| Posted March 09, 2006 |
Restoring luster to the silver screen
By Weekend staff
Last week we posed this question to our readers: How would you fix the theater-going experience? Boy, did we get an earful.
The background: For three years in a row, movie attendance has dropped, last year by nearly 9 percent. While some of this can be attributed to poor films (we'll save that topic for another day) and the rabbit-like proliferation of Netflix, going to the cinema these days feels like a sequel to "Scary Movie": Ticket and concession prices are sky high, talking during the movies has hit new decibel levels, and finding a seat on opening night is like negotiating a rugby scrum. Even the Monitor's movie critic agrees.
Next week, our entertainment writer, Gloria Goodale, will be attending ShoWest, the annual meeting of US theater owners. We thought it would be enlightening to bring them your comments/questions/suggestions to see how they might improve things. (Hire bouncers to eject the chatterboxes?) Here is some of what you had to say. We'll let you know the owners' responses in a future Monitor story.
The best thing that theater-owners can do is to take back control of their theaters. As it is, managers make little or no effort anymore to control the behavior of the audiences - which means that the movie-going experience deteriorates more every year. Cellphone use during the movie, yelling, talking, screaming infants, and out-of-control teens (and sometimes all of these at once in the same theater!) should not be tolerated. I used to go to the movies one to three times per week. In the past two years that has dwindled to once every couple of months. I can enjoy films far more if I just wait a couple of months until the DVD release and watch them on my big screen in peace.
- Susan Umpleby, Ontario, Calif.
How about these:
1. During the previews, enable voting. Show all possible previews and let viewers choose what looks interesting. Voting could take place by cellphone or special phones inside the theater.
2. Sell an appetizing dinner. Ask fast-food vendors to establish satellite stores in your foyer. Set up tables and chairs, or counters and chairs, and allow folks to enter 20 minutes before the show starts so they can finish eating during the previews and then settle back to enjoy the movie.
3. Alternatively, for those theaters in malls or near good restaurants, simply charge folks a low import tax to bring food in.
4. Provide mandatory courtesy training for all employees.
5. Make theaters available for private screenings of any movie during slack times. Allow smaller or local filmmakers the opportunity to screen their latest work during a slack time. Help them promote the showing.
6. Host a film-lovers club. Give them a theater to meet in monthly.
- Nathan Smith, Komono, Japan
Some ideas from the top of my head:
1. Family Night: Parent(s) pay full and kids pay $1.00 up to a set number.
2. Couples night: Buy one full-price ticket, second is 1/2 price.
3. Grandparent/seniors special: Bring two or more paying kids and grandparents get in free.
4. Group night: Groups of seven or more pay 1/2-price.
- Jim Dilling, Pennsylvania
I have to bring ear plugs to get through the previews and trailers before the feature. I have had people tell me they don't attend movies any more because of the volume.
- Elizabeth Tang, Anaheim, Calif.
More self-service ticket machines, open when the regular box office isn't. Give a discount for using them instead of the live vendor, or for buying well in advance. Make the tickets available more in advance, for that matter.
- Manny Olds, Silver Springs, Md.
1. Remove commercials from the beginning of the movies. I'm already paying a high price to get into the movie and completely insane prices for the snacks and pop. For what reason do they need to put in commercials?
2. Cellphone jammers.
3. Assigned seating.
- Derek, Canada
As digital movie distribution continues to make progress, the ability to manage the number of screens in a theater complex becomes easier. Local management of complexes should be allowed to adjust the number of screens and times showing well-attended films vs. declining films or special-interest films.
- Arthur Knadler, Santa Ana, Calif.
Bring back the old "double billing. Just think of showing the original Boris Karloff Frankenstein before a modern version. (Slight intermission between, of course.) Plus this could generate additional income for the studios and the theater if the old movie was sold on DVD in the lobby after the show.
- Stan Wood, Norfolk, Va.
The projection quality control is very poor. Put more money into projection quality, both image and sound.
- Scott McGraw, Centerville, Mass.
Theaters should go upscale to justify the soaring price of tickets. They should consider offering more options at the concession stands - items like cappuccino, pizza, brats, burgers, gourmet popcorn (like caramel and cinnamon), ice cream, etc. They should go back to having ushers who patrol the aisles and boot out raucous children or patrons immediately.
- Cindy Sheltmire
Sell something besides grease and sugar at the concession stand. Plain club soda, oil-free popcorn, candy without hardened oils would be a good start. Teach customer-service skills to the staff. How about a simple "thank you" at the sales counter? Routine maintenance. Fix the seats that are broken. Wash the restrooms occasionally. Stock paper towels.
- Kevin O'Brien, New Castle, Colo.
Why must quality movies run on one screen and for such a brief amount of time? The adult, college-educated professional with a spouse and two kids that would like see these films cannot just drop everything and head off to the cinema. I understand that these movies don't draw the revenue of yet another "American Pie," but the industry is growing an entire generation of mothers and fathers who, in turn, will teach their children that the movies are not a place to spend their time or money. Give theaters incentives to block out one or two screens on a slow night, like a Tuesday, and run "grown-up" films that are still showing in the cities.
- Chris Pons, Kingston, Penn.
Start the movie on time. If it's 7:30 let it be 7:30 and not the time that you start running 10 minutes of commercials before the feature starts. Become a place again where a men, women, kids and family will want to go and stay the day instead of feeling like a herd of cattle being fed on one movie and then herd them out after it is over.
- Jomo Uhuru-Adafo, Nashville, Tenn.
When I was younger my family frequented two theaters. One had matinee prices on Monday nights, one had matinee prices on Tuesday nights. We definitely utilized them, and I still would if that were an option, because I just can't afford as many movies as I would like right now.
- Chelsea Kearns, Seattle, Wash.
Instead of competing with NetFlix, TV, the Internet, and video games, which tend to be solitary or family experiences, theaters should target schools, community groups, and local companies that want to see special screenings. Attendees should be able to book screen times and seating by Internet or cellphones. Make theaters more of a social place celebrating holidays, rites of passage and big events.
- Sheridan Tatsuno, Santa Cruz, Calif.
Theaters could increase attendance by adding childcare facilities at the larger complexes.
- Mirth White, Mammoth Lakes, Calif.
Perhaps movies should offer the salon atmosphere where you could sit relax and talk about the film you saw or will see. Have a lingering atmosphere. A gathering place for coffee and dessert after the show. More of an exchange atmosphere.
- Barbara, Port Washington, N.Y.
Stephen Humphries and David S. Hauck
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