Sunday , August 7 2022

Small Theaters Go to Tackle Difficult Films Business – Diversity


Having been nestled at the foot of a large hill on the outskirts of Providence in the downtown, R.I, local people recognized Car Cable Cinema as “the one with the beds.” That was a charitable description. They were love seats, really – perfect if you had a date but were awkward if you went to see a film with a friend or found yourself sitting next to a stranger.

Despite, or perhaps because of its idiosyncratic seats, Cable Car inspired a fierce commitment among his ordinary people, a collection of Brown and Rhode Island students, teachers, artists and cinemas.

“It was a place you went to commute with fellow film lovers,” said Mike Ritz, a long-standing sponsor. “You didn't go there to see Spider-Man. 'They played art films that challenged you, which caused emotion, which made you think.'

Last May, after 42 years of screening everything from “Pulp Fiction” to “RBG,” the Car Cable ran his projector for the last time and closed his doors forever. The business was profitable, but the owners of Daniel Kamil and Emily Steffian could not reach an agreement with RISD, the building's owner, on a bargain that would allow them to buy the theater completely. Kamil and Steffian came to the conclusion that they needed to expand beyond their small screen space in order to remain competitive.

“We were looking at a future where it was going to be harder and harder to balance the budget,” Kamil told Variety. “We bought the theater because we loved films and we wanted to keep a local icon, but we couldn't do it working.”

He left the powerless closure in the close-knit community of indie film fans, one that is still filled. “I continued to get this very unhealthy fantasy that some miracle would happen and someone would go in and save it at the last minute,” said Anna Macgregor Robin regularly. “You know, as in the movies.” T

But no white riders came to the gate, and the theater has become a great example of the challenges facing film houses of our independent property. Faced with aging audiences, competition from streaming services and theater chains boasts recliner seats and other amenities, many of these exhibitors are unsure of the edge of a knife between popping more. popcorn and get forced to switch off the tent lights.

“It's a tough business,” says Eric Handler, a demonstration industry analyst at MKM Partners. “Your revenue is inconsistent. Your rent continues to rise. Unless you have an investor with deep potential, you do not have the capital to do what we do in theater chains by investing in ultimate food items and more fantastic seats. ”

Independent theater owners have been forced to think of creative ways of staying solvent.

Some have transformed into unprofitable things; others have started GoFundMe campaigns to fund refurbishment. Newt Wallen, head of operations at Anthony Wayne Theater, a film palace in Wayne, Pa, which has grown up around the edges, has been seeking donations from sponsors living in the cinema's Main Line neighborhood. hope to install new leather seats and carpeting, paint the lobby and trigger the screens. He wants to raise $ 2 million, but refused to say how close it is to achieving that goal.

“I paint, set the dive, but I can only do so much,” said Wallen. “I play on people's sympathies and hope they will give. But sometimes it's difficult. Sometimes I feel like I'm screaming in the air. ”

Despite the challenges, there are still a large number of independent property cinemas. The US display business is dominated by three large circuits – Regal, AMC and Cinemark – which together manage 50% of the 41,000 screens in the country. But after you pass these jugglers there are a number of smaller theaters and mom-and-pop theaters. Over 600 members of the National Assn. Theater Owners, the main exhibition trade group, have 414 less than 10 screens and 91 have single screen locations.

“The challenges and opportunities vary by market,” says NATO spokesman Patrick Corcoran. “Business tends to be hyperlocal and affected by what happens in their economies.” T

That means that ticket sales can be greatly influenced by a factory closure or by a new company that is planting its headquarters down the street, not just which movies are hitting t screens.

General manager Victor Martinez is a 31-year-old veteran of the historic Vista theater in Los Angeles.
Pamela Littky for Diversity

The term “independent” is flexible. NATO defines it as a theater or theater chain with 75 screens or less. That covers a wide range, from the one-screen Cable Car to the Cinergy, which is a 47-screen, a thriving chain in Texas and Oklahoma. These businesses display all kinds of films. Some play obscure foreign language films; others display the latest superhero adventure. Regardless of their size or what films they are presenting, independent theaters have no choice but to defeat the larger circuits if they want to survive. Take Vintage Cinemas, a three theater chain in South California. The head of the company, Lance Alspaugh, believes it is a personal touch that makes the difference.

“Those [corporate chains], they're a cookie cutter, ”says Alspaugh. “They are boxes with huge seats.”

In contrast, Alspaugh and staff know their customers by name. They also respect the privacy of the celebrities who attend both locations in the Vintage area of ​​L.As. Los Feliz (Los Feliz Theater and the Vista), a group of A-listers featuring Angelina Jolie, Katy Perry and Quentin Tarantino. In the process, the company has fostered a vibrant sense of community. These are not just locations to go to see the latest movies.

“Our place is a special place,” said Alspaugh. “We've had weddings there. We have had funerals there. ”

The Vista attracts locals who represent a number of demographics, as well as suburbs have drawn them to Los Feliz boutiques and a hipster aesthetic that is friendly to Instagram. In a recent show of “Captain Marvel,” the girlfriends of teenage girls, Marvel's ankles and couples gather to support Brie Larson as she struggles to save the universe. Perhaps the special shocking effect of the night was the price of entry, which was $ 9.50 for a Sunday evening show, half the cost of a mile down the road in the Arclight Hollywood. Although the Vista does not take pride in the selection of top end snacks from Cornmel from caramel corn or wasabi peas, its popcorn and sodas are also cheaper. But maintaining the appeal of the theater takes time and sweat. Alspaugh, who became Vintage's CEO in 1999, says he always works.

“Things are breaking,” he said. “A popcorn popper doesn't heat the way it's supposed to be, or the roof is leaking. Or an emergency exit is required. Anything like this worries me. I am a doctor – I never drop in. I don't think I've ever been away. ”

A girl can spend a lot of time extinguishing fires, but she has been lucky in one important respect: He has a mysterious weapon in the general manager, Victor Martinez, a 31-year-old Vista theater veteran, Vintage. Martinez has become a local legend for often appearing in costumes as characters from the latest releases. Our tradition started in 2004 when he wore a mask mask and Venetian masque cloak as a tribute to the strong central character in “Phantom of the Opera.” Since then, he has worn everything from Wolverine's adamantium claws to promoting “Logan”. For Capt. TJack Sparrow 's freadlocks and mascara are for all new films "Pirates of the Caribbean".

CREDIT: Diversity

“I created a monster,” says Martinez. “At the beginning I said, fyddai Wouldn't it be so cold if someone had dressed like the character at the door, broke tickets? The response was so amazing, Lance got a ton of emails. Now they want me to dress up for everything. For illa Godzilla, ‘One The Nun, bo Dumbo.’ I only do that when it is appropriate and I know it will be great. I don't want it to get tired. ”

Costume ticket holders are not enough for every theater. Some, such as Cinergy, have found ways to vary their revenues. It's not just movies on the screen. Its venues also offer bowling alleys, escape rooms and virtual reality games. And it's working. Although some theaters find it difficult to stay in business, Cinergy is expanding. We plan to open two further locations by 2020.

“I spend a lot of time trying to understand the demographics of locations, our sites and our potential sites,” said Jeff Benson, CEO of Cinergy. “I spend a lot of time loving banks, talking to different lenders, making sure we've got capital for whatever we need. We have recently refinanced a number of loans. We have put recliner seats in each of our locations. We put four extra screens in our location Odessa, Texas. ”

This is not Benson's first rodeo. In 2001, he set up Movie Tavern, one of the earliest cinemas to embrace the idea of ​​offering a lunchtime service while a film played, and the company grew to 14 centers in five states before selling its part to Cinemark. in 2008, the idea of ​​serving lunch in a cinema was new. However, Benson recognized that something needed to be changed – studios asked for a greater proportion of ticket sales, and attendance was flat.

He had to grow his revenue or face a future of tightening boundaries. With this in mind, he set about making Cinergy a non-slave entertainment destination for exhibition times. “I think our days have been numbered as an industry if we don't evolve,” says Benson. As Cinergy isn't just showing films, it has been able to weather the recent box office collapse – ticket sales this year are down by around 20%.

“With all the games and family bowling and entertainment components – escape rooms, ropes courses – that kind of stuff is usually really good when it's cold outside,” he said. “Although the films have been at best confusing, we have placed records in the game rooms each of the last three weekends in a row.”

Vintage Cinemas CEO Lance Alspaugh said, “I am a doctor – I never drop in.”
Pamela Littky for Diversity

Cinergy can be adding venues, but other theaters face a more dangerous future. One route that some have taken to stay on the water is to become not-for-profit. That strategy has enabled The Brattle, Cambridge theater, Mass-based playing a mix of classic films, independent features and foreign language prices. Situated in the heart of Harvard University campus, the intimate setting is quite a curiosity, with Valentine's Day displays of “Casablanca” and its rear projection system. In 2001, Ned Hinkle and Ivy Moylan, two employees of Brattle, took the lease and created a base to run the theater. After looking at the books, they realized they could not continue showing art films unless they could follow other types of funding, such as grants and charitable donations.

“We would not have continued the last 20 years if we were not a non-profit,” said Hinkle. “We would have had to change our program model, and we didn't want to.” With so many charitable cases asking for money, Hinkle recognizes that it can be difficult to find people willing to write checks. .

“We've had our progress,” he said. “It has been difficult at times to get the community to see us as an arts organization. People think why we are not-for-profit if we sell tickets. There is a dividing line in the minds of many people between popular art such as films and art art as ballet. ”

Even film theaters making money serve the right of good social exhibitors. Generations of young people have their first professional experience working at the box office or at the concession stand. In addition, the theaters themselves can become de facto community centers. At a time when viewers give more attention to their smartphones or tablets or at home Netflix's overeating shows or searches the internet, movie theaters is a rare location for people to gather and experience t common. The films they see on the screen have their own value, taking audiences to new worlds, introducing them to characters and experiences that are very different from their characters.

“I've seen films that have changed the path of my life,” said Ritz, the sponsor of the Car Cable. “They've changed how I behaved or saw others. They have opened my eyes to new possibilities. Denise Mahon had a similar message from customers when she decided to close Varsity Theater, a one screen cinema in Des Moines, Iowa, last December. The theater was bought by her father, B.C. Mahon, in 1954, and Mahon took over in 2009 following his death. It was still attracting customers, but Mahon was worn down from working pressures 365 days a year. She needed to have knee surgery which would take her out of commission for months, and entertained fantasies about traveling.

“It was a changing decision,” he remembers Mahon. “I felt like I was letting people down, and I felt like I was leaving my dad down at some level.” T

Cinerig theaters include entertainment options such as bowling alleys in an effort to grow revenue.
Wade Griffith

The closure of the Varsity was sensitive in other personal aspects. Mahon's birth announcement was made on a film frame and projected on the screen. Growing up she had birthday parties in the theater, and at secondary school the cash register worked, which taught her how to make a change. What surprised her, however, was how much impact the decision had on her customers.

“I had stacks of cards where people poured their hearts,” said Mahon. “People would say what was a lively part of the community, or they talked about seeing a film here and how much it meant to them. Dad was proud of showing films that made you think, and people appreciated that. "

On a snow night before New Year's Eve, he fell on Mahon to show one final film. The place was full of toppers and the media. Mahon employed a choir to sing melodies and “Auld Lang Syne.” He chose a very special feature to help introduce the credits on the Varsity, “Cinema Paradiso.” The 1988 Italian film focuses on the bond. formed between a kindly film owner of the house and a boy growing to become a famous director. It is, in all respects, a love letter to the power of the cinema.

“All I have to do is hear that theme song, and the tears are starting to flow down my face,” said Mahon. “That story is my father's story. He loved entertaining. ”

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