Sunday, April 09, 2006

Do You Love Movies; But Hate Watching Them? (The full story)

Do You Love Movies, But Hate Watching Them?

I would like to discuss with readers the topic of movies. In particular ... the moviegoing experience and why Hollywood is having problems. The answer may surprise you and you may disagree with my point of view. I have a solution that I plan to take action with ... submitting it to the two major theater chains which control 84% of all theaters in the United States.

I like going to big theaters and seeing the advance midnight screening of blockbuster movies.

That said ... over the last two years my moviegoing experience has been somewhat disappointing. I don't attribute this to poor quality, lackluster creativity of scripts, or even higher prices. Mostly ... the moviegoing experience can be narrowed down to one basic problem ... the theater chains.

Cost cutting, political correctness, and consolidation of theater chains have contributed to sour experiences.

Truthfully, I believe these are the main contributing factors to declining movie attendance:

1) Social factors eroding theater experience (talking, cell phones, babies crying, etc.)

2) No ushers and/or chaperones

3) No enforcement or clarification of rules

4) Theater chains being too politically correct to realize the need for #2 and #3

5) Declined discipline in schools and at home

6) Obtuse political message and agenda movies

7) Overhyped movies that cost millions to promote

Piracy, alternative viewing methods, and alternative content providers have so little to do with declining movie theater attendance that it's laughable that the MPAA (Motion Picture Association Of America) thinks these are contributing factors.

First, I'll tackle numbers 1 and 2.

When I went to see the movie Alien VS Predator about 1/3 into the movie, a woman in front of me gets a call on her cellphone. Opening up her clamshell cellphone and what looked like a 2" wide supernova star in the dimly lit theater ... she proceeds to instruct her babysitter where to find diapers, what to feed her child, and other instructions. She's talking in a slightly higher volume because the movie action is getting intense and she even tells the "babysitter" on the phone that she can hardly hear.

You know the scenario ... when you can't hear, you unknowingly talk louder yourself.

I lean over and do a loud, clearing throat ... "AAAAAA HMMMMMM"

No response

I lean over and say a very loud, "Excuse me!"

She continues to talk ... we are now almost 30 seconds into this conversation ... and we aren't talking about a cupped hand light whisper here.

I lean over again and say even louder, "Excuse me!"

Everyone in the theater turns towards us then looks back at the screen. My best friend, who discusses the topic of movie theaters with me often, is a little awestruck that I seem to be choosing a battle here.

The woman and her husband finally acknowledge me saying, "I guess some of us don't have children"

I honestly can't remember my response, but her husband stood up and said, "He's just rude honey, let's go!"

I'M RUDE ???

They get up and leave the theater and don't return.

There's no way of knowing, but they may have informed management about the incident ... of course blaming an "unsatisfactory experience" on me, because an usher came in and leaned up against the wall for about 5 minutes.

Not related to or because of my incident ... soon after it happened ... nationally; Regal Cinemas initiated a new "usher intimidation" policy.

An usher walks in with a flourescent air traffic controller wand and circles the theater. This is suppose to serve as some sort of intimidation and an "eyes are watching you" warning. What it serves to do is ruin the movie the moment they come in. Often, the usher's head bobs and blocks the screen ... casting a shadow as they walk in front. Your eyes also focus on their traffic batons like a hypnotic watch as they go up and down the left and right aisles.

I won't address all of the annoyances in movie theaters concerning distractions and noises ... but I'm sure all of you have been in a theater where a baby is crying.

There's a simple solution for this. Theater goers should be banned from all movies with children under 5 after 6PM and age 13 and under should be banned after 10PM unless accompanied by a parent ... not a gaurdian, not a sibling, but a parent. Consolidated Theaters have implemented this policy ... it's working (somewhat).

On to the next two for discussion:

3) No enforcement or clarification of rules

4) Theater chains being too politically correct to realize the need for #2 and #3

A local Consolidated Theaters venue called Cherrydale Cinemas implemented a new policy in the summer of 2005 for a brief period of time. I liked it. Here's what they did.

The movie previews played as normal then the lights came on, the film stopped and the manager came out and stood front center with two ushers ... one on each side.

He said (something close to) ...

"Welcome to Cherrydale Cinemas ... thank you for coming to tonight's show. Due to recent complaints we need to make sure you are aware that there is no horseplay, no talking, no cellphones, and no smoking. If you must talk, keep it brief and at your best whisper. If you must answer your cellphone ... you must have it on vibrate and leave the theater to answer it. There will be no warning, this is your warning. You will be removed from the theater if we catch you and you will not be refunded. Enjoy the show."

That took less than one and a half minutes ... I enjoyed that movie ... there weren't any problems. I would say 9 times out of 10 when I go to the competing Regal Cinemas (called The Hollywood 20) there is some sort of talking problem or cellphone problem.

The clarification of rules either by management or by on screen placement needs to be implemented. The message, just as this message pointed out, needs to clarify punishment for breaking the rules too. There is no affect in saying, "Please silence your cellphones" with some cellphone company's logo. The cutesy commercials that cellphone companies do talking about people who have cellphones in movies, only serve as what I call ... "filler rather than thinker".

To relate another story to you ... recently, I went to see the movie The Hills Have Eyes ... now this isn't the kind of movie you would call a horror classic ... to be honest, it would only be memorable if it was a 1st date, a birthday, or otherwise something special.

Same best friend and I (that I mentioned before) are taking a break to watch a matinee of this low budget horror film. About 15 minutes into the movie we hear a guy talking very loudly on his cellphone ... but we can't see him. There are only five other people in the theater ... My friend and I included.

My friend, who has grown less tolerate of these incidents and still recalls "the day I stood up to the rude" got up, found that the guy was talking just at the door. He leans over the railing and says, "Could you take that outside? We're trying to watch a movie."

Apparently the guy grumbles, my friend sits down and rolls his eyes. About 15 more minutes pass ... the action in the movie has just gotten intense. The guy returns with candy, a tub of popcorn, and a drink ... barely being able to hold all of it and quite frankly looking like he was about to drop something.

As he's walking up the aisle (going all the way to the top back row corner) ... he's mumbling ... we could hear an occasional expletive as he trimmed his eyes our way. For a minute or so, we could hear him mumbling. Then, he gets back on his cellphone. I tell my best friend that I will go out and tell management and get an usher. I return with an usher who sits with hands folded; near the bottom for about 5 minutes and then leaves. "Mr. Mumble" is quiet for the rest of the movie. As the credits are rolling, "Mr. Mumble" walks down, leans over, and tells us, "It was uncalled for to go tell on me, you pussies, and if you have a problem, we can meet outside."

We went to management expressing our concerns over this incident. The theater manager told us he noticed the "weirdo walking out" and he gave us a "standard apology" and offered us passes for another movie.

Being proactive, we asked the manager why he couldn't have just taken the guy out and why they let a few people ruin just about every movie. He told us that "corporate" had made it clear that no patron should be removed unless causing physical harm or after receiving two warnings. He also said that recently, Regal Cinemas had issued a "note to management" that you must catch the "perpetrators" in the act ... not just go by what another patron says.

In some ways, I can understand this policy. But there comes a time when a manager should be allowed to be a manager. It was obvious, by our dress, our intelligence, and our general demeanor that we weren't trying to "lie to get free tickets" or just complaining because we are complainers.

After this incident ... both of us pledged that we would write Regal Cinemas ... we both received canned responses even after requesting that we not receive such. The response isn't even worth republishing ... it just serves to clarify what I have already told you and give a fake apology ... it's almost like a computer program pieced together an email and mailed it off.

Which gives me an idea and a solution for the problem that theater chains are causing ...

Movie Theater Chains need to move into the 21st Century. Movies could become completely automated and technologically adavanced. This would (over time) save money, cut down on costs and reinvigorate the moviegoing experience.

Here's what I'm talking about:

1) Automated tickets ... slide your credit card or insert cash into a machine / slide loyalty card if you have one ... get tickets

2) Place ticket into validation machine at the door to your theater

3) Vending machines for candy, popcorn, and drinks ... not just standard machines ... you could even have the robotic bartending type robots.

4) If (really a matter of when) movies come to theaters via download or by DVD ... movies start automatically ... no "film technician" needed

5) Cellphone jamming inside the theater ... or walls with cellphone signal jamming paint.

6) Infrared lasers that criss cross theaters blocking video recording (but are invisible to the eye)

7) A human usher in each theater ... which would mean a reduction in staff.

The "humans" could also be movie critics ... I would love to read real reviews from real people that aren't biased about movies ... movies that they may be forced to watch that they otherwise might not see.

Over time, ushers wouldn't need to be in theaters full time.

I think it would even be a good idea for a podium in the corner with a special seat for such an usher to sit ... like he or she was "lording" over the theater. There are obvious auxilliary benefits to having a podium like this as many theaters rent out space for presentations and business meetings.

The main cause of declining box office revenue is lack of control over the experience. Which brings us to reason #5 ...

Declined discipline in schools and at home

The school systems in the United States, the modern code of law, and modern parenting tell us not to punish ... just warn, pay a fine, or be put in "time out". Basically all this has the effect of is laying the law down, but not enforcing the law once broken.

This is exactly what the movie theater chains are doing. Just relying on an "understood" respect of others (which isn't there anymore) and not punishing anyone who breaks this "understanding" (to be courteous, be quiet, be still).

If movie theaters took the stance of ... "here's the rules, break em, be punished" then this article, in one year's time, would be relatively obsolete.

A friend of mine made a suggestion: instead of the manager coming out before each movie, what if the manager of each theater recorded a 45 second informercial to show on screen before each movie. Nothing funny or cute, nothing politically correct ... just

"Here's the rules of respect for my theater 1. ...2. ... 3. ... break these rules and you may be banned permantly from this theater, at the very least you will be removed, and you will not be refunded."

I can just imagine how effective this would be ... especially after someone was ripped out of a theater. (Adults and teenagers alike)

Next on the list:

Obtuse political message and agenda movies

I had high hopes for the movie V for Vendetta ... it looked very stylistic, with a great plot, and great actors.

Boy, was I disappointed. While I like the general flow of the movie at first, as it progressed ... subplots were introduced into the film to make political statements and to attach the film to a far left political agenda.

V for Vendetta is about a future that has for all intent and purpose turned into a communistic, government controlled entity. Ok, interesting ... then you find out that "it all started when America's War got out of hand" On screen you see protestors protesting the war in Iraq and George Bush Jr. This is an intentionally inserted message by the directors of this movie as V for Vendetta was originally released in comic book form from 1982-1985.

Then there is a subtle subplot involving Natalie Portman's character being inspired by a lesbian relationship she reads about while imprisoned. Again, this subplot was not in the comic series ... although the original comic did contain "subversive sexual themes".

Some websites theorize that this plot was inserted after seeing the "critical success" of Brokeback Mountain. I have been told by straight heterosexuals that Brokeback Mountain is a very good film as well. That it is beautifully made and has a decent story. But, it is too graphic and leaves nothing to the imagination. And therefore, only serves as a mild type of "porn" for the sexually deviant. There's nothing wrong with films that show gay relationships, but ... Hollywood has to understand that these films (and the graphic imagery and language) sour an experience ... not just one weekend at the box office.

While the best of my friends, both male and female (and my editor) claim I am on the wrong path with this article with this reason ... I disagree.

A for Agenda

Polarizing your audience sours people from the experience as a whole. My father, who loves movies as much as I do, refuses to go see movies in theaters ever since he saw Platoon ... the ONLY movies he has been to see since is the latest Star Wars Trilogy. I know many older adults who feel polarized by agenda movies at theaters and hear of people's bad experiences with crying babies, rambunctious teens, and cellphones. Some of these people, who used to go to movies in the 50's, 60's, 70's, and 80's ... have not gone since Hollywood started really cranking out the "Academy Award Nominee" (movies that play to the lifestyles of Hollywood) type movies.

Finally ...

Overhyped movies that cost millions to promote

The best examples of overhyped movies that did worse than expected and underhyped movies that have done better than expected are two recent Matthew McConaughey movies.

One called Two For The Money costarring Al Pacino was promoted relentlessly for almost 6 months before it's release. It hasn't even recovered it's filming budget from worldwide release and worldwide DVD sales.

Another recent film, which wasn't hyped at all ... as I saw no promotion except within February (less than a month before its release) called Failure To Launch has made nearly 50 million OVER it's production budget.

Two For The Money was a story about the glorification of gambling, had bad language, and nudity. This movie was hailed by critics as one of Matthew McConaughey's best to date.

Failure To Launch was a good date movie, about getting a son out of the house. No nudity (except for a funny rear shot Terry Bradshaw), no bad language, but it was trashed by critics.

In the case of Failure To Launch, I think if as much marketting muscle had been put into it as there was Two For The Money and if critics gave this a thumbs up (as they should) you'd see a tremendous box office take for this movie.

In a way, this is why I like horror films, they are low budget, star no name actors (usually), and usually have no critical review beforehand.

I think movies should have exit polls ... just touch a star rating on a touchscreen on your way out. Incentive to participate would be a random free popcorn or concession. No personal data would be gathered, just your rating. I would LOVE to see these ratings from real people immediately following a movie the day after a movie opened. You'd get a much better demographic of users than even the internet could provide.

A recent movie that I think was underhyped and would have made a lot more money was Final Destination 3. I reviewed this movie here on Jackwhispers last month.

So there you have it ... this is what I think could turn the movie business around.

Here's a recap:

1) Make rules clear and enforce them vehemently

2) Make the experience more automated but more human at the same time

3) Turn theaters back into destinations that cannot be experienced at home

4) Let patrons decide rather than Hollywood what they want in their theaters

5) End multimillion dollar ad campaigns and union complications ... so that small moviemakers have a chance to express their visions of stories they want shown on the movie screen.

Here's some research tidbits for you to think of:

* Hollywood now commands $7.25 per ticket for the average movie. This means if you are paying $8.50 for a movie ticket, the theater is only seeing $1.25 of that ticket. This would be one reason concessions are so outrageously priced. I just feel like when i go to see a movie I am being ripped off by such incredible prices. Why do you want a negative feeling amongst your customers? Would not volume and lower prices, yeild the same profit?

* The average movie theater multiplex costs $2.8 million to build (and is not inclusive of the land) ... the average cinema is on a 15 year mortgage.

* Read this interesting slashdot article about theaters being unhappy about faster DVD releases.

* Professional, union film work is governed by the rules and guidelines of the film union - the Screen Actors Guild (SAG). This union establishes minimum salaries for different levels of performance - leads, supporting players, background, etc. Salaries can range from $115/day for "background actors" ("extras"), to $700/day for "day performers" (those with lines), and up to $4,000 a week for major roles. These are minimum rates. Only about 7% of actors are able to negotiate any of these salaries to high five figures and six figures. Only 5% are able to acheive million dollar paydays for movies.

I am of the personal opinion that movies should be investments rather than potential gambling losses. Actors, directors, and crew should work on percentages of the box office ... this would prevent a lot of the "agenda" movies from coming out. Financiers would be much less inclined to take the risk with "agenda" if the result depended on box office success. (Movies would also be lower budget and therefore could have more promotion)


Anonymous said...

I must be very isolated out here in Omaha, NE, or perhaps I am just in the habit of attending showings at theaters where people are polite. I've rarely if ever heard a cell phone (except in the commercial asking people to turns theirs off) during a movie, and I certainly have not heard any cell phone conversations going on during a movie. This is at an AMC multiplex and also at another home-town multiplex.

If I experienced what the author described here, I would definitely have problems with it, and would probably complain to the management, and if possible, move to somewhere else in the theater.

Regarding Agenda: Definitely seems to be a part of the movie experience today in general. I was amused by Merry's criticism of Pippin smoking too much in The Return Of The King, but also recognized it as a politically correct statement that Smoking Is Not Good For You. But you know, even in the old B&W movies, you could tell the difference between a regular smoker and someone who smoked "too much" because the latter was usually chain smoking throughout the film. You could TELL without being explicitly told that his smoking was excessive; a character like that probably drank too much also, and it was obviously portrayed. If Pippin "smoked too much", I'd say that Gandalf was a close second.

Bottom line: I agree; just tell the story, and don't embelish it with the director's agenda.

Anonymous said...

To anonymous (post #1)...

I live in Wisconsin, and have honestly had far too many ridiculous experiences in movie theatres. In fact, I rarely go now because of this (that says a lot...I'm not an older individual...I'm only 24).

At this point, I'd rather rent most of the time and just go the occasional film I absolutely need to see in the theatre (i.e.: 'LOTR' trilogy/re-screenings of classics like '2001'). Sometimes, I will go to budget or smaller theatres where films are in their later runs, so I don't have to put-up up with a**holes...the budget crowds are generally sparse but polite.

Seeing how much b.s. I've witnessed here in a midwest/'flyover' state, I can only imagine what happens in theatres on the 2 coasts.

So basically, I agree with pretty much everything that is said in the article. There is definitely room for improvement in the current system. My friends that just came back from a visit to Japan (including their movie theatres) can attest to this.


Reel Fanatic said...

Interesting stuff .. I still love going to the movies, but we often go at noon to avoid many people being there ... I would definitely put ushers on the top of my list of improvements.

Middle-agedman said...

I really, really like the suggestion about touching a rating at the end of the movie. That's really good but there would have to be some way to prevent people from repeatedly pressing a rating to artificially favor a film.

I also like the idea about major participants in a film having to earn money off of the profits instead of being totally on salary, but at the same time that could push films in a crowd-pleasing only direction that isn't all good. Crash, for example, would never have been made and that was a really, really good film.

The film industry itself has to police the soaring costs of making movies. Look at Roberto Rodriguez relative success at making really great movies on a budget. Instead of spending exhorbitant amounts of exotic locations and special effects, the Hollywood community needs to tighten its belt and start getting some of the cleverness of the independent film industry. Let's face it, the public isn't impressed enough by exotic special effects and locales to justify their extremely high prices. Clever use of expensive special effects and locations is certainly justified but this should be the exception, not the rule.

Hollywood needs to put more emphasis on the movie experience of those that pay for it. Perhaps theatres that have a lower incidence of complaints could get a better rate on renting the films. Its ridiculous that they get charged so much for these films in the first place.

Bottom line is this: no one is going to feel our pain unless we all make it apparent. Write and speak to the local theatres, their management, their owners, and their sponsors. Let them know that your attendance depends upon their reaction and response.