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TOPIC: My Theater's Story - and where to go next?

My Theater's Story - and where to go next? 28 Jul 2011 20:18 #36745

  • JosephH
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In early December late November 2010 my brother sent me a picture text of a job listing for a Movie Theater he was working at. It was for an assistant manager position. I applied because I thought it would be awesome to work at a movie theater (and it is). I didn't have any previous theater experience however I had a good deal of management experience in the service industry such as working for Marriott Hotels. By the time I made it back to Illinois and through some additional interviews the owners decided to promote me to GM and put me in charge of all operations and rebuilding the theaters reputation.

The Holiday Theater opened in 1950 as a single screen with a terrace. Some years later an experienced theater man took it over and made major changes. He split the auditorium into 4 screens and turned an adjacent store into a fifth.

The man did very well with the theater and I remember really enjoying it as a child. For some reason or another he decided to sell the theater and that is when things starting going down hill. New operators came in only with the intention to make a buck. They didn't maintain anything as they should have and put nearly 0 money back into the business. This of course caused a huge decline in the quality of the movies and the environment in which they were being shown causing low attendance. Ultimately they left the business.

Then came along a man with a vision making big claims to change around the theater. He did put in a lot of effort and made some good changes such as upholstering one of our theaters since it hasn't been done in 40 years. Apparently he wasn't quite who he said he was and he was removed from the theater as owner. (for an interesting read here is the link)

Now after this is when the current ownership took over. Management was in dismay and this is when I applied for the assistant job. By the time I made it out to Chicago the current owners (who also never have been in the theater business but took it over for financial reasons) decided to let me run the show.

This was great because I had already put myself to learning the business first by reading this forum. When I got to the theater I studied the projectors and their manuals and have learned as much about them as I can so far. Regardless we were far from smooth sailing. Our equipment being old and not maintained properly consistently failed us. "Projectionists" were not trained properly and would leave movies playing out of frame. Now I corrected these issues re-trained everyone. Our movies will still give out on us occasionally as fail-safes didn't work and movies would brainwrap. I wanted to fix the issue but at the time we were only grossing $200 a night, if that.

The owners and I worked on marketing and they put a lot of their own money into the business and we are now seeing decent attendance. Our equipment has gone through thousands and thousands of dollars of repair and after 6 months we are showing movies at an excellent quality.

We are selling a good product and we are even looking into investing in some Barco digital projectors. We accommodate many youth groups in the area offering them specials such as $6 for a ticket and a kids pack.

Everybody here has told me that we lose business in the winter. I do absolutely do not want to go back to $200 nights. What is the next step? Where can I go from here to increase attendance and keep bringing people in during the winter months?
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Re: My Theater's Story - and where to go next? 29 Jul 2011 02:47 #36749

  • rufusjack
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Joseph,

It is just the way it is.

Starting in mid-august, you have the following distractions: School! And all of the expense of going back to school. Then a couple of weeks later you have Football! You better hope your high school team is not very good (right Leeler?). College football, NFL..... Then traditionally you have new tv shows starting. That of course has been lessened to a great deal the past 5 years.

So from mid-august to mid-september you are left with very few releases with much expectations. Mid-sept will have a couple but it gets bad again.

Nationally, July to September is 2.4x busier. My number is well over 5x. Turns out, (at least in KC area) the bigger chains who get new product every week are much less affected by the seasonality of this business. Their number is 2.8 while the smaller better run 3-6 screen locations in my peer group out over 4x.

IMHO, their not much you can do about it. Hard to make people go to the movies when the movies are not promoted very well.
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Re: My Theater's Story - and where to go next? 29 Jul 2011 04:07 #36750

  • BusyBee
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Indeed--it just is what it is. There is absolutely no way around it that I know of. You have to anticipate that fall and spring are going to be slow (spring to a lesser extent). You have to bank on summers and the winter holiday season. What we do here is do the best we can to cut expenses (primarily labor) way, way back in the fall and spring. We offer fewer showings on weekdays. The rule is, if there is school the next day our last show will start no later than 7PM. If you are offering multiple matinees and they aren't that busy, consolidate to one matinee showing. Our business goes into a coma the week that school starts and slowly wakes up throughout the fall until November, then BAM.
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Re: My Theater's Story - and where to go next? 30 Jul 2011 16:28 #36757

  • TheAwkwardHawk
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First of all, I have ZERO experience working in theaters but I'm well aware of the decrease in movie goers in the winter months, myself included. Here's what I (a film school grad, and hopefully one day theater owner) would do: Initiate yearly or bi-yearly film festivals. Has anyone tried this yet? I have a lot of festival-ideas, but not sure if it would work well with privately owned theaters. What do you think?
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Re: My Theater's Story - and where to go next? 07 Aug 2011 01:53 #36821

  • slapintheface
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The simple word is --ART
If you have the demographics art films thrive in the fall and winter months .
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Re: My Theater's Story - and where to go next? 07 Oct 2011 18:53 #37176

  • JosephH
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This! There is a larger than suspected demand for Art in my area.

Thank you. This has helped us tons. We have done Sarah's Key, The Tree of Life and we are looking into some others ones soon.
Last Edit: 07 Oct 2011 18:54 by JosephH.
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Re: My Theater's Story - and where to go next? 13 Oct 2011 18:48 #37189

  • Mike
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Joseph/ my suggestion is that with 5 screens: mix it up and see what happens. Enjoy.
Michael Hurley
Impresario
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Re: My Theater's Story - and where to go next? 14 Nov 2011 19:17 #37396

  • Wurlitzer7
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Hi, Very happy to read of your saga on the theatre. The development group that was consulted to your business district is working with my business district. Whom ever has those reports might have suggestions for you.
My background is in film festivals, silent film accompaniment and theatre restoration. The suggestions others offered are excellent. You want to sell your theatre to the community, the show starts on the sidewalk.
Think about a Christmas FREE community film festival with the great holiday movies of the past for one screen. Maybe a canned good could be the admission. Find someone to MC the shows and welcome the folks and give some doorprizes. Maybe some local talent could entertain before the special shows.
Maybe a musician could play for a singalong on the screen (powerpoint) changing some of the words to make it seem fun for the location before the movie.
If you keep one screen for something different you might find another entirely different audience. The theatre that I work for has a number of different audiences that harly ever cross over.
THANKS FOR READING THIS AND HAVE A GREAT HOLIDAY SEASON.
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