How To Save The Movies; A Lesson Courtesy of The Micro-brew Revolution

Don’t be too proud of this technological terror you’ve constructed. The ability to destroy a planet is insignificant next to the power of the Force.”

-Darth Vader

The statement that bigger is better and that technology motivates audiences, are the two lies that are the basis of the problems faced by the motion picture industry.

Since the release of the Jazz Singer the movie industry has always perceived that it is being forced to continually offer audiences something new and exciting on the technical delivery of their entertainment. Technicolor, Sound, VistaVision, Cinerama, Todd-AO were all early examples of the technical marketing tools theatre companies were subjected to. In recent years, the move to Stadium seating forced many a struggling theatre chain into bankruptcy; the irony being that recent reports have indicated that luxury seating is best served by a traditional sloped floor.

The large theatre chains, Regal, AMC, Cinemark etc., by the the nature of their being public companies are forced to continually innovate and forced to issue a torrent of press releases about their cutting edge innovation. They have become addicted to innovation and technology. Sloped seating has given way to Stadium seating which has given way to luxury seating. Stereo has given way to Dolby or THX which has given way to ATMOS. Even the beloved 35mm has fallen to the introduction of DCI. And now in the dark corners of labs across the world, a laser projection system is being rolled out with rumblings of new DCI-lite variations being discussed to address the home market.

This year the convention floor of Cinecom offered over ten theatrical seating manufacturers and various theatrical systems which moved and shook the chair while you watched your movies. They of course are in league with dry cleaners everywhere rubbing their hands over the fortune to be made removing Coke stains from gallons of spilled drinks.

It’s an addiction, a constant re-inventing of an industry that has completely lost its way. Theatre Exhibitors have forgotten the basic tenets of showmanship and now are solely concerned on stock price and appeasing industry analysts with being on the cutting edge of next best thing. None of it is working and every year no matter what you are told, the market share previously enjoyed by theatre owners erodes significantly. The large public market driven theatre changes no longer serve the needs of their customer base but they are forced to continually feed the needs of the shareholder base.

Regal, the largest theatre company on the planet is up for sale. Rumors abound about potential suitors, but given the present climate, finding a company or wealthy individual willing to wade into these waters might be a daunting task.

There is hope and there is a precedent from another industry.

In 1810, the American population was 7 million and there were 132 operating breweries producing 185,000 barrels of beer. In 1850, 431 breweries in the country produced 750,000 barrels of beer. The population of America was 23 million. After the repeal of Prohibition, 756 brewers were established .

From the time America entered the war in 1941 until it ended in 1945, the overall production of beer increased by over 40% despite the small number of active breweries. This wartime growth allowed the large breweries such as Anheuser-Busch to dominate the American market for the next fifty years. During this time they produced beers more noted for their sameness than for particular noteworthy attribute . Beers made by Anheuser-Busch and Coors Brewing Company followed a rather bland pilsner style, with a strict industrial process and the use of cheap ingredients like corn or rice that provided the needed starch for alcohol production while contributing almost zero flavor to the beer. The dominance of the so-called “macro-brew” led to an international reputation of “American beer” as having no flavor. Due to the dominance of companies like Anheuser-Busch, Miller, and Coors small breweries were crushed under the foot of the large brewery juggernaut. By the early 80’s only 51 breweries were left standing.

By the 1970s, consolidation and dominance by the country’s major brewers led to the fewest number of breweries in America’s history. In 1976 the first shots of a revolution took place when optical engineer and home brewer Jack McAuliffe founded New Albion Brewing Company in Sonoma County, California, becoming the nation’s first microbrewery since Prohibition. Inspired by Maytag’s recent turnaround of the California based Anchor Brewing Company. McAuliffe’s brewery offered bottle-conditioned porter, stout, and pale ale to a curious public, New Albion ignited an interest in craft beer and set a precedent for a generation of craft brewers. The Mendocino Brewing Company, the nation’s first brewpub soon followed.

The total number of breweries rose from 42 in 1978 to over 3,250 in 2014, reaching or exceeding the number of breweries estimated to have existed during the colonial period. Virtually all of this growth is attributable to small, independently owned breweries.

The bastion of large international conglomerates had been broken and a regional taste for beer began to emerge and a vital reactive, home grown industry was born. Beer was taken over by International conglomerates and then taken back by independent minded entrepreneurs.

In 2012 99 features films were produced by the large film studios. The total number of films released in the U.S. dropped from almost 400 in 1943, to around 200 in 1960 and to 186 in 1970. The movie industry faces a similar story as breweries.

We are now in a position of macro cinema , large movies (with little flavor) and large theater chains who think cinematic salvation involves mimicking Applebees . I personally think salvation rests in the rapid decentralization of both exhibition and production into regional and reactive centers of production in hand with the re-establishment of film exchanges. The exchanges were traditionally far more reactive to regional trends and taste. Much like the emergence of micro-breweries

Leading this revolution will be the emerging Pop-Up cinemas and the long establish drive-in theatre operators. It’s within this model and form of exhibition where movies will reconnect with their audience and a new foundation poured for American Cinema. The drive-in, that derided form will emerge again to show American’s how fun going to the movies can really be.

By the way, nearly 700 cinemas in Germany have refused to screen the new Avengers film in a dispute over rental fees with Disney. News agency had reported that 686 theaters in 193 mostly small towns refused to show Avengers: Age of Ultron, which opened on Thursday. It said the dispute was over a decision to raise the rental fee for the movie to 53 per cent of ticket sales rather than the 47.7 per cent usually charged to small-town theatres.

So this Mother’s Day, the day we celebrate the stewards of new life and love, raise a bottle of your favorite micro-brew and toast a re-merging cinema.