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TOPIC: The quest for quiet

The quest for quiet 05 Jul 2006 22:26 #12972

  • jacker5
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This is from a great article in the trade magazine, "In Focus", It has been mentioned over the past year numerous times from cell phones to rowdy kids. This covers it all enjoy!

The Quest
For Quiet
Exhibitors Are Tackling Bad Moviegoer Behavior

It takes so little to irredeemably blemish an evening of moviegoing. During a nail-biting moment in “Lady in the Water,” a cell phone launching into “The Macarena” would do the trick. Or perhaps it’s the Chatty Cathy two rows behind you, the one who loudly and repeatedly (and needlessly) counsels a seemingly imperiled Paul Giamatti.

No one is more aware than cinema owners of how highly poor patron behavior ranks among moviegoer peeves, and exhibitors around the world continue to hunt for a “magic bullet” that will guarantee a distraction-free environment every time. In the meantime, a host of “shush strategies” have met with varying degrees of success.

USHERING IN
THE COURTESY

Exhibitors report that they have generally found their most gratifying results with a program of signage, on-screen advisories and monitoring.

“Once you get the audience you might say ‘trained,’” says Jeff Logan, president of the Mitchell, S.D.-based Logan Luxury Theatres, “it’s usually not a problem to maintain it. Once you get it established, you can maintain it much better.”

Though exhibitors typically have a number of items on their wish lists of patron behavior, “the main ones,” says Mark O’Meara, owner and president of University Mall Theatres in Fairfax, Va., “are cell phones and talking. It’s just too much of people who think they are in their own living rooms.”

All five exhibition companies whose representatives were interviewed for this article – Logan Luxury, University Mall, AMC Entertainment, Muvico Theatres and Consolidated Theatres – routinely dispatch staffers into auditoria during shows. O’Meara is among those who take care to do this for features likely to draw a boisterous crowd. “It amazes me, just when you walk up and down the aisle, how feet come off the seat and everyone shuts up and the cell phones go off.”

Charlotte, N.C.-based Consolidated gives its employees a specific route that allows them to efficiently monitor an entire multiplex, from each auditorium to the restrooms, lobby and other areas.

While Logan similarly favors aisle checks for his theatres, he acknowledges that it can be a balancing act, because “walking up and down the aisles constantly can be a distraction itself. You try to maintain an inconspicuous presence, but at least enough of it felt so it’s also a deterrent.”

ATTENTION
PLEASE

Many cinema staffers do more than monitor. It has become increasingly common for circuits to include a live introduction before some – or all – shows.

Muvico is based in Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., a spring-break Mecca famous for bad behavior. The circuit launched its audience-greeting program late last year, and has been pleased with the results. Primarily used during peak weekend times, the program features staffers who make live announcements just before the lights go down.

“We incorporate fun into that – we do some trivia and some giveaways,” explains John Spano, Muvico’s vice president of human resources and corporate communications. “And then they tell everyone to pull out their cell phones, turn them off; pull out pagers, turn them off. It’s a good way to engage the audience and have fun at the same time.”

The program has generated positive feedback, notes Spano, who believes the introductions are more effective than some other strategies Muvico has employed. “I think that what ends up happening is, everyone is involved at the same time, so there is an audience mutual accountability. Everyone looks around to make sure that everyone is doing it,” he says.

Logan utilizes live introductions as well. Prior to children’s matinees, he or another staffer puts on what he calls an “old-fashioned stage show.” “Part of that,” he states, “is that we say that these are the rules that you have to follow when you’re in the theatre.”

The benefits to this practice are, according to Logan, both immediate and long-lasting: Not only do the kids learn how to comport themselves in that particular screening, but in the long term “we’re educating them at a young age on how to behave at a movie.” Consequently, he says, “we don’t have as much of a problem with the young people, because they know the expectations from the time they first start coming to the movies.”


COMING SOON:
SILENCE

Another effective tool, experts agree, is the policy trailer, which today is standard equipment for nearly all U.S. cinemas. Policy-trailer maven Stewart Harnell says he pioneered the business when General Cinemas commissioned a series of separate film segments designed to educate filmgoers on appropriate conduct. Harnell opted to instead create one segment incorporating all of the chain’s policy messages.

Harnell subsequently founded policy-trailer behemoth Cinema Concepts, which lists among its clients the AMC, Regal, Cinemark and Carmike chains, as well as a litany of smaller circuits.

He says the primary benefit derived from policy trailers is the information they impart; at their inception, they served to set down the rules for moviegoers and educate a generation of movie-lovers as to what was expected of them at a theatre. Policy trailers can also incorporate more traditional messages urging moviegoers to visit the concession counter or deposit their trash in the bins.

“As each year passes the policy trailers got shorter and shorter and more entertaining, as opposed to admonishing or promotional,” notes Harnell. This evolution, he says, is a result of patrons becoming more aware of what is expected of them. Also, certain reminders that were once critical – no smoking in the auditorium, for instance – have become forgone conclusions.

Modern policy trailers tend to focus on cell phones. Logan, for one, welcomes this trend; he finds that the stand-alone message produces a better response in his patrons: “It seems a cell phone message in the policy trailer, or in the pre-show, those have not been very effective. But the longer trailers just on cell phones, those have been much more effective.”

Kansas City, Mo.-based AMC – the nation’s second largest circuit – developed its “Silence is Golden” program in the early 1990s in an effort to encourage a distraction-free moviegoing environment for guests. According to Melanie Bell, vice president of corporate communications, “It’s a program designed to evolve with the different issues that may be taking place at the time – so right now, it’s cell phones.”

The circuit has experienced success with its longer trailers geared at cell phone use, which serve to remind patrons about their own phones while also encouraging guests to participate with one another in creating a desirable environment. “You see people pull out phones and switch them off, you hear people chuckle because they are fun and entertaining. It has definitely helped with the number of complaints that are received,” Bell explains.

Major pre-show producers National CineMedia and Screenvision both include cell phone-specific policy trailers in their programs. “Nobody wants to be interrupted once the movie starts,” says Screenvision CEO Matthew Kearney. “It would be a very different moviegoing experience if we didn’t have the means by which we can encourage people to arrive early, encourage people to get ready for the movie, and then enable everyone to watch the movie in an undistracted, fully-engaged environment.”

STUDIOS
IN THE GAME

Cinema operators frequently equate the efficacy of policy trailers with the entertainment they provide. O’Meara still remembers an amusing – and long-running – PepsiCo-sponsored trailer from a number of years ago. “Even when the thing was disintegrating, it would still get chuckles from the audience. To me that’s what makes it work.”

This quest to entertain while imparting information led Cinema Concepts to create a policy trailer that utilizes a string of shots depicting movie icons such as The Grinch, King Kong and the like. “Those trailers are very, very popular, because then audiences are entertained, while at the same time being told to be a good person,” notes Harnell.

Along the same lines, Sony Pictures recently took the unusual step of producing its own policy trailer, one which served to promote “The Pink Panther” while it also promoted more considerate audience behavior. The trailer, which was made available to cinemas in January, starred Steve Martin and depicted the oblivious Inspector Clouseau as a nightmare moviegoer – complete with talking, a cell phone call and thrown popcorn.

“I think everyone liked the idea of having actual movie content, something that was within the movie industry, a character that was going to be on screen, as a positive way to address the issue,” explains Sony vice president of distribution Rory Bruer. “And we got very positive feedback from it.”

Availability of the trailer was publicized through NATO, which led to a what Bruer describes as “a tremendous amount of requests” from cinema operators, primarily smaller ones. A partnership eventually forged with Cingular allowed the trailer into several larger circuits with whom the cell phone company had existing deals.

Response to the Clouseau spot was positive enough to inspire Sony to do it again; a new policy trailer, featuring characters from the September animated release “Open Season,” became available in May. This spot, featuring the antics of a bear named Boog (voiced by Martin Lawrence) and a deer, Elliot (voiced by Ashton Kutcher), contains the same messages of respect for others and silencing cell phones as the “Pink Panther” spot, but builds on the theme with reminders about the snack bar and for patrons to pick up after themselves.

The plan is to keep the “Open Season” trailer available to theatres throughout the summer, and to create appropriate partnerships to allow it into the greatest number of cinemas. Bruer remains upbeat about the potential of spots like these. “If it’s something there seems to be the need for, and exhibition embraces it, I think we would consider doing it again. But I think once people see it, they will see the value in it.”

THE DOWNSIDE
OF CONVENIENCE

Given how popular cell phones have grown, some believe that even policy trailers, pre-show announcements and auditoria monitoring combined won’t be enough to curb their untimely use during a show.

The way in which many major casinos are constructed make cell phone use within them impossible. Some suggest applying similar methods to cinema constructions might one day provide an answer.

While FCC regulations currently prohibit use of cell phone jamming devices, there is much debate over whether those regulations should be amended. Exhibition’s opinion on the matter is mixed.

Consolidated CEO Herman Stone is a staunch advocate of change. “I wanted to install the black boxes in my theatres two-and-a-half or three years ago, and felt that I had found something wonderful, but was told that if I did that, I would be quickly sued.”

Stone acknowledges that, if cell phones were to be disabled in theatres, “we would need to have some devices that people could pick up at guest services for those folks who feel like they need to stay in touch.”

Stone envisions a vibrating pager that the theatre could make available to silently alert guests in the event of an emergency. Another scenario suggests a recorded message that informs callers of a moviegoer’s unavailability; a system like this would allow access in the event of an emergency.

O’Meara sees cell-phone blocking as a tough sell. “In my theatres that gear towards an over-30 crowd or are really slanted to families, they really worry about the babysitter getting a hold of them. We could not just [create a blanket policy to] not allow calls to come through, because the public wouldn’t stand for that.”

Logan agrees: “In talking to my customers, there’s a real expectation that they have the cell phone, and they don’t want it to be disabled.” He is also skeptical about a system that allows callers to override blocking during an “emergency.” “Everyone is just going to say that it’s an emergency and they’re going to ring through anyway, even when it isn’t.”

An important thing to remember, say insiders, is that problem moviegoers are the exception, not the rule. In our next issue, In Focus magazine explores other methods cinema operators are employing to improve the moviegoing experience. Stay tuned!
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Re: The quest for quiet 17 Jul 2006 16:14 #12973

  • Basecamp
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Thanks for the article. Does anyone have any tips for acquiring/producing policy trailers for independents and small circuits?
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Re: The quest for quiet 17 Jul 2006 19:33 #12974

  • MovieGuy
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There are a handful of companies that produce generic trailers. Try Cinema Concepts, they have a bunch of low cost trailers.
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Re: The quest for quiet 18 Jul 2006 08:35 #12975

  • leeler
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filmack has a couple (www.filmack.com)
"What a crazy business"
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Re: The quest for quiet 18 Jul 2006 09:33 #12976

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Re: The quest for quiet 18 Jul 2006 10:47 #12977

  • Mike
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we just bought the new Mom trailer from Pike or Filmack...cannot recall which: it is very funny with retro mom lecturing the kid (camera) on how to behave at the movies.

I was at a show in Vegas and the performers come on stage and they go: "we have a request. Please turn off your cell phones. If we do hear onewe will come out there and shove it up your ###. Thank you!" There were no cell phones that went off. Everyone applauded.

Michael Hurley
Impresario
Michael Hurley
Impresario
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