Thursday, April 06, 2006

Enjoy The Show: But Only If You Can Deal With The Rude People Watching It With You: Take Two

Do You Love Movies, But Hate Watching Them?

Yesterday, I started a series of articles discussing the declining moviegoing experience.

Today, I will address #3 and #4 in the list below ... what I personally think are the reasons movie attendance and box office sales are down.

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

Yesterday I left you with ... You'll be interested to hear what one theater chain locally to me did and then later stopped, because of pressure from theater goers who protested to national headquarters about the action being taken at this chain to curb problematic moviegoers. I loved the policy ... had I known there was a protest to stop it, I would have called with commending phone calls to counter it.

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.

Keep tuning in ... I'll tackle the last three issues in the next installment and deliver a final solution that I plan to present to theater chains.


Anonymous said...

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

This one's already a reality for at least one theater in Milwaukee I go to. Pretty handy.

FYT said...

Many theaters already have them ... but also have "human ticket tellers" ... I see no need for someone to take your card or cash ...

Many times ... when i go to the booth to get my ticket ... the girl can't see me or has to figure out ticket availability ... at an automated teller, this would be solved

Middle-agedman said...

Some very good ideas are being suggested here but I think they are a bit too logical and rational. Most people I know dont' operate on that basis so you have to provide for that. Here are osme of my amendments to these otherwise good and creative suggestions:

1.Automated tickets and validation machines... let's make these credit card only and have them as a free choice alternative to live cashiers.
Use the model that grocery stores have gone to with the UScan kind of checkout stations. You can have four to six stations that can be supervised by one person instead of six. Its a good alternative if you want to choose to use it. I personally don't like it and will put up with the slow speed and spaciness of the "live" cashiers.

2) Vending machines and robots; again a good ALTERNATIVE that people could CHOOSE to use. Nothing would make me madder than to HAVE to use this kind of thing. I like the human experience for the most part and I think people need low-end jobs (kids, part-time workers) like this.

3) Again, the model of fewer people to supervise mostly automated processes could certainly save some money. Don't get rid of the attendent entirely. Someone needs to be supervising what's going on in 4-6 theatres.
4) Cellphone jamming is a great idea but if you're going to do that you could just prohibit their use entirely like they do in a hospital. You would also have to provide for people that need to be contacted in a true emergency somehow. Right now its nigh to impossible to get a live person on the phone in a theatre and that would have to change so people would be comfortable not having use of their phones.

4. The infrared laser idea is great as long as the lasers are very close to the screen and there is complete guarantee of no problems.

5. Human usher in a theatre is a really great idea. Comparison would be that of an air marshall. No one would know who it was. To a degree this could give more power to people like myself that take some initiative.

The biggest part of this equation is changing the perception of what the theater experience is going to be. A great parallel to this in some ways is the complete crackdown that was done after 9/11 in the airports. It was really problematic at first and really annoying because you hadn't had to go through it before. Four or five years later I would almost be shocked if I didn't have to strip down half-naked to get through the screeners and have to everything I owned on a conveyer belt. It has everything to do with expectation. Currently people expect that its going to be either ok to exhibit bad behavior or that they won't be caught/theatre won't enforce the rules. If that changes, after a year or so of cracking down people will completely change their idea of what a night out at the movies is.
There's going to have to be a ton of PR done for this to happen and the movie industry would be wise to make it worthwhile for people to go through this change.

The best way for messages to be delivered regarding behavior is going to be on-screen by the owner of the theatre so that it doesn't make different owners or managers of competing theatres think that they can get more business by being "nicer."

Finally, it is just a fact of life that there are going to be certain "social groups" that tend to be more problematic in this vein than others. This will involve age groups, race, ethnicity, upbringing, relative low/middle/upper class placement and so forth. We all know who these groups are in our own cities and its silly to deny that its a fact of life. That said, no one is going to be able to justify "profiling" certain screenings. That will cause problems like those referenced at the top of the article. If you do it for one, you have to do it for all. Do it for the teenager, the senior citizen, the men, the women, the various ethic groups etc. Even if they know that they tend to behave badly, no one wants to be singled out simply because they are black, white, single, married, young, old, rich, poor, etc.

I believe that people feel more comfortable in an environment where they know the rules are going to be enforced. What if you never knew what traffic enforcement was going to be like? How comfortable would you feel driving every day.

Anyway, let's get some more comments. This is a great issue.