Saturday, February 25, 2006

Open letter to theater owners

Dear Theater Owners and Chains,

The discussion of the release strategy of Bubble brings up an obvious question. How long does the motion picture theater have?

This is not an easy question for me. For me, the motion picture theater is a temple of worship. I grew up spending most of my leisure time at the theater. I still get excited walking in to a theater to see a movie. As an aspiring moviemaker, I've dreamed of displaying my work in a theater and watching as an audience laughs with joy, screams with fear and gasps with excitement over the wonderous stories I've created.

Unfortunately, the experience of being at a theater has dimished substantially since my youth. The expense of attending has risen substantially more than inflation, theaters spend considerably less effort managing patrons from disrupting the film and, to add insult to significant injury, they now show twenty minutes of commercials before running trailers or the feature.

According to Pet-peeve-a-thon in Roger Ebert's Answer Man column, AMC is going so far as to claim that "only one movie patron per 600,000 guests complain about ads before movies" and "audiences actually enjoy the ads very much".

To reiterate Roger Ebert's comments, everyone I've ever spoken to hates the ads. Maybe someone out there does and maybe they smile and nod when everyone complains because they feel like the guys standing up and saying, "I dunno, guys, I kinda like kiddie porn." But that's the point. The hatred out there is virulent, people.

You want to know why business is down?

Side note: We do know that business isn't really down. We know you, along with the studios, are lying to us about that. Business isn't up as much as you'd like and you've fed the media on the easier to understand story of it being down. Just stop it!

So, ok, you want to know why business isn't up as much as you'd like?

Is it piracy? It doesn't help, I'm sure, but not really. You say it does, I know. Are you lying to yourselves or to me? I'm not sure. I don't care either.

Is it home viewing? Substantially. Let's face it, my home viewing experience has risen substantially. I have a DVD player hooked into a stereo. It's not a theater by any stretch of the imagination, but its deficits are smaller and smaller, when compared to the existing benefits of being able to watch on my own schedule, in a comfortable chair with a warm kitty in my lap, a pause button and whatever comparatively inexpensive drink I want.

You've responded to my home viewing experience being more appealing by making your experience less appealing. The answer would seem to anyone to be incredibly obvious.

There are a lot of ways to make the theater more appealing. You could go out of your way to create events, better dining, etc., which could help draw more of the people who have fallen by the wayside. I think that now is the time to experiment with any of a variety of new, creative strategies to make the experience more enjoyable, unique and appealing.

Since you and I both know that you are almost exclusively by enormous corporations that lack the kind of creativity and spirit that would be required to undertake any radical shifts or major experiments in business stategies, and will instead go down in smoke crying about how they, which they it is at that point, shafted you and ruined an institution of American culture. I've accepted that, although with deep sadness.

But, I beg you, please try one thing to make the movie experience slightly less heinous and hold out a couple of years longer than it stands to now. For three months, but let's make it high traffic summer or winter months, take your enormous multiplexes, reserve a single theater in one of them as grown-up theater (or whatever you'd like to call it). Put the biggest movie out, the one that will already be on six screens anyway, and play it in there.

Here's the challenge, though. That theater will not run any commercials. It will have a reasonable number of trailers, but not one commercial for something other than a coming attraction. It will have two ushers on duty who will strictly enforce the rules of behavior in the auditorium. For the privilege of a theater that's closer to the kind we grew up expecting, you can charge an extra $2.00 to cover the lost commercial revenue and the two minimum wage employees.

Hell, I'd pay $5.00 and, I bet, so would more than enough people to justify it. Go that high if you need to. I don't care.

If I'm wrong, if those auditoriums aren't as full (or more full) than the other the others, then I will believe that people love commercials and would pay to sit and watch just commercials and chat loudly on their cell phone while anything dramatic or appealing happens.

You want to continue to be a successful business. You want to make lots of money by being in the entertainment industry. I think that's great.

You are also an institution and owe it to society to continue on and thrive. Both of these interests work together, so just choose one and run.

Please try this. I promise I will do my part and I'm confident that many others would also join in.

Thank you.

Your loyal but dissatisfied patron,
Neil Sarver

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