The Zen Of Programming: A Case Study

Okay, I freely admit it I am a huge fan of the work currently being done by the Historic Artcraft Theatre in Franklin, Indiana. In a small market I feel strongly they are leading the pack in programming to the needs of the community and creating compelling events that draw in movie goers from other neighboring cities and towns. I think what they have created is a model for success for other small market theatres to emulate.

It is almost impossible to be a repertory house in a city with a population base tickling close to 30,000. That is a hard demographic number to work from, considering Regal, AMC and an independent are all within a 12 mile radius from the Artcraft. Challenges and competition aside, for more than a decade the Artcraft has been showing movies and taking names. Let me give you an example why I think what they are doing is so successful by telling you kind people what they pulled off this weekend.

As the whole exhibition industry knows we are in the fall doldrums, if it was not for “The Martian” exhibitors far and wide would be gasping for air. This weekend The Historic Artcraft again shown a beacon in the darkening theatrical sky that the whole industry should take notice off.

The brainchild of Artcraft PR guru, Dave Windisch , The Historic Artcraft’s program of Sci-Fright Frenzy offered their audience 7 classic and soon to be classic sci-fi and horror films to the moviegoers of South Central Indiana. Opening night, Friday October 9th featured the original Japanese version of Godzilla, followed by a majestic 35mm print of the George Pal version of “War Of The Worlds”. The following day, Saturday October 10th started with a screening of a locally produced Gila!, followed by the original ”Invasion Of The Body Snatchers”, then “Forbidden Planet” explode onto the screen. After catching your cinematic breathe a glorious acetate print of “Planet Of The Apes” was unrolled and finally topped off by George A. Romero’s Pittsburgh made classic “Night Of The Living Dead”.

It was more than heartening to see about 250 people show up for a 10:00 PM screening of “Night Of The Living Dead” . In my rough estimation about 1800 admissions were paid for the weekend, over 7 showings. Because of the innovative programming choices put forward by Windisch many people experienced the Historic Artcraft Theatre for the first time and would be coming back soon.

One of the truly innovative and cutting edge concepts that Rob Shilts, the head of Franklin Heritage, the parent organization of The Historic Artcraft Theatre has instituted is a cutting edge program of local business and individual sponsorship. This creates a firm environment of inertia for the screenings, underwrites the cost of the programming and allows the Artcraft to offer tickets at the very accessible price of $5.00. In many ways the Artcraft under Shilts vision has re-imagined the more democratic small town movie going experience of years gone by . Heck even the large bucket of popcorn is only $5.50.

What is truly interesting is I think the Artcraft has tapped into something that the industry is only now starting to realize. Because of technology and because of streaming, people are now able to discover films for the first time even though they were made 30 years ago. That Gremlins made by Joe Dante in the 1980’s can be fresh and new for a moviegoer just entering their teens. The idea that theatres should be constricted solely by the whims of the CPA and Stockbroker ruled Hollywood. I think are coming to an end.

The movies that the Artcraft is screenings shows that if you program based on the demographics of the community you live in, then engage the community in the success of your theatre by programs such as business sponsorship then you can easily re-ignite the idea of going to the movies.

That being said the Artcraft does face some challenges, the audience it had in 2005 is much different than the audience of 2015. People get older, some moviegoers become less mobile and unfortunately are unable to get to the theatre. You always have to be aware that the demographics change constantly. If live programming is part of your programming make-up you should build from a local base instead of drawing from outside sources. If you draw want to draw locally you are building from a local talent with its incumbent local fan base. The greatest attendance I have seen for a live performance at a similar theatre to the Artcraft was a town that hosted its own version of “America’s Got Talent”, it resulted in 3500 paid admissions over 8 shows.

Take a look at your community, its makeup and start reacting to their needs and not Hollywood’s.

Check out the Historic Artcraft Theatre at www.historicartcrafttheatre.org and check out what they did for their Sci-Fright Frenzy Weekend http://www.historicartcrafttheatre.org/sci-fright-frenzy—movie-marathon-weekend—oct-9–10-2015.html

Mr. Windisch and Mr. Shilts, please take a bow.