Thursday, June 16, 2016

Empty Theatre Seats

 Empty Theatre Seats

From the 2nd Floor #12

Filmmakers and screenwriters enjoy a visit to the big screen. When was the last time you took in a film and found the theatre more than half empty?

Ever ask why so few are coming to the theatre? Stand out front and listen. It’s amazing to watch a family of four or five walk to the ticket window, hesitate when reading the prices, and slowly shrink back and make a beeline to the parking lot.

I overheard one man say, “Fifty bucks plus the concession stand and then add the babysitter? Are you kidding? Let’s rent a movie and have a backyard picnic.”

I’m just like every filmmaker in the business. Most don’t have an “E” ticket into the studios or have an “A” agent pushing to get your project through the door. Without major help, the chances of a brilliant film or screenplay being read or getting a green light for production are in the same category as finding a diamond ring at the dump under twenty tons of miscellaneous trash.

I don’t want to sound negative, but sometimes a reality check floats to the surface and filmmakers must recognize truth and facts before the project can search for a lifeline.

Many years ago I attended a Theatre Owner’s convention. A friend of mine owned a small chain and invited me to keep him company. I had this crazy idea then and still have it. I discussed with a group of owners why more theatres didn’t use their “down time” or if you will “Empty Seat Time” to increase opportunities of making more money?

My friend and his colleagues laughed at my idea. Many of them are no longer in business. I’ll bet my conception of improving customer relations back then would work even better in today markets.

Stop laughing. Hotel chains have empty rooms, airline companies vacant seats, retailers overstocked with product find ways to unload un-purchased goods by wholesaling inventory off to smaller retailers, so why can’t theatres chains use empty seats to attract a new audience? Why not learn the art of bartering between theatre owner and filmmaker so everyone can make money? How many great Indy films have been made but can’t find distribution or theatres to show them?

It’s tough when a producer can’t bring his or her product to market and this festering situation creates a catastrophic death sentence for many brilliantly entertaining motion pictures? In most cases these films may find a release via DVD rental or a minor TV or cable sale, but miss hitting even a single at the ballpark. 

Everyone who enjoys films has rented an unknown production with no stars or famous filmmakers and is truly entertained. Most wonder what happened and why did such a great film never surface? How did this brilliantly produced film get skipped over by all the studios, distributors and theatres?  The answer is simple, no stars, no famous director or worse no best-selling novel to pre-build an audience. The production is “just another film.”

Take “ROOM” for example. This is a great film, fabulous acting and a simple story. This film could have easily slipped through the cracks and disappeared. Instead it got lucky, found a home, found an entity willing to take a chance on a film with no known stars, no named director, hell the film wasn’t even made in America – and yet became a huge hit.

There are many films like this and it’s a shame. It’s hard enough for independent filmmakers to raise money and produce a film. Every investor wants a distributor, gold up front and profit before making the final cut because financiers know the odds are against making money without all the pieces being in the right place before the start of production. Very few independent films can get a guarantee, a distributor’s cash advance, a negative pickup, or even an agreement showing a guarantee of distribution. The Indy distributors need help too.

Wait a minute. What if, ah, don’t you love those three little words? What if you find a small distributor willing to run with your film and maybe a group of theatres are willing to screen the film without all the guarantees of advertising and TV commercials?

Impossible? No way. Let’s not forget social media. We have creative minds making films and raising money so there must be a way to ask the theatre chains why not use downtime, that curse of “empty seat syndrome” for better use? Start showing the lesser known films at particular times of the day – maybe even offer a price break at the ticket box – and see if any of the new products on the block can grow legs?

What if the filmmakers help the theatres with social media? Using Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and other social media platforms or even create their own infomercials to create a buzz about their film? I believe that would do the trick. Amazing how fast social media responds to something good. If a filmmaker can made a good commercial film he or she can build a social media platforms and infomercials.

Every major and minor theatre owner has empty seat syndrome. Why they haven’t figured out a way to cure this by now is the mystery. What are they waiting for – to go out of business? Ticket prices are too high but they too have to meet the studio minimum or they don’t get the big films. They suffer if the big film is a turkey and then end up with … empty seats. Forget overhead or lack of snack bar sales, if the big films take a dump so does the revenue stream.

If theatres learned to bring in new blood, or I guess I should say new films from the Indy world, the audiences would come out of curiosity. Everyone likes to go to the theatre and see a film on the “BIG” screen. What everyone doesn’t like to do is pay $25 up to $50 dollars per couple to see a film or a $100 for a family of four. If a bad film is watched they may not come back to the theatre for months.

What if theatres found a way to bring in a constant flow of new product in this digital world we live in, and offer unhappy customers a reduction or a discount ticket to see another great film with lesser stars or an unknown filmmaker?

What if theatres could deal with a smaller less greedy or over-taxed distributor without guarantees or advances and still get quality first run films? They could make simple deals and split the box office with a number that would make both sides happy?

Gee, maybe, just maybe small films might start making money for the investors, the red box and Netflix would have more product, more films would then have a theatrical run so foreign sales would increase in size and … AND the theatres would start making extra revenue from all those empty seats that are … well empty.

Keep in mind this could work. Every single move made by corporate America begins with an idea. This particular one has been floating around for a long time. Who knows? Maybe the major theatre owners and studios will get together and agree on something new?

So, when I’m not running around trying to raise money to make another independent film as I perennially endure 24/7, I take time to put words together for another novel or screenplay, aid my fellow filmmakers and writers any way I can, and do my best to stir up the kettle. Drop me a line, I have an opinion on everything.

William Byron Hillman © 2016

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