Why Did Some Indie Theater Chains Do Well in 2011 While Others Did Not?

If you haven’t read them yet, I suggest taking a look at two posts regarding movie revenue woes and the attempt by one famed indie theater chain to counteract the trend of declining theater attendance.

First, from Roger Ebert who hit several nails on the heads with his astute analysis.

The second is a post from Tim League, who runs The Alamo Drafthouse, famous for its serious approach to movie viewing, as demonstrated by their famous ad. The viral video warns anyone that any use of a cell phone in any manner will find the abuser booted out.

League finishes his post with this plea to the movie industry:

The challenge to the movie industry is simple. If we expect people to choose to go to the cinema when they go out to relax and unwind, we have to make going to the movies fun again. That is our vision at the Alamo Drafthouse, and because of that, I remain bullish on the future of cinema.

I agree, but I wonder if it might be too much to ask of large theater chains. When you have less than 10 like the Drafthouse does, you can customize the experience to your local audiences. Good luck if you own hundreds of theaters. Any additional entertainment will end up being streamlined with the efficiency of a McDonald’s menu.

Here in Chicago, Neil Calderone of Chicago Cinema Society recently hosted a double feature screening of Santa Sangre and The Last Circus (along with the strange animated short “Bobby Yeah”) at The Portage Theater.  Viewers were treated to singing performances, flamenco guitar music, dancing and a free photo booth in the lobby for those not camera shy. The evening utilized local talent to give a sense of having a community-supported experience.  How would audience members react if they knew admissions went to local theaters and entertainment, as opposed to PR accountants for corporate theater chains and conglomerate movie studios?

I really do believe posing that idea to moviegoers will make a difference when they choose an evening’s entertainment. When you head out to watch any particular film, you are voting not only for your movie, but for the full theater experience–car commercials, Army recruitments , TV promos and all. You get what you pay for.


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