Panzer Crush: The Dying Days of Theater

A rant, by me.

I’ve been sitting on this for a few days now putting together the thoughts that I wanted to say. The hell am I talking about? Let me start from the beginning.  Last week, CinemaCon happened.  For those not in the know, CinemaCon (formerly ShoWest) is a gathering of theater owners and exhibitors to talk business.  It’s here that the studios roll out their latest wears to show the owners what’s coming up.  Since most of their business still relies on theatrical revenue, the studios make a big show of things.  A lot of the footage for films hitting the screens soon was peeped there.

But, that’s not what I’m here to talk about.

During the Con, there was a big powwow between the coalitions of theater owners and managers.  They’re talking business and business is on the decline. Why? Simply this: people just aren’t showing up like they use to. The solution?   Get that teen demographic back in.  Teens with jobs and money to spend!  Problem is kids these days just aren’t  showing up like they use to.  Also, they tend to be real assholes.  What with the smart phones and such.

Then, Amy Miles, CEO of Regal, brought up this notion:

Her chain currently discourages cell phone use “but if we had a movie that appealed to a younger demographic, we could test some of these concepts.” For example, she says the chain talked about being more flexible about cell phone use at some screens that showed 21 Jump Street.

This is the reaction I think sums it up the best:

Well, backing up Amy is Greg Foster, head of IMAX.  I relate to you this quote from Deadline:

You’re trying to figure out if there’s something you can offer in the theater that I would not find appealing but my 18-year-old son” might. IMAX’s Greg Foster seemed to like the idea of relaxing the absolute ban on phone use in theaters. His 17-year-old son “constantly has his phone with him,” he says. “We want them to pay $12 to $14 to come into an auditorium and watch a movie. But they’ve become accustomed to controlling their own existence.” Banning cell phone use may make them “feel a little handcuffed.”

Of course, there was one voice of reason in Tim League who stood up and pointed out the idiocracy of the conversation.

While I agree with Tim League that it’s incredibly fucking stupid to allow texting in theaters, it’s all a sign of desperation from an industry that sadly, is dying.  As much as I don’t like to admit it, the theater industry is going the way of CD’s and vinyls.  They’re becoming niche sections of entertainment.  Not today.  Not tomorrow, but soon.

I say this as a weekly participant of theater going.  I love going to the movies.  I hold it as a sacred event.  Yet, for every few shows I go to, some asshole has his phone out, a group of kids are dicking around, or, more often than naught, people are just being dicks in general. These habits have been a plague on the casual theater going.  What’s causing all of this?

It all boils down to the general shittyness that society has devolved to.  When Greg Foster is talking about his 17 year old son feeling restricted because he can’t use his cell phone in an auditorium filled with other people who paid nearly $20 buck to watch two hours of entertainment, then Greg Foster and his kid need to be smacked up side the head with a shovel.

The “I’m special” attitude that’s been poured down our throats for the last 20 years or so is finally rearing it’s ugly head in the form of people becoming self indulgent assholes.  When I worked for a small, private-owned theater in my home town, there wasn’t a week that went by where some parent drops off their gaggle of kids to be babysat by a film for two hours by 24 frames per second.  These kids would normally cause shit, and I end up yelling at the parent when they come back an hour late to pick them up and tell them that they can’t just drop off their kids anymore.

I can apply that attitude to every other son of a bitch that felt he needed to apply their own commentary or some she-bitch that wanted to cackle as loud as she could at the most inappropriate time.  Also, to the fuckers that felt the need to pay $10 bucks to take a nap and snore during my movie-going experience.  And the icing on the cake:  When I would say something about it, I’M THE ASSHOLE.

This is, in part, what’s killing the theater industry.  The other cause: technology.  Recently, studios have been making the push to go completely digital in distribution.  Meaning no more 35 mm films.  There’s been movement to save the medium, but the studios really aren’t having it.  I can see why.  Far more cheaper to hold a film on a hard drive than to spend thousands of dollars on making prints. Save a dollar at every corner.

On top of that, there’s been a very lax attitude towards seeing films by mid to high income people now due to the idea of “I have a 60 inch TV in my living room.  Why do I need to go to the movies?”  I argue that it’s not the same, but to your average, lackadaisical movie goer, there’s no difference, and they don’t care.  Add the streaming service, Hulu, Netflix, Amazon and dozens of other services (that’s a whole barrel of snakes in it’s own right) offering most movies as they hit DVD or Blu Ray that can be streamed right on those 60 inch TVs.  Couple that with the pretty much 3 month window from theater to DVD window, and people simply don’t give a shit.  They can wait.

It boils down to this:  Fuck you. And. I don’t care.

This is why theaters have been GRASPING at straws to stay in business.  With the studios taking as much as 80% of the box office the first weekend, and a good load of mediocre films available, of course costs are going to go through the roof for a movie ticket.  Not to mention that attendance during the week is well, weak, during the non peak seasons.

Now i hear some of you say “But the box office receipts hasn’t been higher!”  That’s due to raised ticket prices, including 3D.  Attendance is still down.  Besides, even if box office is still high, that means DICK to the theaters if these patrons aren’t buying any concessions: the life-blood of a theater.

In my recent travels to Texas, I attended four different theaters.  A super high-end, deluxe theater called IPic,  A Cinemark that was far fancier than the ones out here in California, and the progenitor of the alternative movie going experience, The Alamo Drafthouse, one in Austin and one in San Antonio.  There was something all three of these places had in common: they all went above and beyond to up the film going experience.  Cinemark added items to their concession menus that an AMC or Regal wouldn’t carry, and their sound system is explosive.  IPic was a hipsters dream of a theater, one that was a full bar and pool hall that you could see a film in while sitting in a plush reclining chair while a waiter served your every need.  Then there’s the Alamo, the chain that started the trend of deluxe theater going experience.  As far as I know, besides being a  full restaurant, they’re the only chain that has an usher/server in the theater pretty much the whole time.  Thus, enforcement of the rules can be applied.

What do all of these theaters have in common:  they’re all premium theaters.  Meaning that you’re going to be paying a little more to get the theater experience you seek; i.e. no one talking, dicking on their cell phone or any other disruptions.  There’s such theaters out here in California.  The Arclight is the prime example.  The average ticket price is around $16 bucks, but you’re promised the best movie experience that a business can provide.  In the world of the film geek, an Arclight, Ipic and Alamo are the saints and standards of film going.

To the average person, it’s retarded to pay that much to see a film. Hence, why the premium theaters work.

So what am I getting at?  Why am I saying that theaters are dying?  Because in 15 years time, the way that technology is moving, it’s going to be NOTHING but premium theaters, with a few mainstream houses still operating.   Movies will be losing a bit of luster of exclusivity thanks to technology.  How many Internet shorts are we seeing now that look awesome, and are made on a $200 budget.  In the time frame I’ve set up, whole films that look like they cost hundreds of thousands of dollars will probably be done on whatever version of tablets will be available then. Distribution will be self handled via one of MANY easier outlets that provide direct to home for a nominal fee.

It’s happening already.  Smaller, indie films are using On Demand and pay services like Amazon to distribute their films to homes before they’re released on a physical medium.  Hell, soon the physical medium is going to go away.  That’s a day I’m REALLY not looking forward to.  But add the hundreds of other choices for entertainment that are taking up the time of people today.  Video games, far more desirable TV, and lets not forget the king bastard of them all:  The Internet. It’s surprising that it’s taken this long for theaters to finally feel the crunch like the music industry did.

I say this as a guy who loves films, and wants to make them.  But when I think about the idea of being 50 and being a traditional filmmaker, I don’t see it being what it is today.  Instead, I see web series streamed to TV or a film starring nobody that’s filled with heavy effects done on an IPad.  Let’s not think about the nightmare of legal repercussions from top of the line fan films and copyrights that will insure.

Can anything be done to change this?  I don’t think so.  I think that when more of the high end theaters open up, and the film industry finally adjusts to the decline in revenue, that most of what I’ve ranted about will happen. With that, I’ll end this little rant with a simple finger pointed at seeing The Raid Redemption while its still on the big screen.  That, and don’t be afraid to put a douche bag or bitch in his or her place at a movie if they act up.  Someone has to tell these people “no” every once in a while.



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