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TOPIC: Dream of opening single screen with classic family films

Dream of opening single screen with classic family films 11 May 2008 23:46 #18516

  • JulieGZ
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I think my topic title tells most of my story. I have recently been interested in really following my dream of opening a local movie house with great classic movies for families. I'm really just starting the research and I know it's something that is a difficult dream to acheive. I live in a small very family oriented on the outskirts of Los Angeles. We don't have a movie theater here, though first run movies are just a 10 minute drive away.

I have read many of the posts on this board and realize that opening a theater is 100% devotion and not much profit. I think I can deal with that, but I need to get the real ABC's of what kind of space i need, what the costs truly are (licences, permits, utilities, insurance, etc.)

I don't know if this is anarchy to suggest this, for as I said, I am just starting to get to know this industry, but my idea would be to have a very small movie house. I would only show great family films and maybe TV series (everything from Chaplin and Buster Keaton to Danny Kaye, musicals like singing in the Rain etc. I would even hope to have things like a "Get Smart" or "I Love Lucy" weekend.)

Would I need to go the whole 35 mm route? Could I do this digitally (and what exactly does that mean. What are the differences? With either answer what is the minimum space required? I've been in shoe boxes in mall theaters before, and I hope not to have a dinky space but I would be interested to know what anyone thinks of as the minimum.

I know I have a big learnng curve here and it could be a very long time before anything could get started but one has to start somewhere. I appreciate your thoughts.

Please answer here or email me at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it at your convenience. Thanks!

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Re: Dream of opening single screen with classic family films 12 May 2008 06:51 #18517

  • Narrow Gauge
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Welcome......as long as you have plenty of money to lose this idea will work great...most rep theaters are long long gone. Keep reading all the past posts and best of luck.
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Re: Dream of opening single screen with classic family films 12 May 2008 09:01 #18518

  • rdetzler
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Yes, not to judge your idea too harshly but they have that, its called Nick at Nite. Save yourself a ton of frustration and two tons of money and walk slowly away from this idea. If you really want to get started you might as well start by forming a non-profit organization.
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Re: Dream of opening single screen with classic family films 12 May 2008 12:53 #18519

  • NSCInemas
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Please don't take this too harshly but that idea is not viable. It is an idea that is floated often here. One thing I like to do when I come up with a "Great Idea" is to figure out why no one else is doing it. If you really want to open a theatre look into a first or second run house, or even an "art" house. Rep houses are really not viable in the current market.
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Re: Dream of opening single screen with classic family films 12 May 2008 14:36 #18520

  • RoxyVaudeville
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25 to 35 seats might be just right. You might even sell out with that number a couple of times a year, but most of the time 10 seats would be plenty.
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Re: Dream of opening single screen with classic family films 12 May 2008 16:39 #18521

  • JulieGZ
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Thanks. I appreciate the heads up, and the thoughtful commentary.
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Re: Dream of opening single screen with classic family films 12 May 2008 18:31 #18522

  • Larry Thomas
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However, Julie, there are exceptions to everything.

I basically agree with the other posters here. What you're looking to do is a very daunting proposition. For example: TV shows are not available for theatrical bookings, neither are the classic Disney animated features.

That being said, I book for a theatre in a small town (20,000) that is a restored art deco theatre from the 1930s. They run only classic titles, generally twice a month, on Friday and Saturday. Some films do better than others, but they go out and sell sponsorships to each film to various merchants and organizations, and do special rentals at other times. They are a beloved fixture in their community. The next few bookings are "Forrest Gump," "Father of the Bride" (the real one from 1950), "Grease," "The Odd Couple," and "Guys and Dolls."

This past weekend, the Fri-Sat showings of THE WIZARD OF OZ (which they have played innumerable times) grossed $3,000.

They run as a non-profit organization, so am guessing they get some tax breaks and can accept donations, sell memberships, etc.

So you're not totally nuts with your dream. Just be sure you do your homework thoroughly before you start spending money.
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Re: Dream of opening single screen with classic family films 13 May 2008 00:03 #18523

  • revrobor
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Hi Julie:

I am currently planning a "family friendly" mini-cinema in the Medford, Oregon area. It will be operated on a film club membership basis (it will not be non-profit) allowing non-member in at a higher price and will feature classic, family, inspirational and Mexican films. Not all films will be suitable for children. In addition to the regular snack bar stuff we will feature healthy snacks and drinks and organic snacks. There will be 80 seats. It will be a 35mm "change-over" operation with 16mm capabilities and a digital projector for gaming contests. We will also run some sub-run product as there are not enough theatres in this area to drain the profit out of a film and people will wait to come to our house to see it at a greatly reduced price.
The problem with some of the answers you have gotten here is that many of the responders have only multi-screen theatre experience and have watched from the outside as other such operations have failed. I started in this business in 1945 as a young teen and have owned and operated single screeners as well as managed for Regal and CineMark. I would not hesitate to open my mini-cinema next door to the 15 screen multiplex in Medford and know it would succeed. You just have to know your demographic and the business. The mentality generally is the more screens you have the better you will do apparently because if one bombs the others will pick up the slack. You're going to have to bring "showmanship" back to the business by the way you book and promote and you'll have to target your audience. You're not going to get everyone because the industry has created an appetite for certain types of films in the 14 to 34 year olds. But you can get those in other demographics to return to the theatre. People have grown tired of sitting home staring at the tube (even in a "home thetare") and want to enjoy the theatre experience once again. But you're going to have to educate them about what you are doing and that going to be one of your biggest expenses at first. Use a webpage, mail radio, TV, brochures, news articles anything you can to make yourself known. I get a little tired of people in this industry saying "repertory theatres are dead" because it's just not true. They are operating around the country. And I'm not sure those making those kind of remarks can think outside the multiplex box.

Bob Allen
The Old Showman
Bob Allen
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Re: Dream of opening single screen with classic family films 13 May 2008 09:00 #18524

  • rufusjack
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I am going to agree with the majority on this but maybe not be as harsh: I think idea will be extremely tough to pull off as you would have to have almost 100% ideal conditions to pull this off.

Now if you had over 60 years of experience (and Bob it does not sound like she has any experience in this business) you might have a chance and I respect your effort. But for a newbie.......I think the odds are 99% that it would not work unless you have large financial resources that you could lose (basically a hobby).

In my over 20 years in the movie business (as a video store owner as well), people have little desire for anything old in most markets. In order to have an experience that will drive people in, I guess you could if you had a beautiful old theater but those are not cheap to run.

Now if you wanted to try this in one screen of a multiplex, then I certainly think that could be a idea worth trying.

But not by itself.
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Re: Dream of opening single screen with classic family films 13 May 2008 11:35 #18525

  • NSCInemas
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I know of a few chains that have tried this usually during the summer early in the morning on one screen. AFAIK the response was marginal at best. As much as people will TELL YOU that they would love to be able to go and see the classics in a theatre, and how wonderful it would be those are the same people that will sit there and say "Why would I pay to see something I can see for free on TV" and "Why would I Drive all the way to the theatre, sit in uncomfortable seats, pay for overpriced snacks when I can rent it on DVD, sit on my comfortable couch, and eat whatever I want!"

It is just human nature, everything is a great idea but when it comes to spending money on it, its a different story.
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Re: Dream of opening single screen with classic family films 13 May 2008 23:33 #18526

  • JulieGZ
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Well I sure appreciate Bob's response. I understand all that you gentlemen are trying to convey here, and I do appreciate your veteran experience. I have no plan to undertake this without extensive research, planning etc. Could be a few years before I attempted anything at all, if at all.

However...I do believe that people can be won over. I live in a film industry town. I have film industry parents in all the classes of my children's schools. I know what I hear and what I hear is that yes, parents of young children would like a theater-going experience that they feel good about. That they and their children can get excited about and can rely on. No more Speed Racers (sorry Multi=plex guys. I know a few families that walked out on that one. It's too damn much for the under 14 set, but it's the only thing out there in this month before the big movies hit.)

Like I said, it's a very certain demographic. But I live in a "town" of 70,000 that is a true Mayberry. But a wealthy, sophisticated Mayberry. I think I have a shot. Yes it would take showmanship (THANKS BOB!) and very good marketing. It would also take thinking in a very new way, and yes, educating my market base.

Not saying I will have the guts to go forth, but I at least have the guts to consider it.

I know there will be lots of sarcasm coming back at me. Not a big fan of that, but if you must, you must. I do appreciate everyone's interest though. Thanks again.
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Re: Dream of opening single screen with classic family films 14 May 2008 01:12 #18527

  • rodeojack
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I don't think the response you get would be sarcastic, as much as based on the experiences of the people here that you've requested opinions from.

Many of us have travelled over the path you're considering. In my 37 years in this business, I have pretty much run it all, and tried most every recognized admission concept. I'm less experienced in art/indie films, though I have noted that our area of 250,000, only one such theatre has been able to survive long-term.

Your idea is notable, but based on an idealism that may be more hopeful than realistic. Though I expect your response might be that such outlets aren't available, I might ask how many theatres of the type you're considering have you or your friends patronized in recent years?

We have a city-subsidized performing arts theatre here. It was once one of our downtown movie houses. When it was converted, the booth was retained and re-equipped for film presentations. In recent years, the operators have set up a monthly, one-night series of the kind of films you're considering. Their attendance is in the 30-50 range. They tried it on a bi-weekly basis, but that proved to be too often for their client base.

I would guess that while you might be able to do a special presentation on the lines of what you're suggesting, it would be highly unusual to see a situation where you could dedicate your playlist to such fare and cover your overhead; this being based on the very experiences you've read here already.

Still, there's occasionally the exception out there that surprises us. If you do figure out a way to do this, and actually have that magic location to do it in, I'd bet everyone here would love to hear about it!

[This message has been edited by rodeojack (edited May 14, 2008).]
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Re: Dream of opening single screen with classic family films 14 May 2008 10:57 #18528

  • NSCInemas
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I hope that you did not read my respnses to you as attacking, or sarcastic. I am just trying to share my experience with you in the hope that you will not suffer a lot of heart break, and possibly lose a lot of money. It seems that once every few months someone comes on here and asks about similar ideas, which is fine. If you think you can make it work, and you really want to invest the hard work and money into making a go of it then I applaud you, and your spirit. I have just never heard of this working. I tend to be a nieve person in some ways. When someone tells me something to my face I tend to take them on thier word and beleve what they say. This has caused me a lot of pain, and heartache in my life. That is why I do not like to see other people misled. I know that there are people who will tell you that they would patronize your theatre if you opened it but I am telling you when it comes down to it they are not going to pay for something they cab get for free. A lot of people will encourage you to your face and relish in your failure behind your back. I have seen it to many times. I don't know why some people are like this but they are. I have no personal interest or stake in this, I could have saved my time from replying to his or giving it any thought but I don't think that would be right. I could also sit here and say "Go for it, This is a great idea, You'll do Great!" but that would be a dis service. I am just trying to give you some reality and truth. A lot of people have tried this, and it has not worked. It has not even worked on the smaller scale of one show on one screen in a multplex a day. I don't want to see anyone put there life savings, and years of work into something that has never succeeded.

Maybe you know something that I don't. I mean that seriously not sarcasticly. Maybe, you have some way I have never thought of to make this work. Maybe you have that perfect spot where people will want to pay for this. If you decide to go ahead with this then I really really really hope it is succesful. I would do anything I could to help you out. The last thing I want is to see anyone fail. I just hope that you consider what the people her who have many years of experience in this industry are saying. We don't know you, we don't have to see you face to face on a regular basis. We don't have to worry about harming a friendship by not being supportive of your idea. I beleive that this is more conducive to honesty.

What I think may work better is a second run or arthouse type of theatre with multiple screens. You could then devote one showing to a classic film at a regularly scheduled time every week and market the crap out of it. That way you can still have your dream as well as a viable and hopefully profitable business.

Whatever you choose to do I wish you the very best of luck! The movie theatre business is addictive once you dive in it's almost impossible to get out of the pool!
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Re: Dream of opening single screen with classic family films 15 May 2008 15:35 #18529

  • Mike
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You all hit it pretty well.

I'd add: read all the posts in this forum. Many of the answers you seek are already well documented.

Secondly: I suggest to all to subscribe to Film Journal and Box Office magazine. While you are at it buy the last year from each. Total cost: 150.00 +/-. If you find yourself reluctant to spend 150.00 that alone should be a big indicator of how much you are willing to invest in the venture.

Thirdly: "Now if you wanted to try this in one screen of a multiplex, then I certainly think that could be a idea worth trying."

If you are willing and wanting to do this: why not build or lease a three screen so that you would not be wed to the single screen. It's playing Russian Roulette with extra bullets in a good way.

Forthly: sarcasm? you are talking with seasoned professionals that make their living running, building, booking movie theatres. They may be blunt but they are not ameteurs. Imagine how a bunch of construction supers would act if you walked up and said "Gee, I've always wanted to build a skyscraper. How do I do it?" My point is as long as you are open and not a block head, show that you listen and learn, you'll find people here ridiculously patient and helpful.

Best/ Mike

Michael Hurley
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