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TOPIC: Old movies: Worth the money/time?

Old movies: Worth the money/time? 14 Sep 2005 03:24 #14933

  • SqwakBox
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Hi everyone,

For years I've had this nagging dream of opening up a small movie theatre--probably just one screen--that shows old movies (classics from the past 5-50 years).

I would, ideally, open it in the suburbs of a large city and charge rates comparable to budget theaters.

My questions:

1) How expensive, in general, are the rights to show older movies?

2) Is there a possibility of developing a "library" of older movies to show? Or would I have to stick to a limited # of screenings like recent releases?

3) How feasible does this idea sound to you? Please clarify! (If it sounds inane, please offer constructive criticism...)

Thank you all in advance for your time.

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Re: Old movies: Worth the money/time? 14 Sep 2005 06:34 #14934

  • Larry Thomas
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(1) You can figure on paying $250 to $500 guarantee per film vs. at least 35% of the boxoffice gross. In addition, you will have air freight shipping both ways from wherever the print may be.

(2) No. You rent the films to show; you can't keep them. Each film must be booked individually and then returned.

(3) Unless you want to limit your choice of titles even further (many films are not available for a variety of reasons), you will need to have a two-projector system using 20-min. reels. Many classics titles are not available to theatres using platters.

This is not a totally inane dream, but it must be a complete labor of love, and you need to have enough money to support it. You can't count on ticket sales to pay all the bills.
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Re: Old movies: Worth the money/time? 24 Apr 2007 14:23 #14935


I would like some clarification here. When you refer to flat fees for old films, is that a one-time payment for use of the film in your theatre? Or is it the fee charged for EACH SHOWING of the film? Thanks in advance.


Originally posted by Larry Thomas:
(1) You can figure on paying $250 to $500 guarantee per film vs. at least 35% of the boxoffice gross. In addition, you will have air freight shipping both ways from wherever the print may be.

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Re: Old movies: Worth the money/time? 24 Apr 2007 16:40 #14936

  • rodeojack
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A "flat" rental generally means a set fee for up to one week's use. Run it 24/7, if you want to.
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Re: Old movies: Worth the money/time? 24 Apr 2007 16:53 #14937

Thanks for your response, rodeojack.

Doesn't that mean, then, that a theatre showing classic movies, which cost, say, a $500 flat rental, would start making profit on that movie after selling 50 tickets at $10 per ticket?

If so, why aren't theatres that specialize in classic movies more profitable?

I have fond memories of the Circle Theatre in Washington, D.C., during the 1980s. It was an old, worn-out structure, but had many fine details that reminded patrons of its former splendor. Anyway, they ran double features of old movies, changing the bill every other day, for an admission of $2 or $3. Many of us received our film education in that dusty old space.


<BLOCKQUOTE><font size="1" face="Verdana, Arial, helvetica">quote:</font><HR>Originally posted by rodeojack:
A "flat" rental generally means a set fee for up to one week's use. Run it 24/7, if you want to.<HR></BLOCKQUOTE>

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Re: Old movies: Worth the money/time? 24 Apr 2007 17:19 #14938

  • wimovieman
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If there was actually an area that would support paying $10 a ticket for a movie on video it would be profitable--but realistically $2 doesn't make people flock to an old feature--plus there is shipping involved before even getting into the normal operating costs.

The only time I come out on running an older feature is when a non-profit group pays for the rental and does the promoting. This only works here a couple times a year though (i.e. Chamber of Commerce Christmas show)
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Re: Old movies: Worth the money/time? 24 Apr 2007 17:53 #14939


Thanks for replying, wimovieman. I'd like to take you up on your challenge by setting forth a series of "what ifs".

What if you had an historic single-screen theater (say, 1500 seats) in a densely populated urban area (like the Bronx, for example, where I live;

And what if you decided to run double features of classic movies every day, 3 showings of each movie, for an admission price of $10 (keep in mind that first-run theatres in NYC are now charging $11.50 for one sucky movie);

And what if this theatre had no competition for miles around, yet was situated in a neighborhood where literally tens of thousands of people live within a 5-minute walk;

And what if this theatre specialized in films that were crowd pleasers when they first came out but have largely fallen into obscurity since then, so that, even though many are available on video/DVD, they are not on the top of anyone's purchase list;

And what if the theatre itself was handsome and comfortable enough that the venue itself was a large part of the show, bringing people in for the experience of seeing great movies in a great old space;

And what if the programmer specialized in movies of local interest, i.e. ones that were filmed, partly or wholly, in NYC, and more specifically in the Bronx;

And what if the theatre management tried to revive some old-fashioned policies, like allowing people to sit through as many showings as they liked with no fear of being cleared out between showings;

And what if management designed a bare-bones budget so that there would be no expectation of ever selling out a show, but rather breaking even by averaging as few as 100 tickets sold per showing (less during early weekdays, more on weekend evenings), for a daily intake of around $6,000;

And what if the booker was able to secure some of the following movies for double features at a flat fee rental of $500 per movie per week:

Marty + Awakenings
West Side Story + The Wanderers
Gloria + Fort Apache: The Bronx
The Warriors + 1990: Bronx Warriors
Godspell + Hair
Fame + The Mambo Kings
Rosemary's Baby + Harold & Maude
Serpico + Carlito's Way
Cotton Comes to Harlem + Come Back, Charleston Blue
She's Gotta Have It + Booty Call
King of the Gypsies + Light Sleeper
Death Wish + Death Wish 3
Shaft + Super Fly
The Pride of the Yankees + The Babe Ruth Story
Splendor in the Grass + Love with the Proper Stranger
They Might Be Giants + Don Juan DeMarco
Desperately Seeking Susan + After Hours
The Out of Towners + The Prisoner of Second Avenue
Hester Street + Crossing Delancey
Wolfen + Emperor of the Bronx
The Lord's of Flatbush + Paradise Alley
Next Stop, Greenwich Village + Pope of Greenwich Village
Sins of the Fleshapoids + Magic Garden of Stanley Sweetheart


<BLOCKQUOTE><font size="1" face="Verdana, Arial, helvetica">quote:</font><HR>Originally posted by wimovieman:
<B>If there was actually an area that would support paying $10 a ticket for a movie on video it would be profitable--but realistically $2 doesn't make people flock to an old feature--plus there is shipping involved before even getting into the normal operating costs.

The only time I come out on running an older feature is when a non-profit group pays for the rental and does the promoting. This only works here a couple times a year though (i.e. Chamber of Commerce Christmas show)</B><HR></BLOCKQUOTE>

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Re: Old movies: Worth the money/time? 24 Apr 2007 18:08 #14940

  • rodeojack
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Doesn't that mean, then, that a theatre showing classic movies, which cost, say, a $500 flat rental, would start making profit on that movie after selling 50 tickets at $10 per ticket?

Sure, if the power company gave you electricity for free, and you had no rent, or insurance, or payroll, or taxes, or building maintenance, and the projectors always worked, and bulbs lasted forever... and you had another job!

I think you get my drift!
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Re: Old movies: Worth the money/time? 25 Apr 2007 08:33 #14941


Yeah OK, I kinda misspoke there. I didn't mean profit overall. I just meant that one's debt as far as securing and showing the film would be taken care of after selling $500 worth of tickets, and all ticket income after that would go to other expenses.

Here are two other ideas for cutting expenses/generating extra income.

Does anyone out there have solar panels on their theatre's roof to save money on your utility bills?

Does anyone have so-called "taxpayer units" in their theatre buildings (i.e. storefront spaces for businesses unrelated to the theatre that provide extra income from rental fees)?


<BLOCKQUOTE><font size="1" face="Verdana, Arial, helvetica">quote:</font><HR>Originally posted by rodeojack:
<B> Sure, if the power company gave you electricity for free, and you had no rent, or insurance, or payroll, or taxes, or building maintenance, and the projectors always worked, and bulbs lasted forever... and you had another job!

I think you get my drift!
</B><HR></BLOCKQUOTE>

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Re: Old movies: Worth the money/time? 25 Apr 2007 08:56 #14942

  • dsschoenborn
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Yes at one time we had two rental areas ( store Fronts ) in our theatre. We have since taken over one space for theatre use and the other one is a business we run too.

Great idea because it has great tourism potential given your location but not sure if you would make it as a business on its own. Your customer appeal is very limited as the others have suggested. If you had other income maybe or if this is done as a non profit with all the tax credits etc.

Also I thought all of my flat fees only covered the one day or one performance. I will have to ask next time I book a special show for a group.
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Re: Old movies: Worth the money/time? 25 Apr 2007 09:59 #14943

  • Ken Layton
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And don't forget that in NYC you need a union projectionist.
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Re: Old movies: Worth the money/time? 25 Apr 2007 14:43 #14944

  • Avco
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In NYC, all you have to do is pass the city projection licence test. You can get by with running it non-union, but the union operator knows how to handle the booth better.

I ran a few very large theatres in Downtown Los Angeles (2000 seats+). Some ran newer features and the others ran older features from 11am till midnight. During the day you were lucky if you had 10 people per show during the week. Well weekends were better but since the VCR/DVD/Cable programs in the homes took many patrons from those theatres. Before the video those theatres were cash cows, selling mostly every show out during the weekends. During the later days people would buy their ticket and spend all day in the theatre till closed. (cheap motel)

Also many of the older titles are not new prints. You might have a problem with people paying your ticket price for banged up prints too.



[This message has been edited by Avco (edited April 25, 2007).]
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