one of you wants to sell now before real estate prices tank, and you worry about how you’ll continue putting brioche on the table during your demographically irrelevant golden years."
Not surprisingly, I didn't find Mr. Mehlman's intolerant diatribe to be very funny (I'm not even sure he intended for it to be, I can only assume since apparently he worked on Seinfeld). Nor, unfortunately, did I find it to be particularly insightful or to provide any useful criticism. He made one point (that he was upset that a nearby couple was talking during the movie). Also he made no effort to solve the problem (by asking the couple to lower their voices) and took up arms against all of humanity - including himself - in their desire to want to express themselves to one another.

My response to both the people submitting the complaints and to the people who are offending them would be the same. Everyone just needs to be a little more considerate of one another and what the other people might be going through.

Dark spaces, much like the metal and glass referred to in Crash, often have the unfortunate effect of creating a feeling of isolation. It never occurs to drivers that the person who cut them off may be on the way home to pick up their sick son, or maybe just doesn't realize they did anything bad. Just like people in movie theaters forget that other people might be hearing what they're saying or that people have to clean up the popcorn they spill on the floor. It always helps to have a friendly reminder that other people are sharing the experience, but anger only breeds more anger and a worse experience for everyone.

In light of this, rather than put up the signs and pre-show messages for deterring in-theater cell phone use that movie-goers clamor for (more than anything else), I'm going to make it a point to address the underlying issue that people are actually struggling with (and that the feedback I received astutely points out): 4.) consideration for other movie goers. Issuing orders to turn off cell phones doesn't make anybody happy. It makes the people who complain feel entitled to have their demands met and makes them feel more unsatisfied and more irritated. And it makes the people who respect the rule feel like something is being taken away from them.

But encouraging people to maintain a level of mutual respect and consideration for all of their fellow patrons makes everyone's experiece much more pleasant. People feel more comfortable talking to each other rather than storing up rage. People realize how pleasant and understanding other people actually are. And when someone makes a mistake, it doesn't throw people over the edge.

That's what Crash was about, by the way (Not to be too much of a smartass, but I know because Paul Haggis was at the screening I watched :) ). Not deeply flawed individuals. But compassionate people who needed to learn to be tolerant of one another.

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Desperate Last Words

Martha pointed out to me that my last few couple of posts were either a little silly or not very meaty. Since I recently solicited the girls responsible for Boulevard Theaters in Petaluma, I desperately wanted to put up some good content to impress them, and hopefully keep them coming back and giving me their valuable input.

Unfortunately, however, time has caught up with me in the worst way, and I'm barely squeezing in all the work I need to finish before we head off to Maui for the Maui Film Festival (where I won't have a computer and probably won't be able to blog).

So if you girls are reading this, I promise I had all sorts of very current, very relevant, and very interesting things for you to read, I just couldn't manufacture the time...

But they'll all be here when I come back from vacation!

And I'll even throw in some more detail about what this blog's purpose is, since I was feeling a little shy when I was actually in Petaluma and didn't do a great job of describing it. Until then, I'm off to Maui!

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

A New Meaning to Home Theater...

go to original article (HOME MOVIE THEATER) ... or email me for article text
go to original article (Clements Family) ... or email me for article text

Ideas like these are going to pub me out of a job. :)

But seriously, Here's something, and I think I might make it part of one of the things I believe about movie theaters (even though it's more about people). The soul is creative, and will gravitate towards being so. Moreover, others will gravitate towards the work that is soulful. Building a theater and the community that compliments it is a soulful activity, and people will appreciate it. These articles prove that.

3.) If you build it (and I mean _you_ actually _build_ it yourself) they will come.

Ok I stole that from a movie. But it's true.

What he said

Theater chains slump after downgrade
go to original article ... or email me for article text

Miraculously bringing two of my last three posts together, and one of the angles that I forgot to mention in my last post: stock prices
""We believe that the tenet of 2%-3% annual attendance growth in the box office is no longer valid given the fragmentation of entertainment options and the improvement in the home entertainment experience," Reid wrote in a note to investors.

The industry's "value proposition" is becoming less attractive, he continued, as prices of DVD players and videos, digital TVs, etc. continue to decline while box office ticket prices rise."
Value proposition! That's what I was talking about. Ok,this analyst, at the very least, has eloquence on his side. And I can't say I disagree with what he says. Point: Analyst. And where do they come up with all these buzz phrases? :)

Monday, June 06, 2005


Beating the box office blahs
The Memorial Day weekend gave Hollywood a much-needed lift. But can it last?
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"Don't expect those huge sighs of relief coming from movie industry executives this week to last."

The overall box office tallied $128.3 million, off a huge 30 percent from the comparable weekend a year ago. It marked the 15th consecutive weekend of lower grosses than last year. "It feels like the movie business is in a malaise," Universal Pictures Chairman Stacey Snider told USA Today
When I first saw this word on one of the title card's for Kevin Smith's Clerks I didn't have any idea what it meant. But it says it all. Or maybe a more timely reference from Star Wars is more appropriate. "I have a bad feeling about this."

The bad feeling is inescapable. Every angle I keep tabs on (from studio briefings to video rental news) is projecting the same sinking feeling about the state of the movie industry. I wouldn't put too much stock in the apparant slump in Box office receipts and attendance figures from last year (seeing as it was a record year, there was probably nowhere to go but down), but something scary is happening. All my previous posts on the subject have resisted admitting any fear, but I think there's something to be afraid of.

Although it's not as scary as it may seem.

It's not the kind of fear that comes from a disruptive technology being introduced. It's not like on demand video appeared out of nowhere and made people fundamentally change the way they think about their lives. The convergence of movies into the home has been happening, slowly and steadily through a multitude of sources. Network premieres on ABC. Television premieres on TBS. Shrinking DVD release windows. Pre-viewed dvd sales at blockbuster. BitTorrent pirating on the internet. The idea has been around in our collective minds for a long time. It's only now that it's catching up to the industry

Here's who should be scared. The studios should be scared that they've painted themselves into a corner by alienating the theaters (not the chains) that show their wares. They've made it so impossible to make any money off of showing a studio release that it finally became too much for the moviegoers to handle. Between standing in line and sitting through ads and paying up to 10.50 for a single movie ticket (all things that theater owners are practically powerless to change) The thought of staying home to watch a movie has become resoundingly more attractive than going out. Although, as the article says, the studios may have little incentive to change their complicated revenue sharing schemes because they make their money on DVD releases.

The owners of theater chains should be scared that they overvalued the market for bad, big budget movies and diverted all of their resources to collaborate with the studios to saturate it with crap. And it's backfiring like a Ben Affleck, Jennifer Lopez collaboration. Big budget films are losing all credibility with any sort of savvy movie audience because they know how prone a studio will be to putting out anything that will sell (regardless of it's quality). And part of the reason for this is the fact that the theaters even play these movies. Maybe the big chains had to sell their souls at some point just to make any sort of deals with the studios. Like to get at the good content, they had to screen the bad as well. But showing bad movies does more damage to their negotiating position with their patrons than perhaps they anticipated. They should learn from this when renegotiating their stance with distributors and when choosing what to market.
"At some point, there will have to be some kind of ticket-price adjustment just to get people back into theaters," said Dergarabedian.
It's. About. Time.

I'll resist them temptation to reiterate this, commonly visited, topic. But that's not all.

Theater owners responded then with giveaways and other gimmicks to lure audiences to the theater.

"They would use any promotion you could think of just to...get people off their couches," said Bucksbaum. He said one theater gave away dinner dishes; another installed seatbelts to convey excitement.

I'm all for this. Every year at SHOWEST they give away awards for the most effective and fun theater-specific marketing campaigns, and it sounds like the most fun part about running a movie theater. It not only engages the community into coming, but it endears the theater and the film to the theater workers that promote them. Increased levels of faith all around.

On a somewhat related note, I really like this Bucksbaum character (quoted above). I recently came across his name when my uncle (who is more immersed in movie culture and movie going than anyone I know, and thus my hero) told me that his theater, "The Crest" in LA is his favorite. You should definitely check out the website and history of the theater. Bucksbaum used his life savings to buy his theater AND works at a box office tracking firm. Thus, he is also my hero.

I was going to write a dedicated post to the Bucksbaum and the crest, but after seeing his name in this article, the measure of coincidence was just too high for me to resist. :)

Thursday, June 02, 2005

Where the Experts at?

Star power
The new 'Star Wars' smashes box-office records across the nation. Local theater managers are thrilled by the huge and enthusiastic crowds.

go to original article ... or email me for article text
"Some industry analysts have forecast the demise of blockbusters, saying fans would rather wait for the DVD to come out than stand in long lines for expensive tickets.

But local theater owners, like Saunders of MoviE-town, say the problem is more basic: bad movies.

“You just never know what the studios are going to put out,” said Saunders, who has owned the theater since 1999.

“It’s not a reflection of the (state of the) industry; if you put out a bad movie, nobody’s going to come.”"
I was reading this fantastic article about IDEO -- and how they're becoming the model for the modern business consulting firm -- recently and it was discouraging how little the corporate entities that drive the production of goods for thousands of people actually know about us. So one has to wonder, what are these industry analysts doing with all of their time, why are they so wrong and why can't their credibility somehow be taken away. I suppose the only question (of those three) that is of any relevance is really the last one. Why theater owners' opinions carry seemingly less weight than unnamed and unspecified analysts is an unfortunate flaw of the journalistic system. Or perhaps more basically, a flaw in the way humans apply biases. Someone should do something to properly balance the public perception of in-the-trenches experts as opposed to so called, macro level "experts". It needs to be communicated that while these analysts probabaly have the benefit of a widened scope, along with that naturally comes the disadvantage of being much further away from the actual issues.

I, for one, believe the theater managers :)

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

The Loaner

Outdoor movie theater venue to open this summer
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"With the New Malibu Theater closed for several months due to the recent fire, the City Council granted permission on Monday for the theater operator to screen first-run films at Malibu Bluffs Park during the summer.

According to Wallace Theaters, which runs New Malibu Theater, films will be screened from June 17 to Sept. 4 on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays at approximately 8:15 p.m. Regular admission will be charged and there will be concessions. People will have to bring their own chairs and blankets.

City staff will negotiate an agreement with Wallace Theaters to finalize details for the summer screenings. "
This is a nice trend for the summer. All Movie theaters on the coast should be required to do this during the warm months :)