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TOPIC: Seeking advice

Seeking advice 26 Aug 2008 14:04 #29811

Glad to see the new site up. I've finally been able to create an account to ask some questions. I've read through just about everything on the site, and I realize that some of these questions may have been answered at a previous time, but I thought if there was new insight, it'd be good to hear.

I am looking at renovating an abandoned one screen, built in 1942, closed in 1972, vacant since then. I have worked in the theater industry at every level except corporate for the past 15 years, and would like to strike out on my own.

I would service a population of 50k, with a surrounding community of approximately 200k that come in for shopping, work or other needs. There is a good sized (5k students) university in town as well. I have one theater in town to compete against, a 14 plex Hollywood/Wallace. It is poorly run (scratched prints, bad splices, inattentive or unresponsive staff), and really needs competition. I would like to restore the theater to its original style, staying true to the era and architecture. I would look at twinning it, but I'm not sure that the space would allow it. I'll research more. There is a connected building that might be able to be renovated, but it is not currently for sale.

I would like to borrow ideas that have worked for previous companies that I have worked for, and would like opinions.

First, we don't have digital in town. If I am able to finance, I would like to go digital. How difficult would it be to compete if I do have digital? The distance from the 14 is probably about 7-8 miles. Does being digital give me an advantage in booking?

I would like to run first run, all year round, and supplement with additional movies. For example. On Saturday mornings during the fall and spring, I would like to show free kids movies, making money on concession. On Tuesdays and/or Wednesdays, I would like to show classic movies of various eras (Casablanca, Maltese Falcon, Gone With the Wind, Some Like It Hot, etc.). Free showings, again, to generate good will and make a destination for some of the senior crowd. For those with prints not available, is it possible to get a license to show the DVD? I also want to show cult or classic movies from the 70s, 80s, and 90s at Midnight showings on Fridays and Saturdays during the fall and spring to capitalize on school being in session. Don't know how to handle this one yet, but I'd like to keep admission on them low and generate revenue off of concession.

I realize that the free showings may sound a little odd, but if I'm not able to twin then I'll be locked in on movies longer I'd like with just one screen, so I want to bring in revenue any way I can.

I would also welcome any advice on the renovation process by those who have gone through it. I have little in the way of handyman skills, so I'd probably have to bring in outside help to get it done.

I would love to hear advice/comments/suggestions. I've been a follower of this board for about 6 years, but now that I'm looking at striking out on my own, I'm excited to be able to participate.

Thanks in advance, and I apologize for any redundancies with previous posts. Like I said, many are older and there may be new advice to give.
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Re:Seeking advice 26 Aug 2008 22:24 #29814

  • rodeojack
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I can rattle off lots of reasons you might want to think this over... probably over a few stiff ones. I can think of very few reasons to push ahead on this. In any case, here's some rain for the parade.

You've got lots of homework to do, before you'll pop your first batch of corn.

It frequently sounds like the replies to these questions dash cold water on the new & enthusiastic. Nobody here really wants to discourage a new operator, but there are some hard realities that commonly come up.

Your proposed project has instant hurdles. First, you're looking down the barrel of a company that's LOTS bigger than you, and has much more clout with the distributors, whereas you have none (yet). Don't expect them to make it easy for you to get film. Matter of fact, you should find a booker that thinks he/she can get film for you, with a first-run 14-plex in town. Drop the quality argument now. Nobody in Hollywood cares whether the 14-plex is screwing up prints or not. That argument. won't move anything to your place.

For mainstream film product, a single-screen theatre will be a challenging business to run. Assuming you get any first run product, it likely won't be the big shows... at least to start. If the studios allow allocation to your theatre, you'll get 1 big show out of 14, and you'll have to keep it on your screen for a minimum of 2 weeks... good show or bad. Booking is going to be extremely challenging.

Second-run? Easier to do, but also challenging. You have to build a market. Got the money to run the place while you do that? Count on the 14-plex to hold onto their shows until the business is bone-dry. Maybe... you'll get prints before they hit video.

Art/Indie films? Others here know a lot more about that than I, but I think you're also faced with capitalizing your business while you build (slowly) a client base. At least you probably won't have any headaches from Wallace.

Right now, digital won't put any more butts in the seats. It also won't change any of the above-mentioned booking challenges. It WILL cost you a lot more to acquire and operate than film. This may change down the road, but I'm fairly convinced that digital won't put your business over the top.

Plan on working 16 hour days... every day... for a long time. There isn't going to be any money to hire people to do your job for you... maybe for a long time.

About the best advice I can think of, is that you might go out and find someone who's done this, and made it work.

Sorry to be so pessimistic. A single house in a competitive market is a real uphill proposition.
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Re:Seeking advice 26 Aug 2008 22:56 #29815

  • slapintheface
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Run the other way..Unless you can do it for the love and dont need to make money!
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Re:Seeking advice 27 Aug 2008 10:27 #29822

Thanks for the feedback thusfar. I would be doing it for the love. I've enjoyed my time in theaters; its the corporate structure that frustrates me. I am hoping that money indeed won't be an issue. There are a few things up in the air right now, but there is a chance that I could self-finance.

My comment about the ineptitude of the Wallace in town was more to accentuate the idea that people in town would embrace a well run theater. I'm not the only one fed up with the quality of service at the local theater. I believe that if I brought my management style (which has been well received in the two towns I've managed in) to my own operation, it would show the paying customer that he or she is what is important, and that their satisfaction is a priority, which is something that is lacking at the Wallace.

I've been working with the owner of a Drive In about his booking process, which varies from what I would need to do, but it seems that his booker has a bit of clout. Would this help in getting product? If I can't add a screen I have already resigned myself to having the same product for two weeks at least. This is fine for something like "The Dark Knight", not so good for "Meet Dave". I am going to look hard at finding a way to go twin. There is a balcony, but I'll have to research ADA requirements before splitting horizontally. We have a college population, but in the past when my theaters have run anything out of the mainstream (i.e. no real publicity or advertising) the film has failed pretty quickly. So I don't think arthouse is the way to go unless I just have the flexibility financially to really nurture a film. During off times I would look at booking art films to try to break audience dependence on mainstream Hollywood fare, but I want to run first run.

While digital itself won't put me in a position to challenge the 14, I do think that the option of 3D would allow me to capitalize on an untapped audience. I don't believe that "Hannah Montana" was an anomaly, and with the Toy Story re-releases as well as Avatar and the Dreamworks slate, there is a market for 3D in my town. In addition, I would like the flexibility of running alternative content on occasion.

I have no issue working long days and many hours. I've done it before, I'll do it again. In addition, I have many who are interested in helping out, so I would have a crew that I could trust that would work for less money just to be a part of it.

I realize the competition aspect, which is why I'm analyzing every angle of generating additional revenue. I do believe that, if run right, I could make this a viable alternative to the Wallace in town, and make myself more attractive for the studios to book.

I genuinely appreciate the opinions and input, and I would love to hear anything else that anyone would like to say. I've been in the business for awhile, but there is a wealth of knowledge on this board and I would like to tap into that.
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Re:Seeking advice 27 Aug 2008 11:09 #29823

  • slapintheface
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The rule is usually 3-5 miles for clearence for 1st run.Wallace could try and fight that to 7 -8 miles.They may not care as they wont be afraid of a 1 screen.

People do care about a well run theater.We are playing VICKY CHRISTINE BARCELONA on one of our screens with a Regal theater.Our gross is 2.5 times regal....
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Re:Seeking advice 29 Aug 2008 07:48 #29843

  • Pieman
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Good luck with your venture..The only thing I'd like to say is to rethink those free movies especially for seniors..You say you will rely on the concessions...we have run free movies before for seniors and they usually bring their own snacks or nothing at all... Their reckoning is that if its a free screening then they won't be paying anything..they don't think about you still needing to make probably will for the kiddie screenings and the midnight screenings as those sort of audiences buy up big..but not for the older people. You'd seriously be better to even charge them a dollar than free.

We have seniors week in Australia where theres lots of free activities for seniors and free train travel etc..we used to do a free screening and would have to turn them away in droves becasue so many would show up..our theatres hold 385, 145 and 105..but the concessions would be well less than $50. Now we charge them a gold coin donation for a charity (Gold coin is $1 or $2)..we only get half the numbers and surprisingly the concessions are up..last year it was over $100..still not much, but better than before.

Of course its possible that seniors in your area are different to those in my by all means give it a go..just don't go advertising youre going to do it every week!!

Also you say you want to do first run movies but then you also want to have all these other screenings...most of the time policy won't allow you to not play their new film..of course..its possibly different in USA..but here they dictate to us how many times a day you have to run a new release film..and its usually twice a night and 2 or three times a just bear that in mind..unless its different there..i don't know.

So good will be fun doing up the place and Im sure you will get a lot of business, especially if the other place is so poorly run!
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Re:Seeking advice 29 Aug 2008 09:27 #29844

Again, thanks for the advice. I would be looking at the free senior shows as more of a public service to generate publicity. I neglected to mention that I am the movie reviewer for my local paper, so I believe I could generate some publicity that way as well. When announcing, I thought I'd list each free show as something on a trial (8 week run or something similar). That way, when the "season" was up I could re-evaluate and decide if it was worth continuing. This also would allow me to keep the free shows from interfering with the extra show times I'd schedule for summer and holiday releases. I don't think there would be an issue with dropping times to accommodate the free shows. The senior show would run probably on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, 1:00. I'd be there anyway with paperwork and maintenance, so I might as well bring in whoever I can. There is a free bus system that I think I could get to make a stop at the theater, so if I could arrange it, it could hit senior homes and then come to my place before the start. As for the kid shows on Saturdays, I'd run those at 10:00 or 11:00 in the morning, before my first show was scheduled to start. That way, I could clear the auditorium, clean it and seat it half an hour before first showing. Midnight shows wouldn't be an issue unless I ended up with something the length of Titanic beforehand.

If there were any scheduling issues to book first run, I'll have investigated those and sought a booker's advice before I commit to any special showings. Ideally, if I can go twin, I could keep the other auditorium open for special school showings as well. I booked several of those in my time managing, and they were pretty lucrative.

My downtown area (where the theater is located) is undergoing a renovation campaign, so I believe I could subsidize some of my renovation with grant money (I'm investigating this currently). I believe a retro, classic themed theater with a bright marquee would really add to the luster of the area, and would be embraced by the city council. I believe the atmosphere and service would be what the public would appreciate.

Has anyone had experience in obtaining rights to show older films on DVD? Cost wise, is it comparable to the actual print or cheaper? It'd be ideal if I could pay the licensing fee, use a digital projector and go. Less headache and it would keep me downstairs for the showing.

Also, last time I did midnight shows, print rentals ran about $250 or 10% of box office, whichever was greater. Is this still about right? I'm going back about four years right now. I got some fantastic looking prints of Raiders of the Lost Ark (looked like it had never been played), Spinal Tap and Goonies.

Please, any advice, comments or criticisms, continue to pass them along. They are extremely helpful in my planning. I'll post updates as things start to come together.
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Re:Seeking advice 29 Aug 2008 12:37 #29847

  • dsschoenborn
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Sounds like you have a lot of good ideas and have thought about what this is going to take to do.

Yes most studios are allowing you to pay the performance fee and use a DVD when available. You save the shipping and time to build and tear down the print. Your booker will have more info on this.

Great idea about a grant to get the thing open again. I bet the city would love a bright marquee to brighten up the downtown.
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Re:Seeking advice 29 Aug 2008 12:51 #29849

  • ttroidl
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So long as you arn't expecting the senors to spend ANY money IF they buy a small popcorn you will be happy!

very few buy anything, at best a small popcorn and sometimes a small drink... if in a spending mood MAYBE a box of Junior Mints or Goobers...

normally not the case.

most bring their own even when it's not allowed, leaving behind tons of wrappers from hard candies or nut shells etc...:(

otherwise you have a great idea!

though I think I'd make it $1.00 admission as that will at least cover part of your utilitys costs to open, and hey, $1 is dirt cheap and probably would get you the same publicity!

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Re:Seeking advice 29 Aug 2008 14:04 #29852

I'll sit down and analyze the costs of those senior shows. I figure that if the licensing fee is small enough, I could probably break even or at least build some loyalty that will repay me down the road. I don't expect much from my senior crowd; I'll be there anyway, and could run the theater by myself for those, so my cost would be limited. I'd create a senior special, get it priced at $1.50 or $2.00 and see what we could do. In my experience, we sold a lot of kiddie combos to seniors, and at a pretty high markup. If I could do that at a lower cost I might be able to bring in a little revenue. If they'll give up a couple of bucks, it'd be worth it for sure. Either way, when kids or grandkids are around, I'd hope they would bring them to my theater where they will be treated right rather than the 14 where they will be ignored.

I've actually thought about the $1.00 fee for the midnights. As I would be running some R rated films, that would help me to keep track better of who is coming in and going out. Someone sneaks in without a stub, I could boot them without checking ID. I think that is a reasonable price for the college crowd. I also know that the university offers a film class, so I could probably arrange special showings if the school was willing to eat the film rental. That's just a long shot idea.

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Re:Seeking advice 29 Aug 2008 19:30 #29853

  • Mike
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few things:

...asking many questions, even good ones, in a single post makes it difficult to repsond.

My first observation is that if you are doing first run you will find the distribs very unhappy should you decide to show "free movies" while you have a first run film on the schedule.
Michael Hurley
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Re:Seeking advice 08 Sep 2008 05:51 #29904

With all the work you will be doing to get it ready to open I would say find a way to open as a twin so that when you have a first run that is locked for 2 or more weeks you have another screen to put new product on or to hold a good film an extra week or more

it just makes it much more flexable with 2 screens as the day will come your locked in on a first run and no one comes to see it and that second screen will be a life saver for the weekly cash flow

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Re:Seeking advice 08 Sep 2008 10:54 #29912

I'm going to look hard at adding the screen. Depending on finances, I may offer to buy the connected building and turn it into a second screen. Many options, and many ways to look at it, but it all depends on the money. I'm working on finding the right avenue for the grant money right now.
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