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Improving The Theater Experience

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#21 of 46 OFFLINE   Jesse Skeen

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Posted July 07 2005 - 07:48 PM

I know this from first-hand experience also. I spent 9 years working for a smaller theater company, starting at the bottom doing slave labor for minimum wage but was promoted to projectionist a year later. It was the most rewarding job I've ever had, but the pay was awful. I certainly didn't do it just for the money, and getting to see every movie for free was a major plus (in 10 years total I was the ONLY person I knew of who saw literally EVERY movie- even for free, most of the other people who worked there did not find it worth the time to see everything), but there were some times when I barely had enough money to eat every day and I ended up having to work a second job just to pay my rent and not starve to death. I kind of resented this when the actors I was putting up on the screen were making millions; I think I deserved a little bigger piece of that than what I was getting.

After realizing I wasn't going to get any further (and a new general manager who was a real bitch) I applied for and got a management job with Regal Cinemas which had opened a new theater in the area (*cough*calledtheNatomasMarketplace16*cough*). It was like a dream come true- I had about twice as many screens to take care of than before, and I was paid a lot better and got benefits too. Though I only stayed there a year, I enjoyed it even more than the previous theater I had worked at. I realized the company didn't give a damn about good presentation though- there were sound problems in almost every auditorium that had gone unnoticed, with a little research on my own I was able to fix them. There was a technician who came out every few months to "service" the theater, but he had let the place stay open for a year without noticing the sound problems- I had about as much confidence in him as I did the average Circuit City repairman. I got to read online comments from customers about the theater, and one said that they were pleased at how much the theater had improved from when it had first opened- I like to think I had a lot to do with that.

There were some truly idiotic policies at that company though. Although they apparently had no standards in place for a good presentation, they DID have a policy that the green "All Audiences" sections at the beginning of previews be cut off. Nobody could give me a definite reason for this except that it had to be done, and it looked terrible. A lot of trailers had their first lines of dialogue cut because of it. Since nobody at the theater seemed to care, I called some of the movie studios (their numbers are usually included when trailers are sent) and asked if we were even allowed to be cutting their trailers. This got the theater company in trouble with at least one studio, and suddenly the policy was changed. I got a lot of resentment for this though because I had made the company look bad (even though it wasn't MY policy), and that if I'd wanted the policy changed I should have gone through the people at the company first. If I had to do it again, I probably would have handled it differently, but I maintain that they should have already known that what they were doing was wrong, and I was simply going insane having to purposely make my presentation look like I didn't know how to put trailers together.

Anyways, I apologized to the people I worked with directly and told them I just wanted the theater to have the best presentation possible. Here's what made me leave though:

14 out of the 16 screens there are common-width, which means 2.35 movies are essentially "letterboxed" on the 1.85 screen, though most people won't know this because masking comes down from the top and up from the bottom to hide the unused area. Usually, the masking doesn't change when there are customers in the theater to see it, so they don't know how it works. While I'd prefer screens not be built like that, at least it was better than just cropping everything to the same ratio like some 70s-era mall theaters did. Anyways, this was all fine and good. but one day I was told that I would have to change the automation settings so that the advertising slides shown in between shows could always be shown on the "bigger" screen, so at start time the masking would come down, then it would go back up at the end of the show. I was strongly opposed to this, since I believe the masking should never move when there are people around to see it (unless you have a double feature of one flat and one scope movie, in which case it can't be helped). I felt this would start the show on a sour note, as the audience would be watching the slides on the 1.85 screen (I don't think advertising of ANY kind should be shown in theaters, but that wasn't my call to make) then have the screen get smaller when the actual movie started. On top of that, usually the first thing to be shown once the masking changed was a commercial presented with black area on the SIDES of the picture! Beforehand, I simply have the masking remain in place and showed the slides on the smaller screen.

I was told that I would be fired if I didn't set the system up to do this however- I couldn't believe they had the balls to tell me that after all the problems I had fixed in less than a year. There was no way I could fight this, and I knew that they were planning on replacing the slides with digital media projectors which is what they now use to show "The 2wenty", so they would probably make this an even bigger concern by then. It was clear that they were more concerned with shoving advertising down the customers' throats than they were with the actual movie, and while I made it a point not to argue about how they made money I felt having the masking change for it was going too far. I got another job in a different field, and I told the Regal people why I was leaving. All I got was a shrug.

Over a year later I got a free pass from my new job to see a sneak preview at this theater I used to be the booth manager at, and suffice it to say there were problems. Not just with the free showing I saw, but I checked a couple other screens on the way out and they had bad things going on too. Last year, ironically enough, Regal bought the smaller company I had worked for previously.

Last year I decided I missed the theater business and tried to get back in, applying at another company's theater *cough*CenturyTheatres*cough*- I gave them a nice cover letter explaining my philosophy on presentation quality, and didn't expect any problems since this company publicly states the fact that they don't show commercials (they do show slide ads, but much less intrusively than Regal does.) I got called in for an interview, and I expected the only problem I might run into would have to do with how much they might pay me.

Much to my shock, I was told that they didn't hire people to be managers or run their booth right away- I would have to start all over doing the minimum-wage floor staff work, and possibly get promoted in a few months. Apparently having 8 years prior projection experience meant NOTHING, and the people they did have running the movies had room for improvement. I might have been willing to do the floor work for a few months, but I just could not afford to leave my current job to make minimum wage. I went home speechless, I then sent my resume and info to the company's home office to let them know I would still like to work for them and that I could do great things for their company, but I never heard a word from anyone. I then decided I was happy enough at my current job and not to pursue it any further- they didn't deserve me if they were willing to let me walk away from them like that in the first place. I'm not sure I would be appreciated if they did hire me either.

So that's my beef with the theater business- common sense takes a back seat much of the time. I've always believed if you have a consistently great presentation, people will come back (and spend money) no matter how bad the movies might be. Most theater companies simply cannot comprehend that concept however.

And dammit, you people better read this post because I stayed up over an hour later than I should have writing it!! Posted Image
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#22 of 46 OFFLINE   AlexCremers


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Posted July 07 2005 - 09:02 PM

Seats and sound have greatly improved but I haven't seen a decent film projection in the last 15-20 years (except for one IMAX presentation). The only sharp images are the extreme close-ups. Everything else is poor quality. Observe the lack of detail in the background, people! It's like the newer projectors can't handle the scope, resulting always in a smeared-out image. As if we're watching video instead of film. Color also gets vastly degraded when the movie of your choice happens to be playing on the larger screens of the multiplex. It's the main reason why I rather watch movies at home and, mind you, not on a big plasma but a "traditional" 32" CRT widescreen. Gosh, I just attacked all that we love! ------------ Alex Cremers

#23 of 46 OFFLINE   Jason Adams

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Posted July 08 2005 - 12:12 AM

Well, at a local theater I know, they wont allow kids to get tickets till after 3 pm, in case they want to play hooky there.

#24 of 46 OFFLINE   Robert Anthony

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Posted July 08 2005 - 02:38 AM

I read all of that Jesse, and I think that post is a PERFECT example of what we're talking about as far as presentations go. THOSE stories are the real reasons, not 16 year old suckers. Exhibitors are pushing out all the people who go the extra mile.

#25 of 46 OFFLINE   Tim Glover

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Posted July 08 2005 - 02:56 AM

Absolutely. The theaters in Dallas used to list the Sound too. The United Artist Galaxy 10 in Dallas was a THX theater for years. Very cool to see in the paper, Star Wars: Episode II (THX-Dolby Digital) Star Wars: Ep. II (THX-dts) The showtimes were there too giving you the choice. That was really helpful and saved a phone call.

#26 of 46 OFFLINE   ThomasC


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Posted July 08 2005 - 03:01 AM

Jesse, if I ever win the lottery or become a millionaire and start my own theater, I'll call you up to be the manager.

#27 of 46 OFFLINE   Kevin Grey

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Posted July 08 2005 - 03:09 AM

Sound presentation is the biggie for me. I am consistently disappointed in volume levels at almost every theater I go to. Its to the point where I'm waiting for film to be released on DVD because I know I will get better sound quality, which is pretty sad. I will say that I have yet to go to a THX theater that didn't have a satisfactory volume level which makes it worth it to seek out THX certified theaters. Unfortunately there aren't any theaters near me that have more than one THX certified auditorium so the movie I want to see isn't guaranteed to be playing there. I, too, would love to have auditorium numbers easily obtained so I can ensure I'm seeing the movie in the best theater. Plus, it comes in handy when I know there are auditoriums I want to avoid. The screen I saw Batman Begins on was horribly dirty and scratched and I would prefer to avoid that auditorium in the future.

#28 of 46 OFFLINE   Jason Walstrom

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Posted July 08 2005 - 03:21 AM

Don't worry I read it and loved the post. It's sad this is the way it has become. When I saw the Majestic I dreamed of having a theater like Martin Landau and living upstairs above it all. Someone who takes pride in what we are paying for and love. We love film and we just want to see it the way it's supposed to be seen dammit! After the lackluster performance of ROTS I saw I too muttered, "I can't wait to get the DVD to really see and hear it." Movie theaters aren't the best way to view a film anymore because of a lack of quality control. If a film presentation has great sound and great picture quality and that cool air then I can put up with everything else, even a bad movie.
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#29 of 46 OFFLINE   David Rogers

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Posted July 08 2005 - 03:23 AM

The two most common complaints I see about movie theaters and theater going experiences seem to resolve into two points. * Poor presentation (screen, projector, sound or theater equipment issues) * Rude or unruly audiences As to the first, it's the same reason we get so many vapid movies from Hollywood; money. Studios make movies for money, and theaters show them for money. As we've all seen in countless examples dating back to the first time someone gave out a carved stone token instead of a chicken in a business deal, money reduces people to something ugly and selfish. Rather than worry about how to best maximize their bottom line by focusing on giving the best experience possible, the money people who own theaters seem to have rather clearly indicated over the last 30 years their only interest in presentation quality is lowest common denominator. That leaving blown speakers, unadjusted projectors, damaged screen, and other such issues, is simply more profitable than fixing and maintaining them for a quality presentation. Obviously this seems insane; how can a theater make money if speakers aren't working and movies are fuzzy? Apparently, the theater money people think it's quite sane; they don't fix stuff and people still keep coming. But in fewer and fewer numbers, so perhaps these evil theater owners are insane and might actually acknowledge it soon as they start filing for bankruptcy. The other problem is with audiences. People, quite simply, are rude and selfish in the absence of willful effort to follow the simplest and most basic rules of common fricking courtesy. Chief among them in a theater experience would be what you're taught when you arrive in kindergarten; sit down, shut up, pay attention. Seems simple, but people are just rude. They talk during movies. They don't turn cellphones off; worse, some like to take a call and talk on it during the movie. Kids are kids, but in a movie theater cutting up kids are enough to make you want to sterilize the entire planet so there aren't any more of them. Some folks get up and down constantly, or change seats, or bring infants or bored folks to the theater with them which cause lots of problems for those unfortunate members of the audience who came with the specific intention of watching the movies. Again our problems come down to money. Just as it costs to pay for proper skilled technicians to fix and maintain the projection, sound, and screen equipment; so too it costs to pay for managers and ushers who can police theater audiences at need. I'd imagine a 16 screen cineplex would have to add at least 4-8 employees mature and civil enough to be able to respond to complaints about unruly audiences; theater owners aren't going to do that any more than they're about to actually pay to fix blown speakers. It's not all bad though. After a few bankruptcies and some down attendance numbers, the surviving theater owners will probably get their heads out of the bank long enough to see WHY the flood of money stopped, and will grudgingly pay as little as they possibly can to correct a few of the problems. A few of us will start going again, and with a fluff of money dust the owners will disappear again. Actually, that is kinda depressing, but unfortunately it seems quite accurate to me. Too bad ... I really love going to a good movie at a good theater with a quiet audience. Few experiences in the world are as cool as an awesome movie experience.

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#30 of 46 OFFLINE   Chris Atkins

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Posted July 08 2005 - 03:25 AM

I think theaters are doing a pretty good job of policing audience behavior. Cell phone usage is noticeably done in my area...in fact, I cannot remember the last time I heard a cell phone ring in the movie theater or heard someone talking on a cell phone. There does need to be an age limit...I cannot believe that some parents bring a 6 month old to see Matrix Reloaded at 9 pm on a weekend, and then are surprised to find out that kid can't make it through the movie. Sound and picture are the biggest improvement areas, in my book. Sound levels are consistently too low. Chuck Mayer can vouch that the sound level at our ROTS midnight screening was pretty atrocious. Can you imagine people paying to see a movie at midnight and then not having the sound up high enough to enjoy? Picture is really only a problem when you get more than a week into a run, and digital projection would cure this for the most part.

#31 of 46 OFFLINE   Jack Briggs

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Posted July 08 2005 - 03:34 AM

Unlike just about all the rest of the HTF staff, I have completely deleted the commercial-theater experience from my life. And I live in a city that's graced with a number of excellent venues. It simply is a matter of fact that the home-theater experience leaves me more satisfied. (Only exceptions to the rule: If a top-level area commercial theater runs a superior print of a favorite film, which has not happened in years.)

#32 of 46 OFFLINE   TheLongshot



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Posted July 08 2005 - 03:45 AM

One of the nice things some of the theaters in this area do is to have special shows for those with infants and toddlers during the day. No, I'd never take a kid to the theater unless he was old enough and it was a film he could sit through. Jason

#33 of 46 OFFLINE   Chris Atkins

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Posted July 08 2005 - 03:49 AM

You're talking about REEL MOMS, right?

My wife loves that...Posted Image

#34 of 46 OFFLINE   TheLongshot



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Posted July 08 2005 - 03:51 AM

Yes, I couldn't remember the name... Jason

#35 of 46 OFFLINE   Ray Chuang

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Posted July 08 2005 - 04:05 AM

I think a big problem that is affecting theaters is that the so-called big screen experience is no longer there unless you watch the movie at the largest screen in the theater multiplex! Many of the smaller screens at multiplexes just don't offer this experience anymore, especially if the projection quality is poor! Posted Image

Meanwhile, DLP rear-projection TV's and DLP front projectors are getting very good lately. In fact, if you're willing to go to the hassle of setting up a DLP front projector with a good-quality projection screen you can get probably better picture quality than most smaller screens at multiplexes! Posted Image This is especially true when you can set up a DLP front projector plus projection screen for under US$1,600 easily nowadays.
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#36 of 46 OFFLINE   Kevin Grey

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Posted July 08 2005 - 04:08 AM

We used to go to a local theater that had an age limit- I think it was no one under 6 years old allowed in R-Rated movies at all. Unfortunately I guess the box office and/or ticket taker didn't do a good job policing this policy and my wife and I had a couple bring their three year old to see the very hard R-rated "The Hunted." To make matters worse the kid was very antsy and loud throughout the movie. We complained about the theater not upholding their policy and recieived a pair of free passes.

#37 of 46 ONLINE   Brett_B


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Posted July 08 2005 - 04:16 AM

Here is where the problem lies. Until this is changed (probably WON'T happen since studios and actors are greedy beyond belief) all of these suggestions might as well go out the window. It is like someone who is earning minimum wage planning on the mansion that he is going to build with his earnings alone.

#38 of 46 OFFLINE   Chris Mannes

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Posted July 08 2005 - 05:38 AM

So does anyone think that part of the problem is that going to a movie isn't 'Special' anymore? I believe when I was young, the movie theater was only open Friday-Sunday. And then only had 1 screen and 5 showings. Going to a movie was special, you actually had to plan it out. Now I have 48+ screens within 15 minutes of me. Showing 15 different movies at 400 different times. It's not special, hell often I don't know what I'm going to see till I'm out. Sometimes I'm at the mall and I say, hey let's see a movie. And since it's not 'special' anymore. I don't find it that big of a deal to NOT go to a movie. I never saw sin city in the theater, even though I really really want to see the movie. Instead I just figured I'll get the DVD. I'm thinking that Movies are now 'common' and so people treat them as such. (Explaining the crappy sound, crappy audience, etc.) Just a thought.
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#39 of 46 OFFLINE   Tim Glover

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Posted July 08 2005 - 06:42 AM

I understand your thinking here Chris, but I also feel-and maybe it's just for the big event films-that the Special feeling is there. Even waiting in line for seats, you can feel the intensity, people talking about their expectations, seeing all the other idiots who arrived early too. Posted Image

One common point that most of us are saying is that our Home Theaters HAVE drastically altered the gap between the Cinema experience and home viewing. No more night and day. I go for the overall cinema experience not for the image/sound alone.

$25 minimum for a couple to go see Hitch. Maybe share a popcorn and 2 drinks. $30 is more realistic. Or waiting and renting or owning the film for about $15, watch at home in your own setting. That's what I did with Hitch.

#40 of 46 OFFLINE   SteveJKo


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Posted July 08 2005 - 06:56 AM

You've described my reasons for staying away from the cineplex perfectly. I responded to someone else's thread about Hollywood films being presented in IMAX by saying perhaps we shouldn't have let go of those TODD-AO / SUPER PANAVISION 70 theatres years ago. Partially I was kidding, "we" didn't own those theatres so they weren't ours to let go. But in a way we did let them go. I remember bad theatres opening and people telling me how great they were, not for presentation, but because they sold pizza as well as popcorn, or because the seats had cup holders (which often never fit the size of the cup.........wow, that's impressive!). To think that people chose theatres with cup holders over theatres with a giant screen.

Don't get me wrong. I don't feel that excellent big screen presentation of itselfwill bring the public back to the theatre. The late 1960's have already proven this. Anyone remember 70mm bombs like Song Of Norway? Sure it looks great but the movie is bad. No, well made films are the main ingredient. However, it was factin the '80's and early 90's that when a film was presented in 70mm, and advertised as such, the 70mm presentation was always the box office champ over the 35mm version. People do know quality, and they're craving it.
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