Declare Movie Theater Independence

I watch a lot of movies….I mean a lot of movies. I have a deep fondness for a lot of older titles especially the movies of the 80’s. I was scrolling down the list of movies in Amazon prime last night, looking for something to watch and I was taken aback by the mass of titles being presented. Rio Bravo was presented next to a a low budget exploitation movie, which was next to a Bollywood movie, which was next to a Norwegian English dubbed troll epic, which was next to a Korean Crime drama. There was no rhyme or reason. It frankly resembled a frenetic garage sale or a movie dump bin at WalMart.

Netflix was not much better, they had their classification down better but again there was no real showcase or did they present anything that had marquee value other than their own internally produced series. Thinking about this makes one come to the sad conclusion that movies have become a commodity. The product of streaming has become the service itself and not the movies its streams….movies have be placed in the unnatural position of being raw material or primary agricultural product that can be bought and sold, such as copper or coffee rather than being a final product worthy of individual marketing. As a result for the most part once the movie enter the abyss of streaming it becomes lost.

This is an unnatural state of being for an artform which has for more that 100 years stood as the premium example of expression, art, and business. As streaming takes over the idea of distinct movies is going away and without a good part of the audience. Coupled with streaming re-shaping the idea of movies and movie marketing, you have the creeping market grab by Disney. Yesterday I saw Mary Poppins Returns, 70% of the trailer was made up of Disney product including two more mind numbing Marvel releases, Avengers Endgame and Captain Marvel.

It is time for theater owners to provide a home for those who long for more variety and more substance in their movie choices.

What has become apparent is that movies and movie marketing has not provided a cinematic home for many audience members. I am going to make the following statement, and it is a statement that much thought has been directed to, we as movie goers, as fans of the art and form of motion pictures are increasingly becoming part of a cinematic diaspora. The classical definition of the term diaspora means the dispersion of any people from their original homeland. The feel that much of the traditional movie going audience is being ignored by Hollywood, and the machine that Hollywood runs upon no longer has the capability to reach or serve the majority of the people who grew up loving and watching movies.

Everything that Hollywood does is to serve their cable television masters, everything. In 2017 the seven largest corporations who controlled the movie economy were.

  1. Walt Disney Studios, owned by The Walt Disney Company with streaming interests, and traditional cable interests in A&E, ESPN
  2. Warner Bros. Pictures, owned by Time-Warner, which of course is deep in cable
  3. Universal Pictures, owned by Comcast The biggest cable operator
  4. 20th Century Fox, owned by 21st Century Fox now owned by Disney
  5. Sony Pictures, owned by Sony Corporation rumored to be for sale
  6. Lionsgate Films, owned by Lionsgate Entertainment Corporation is in the middle of taking bids from companies, all of which are tied to cable

7.Paramount Pictures, owned by Viacom a major vehicle of cable channels

A shadow economy has been firmly established with AMAZON and NETFLIX, which this year has seen it overtake the classical movie studios.

So it begs the question, so as movie theaters who should by now realize that none of the studios care about the growth of your market…what do you do. And the companion issues is that you as movie fans are not being served by the movies being turned out by Hollywood….what do you do.

In the past exhibitors have gotten together and started to produce and distribute movies that served their needs. In recent history Open Road movies created by the two largest American theatrical exhibitors, AMC Theatres and Regal Entertainment Group, who both owned the company as a joint venture until it was acquired by Tang Media Partners, a media company owned by Donald Tang, in August 2017. After Tang’s purchase, Open Road merged with IM Global and renamed to its current name Global Road Entertainment. In September 2018, Open Road declared Chapter 11 bankruptcy, in a Delaware bankruptcy court, citing between $100 million and $500 million in liabilities. Its largest creditors included Viacom, NBCUniversal, TBS, Disney, and Bank Leumi and in November 2018, agreed to be purchased by Raven Capital Management pending court approval.

There have been examples of successful attempts to put more control back into the hands of theater owners, one solid example is Robert Lippert,

Robert L. Lippert, born the son of a hardware store owner in Alameda, Califorinia, began working odd jobs in the local movie theaters, soon working his way into the projection room. During this period he made many improvements on the projectors. By the mid-’40s Lippert owned an extensive chain of theaters in California and Oregon numbering 118. Around 1948 disgruntled by the practices of the studios and buoyed by the Paramount Decree he decided to begin making his own pictures to show in his theaters. His first picture was Last of the Wild Horses(1948), which was also the only one he ever directed. He produced/released hundreds of movies from the late 1940s through the mid-’50s. Movie fans knew when they saw the “Lippert Pictures” logo on he screen that they were in for something different. During this period some real classics were put out by Lippert: Rocketship X-M(1950), Little Big Horn (1951),The Steel Helmet (1951) and The Tall Texan (1953), among others.

Another exhibition professional who took the bull by horns and arguably laid the foundation for the golden age of movie going was James Nicholson.

Nicholson’s first work in the movie industry was as the manager of two theaters in Omaha, Nebraska. The chain that owned the theaters soon went out business and Nicholson found himself unemployed. He drifted through a series of short-lived jobs, including running four revival movie theaters in Los Angeles. Nicholson was eventually hired by Realart Pictures in their advertising department; his job was to devise new campaigns for the old movies that Realart re-released, which often included retitling the movies. A threat of a lawsuit from Alex Gordon, regarding a title similarity between one of Realart’s reissues and a screenplay Gordon had written with Ed Wood with exactly the same title led to Nicholson meeting Samuel Z. Arkoff, who was at that time Gordon’s lawyer. Nicholson and Arkoff became friends and eventually decided to form a movie distribution company together. The name of the company was American Releasing Corporation, which would change its name to American International Pictures a few years later.

Nicholson was known as the creative member of the partnership. His movie sense, combined with Arkoff’s business savvy, led to AIP’s long string of successful movies aimed squarely at teenaged audiences. From 1954 to 1980, AIP released over 125 movies, most of them released directly to drive-ins and grindhouses. Nicholson would often think up an exploitable title, and devise a unique advertising campaign complete with poster art, even before a script had been drafted. The movies were mostly completed on low budgets, with shooting done in two or three weeks. Nearly all of them turned profits. He gave rise to Roger Corman who in turn would give rise to Francis Coppola, George Lucas, Joe Dante, Martin Scorsese etc.

These men are examples, that should provide inspiration for moving forward within this market dynamic. Hopefully showmen will arise that can provide ideas and concepts that can shine a light for other theater owners.

I think it’s time the theatrical community realize that it has been set adrift with little or no concern for its future. I think its time for theater owners to take control and become master of their own destiny. I would encourage all to get involved in the ICA and ensure that with it there are voices that can speech not only of trying to get temporary concessions from the studios, but can chart a path for independent theaters to ensure their own survival. This include the creation of new streams of product coupled with a strategy for bringing back audiences to theaters.

It is also time for theaters to start looking at ways to bring movie audiences back home.

All this has to happen sooner than later. Time is truly of the essence.