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Popping the movie-biz's 'Bubble'

From: Brian Ford, Shawnee, KS

I read through this week’s Answer Man column ("Pet-peeve-a-thon") with a strong sense of deja-vu: I wrote about many of the questions in an article I wrote for about the simultaneous release of Steven Soderbergh's “Bubble” in theaters and HDTV -- and DVD four days later. I'm not trying to sell anything here (least of all my attempt at journalism) I just thought you might be interested in another movie-lovers take on the situation. A shortened version of the article:

Why Soderbergh's Bubble Won't Burst Theater Profits

Steven Soderbergh initiated an interesting experiment [with the release of a movie in several formats simultaneously].... Predictably, theater owners are aghast and are by-and-large refusing to allow the movie to screen. The industry is changing and they fail to recognize this.

The first thing they need to know is that as HD Television sets get bigger and cheaper, they're going to lose customers. The only way to lessen the impact of this "problem" is to focus on providing a quality experience that we don't get by watching movies at home. I love the multiplex, but there is no denying that the big-screen has lost something as a result of getting too corporate, for lack of a better word. They could do a few things to fix this:

Hire better projectionists. Train them to know what they're doing. (This means that they need to understand the projector and how to take care of it, not just how to make it go.) This will, first and foremost, result in better-looking movies. Projectionists have become glorified ushers and this takes away from what they should be focusing on, which is a flawless presentation. (My official job description was Usher B. We were often in charge of running 14 projectors without the help of a second or third projectionist.)

Crowd control: If AMC (for example) has more than one theater in a given town, they should stop allowing kids under a certain age to attend at one of those theaters. They should keep babies out, period. They should most importantly push a better mix of movies at this theater. If they do only have one theater, hire people to make sure that noisy customers are killed (or something) immediately. Don't make me get out of my seat to tell you to do so....

Think built-in restaurants that include movie tickets with meals. The focus of the phrase "movie-going experience" needs to be weighted heavily toward the word “experience.”

Offer intermissions on movies that exceed 3 hours. All movies come in reels and it would not be difficult to build them in two halves in order to give us a 15-minute breather. (They would sell more concessions, too.)

The second thing that they need to know is that small independent films like “Bubble” aren't going to cost them any money anyway. Why? Because they're not showing them even when this distribution model isn't a factor. (This is why it's kind of odd to me that they're "boycotting" Soderbergh's newest. I doubt many would have screened it in the first place.) This experiment is just a method of putting theater owners on notice, and they're failing the test. It was win/win for Soderbergh and independent movies and was a chance for theaters to glimpse and (hopefully) embrace the future.

What are they going to do when Pixar releases its next film and either Iger or Jobs decide they want a simultaneous DVD, iTunes Movie Store and theatrical release? Refuse to show it? Unlikely... and very stupid.

If they follow the above advice and embrace the idea of selling DVD's in the lobby on opening weekend, they stand to increase profits, not lose them. Those who don't, simply put, will not survive the home theater invasion. Creative thinking could get them out of this; complaining will get them nowhere.


Someone brought up profits in the comment section and it reminded me of something that I was told by the manager of the Cinemark I used to work for: "Movie theaters are essentially restaurants that also happen to show movies." For what it's worth, this is why concessions are so expensive…. They should be excited as hell about meeting with movie studios to discuss new methods of distribution that will allow them to make profits in ways that weren't previously possible. So long as they see this as a negative that needs to be fought against, they're not going to get anywhere.

What if they put a four-dollar surcharge on DVDs that they sell and get movie studios to agree to a 1-2 week hold period on the sale of those DVDs in traditional outlets? That four dollars would then go to the theater and would almost certainly be far more than they make off of the ticket sale of the movie itself. In fact, I would bet that it would cover any loss in repeat viewers. (And they could require a ticket stub before allowing the purchase of a DVD.) Better yet, they could get studios to agree to DVDs with extra features that aren't available in any other outlets.

Roger Ebert

Roger Ebert was the film critic of the Chicago Sun-Times from 1967 until his death in 2013. In 1975, he won the Pulitzer Prize for distinguished criticism.

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