Making Waves In Theatrical Exhibition

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Change…true change usually occurs in some form of evolution or a lot of little revolutions. I think in many ways the theatrical exhibition circuits are incapable of true change due to their size and financing structure. Sustainable and meaningful change must, I feel, occur in the ranks of the independent theaters and their owners. I believe they possess the ability to truly instill a sense of innovation and excellence that is so deeply needed within this industry.

This week something changed in our business, and not for the better. This week the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Science opened the door to Netflix with it’s nomination of Rima as best picture.

Roma had a theatrical exclusive run of three weeks. It debuted in the theaters on November 21st and was released on Netflix on December 14th. It made $2.8 million in total as it played in 147 theaters. Netflix managed to antagonize most circuits including indie friendly Alamo Draft house. Theatrically its release was a shambled mess. I personally think all in all Netflix did a great movie a deep injustice.

After Roma was nominated for Best Picture at the 91st Academy Awards, AMC Theatres and Regal Cinemas both issued statements saying that Roma would not be part of the line-up at either chain’s annual Best Picture showcase. AMC said in their statement that this was due to them never receiving a license from Netflix to screen Roma in their theaters. Both theater chains have refused to screen films from Netflix due to both chains having a policy where films that screen in their theaters must have a 90-day theatrical exclusivity window.

Amazon, the competitor of Netflix takes a totally different and in my view a highly intelligent approach. Its movie Manchester by the Sea with a decent theatrical window earned $50 million in the U.S. before being launched on the Amazon Prime platform. It was nominated for six Oscars, including Best Picture. It made sure theaters had a respectable window and as a result received both revenue and accolades.

What the Academy did was allow a fox into the hen house and I suspect there will be lingering damage as a result of this nomination. I think the Academy cheapened itself, did an injustice to movie fans, and in the long run gave acknowledgment to a company whose intent is to erode the theatrical experience.

It was also announced this week that Ron Howard’s next movie will be backed by Netflix to the tune of $45 million.

I think the above give testament to the simple fact that real and positive change in the theatrical marketplace must come from the independent. The foundation is being poured for a real David and Goliath story. There are precedents in the arts that show how simple actions and effort can instill great change in an arts based industry.

La Nouvelle Vague or the French New Wave was a French film movement which emerged in the 1950s and 1960s. It created a real curiosity in America for movies that did not originate out of the Hollywood machine. It gave rise to the art cinema house and exposed North American audiences to a new form of moviemaking as as well as a new kind of movie director. Director like Truffaut, Chabrol, Resnais and Godard. It opened the minds of moviegoers to be appreciative of global movie making. This included works by Bergman, Kurosawa, Ozu, Weir and many more. It was an exciting time of new ideas and new worlds. North America , so often known as self involved by acknowledged rest of the world. It lasted until the rise of the blockbuster, where America once more started forgetting they made movies in other parts of the world. What is really interesting was that a major force in bringing these movies to North American audiences was cinematic rebel Roger Corman, who brought his marketing prowess earned with American International Pictures and New World in the promotion of great international cinema.

After the punk movement began to wane in the United Kingdom, a new music arose lumped under the banner New Wave. Bands like U2, Flock of Seagulls, Bananarama, Elvis Costell, Billy Idol, Thompson Twins and Depeche Mode rose out of the ashes of the punk movement. They gained a following in the United Kingdom but nowhere else. It was a musical movement that looked like it was to become a regional curiosity.

Small radio stations like KROQ on the West Coast and WLIR in the New York market in a effort to define themselves in market containing huge media interest began playing these emerging artists.

WLIR played the Frankie Goes to Hollywood single “Relax” just six days after its U.K. release, six months before the record company released it in the United States much to the annoyance of the record label. In LA KROQ helped launched the careers of bands like Suicidal Tendencies, The Offspring, The Red Hot Chili Peppers, Oingo Boingo, Sublime, No Doubt, Rage Against the Machine, Tool, Blink-182, System of a Down, Bad Religion and Social Distortion. They prided themselves for their discovery of up-and-coming artists.

These two waves, the French New Wave in cinema, and the New Wave movement in music are allegories that the exhibition business should look towards. It is time that the exhibition business started looking at alternative business models and alternative business practices in order to instill some much needed excitement into this business.

So to the independent theater owner, ask yourself how can I change my business model to serve my community better, how can I lessen my reliance on the studios and how can I inject energy can change into an increasingly tired business. How can I create the new wave in the exhibition of motion pcitures. If you have ideas I would love to discuss them with you.

It is time to rise and to become showmen (and show women) again.