Thursday, September 29, 2005

Reinventing the Wheel

Film exhibitor is directing a construction project
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""I think the reason drive-ins became popular was twofold," Harris said. "First, they recognized that America after World War II had become a mobile society and that we would do everything we possibly could in our cars. Second, smaller exhibitors couldn't afford to bring films to hardtop [indoor] theaters, but they could get them for the drive-ins. It was a way to get into the business."

"It was cheap back then to buy 10 to 40 acres on the outskirts of some town. Land is much too expensive now for that. There are maybe only 100 drive-ins left in the entire country.""
Here's an interesting segue into another half baked thought I've been struggling with. If the Drive-in was the low cost way into the exhibitor business, and nickelodeons were the entry level operations that preceded them, what's the cheap way into the business now?

Obviously, they're doing it over at the Moxie (see previous post) but I think reading through the Moxie blog should convince you that between permits, finding financing, preposterous rents, and studio distribution arms milking every last penny from their content libraries, it's entirely too difficult to get started in this business. Or any business for that matter. Which may seem like a reasonable hurdle if your goal is to turn a profit. It's widely accepted that it takes money to make money, and being that it's no interest of mine, I'm content to let the MBA's debate that point. But maybe somewhere along the line, it stopped being commonly accepted that businesses don't exist to make money. Businesses start because someone wants to be afforded the opportunity to provide a good or service to somebody else.

Obviously it's not as simple as that. And as far as I can tell, the reason for that is that if whatever resources would be consumed by a business can be used in a more profitable way, than the more profitable scheme wins. They tell me that it's called capitalism.

But is it really? One way I've been taught to understand capitalism is that it's a successful way of organizing people into an economy because one is rewarded for working hard, and thus incentivized to continue contributing. That seems to fit, more or less with the general idea of the previous paragraph.

But I was thinking about it (and forgive me if this is obvious and not as interesting to you as it is to me), and it seems like the reason capitalism has been so successful is something different. Capitalism allows people to basically fill in the needs of their community as they arise (as opposed to circumventing them as the self-oriented incentive system would suggest). People see a problem, realize that they can do something about it, and can afford to spend their time working on it, because it pays. This is great for the governing body, because they don't have to think of everyone's needs ahead of time and can leverage the intelligence and enthusiasm of the citizens (rightly so). And it's great for the community because they don't have to wait for the slow deliberation that is a natural result of a complicated governing body.

So if you're following my logic -- Assertion A: It's no longer easy to provide a service you want to provide, Asserion B: One of Capitalism's great benefits was that it allowed people to provide serices they wanted to provide. Does the combination of these two assertions suggest capitalism has outlived it's usefulness? I would answer yes... but if I were to give an impartial answer, it depends on the arena.

The problem with most industries, is that as they've matured, they've become dominated by institutions that are provide as much bad (if not more) than good. These institutions help preserve knowledge and prevent people from having to reinvent the wheel. But at the same time, they necessarily shift their operationa focus from providing a service to (sometimes exclusively) staying alive.

And on top of that, they often deny people the joy of inventing the wheel.

Maybe this is all fine if you buy into the idea that innovation and living on the cutting edge means that people will always have a place to dig into their souls and find that joy. But I'd argue it's not the same. Most of the discoveries and innovations that will actually make people feel fulfilled are things that have already been institutionalized and made unavailable (ironically, through school based education). That's why people in small towns still want to start movie theaters even when they've been to multiplexes, and why college students move back to farms to experience truly providing their own food. And it's even why people still find giving birth one of the most soulful experiences of their lives even though it's happened over and over and over again since the beginning of time.

In light of all this, I think it's unwise for a culture to continue without making consideration for enabling its citizens to participate in the meaningful tasks and occupations that will make them feel whole.

I don't know what this calls for. Probably some recognition of mature industries that are important to people, and diverting the interest in these industries from keeping th old institutions around to giving places for new generations to break in. In true capitalistic form.

And then opening my movie theater will be a snap! :)

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Better late than never!

It's showtime at Springfield's Moxie
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"The 75-seat, single-screen Moxie Cinema opens to the public tomorrow night at 408 W. Walnut St. downtown after months of anticipation, delays and renovation. The first film shown will be "Me and You and Everyone We Know," a contemporary romance which has won awards at the Cannes and Sundance film festivals.

It's the culmination of a dream and hard work for owners Dan and Nicole Chilton, lifelong movie buffs who met as employees at Springfield 8 and married two years ago."
I'm a little late, since this happened about a week ago, but what would be a greater tribute to the belated opening of the moxie than belated post about its opening :). Also I couldn't pass on recognizing the culminating event of a blog that has been such an inspiration to me.

Sunday, September 25, 2005

Smells Like Teen Spirit

Unruly teens spur bigger police presence at theaters
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"Ken and Eunice Pierce, owners of Picture Show III in Palm Coast, complain that 100 or more raucous teens often gather in front of the theater on Friday nights.

Some never buy tickets. Others buy a ticket then disrupt the film being shown, the couple said."
As one of the people who probably constituted the raucus mobs being complained about here, I have to admit this issue takes on a level of personal significance. I mean, I never threw a drink at another theatergoer or beat down anyone from a rival gang, but I did engage in my share or rowdy and michievous behavior at the multiplex when I was in High school... um... college... ok like last week. But, the point is, I definitely feel for these kids.

When you're too young to be legally allowed to do most of the things you find interesting, and old enough to start thinking for yourself and really exploring the world, there's something irresistable about congregating at the movies, no matter who you are or who you roll with. First of all, everyone goes. Even the kids who can't go out without their parents generally end up at the movies friday night (even if it is with their parents).

And while you don't really think about it at the time, the movies capture your imagination (if you end up buying a ticket :) ) in a way that school and most other things you're doing really can't. They cover all the issues of romance, growth, independence, friendship, etc that are all at their dramatic apex. And being around all that just makes you want to hang out.

But at the same time, I know how intimidated I was by some of the kids that hung around movie theaters (and I'm sure at some point, I must have intimidated someone much older or younger than me), and it can sometimes take you out of what would otherwise be a fantastic time.

Cops are obviously not the solution. Nobody ends up feeling safer around cops, even if they do stop the worst crimes from happening. My first thought would be to embrace the youth (which hollywood already tends to do with its product) and cater to their needs. But I can't really think of good ways to do that without alienating other patrons.

There needs to be an environment that lends itself to self regulation. I feel like if people had better things to do than hit each other, then they'd probably do them. One obvious thing is if kids could afford the movies maybe they wouldn't hang around outside as much. Or if there was some lounge where kids could buy affordable snacks and chat alongside other patrons, they wouldn't alienate so many people.

I haven't thought too much about this, to be honest, but it's so important! The movies mean so much to people who are growing up, theaters need to be a place where they can be introduced to a public world in a productive way. And I don't think the solution needs to involve heavy policing or anti-teen rules. I think we just need to look at the places where younger just naturally interact well with their more mature counterparts. What are those places? Libraries? Apprenticeships? Malls? (probably not malls), Doctor's offices? Nursing homes? Operas?

Just don't give up on the kids while you've got a chance to help them along.

Monday, September 19, 2005

Are we there yet?

Disney At The Forefront Of Digital Cinema
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"NEW YORK - As digital cinema starts to move from technical specs to reality, The Walt Disney Co. has become the first studio to commit to providing its pictures for the new format.

The Mouse House pledge is part of a potential rollout of more than 2,500 digital-cinema systems being administered by tech companies Christie and AccessIT (amex: AIX - news - people ).

The joint venture, dubbed Christie/AIX, will fund 200 d-cinema systems this year, which could more than triple the number of digital screens in the U.S. "
In other news, Disney seems to have made some sort of commitment to funding the installation digital cinema, as per its promise. Unfortunately I seemed to have imaginined what would have been the most juiciest part of this article which was a few vague details about how the funding would work (which I swear I saw, but no longer seem to be able to find). As you may have read elsewhere, Disney plans to pay whatever financial institution that actually purchases the projectors a "print fee" of about 1000 dollars (roughly the equivalent of manufacturing a physical print) for every film released to be shown on a new projector.

I wonder how it's going to work with the other studios though. Will everybody pitch in and pay the print fee? Will studios who don't chip in be barred from the digital projectors? It doesn't seem likely that Disney would offer the other studios a free ride, but I hope whatever results isn't fewer movies being available.

Sunday, September 18, 2005

All You Can Eat

What Hollywood and the Movie Theater Industry Need is a Good Kick in the . . .
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"Companies like Netflix, Gamefly, Napster & Comcast all make it possible to subscribe for a fee instead of buy or pay per use. By charging per month, these services bring in substantially more revenue than businesses that charge per use. This revenue, by the way, is the magical reoccurring revenue that every business so covets.

My name is Davis, I am a TV addict. While some people are proponents of the ala carte pay per use pricing menus for their entertainment, if I was forced to pay for every show I watch on TV, I would either watch a lot less TV or pay a hell of a lot more. Some people like to go outside and play in the sunshine. I do not. At present by paying cable "only" $39.99 (plus $10 in taxes that they really should pay for) per month I am the equivalent of the super fat man who spends every day gorging himself at the smorgasbord.

So this brings me to my point. Why not offer a monthly subscription fee to your local movie theater chains. Consumers would be happy to spend $30 or $40 per month in order to have the privilege of seeing films the way I did when I worked for the theaters. Instead of collecting $40 per year from me now, theaters could instead bring in $480 each year with an all you can eat model."
The idea of including a membership pass offering at movie theaters is another old favorite of mine. I've often thought this would be a good idea (and it's worth noting that this is already in place in several places in Europe), particularly for the theater owners -- who don't get very much reliable revenue. But reading this call for subscription based movie-going, jumpstarted my imagination for realizing the potential of this idea.

It hits close to home, because I've tossed around a number of concepts on this blog that would be affected/addressed by taking a measure such as this. The foremost of these was briefly addressed in an old blog post about doing the math behind going to the movies. The beauty of serving movie-going in a buffet line is that theater owners can now compare their services with those that use the predominant model of charging for modern entertainment or digitally enabled services (both classifications apply to the digital cinema). And once they compare, they can compete.

Put another way, movie theaters won't have to look so unattractive next to the prospect of digital cable or cell phone service. The unfavorable comparison between "watching as much TV as I want for $30 a month" vs "paying $10 for one movie ticket" will look much better when movie theaters can offer unlimited movies at $30 a month. Now moviegoing and cable can match up feature for feature. Both have a similar price point and both involve some form of unlimited access.

People might not even end up watching more movies for their money. But the peace of mind that comes with knowing you're getting a much better value and that you have the freedom to watch as many movies as you want will, I suspect, prove irresistible. Some might argue that the added value of this freedom is totally imagined if you don't end up watching any more movies than you pay for. But in a way, using this model, people pay for something that they should have been paying for the whole time.

I don't think, I've covered it on this blog, but I have often considered the fact that people who go to movie theaters less frequently than others, disproportionately benefit (cost wise) from the services of a movie theater despite the fact that the frequent moviegoers actually do more to support the theater. The thought goes something like this: Even if you doesn't go to a local movie theater, you always have the option of going. There is some value in the availability of the theater that people tend not to think about. Furthermore, the theater can't stay open for free, even if you don't go (this verifies that theater availability has a legitimate price). Operating costs are pretty much the same for the theater whether it's full or empty. So, by this logic, a person who goes to a theater once a week pays for his share of the theater's weekly operating costs, but a person who only goes once a month is off the hook for 3/4 or the time. And the person who goes 4 times a month doesn't carry as much of the burden as one who goes 4 times a week. And so on...

The question of who should pay for this value seems open to debate. Should people pay for it indirectly through taxes paid to the local government -- who in turn subsidizes the theater's rent? Should the cost show up more explicity in higher ticket prices for less frequent movie goers?

Neither seems particularly feasible, as the local governments have plenty of people asking for tax dollars, and the more expensive ticket prices for infrequent patros would discourage a lot of people from even trying the theater.

Ah, but how about those subscriptions? They accurately address the "hidden" value of theaters always being available, since you pay a set amount and can come whenever you want. More importantly, it opens peoples imaginations to the prospect of going to the movies regularly. It is doubly succesful because it not only fairly charges everyone for their share of going to the movies, but it increases the value for the frequent moviegoers whose role as patrons is invaluable for any theater (for a variety of reasons from concessions sales to word of mouth marketing to loyalty.)

But is a monthly pass feasible? Obviously movie theaters suffer certain constraints that don't always apply to cable television, netflix, etc. The most obvious is capacity. Theaters can't always accomodate the maximum audience they draw. A related problem is needing to have a print in order to show a movie. Aha! Here's an intriguing place to plug in the possibilities of digital cinema. With unlimited digital copies of a movie, a theater can show the blockbuster film du jour to every seat in the house if they wanted to. All they would need is an accurate projection of how many people want to see a movie and how many screens need to be dedicated to a film. A good way to arrive at this projection might be to request that passholders "reserve" a spot by signing up online or going to a box office.

In a best case scenario, there would be no need to "black out" certain popular dates in the schedule. Having black out dates would certainly reduce the value of monthly pass, possibly defeating its purpose for some people. With accurate projections for satisfying the boom-like demand for brand new theatrical releases, theaters should still have the chance to even accomodate walk-in viewers by reserving a screen or two for them (who might then be enticed by the value of the monthly pass). Hopefully then the blockbusters could serve as loss-type leaders to bring in people to watch the rest of the films being featured at the multiplex.

And if the monthly pass becomes successful in driving people to request the films they want to watch before they arrive at the theater to watch them, it could team up with digital projection in another powerful way by tapping into the entire film library.

And I'm talking about the whole damn thing.

Since digital cinema theoretically allows viewers to watch any film at virtually the flip of a switch, people can start to approximate the freedom of choice they enjoy with cable, pay-per-view, or internet downloads. A savvy interface would allow people to share film preferences and resonate with each other until they filled a single theater with a bunch of people who wanted to watch the same movie. And again, since any movie is fair game, people don't have to be subject to a slow season from Hollywood, they can turn to old favorites or films on a "limited run" (although that distinction may not exist in the world of digital cinema)

What could make this even better (for the moviegoers at least) would be to have a pass that worked at any theater, regardless of chain ownership or affiliation. This would be a huge win for the moviegoers who could limit their movie budget to one monthly pass and not have to worry about multiple subscriptions. Participants might have to take a leap of faith with respect to profit sharing but an umbrella monthly pass ticket provider that a theater could just "plug into" might be a benefit to everyone. In fact, this would probably have to be the case for smaller arthouse theaters in the same area that tend to work like a decentralized multiplex anyway.

I find that I alternate between favoring ideas that encourage unlimited use and choice, and those that model a more efficient and conservative model of using (and paying for) only exactly as much as one needs. After a life of going to the movies and about a year and a half of thinking and writing about it, I've realized, the core of moviegoing is its value as a habit. And having an unlimited usage model (whether it's a library card or a monthly internet fee) is crucial to nurturing a habit.

Sunday, September 11, 2005

Baby Scapegoats

Mama-rama: Don't segregate women, kids
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"But then I remembered the time that I was sitting in a nice restaurant in Chicago - out by myself sans kids for the first time in months - and had to listen to a toddler at the table next to mine loudly whining, "Noooooo! Nooooooooo! Noooooooooooooo!" for at least 10 minutes. When I glanced over at the parents, they seemed oblivious to the fact that other diners were shifting uncomfortably in their seats and sighing loudly over their $25 plates of ahi tuna.

It then occurred to me that the problem isn't babies - it's clueless adults. I think the majority of moms are aware of the effect their kids are having on the general public around us. But it only takes one bad experience - a toddler running amok in a fancy restaurant, a relentlessly fussing baby in a movie theater - to give people the impression that not only are all kids loud and obnoxious, but most parents don't care."
Ain't that the truth.

Aside from rising ticket costs, the most pervasive problems facing theater operators are ones that arise because people aren't good at sharing space together. I don't think its that people don't care. In fact, most people are probably too sensitive about it. That's why they chafe when another person asks them to keep it down, or to take their baby outside.

But the problems are not the babies or cell phones themselves (as the solutions such as mother-only-shows might indicate). Culturally we need to learn how to give and receive criticism about being considerate of other people. And misdirecting the attention by telling people to keep their babies at home actually only perpetuates the problem by increasing people's sense of entitlement.

This topic, of course, is becoming a theme on this blog, but it is with good reason. Theater operators, as the stewards of one of the public's most commonly used shared spaces are in a unique position to build on the lessons we learn in kindergarten about sharing. And with their businesses dependant on it, they stand to gain a lot by making sharing a sophisticated adult virtue.

Saturday, September 10, 2005

Public Domain

Original Forum Post

And while we're on the topic of followups... A recent post of mine included some mention of public domain. Big Screen Biz managed to provide some more up to date information about what's in the public domain of filmed content. You can read the details here... but it's essentially nothing.

B-Movies and stuff filmed prior to 1923 that don't have remastered soundtracks. The pickings are slim. Down with copyrights :)

"30 Year olds Playing Halo"

Original Forum Post

As an interesting follow-up to a recent post about the "Holodek" video arcade concept and my own ideas about rentable auditoriums for entertainment media, I came across this post on This operator charges $40 an hour for use of a digital projector on a really big screen. For a four player game like Halo, that boils down to about 10 bucks per person per hour. Which is a pretty reasonable deal. The more evidence that this could be a viable business, the better.

How to ACTUALLY open a movie theater

Keeping the Movies Downtown
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"Regardless of the trends, smaller cities and towns still feature viable downtown theatres that provide gathering places and centers of affordable entertainment for all ages. These theatres range from long-running single-screen theatres and newer multiplexes, to non-profit or cooperative theatres and even city-run movie houses. Below are examples of successful theatres in small city downtowns employing a variety of strategies to keep the movie house lights on."
A lot of people end up at this site because they are interested in opening movie theaters in their town and want some guidance about how to get started. Well, I've been writing this blog for a long time and I figured it was about time that I actuall did some of the research (alluded to in the title) and found out some of what the people want. While I was reading through the archives of the great community over at I found a great post that covers basic ideas for how a "normal" individual can generate enough capital to get a theater off the ground. The possibilities/suggestions range from. The ideas that are covered range from strategies on just plain saving money to the more nuanced ideas about leasing to own vs buying theater properties outright, or trying to use historical site provisions or community support in aiding your cause.

And then I ran into an even more incredible resource. A University of Wisconsin graduate student working on a collaborative project involving "downtown" businesses developed a toolkit that outlines how one might assess the viability of a downtown theater in a specific area. So if you're interested in building a movie theater in your town, all you need to do is do the research, plug in your findings and you're halfway to a business plan!

If you want to open a movie theater, here is where you should start

Death By Taxes

Proposed movie tax has theater owners reeling
Levy likely to result in higher ticket prices

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"That cost could go up if a tax on movie theaters proposed by Gov. Jennifer Granholm is approved.

The 6% tax would be on the movies theaters buy from distributors, but that cost would almost certainly be passed on through increased ticket prices. Some theater owners said the increase could range from 30 cents to a dollar per ticket.

Proponents said the tax could bring in about $20 million annually to help the state's rising budget deficit. Michigan's projected deficit is $1 billion for the fiscal year that begins Oct. 1."
People seem to love taxing movie theaters. This is the second article I've come across that discusses the possibility of taxing the activity of moviegoing. For someone like me that's enough to qualify this as an epidemic.

I wonder if people on the outside of the industry are really just that unaware of how cash strapped theater businesses are. Or maybe it's just me that thinks they are. Maybe the bigger chains could absorb a tax like this and it's only the smaller independent theaters that are hurting. If that's the case, I think whatever legislation is being passed should segment the industry into more sensible parts. The game that national multiplex operations play isn't in the same league as independent theaters... it's arguably not even the same sport. So why would you want to take money from the little guys? You're not gonna get that much money anyway.

But of all the things to hit up, why would this legislation target the film rentals? Maybe they're caught up in the glamour of the movies and are mistakenly confusing them as the source of revenue for theaters. Film rentals and ticket sales are where everyone is hurting the most right now. Why not take a swing at concessions. At least the costs won't be passed directly down to anyone who wants to go to the movies (who are, by virtually any standard in the filmed enterainment business paying too much). And there's more money in it for the tax.

This highlights one of the inherent conflicts with a government that tries to make it's living off a capitalistic economy. Ideally the government benefits from the industries getting richer because they can claim a big percentage of their profits since their economic rules enabled and protected them as they amassed their wealth. But in creating powerful, money hungry insitutions, they produced industries that did not want to share their riches with anyone including the government. So by flexing their muscles in the lawmaking process, they get "favorable" legislation that let's them keep as much as they can get away with and spread out the damage to everyone else (who are of course less well equipped to be bearing the weight of the government's financial needs).

There need to be more incentives to being poor. But then, who would go to the movies? :)

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Learning to Share

Studios scrambling to adapt to fast-changing DVD marketplace
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"Wagner, the company's co-owner, said under his model, theater owners share in the revenue made from distributing films on DVD and other media.

"We want the exhibitors to be a part of this because they should be and from my perspective, they always should have been," Wagner said"

This one almost knocked me onto the floor. Honestly, who would have ever thought that a studio would want to share copyright revenues with ANYONE (including creative forces, investors, etc) especially the exhibitors who are so clearly dependent on their content to make a living?

I think it's great. Obviously.

I think there is a lot to gain from lining up the studio and exhibitor interest like this. It also raises some extremely interesting peripheral issues. The relationship between Wagner's studio and the Landmark exhibition chain isn't your typical distribution relationship. Landmark and Magnolia are both owned by the same parent company, which naturally lines up their interests. But what Wagner's saying isn't a contrived excuse for vertical integration and tiptoeing on antitrust territory. He's right. Theaters and studios are in it together. It's just the nature of their relationship. Both are middlemen for connecting creativity with the masses. Splitting theater chains from studios in the 40s through the notion of antitrust violations may have temporarily disarmed the studios, but they just found new ways to dominate. And now, not only are the majority of creative forces getting the shaft, but theater operators are at a constant disadvantage as well.

And if you'll indulge me one small tirade, someone should really take aim at the device by which all studios maintain their power. They have basically unlimited power over copyrighted material. One thing I've been learning over and over again from Epstein's "The Big Picture" is that content is indeed king, and studios own all the content. What the book leaves out, though, is that this relationship makes absolutely no sense. Basically studios pay actors, technicians, artists, producers, etc a fixed fee and package their work into a collection of copyrights which they then lord over the general public into perpetuity. The resulting revenue stream into eternity is vastly richer than any fee they pay to the people who actually make the movie. They stamp out dvds or digital copies of the content at little to no cost and make their actual profits because of the intellectual property rights they secured at the time of making the movies. My favorite part of all of this, is that I found out that generally, the studios don't even invest financing in the individual movies. They only provide all the peripheral services to move the movie into their marketing machine (which is very expensive). But meanwhile, no one actually makes money off the lasting value of content except the studios.

And why should this be? Some high profile hollywood names get royalties, but really they shouldn't be paid in this manner either. They did a service once, and they were paid for it (often very well). The fact that people want to see it over and over again is service that should be paid to the people who actually help them do this (and put in some sort of work). The DVD pirates that hollywood loves to villify are actually in my mind, doing more actual work on the movies than the hollywood studios are. They're putting in their own labor and bringing people a service they want. And it costs the creative forces nothing. The studios never let their accounting give money back to creative contributors, so they get what they get up front. So the "stealing" they point out is actually fair competition. Pirates compete with studios as dvd distributors and movie theaters as content deliverers. It's only technically stealing because of an outmoded and totally exploited notion of copyrighting that is meant to protect creative forces, but fails miserably in doing that.

So what needs to happen? Someone needs to to dismantle the copyright system. The entire library of creative content should have a far more limited lifetime before it becomes public domain. There needs to be a system that keeps "copyrights" or something like them in place only until a producer or creative force has a reasonable chance to recoup the costs of creating that material. After that, the content should be free to anyone.

The key here is allowing people to recoup the costs and risk of an expensive undertaking such as filmmaking. Not allowing people the potential to make a great deal of money on their investment. Unfortunately (for creative talent everywhere) this seems to contradict the fundamental value of capitalism, and this is still America.

And in America, the studios would either quickly squash any legislation aimed at taking away their main source of money and power, or find some equally effective way of dominating (historically at the expense of other people)

But if you think about it, this is the proposition that makes the most sense when you think about what people are everyone is trying to do. What everyone needs is the most efficient way of getting movies out of the minds and hearts of the creative talent and into the eyes and ears of the general public, distributing the value as evenly as possible along the way to the forces that make it work.

So consumers pay content providers (cable and satellite networks, movie theaters, dvd manufacturers, etc) for providing them with movies they want to see. The content providers in turn pay the creators for giving them new material to give their customers. Nowhere in this equation do we need studios to act as the permanent stewards of the movie copyrights. As long as the creative forces have some way to recover their production costs, movies can go free to go into a public domain market like any furniture, vegetables, clothing, or any other commodity. Their value is precisely how much they cost to produce plus service markup.

Destroying copyrights probably won't be an easy task. Patents and all other notions of intellectual property will have to be reformed in the process. I can't fathom how any of that would ever get moving. But it's the right thing to do.

Tirade over. Getting back to Wagner, I think this move may be a step towards simplifying the distribution problem. It's certainly subscribing to the idea of distributing value among all of the involved parties. It's also chopping down one of the mythical services of the studios: generating content. If movies can be distributed directly to widespread theatrical release, without the assistance of major studios, maybe all the talent would want to start doing things on their own. Next all we would need is someone with access to all the market data that studios have to produce the same moneymaking formulas and strategies that they learn through analysis of theatrical releases. If they could make the same predictions and recommendations, the studios would be pretty much useless.

Taking out copyrights would speed things up though :) But everyone wants their copyrights. This is America.

Does anyone know any hollywood copyright lawyers?

Monday, September 05, 2005

Gimme two tickets... animal style

Hide and sneak
The chance to belly up to the (movie) bar blunts an old challenge

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"For many of us, the pleasure of drinking "adult beverages" in movie theaters used to involve bulky jackets and spacious purses. It's amazing how many cold beers one could cram into the deep pockets of an Army jacket or a roomy handbag.

Once inside the dimly lit theater, phony coughs and sneezes were broadcast to cover up the "fwoooosh" that accompanied the twirl of a twist-off or the flick of a flip-top. Slouching as low as the movie theater chairs would permit, we'd slug back the brews in long, refreshing gulps.

The best part was seeing how far down the theater the empties would rattle and roll before stopping abruptly at the feet of another moviegoer. Good times."

We'll call it the in-n-out return customer relationship. In-n-Out (a california burger chain for those of you who might be unfamiliar with the business) has an extremely popular "underground" menu of items and modifications that are not available on any printed material. All I know how to do is order a burger "animal style" to get them to put grilled onions on my burger. To be honest, I don't think I can even taste, the difference, I just do it to feel cool doing it.

Which is exactly the subtle loss that many businesses face when they make the mistake of openly offering too many services to their patrons. Besides the overhead of having to advertise and support all new services that come up as a result of popular demand, by "mainstreaming" a service, you destroy the fun of it for the people who wanted it initially.

What in-n-out does is genius. It will make any modification to it's food products that anyone could possibly conceive. It trains all its employees to be prepared to serve all these options, and even gives them institutionalized names. But it never advertises them, or makes them publically available. It boils down to this: For the people who want these things, there is no reason that they shouldn't be able to have them. But when people come to in-n-out they should be coming to buy burgers, plain and simple. The simplicity of the 10 or so offerings on the menu keep people focused on what the business is about, and their institutionalized flexibility gives people no reason to complain. Meanwhile, the restaurant itself does not allow itself to get sidetracked with all of it's peripheral offerings. It doesn't divert time and attention in trying to promote new services or making other ideas profitable. It sticks to it's core competency and never has to ride any fad or style trains.

And it's perennially cool to eat there.

A lot of movie theaters get this wrong. They try to milk new concession opportunities for all they're worth and when the novelty wears off, they find themselves stuck up a creek. Like now. Rooted in a business that relies on foot traffic to sell concessions, they're in some unfavorable negotiating positions with the studios who are failing to provide them with enticing films to bring in the headcount, and with those same people they're trying lure in. All because they rode the concessions train too long and too hard, and now they don't have any other way to run their businesses. One might say they made too many concessions along the way...


Puns may not be cool, but going to the movie theater should be. And somewhere between getting people to come in the door and making buck at the end of the day, the theaters need to be concerned with their "indie" fan base who like sneaking around the theaters and working the system in little ways that keep them coming back. Whether it's sneaking in booze, or getting double features out of a well timed afternoon, theaters need to realize that these attitudes are actually incentives for people to come. And as long as those practices can be kept from becoming disruptive (like in n out does) they'll have a stronger business by taking them into account and paying them service.

Meet me at the Holodek Numba 1

HoloDek promises 'movie theater for gamers'
N.H. company aims to roll out high-end facilities

go to original article ... or email me for article text
"HAMPTON, N.H. -- Video games are enticing enough, but a company here is betting that playing the games on high-speed computers with high-definition screens that literally envelop the user can be downright addictive.

HoloDek, which takes its name from the virtual recreational facility aboard TV's Starship Enterprise, has been testing its concept here in Hampton for nearly a year. Company officials say they are about to line up the financing to roll out more than 160 high-end gaming facilities over the next five years in the Northeast. They are also talking with movie theater chains about installing HoloDeks inside existing theaters."

Talk about stealing my ideas :)

Last week I was having another of my typical bouts of insomnia, and I decided to spend my sleepless hours sketching out the potential cash flow for one of my business ideas. My idea (like I've alluded to many times here) was to have a rentable space equipped with a pretty decent home theater setup. After weighing the cost of setting up each room with suitable equipment and calculating the number of hours it would likely be rented, I even priced the hourly rental cost at $5.00!

Of course my idea is to have a space that is available for more general use, but this holodek concept might have a better chance of getting off the ground. The gaming idustry has a nation of rabig of gamers whose imaginations are ripe for the capturing. In my eyes, the holodek is more a modern arcade than it is a "movie theater" for gamers as movie theaters haven't yet adapted to give it's patrons this same degree of freedom of choice (not to mention reasonable value).

Recently, I've been finding while I develop ideas (mostly through this blog) that someone (generally someone who actually has some actual influence and power) comes up with the same thought that I do right around the time that I post it. While this limits my ability to own any intellectual property, I think it encourages my innovative direction.

On that note, I'd also like to make a note of my developing thoughts on "invention". Especially given my recent experience, I don't think innovation should ever be something that is attributed to individual anythings. Innovation is always a combination of circumstance, experience, and attitude. And that's it. The right ideas catch on, not because one person has them, but because a million people have them right around the same time (even though in a practical sense one person has to actually crank out the prototypes). Intellectual property, then, in my mind is a dangerous and artificial fabrication.

Studios, for example, have a tremendous amount of intellectual property via their content libraries, and no one would ever confuse their roles with those of the actual creative forces. However, the notions of Intellectual Property have allowed the studios to leverage their massive financial resources to commandeer a lot of people's creative energy in the name of copyrights. Without actually providing any solutions, just let me say that as a culture, we need to come up with a better way of allowing people to benefit from their creativity and talent, because copyrights don't benefit the creators, they benefit the powerful.

But getting back to the topic at hand, this holodeck idea has the potential to lauch a much larger movement of group focused entertainment venues. It moves the home theaters out of the home and hopefully the people will come with them

Saturday, September 03, 2005

Anime on Wheels

Revolution Marketing to Give VIZ Media's Hot New Anime Movie a Unique Red Carpet Rollout
go to original article ... or email me for article text
In a joint effort with VIZ Media, Revolution Marketing has developed a 92-seat, state-of-the-art, mobile movie theater that will travel to one Wal-Mart
in each of 15 cities, allowing the big-box giant the never-before-seen
opportunity to host a theatrical premier of a DVD title they will then be

"We had never seen a direct to DVD title benefiting from a true theatrical release," said Andrew Klein, President, Revolution Marketing. "We came up with
a mobile theater tour because it brings the big screen theater release concept directly to the retailer carrying the DVD title. Where else could you see a movie, leave the theater, go buy it, take it home and watch it again. This is a truly unique concept, that I think you'll see other production companies borrow in the future."
Not being a big fan of either direct-to-dvd films or anime, I don't actually have much to say about this, other than it's a pretty cool idea. It appeals to my more general sensibilities about theatrical release events servicing smaller and more targeted audiences. This rolling theater combines some of the fun and anticipation of a travelling music tour, with the blow-away-your-senses sensationalism of a well-executed blockbuster release.

The nomad in me (and maybe the fact that Martha never seems to wanna stay put) suggests that I should keep close track of this idea. Maybe the theater I own will turn out to be an RV :)

Thursday, September 01, 2005

Petaluma Part Two

Local movie theater thrives despite nationwide slump
go to original article ... or email me for article text

In case anyone was wondering what has been happening with the theater those 7 teenage girls started in Petaluma.
"Theater revenues fell below last year's totals for 19 straight weeks, during which they declined by roughly 8 percent, a highly unusual phenomenon for the industry. Corkill's theaters fared better, although overall he reported a slight slip.

"We're still paying the bills and making a slight profit," he said.

The 12-screen Boulevard Cinemas opened on May 17, so it hasn't had a enough history for any long-term trends to emerge. Corkill is pleased with the turnout so far, though.

"Boulevard Cinemas is doing fine, as well as I thought it would. During the first month or two, many people came just to check the theater out, but we've had regular customers week after week. They're coming from a lot of places besides Petaluma, such as Marin County and western Sonoma County, and we expect this to happen even more," he said."