The business of Movie theaters: Films or Food?

Kim Ji-won looks flawless in denim jacketNot so long ago people went to the movies to, well, see the movie. Now it’s almost as if the movie has become secondary to the food and arcade games that most theaters have on offer Dramacool. Montreal, as was the case in most cities, had its fair share of movie theaters – we didn’t call them cinemas, to us they were movie theaters, plain and simple – both in the downtown core and in the suburbs.

These were often elaborately designed single-screen theaters showing films every night and offered matinees on the weekends and during school holidays. I recall the price being 75 cents before seven o’clock at which time the cost of admission shot up to a whopping $1. 25! For that princely sum movie patrons were treated to a cartoon – usually a Blake Edwards’Pink Panther short which worked well in Montreal as it could be used in both French and English theaters given the lack of dialogue – in addition to the main feature.

But the price is not the issue; the price of everything has gone up over time. What has changed is the focus from movie house to all round food and entertainment center. Not all that long ago your admission fee got you into the theater to see the movie. There were, of course, snack bars where you could buy soft drinks, popcorn, candies and chips. But these were just for convenience because many people, perhaps most, brought their own snacks to the movie. I’m not talking about smuggling in contraband Twizzlers or Reese’s Pieces, sneaking past ushers who look like they want to pat down movie goers. The goodies people brought to the theater were most welcome; after all they had paid their admission. It was a movie theater, not a restaurant – it was a Bring Your own Food establishment

Movie goers would bring in, openly and honestly, snack items such as a box of a dozen Dunkin’ Donuts and Dairy Queen milkshakes. Others brought submarine sandwiches or even hamburgers. Some folks even made special snacks at home and, along with a thermos of coffee settled in to enjoy the movie and munch on a ham on rye. As Sundance 2013 begins, I’ve spent some time contemplating the challenges of new entrants into the industry. Producers, directors, writers, and all the key players of these lower budget movies are surely under the gun when it comes to mass-market appeal and public credibility. It is amazing to me how much the marketing and publicity of a movie determines whether it makes the A or B list in Hollywood. A well-financed movie with big backers and big names tends to do well as long as it has a lot of money for marketing and publicity pushing up behind it.

Interestingly enough, the movies that we recommend to our friends are usually the popular movies, the big box office movies, and thus, the winners of the game. No one wants to recommend a movie which bombed out at the box office, even if that movie was incredible, artistically perfect, and completely notable. But if only the big well-financed movies which make the A-list get high ratings then what does it say for the new players, all those young kids with incredible talent and genius coming out of film school, do they even have a chance, a chance do dance, in the sun or should they pack their bags a run?

While they are in their mental prime they may have the ability to produce incredible movies, and even if they don’t have the experience, they make up for it with that creative genius. But if no one sees their movie, and if they don’t get the money they need to do it right, it will never have the chance to make the A-list, or even have the synergy it needs to make a big. Sure, many of the movies from the Sundance Festival in 2013 will go viral, and they will get some publicity. However only a few of the movies coming out of the Sundance will get the recognition, awards, and credibility they need to jump the gap, or even have a chance at making the A-list.

Not long ago I was listening to an audio cassette program “Counseling Clients in the Entertainment Industry – Film and Television Financing, Production, and Distribution” and one of the speakers was explaining how critics determine which movies they would watch to rate, how they would rate them, and even the award bias seen within the industry itself; Oscars, Emmys, and Academy Awards.
College is a time for academic and professional growth as well as a time for social growth and development. Campus life should include more than just classes; offering chances for fun and for social interaction between students is essential for creating a positive college experience. Spring Fling events are just one of the many examples of this type of experience. This year, as you plan the Spring Fling events at your school, keep it fresh and try something different by including an outdoor movie event.

Social activities offer a chance for students to get together outside of the classroom, make friends and create special memories of college life they will remember for years. Special events are an important tool colleges can use to improve student life and increase the odds that more students will return the following year and complete their program of study at that school. It is common for first year students to not return to the same school their second year, so universities should take steps to avoid this situation.

Traditional Spring Fling activities might be important at your school and that’s great, but why not try something different this year and add something new and exciting. You might kick off the Spring Fling festivities with a movie, or you could plan an outdoor movie event as a memorable ending to the festivities. Traditions are important, but keeping campus activities fresh and exciting is also a good idea. Showing a popular new movie might attract students who would not have otherwise attended any Spring Fling events.

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