I want you to get up right now. Sit up. Go to your windows. Open them and stick your head out and yell – ‘I’m as mad as hell and I’m not gonna take this anymore!’ Things have got to change. But first, you’ve gotta get mad!…You’ve got to say, ‘I’m as mad as hell, and I’m not gonna take this anymore!’ Then we’ll figure out what to do about the depression and the inflation and the oil crisis. But first, get up out of your chairs, open the window, stick your head out, and yell, and say it: ‘I’m as mad as hell, and I’m not gonna take this anymore!’
Howard Beale (played by Peter Finch) Network 1976
In writing these weekly essays on the modern state of the motion picture exhibition business, my intent has always been to make the reader aware that things were changing in this business of ours and if movies were to survive as an instrument of both entertainment and community, then the outlook of the movie exhibitors would have to change. I think for the most part I have been a voice in the wilderness which is fine since all I am doing is offering my perspective. There are others out there who have much more influence and the ability to cast a stronger voice, but I feel that the Regal’s and AMC’s of the world may have decided already that they are no longer in the business of movie exhibition and have embraced the lofty business of hawking chicken tenders (with an assortment of sauces of course).
The National Association of Theatre Owners has tried to advocate for the right of the theatre owner but collective bargaining for theatres as a while gives rise of the specter of anti-trust. It is ironic that a modification of the law which brought for the the Paramount decree has been used to silence the proponents of a vibrant movie going economy. The deck is stacked like it has never been before and here is why;
-The Trump administration begins the process of dismantling Net Neutrality, effectively allowing network operators like Comcast to control full access to the internet. Comcast of course owns Universal Pictures. The next step is a direct feed of studio product to the home, circumventing the theatre
-The loss of a theatrical windows now seems inevitable
-Studios are forcing theatres to hold all pictures for three weeks. Some studios are dictating to drive-ins what second picture they must show.
-Revenue share are increasing yearly to the point where some studios demand almost a 2/3 take at the box office.
The traditional models is over. It has been killed by emerging home viewing technologies like Netflix and Amazon. It has been killed by the rise of the media superpowers such as Viacom, Comcast, Time Warner and 21st Century Fox.
-The rise of the number of theatres involved in a major theatrical release, have created a polarization and a super engorged economy that cannot be maintained.
The boom has gone bust….we just don’t know it yet
In the late-’60s-to-mid-’70s a creative resurgence , a renaissance of American movie making was taking place. It was a time of Coppola, Altman, Penn. Nichols,Bogdanovich, this time was tragically cut short by two summer movies, Jaws in 1975 and Star Wars in 1977. The art of movie making gave way to the period of time known as the summer blockbuster. Back then the definition of “summer movie” was far more diverse than it is today. The moniker could include a science fiction film such as Alien, a two-and-a-half-hour Kubrick horror movie , The Shining, a directorial vision as singular as Blade Runner, an adult film noir like Body Heat, or a movie like E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial. Adults were treated as adults rather than as large children who had developmental issues. It was a glorious time and studios worked a budget level when a failure did not hurt that much.
Budgets grew, studio executives grew much more nervous due the money now at risk. Star driven movies began to falter. The movie became the brand and the cultural influence of Marvel and DC Comic rose to the top as being readily available and acceptable brands. Star Wars and the works of Steven Spielberg gave way to the cinema dominated by comic books.
A comic book movie was the closest thing to a sure thing, and when you were risking 200 plus million you had better have a sure thing. In a way, that kind of thinking is just the terminus of a decades-long marginalization of the very notion of creative ambition by the studios. If in the 1970s making good original movies was a central goal of the men who ran the studios, by the 1980s that goal had devolved to making good original movies to release at the end of the year, for Oscar season. In the 1990s, as the boom in American independent filmmaking began, the idea of a “good” movie, eventually became a niche that could be outsourced. The studio now have relegated the smaller and middle budget picture to both Netflix and Amazon. They abandoned the movie theatre and forced it to live solely on a diet of super inflated Marvel movies. And now the studios in the need for a quicker return are eyeing the direct to home market and bypassing the theatrical market all together.
By the way the movie studios are making these decisions not because they are evil….they are in serious trouble. What they used to count on for revenue generation is falling through their finger. Hollywood movies are not selling like they used to overseas.
There really has to be a revolution in the thought process of the modern movie exhibitor. They have to start think smaller movies with more variety. They have to seek out films that can build and become breakouts. As the VPF’s begin to fade away they have to look towards diversity and variety. There are a lot of audiences out there not being served. Many were shocked that couple weeks back the 4th highest grossing picture was an Indian language movie.
Movie exhibitors has to be revolutionaries in their own right. You have to revolt against the edicts of the studios and define your own path and the path of your customer base (these are the people you really work for…..not the studios). You have to revolt against conventional booking practices and start to make your own decisions. You have to revolt against being in a process where you have little control and movie toward an environment of free enterprises where you have all the control.
It is time to get off the studio Merry Go Round and begin to re-define your own business under your own terms.
I want to thank the folks who reach out to discuss some of the issues I raise in these essays. It often leads to thoughtful and spirited discussion. Thank you. If you want to reach out, my email is firstname.lastname@example.org