With the summer movie season getting into full swing, I can’t help thinking how the business of entertainment dwarfs what’s up on the screen. And who gets lost in the shuffle? The moviegoers. They're fast becoming an afterthought, even though it's their dollars and blind love that feed the studios and exhibitors.
I've always loved the experience of sitting in a darkened theater, surrounded by others and immersing myself in the moving image. But at close to $25 a person when you add in parking and concessions, it’s hard to justify the cost.
Assuming that some movies are actually worth seeing at that price, or would be if doing so were actually enjoyable and fun, some changes need to happen. Both exhibitors and moviegoers themselves can improve the cinema experience. With that in mind, let me present my 7 Steps to Cinema Nirvana:
1. No Cutting Corners
If you're paying at least 12 bucks to see a movie, you deserve a good picture and consistent sound. That doesn’t always happen. To save money, some theaters like to reduce the brightness of their projection lamps. That ends up reducing the contrast and clarity of the image you see projected. Sound levels can be too loud or too soft or in some cases.
Bad exhibition of your product is an insult to paying patrons. Regal and other theater chains will argue they offer theaters with top of the line digital projection and sound. But it comes at an additional cost of $5. Every theater should provide a great viewing experience, not just the fancy screens.
2. No Exotic Foods
For many moviegoers, the experience is not complete without a bag of buttery popcorn in one hand and an ice-cold drink in the other. Although many people complain about the prices, I understand why theaters charge so much… the average theater has a surprisingly low profit margin. Concessions are one area where theaters can make money.
What I don’t understand are the some of the strange choices offered. Who thinks eating ice cream in the dark is a good idea? And the person who decided nachos are the perfect movie food should be flayed alive. The smell and mess gives them a special offense.
Chips should be banned. No one wants to hear anyone crunch or crew in any way. Candy and popcorn should be served in boxes. No bags, no wrappers, nothing that crinkles. Anything remotely crinkly should be barred from theaters.
3. No Commercials
Enough with the commercials. Unlike television, the moviegoer cannot change the channel, or mute the volume, and is forced to watch these ads. When the moviegoer purchases admission to the film, they are purchasing the experience of the film and the film only. Commercials are not part of the purchased entertainment. Trailers for upcoming films are fine as long as they don't go on forever and don't seem randomly selected with the movie you're there to see.
4. No Talking
Although this should be obvious after 100 years of moviegoing some people still don’t get it. You’re in a movie theater… you have come to watch, not discuss. No one paid to hear your director’s commentary on the movie. Go ahead and talk through the pre-show programming, the commercials and all the way up to the start of the first trailer. And once those opening credits roll, just sit down and shut up.
It’s not the audience’s responsibility to enforce this. The exhibitor has the duty of ensuring that silence prevails during a movie, so that other paying moviegoers are not disturbed during the viewing of the entertainment they've purchased.
5. No Late Arrivals
Let’s make going to the movies a special event again. That means arriving on time, preferably before the trailers begin. If you arrive after the trailers begin, go see something else. Showing up late and asking me to move when I’ve been seated for nearly a half hour is unacceptable.
If you don’t get to the theater early, don’t expect others to move for you. I’ve seen people actually show up once a film has started and expect to get to sit together. What this usually means is that people who get to a movie early and get to their favorite seat (back row, center) have to move over to accommodate someone else’s lack of planning. Let’s end that by having ushers stop late arrivals
6. No Babysitting
We have all had it happen. Get to the theater excited about seeing the latest blockbuster; find a seat and relax. Then it happens: the parents who bring a baby or a toddler to a R-rated movie. Of course the kids start crying when it gets scary onscreen, pulling the entire audience out of the story and back to real-life.
Part of being a parent is sacrificing what you want for the sake of the child. Wait for the movie to hit DVD — the rest of us in the audience will be happier and will not be looking for you in the parking lot. If you’re too young to walk into the theater you can’t go to the movies.
7. No Mobile Phones
In this age of technology, almost everyone has a cell phone. As important as we like to think we are, nobody wants to hear our newest ringtone right at the climax of a film. Even worse are those of you who actually have the gall to answer the phone and talk for 10 minutes WITHOUT leaving the theater. Unless in the highest levels of government, answering phone calls and checking messages can wait until the film is finished.
Then there’s texting. The light from mobile phone is enough to light half of the Eastern seaboard; plus the clicking of fingers on keys is very audible. If you can’t stand to be out touch for two hours, then you should not go to the movies. Put your thumbs away and your eyes on the screen.
I think that covers it. If you have other suggestions I’d love to hear them. Exhibitors need to take the lead but moviegoers also have to change their ways to make this work. Some theater chains have a head start, with certain Landmark theaters and the Alamo Drafthouse chain being at the top of the heap. But why can't it be universal? If exhibitors seriously want to save their so-called business model, they can start here.
Going to the movies used to be one of my favorite things to do. I’d like to rediscover that feeling. After all, where else can you share laughter, sadness, anger and excitement with so many strangers in such a unique environment? Let’s reconnect with the moving image.
(Photo: Joe Corrigan/Getty Images)