Banner
Home Forums Movie Theaters Cinema Design Theater architectura Design - a good Career?
Welcome, Guest
Username: Password: Remember me
  • Page:
  • 1

TOPIC: Theater architectura Design - a good Career?

Theater architectura Design - a good Career? 07 May 2003 20:28 #28202

  • Alysa
  • Alysa's Avatar
  • OFFLINE
  • Senior Boarder
  • Posts: 48
  • Karma: 0
Hi All –

This is my very first post, and while I have done a search to assure this question hasn’t been asked before, my apologies should I be wrong.

While I understand the theater business is a difficult business to break into – I do have a question concerning architectural design firms. Can anyone share their experience(s) with architectural firms that design theater and theater complexes?

In southern California I see theaters closing at an astonishing rate – only to shake my head in wonder as a new 14-screen complex goes up just down the street. The sad thing is that the closed theater belonged to an independent owner while the new one belongs to a handful of theater chains. It also appears as though a mere handful of firms still do theater design work.

I’m seriously considering doing a mid-career change and putting my Proj-Mgmt skills into designing and overseeing theater complex construction. However, much like the parking ticket I found on my car today, I’m afraid that I may be way too late in the game to consider this as a second career.

Comments would be very much appreciated and I do apologize if this has been discussed adnauseam in prior posts.

Alysa/”Los Angeles”
The administrator has disabled public write access.

Re: Theater architectura Design - a good Career? 08 May 2003 14:09 #28203

  • revrobor
  • revrobor's Avatar
  • OFFLINE
  • Platinum Boarder
  • Posts: 1133
  • Thank you received: 23
  • Karma: -8
Hello Alysa!

The theatre closing you are seeing is because of poor management (overscreening) and collusion between distributors and the large chains. The distributors want to get their product on as many screens as possible and the chains will pay more (or are better able to afford the set percentage) to get the films.

While the corporate big boys are fighting it out in the metro areas there is a whole lot of the country that is going underserved, namely, rural and small town America. The are independents doing well in some of those areas but indies struggle in the metro areas for the reasons I mentioned above.

Theatres will be around for a long time and if you like to design them, go for it.

Bob Allen
The Old Showman
Bob Allen
The Old Showman
The administrator has disabled public write access.

Re: Theater architectura Design - a good Career? 08 May 2003 21:43 #28204

  • BurneyFalls
  • BurneyFalls's Avatar
  • OFFLINE
  • Platinum Boarder
  • Posts: 1341
  • Karma: 0
I purchased two parcels across the street from my theatre recently. Next week the demolition crew will tear down the existing structures (across the street--not my theatre). I will then have a large vacant lot for my future expansion. I am also negotiating for the adjacent parcel, which is a very large lot, but it has underground fuel storage tanks still in the ground and therefore, my offer is not what the owner wants for that property.

Alysa, feel free to practice on a design for my dream expansion!
The administrator has disabled public write access.

Re: Theater architectura Design - a good Career? 11 May 2003 18:59 #28205

  • Alysa
  • Alysa's Avatar
  • OFFLINE
  • Senior Boarder
  • Posts: 48
  • Karma: 0
Thanks for explaining the “why” of theater closings Bob [1] – and I’m delighted to hear that Burney Falls (Ca.?) is about to undergo a cinema expansion “across the street” [2]

If it’s OK, I would like to post my initial experience (yesterday) at the Hollywood Arclight cinemas. However, if this post is inappropriate here let me know.

First off, let me say I’m very prejudiced – I love the architecture/design of the classic “popcorn palaces” of the past – and when integrated with the latest in projection, sound, and environment – this, to me, is the ultimate movie going experience. As a result, notwithstanding the economics of 24-screen Cineplex’s, colonies of mini-screen theaters are just not my favorite.

Arclight has a 14-screen complex and our movie was playing in theater #9 – so I’ll confine my comments just to the auditorium. One of the things that struck me, as we walked in, was how high the ceiling was for such a relatively small theater. The ceiling was about 40-45’ high, with a curved screen about 55’ x 30’, and a seating capacity we estimated to be about 350-400. It reminded me more of an IMAX theater than the small theaters I’m used to.

I also took notice (almost immediately) that there was very little light-colored material/designs in the theater walls. (No 18% Kodak Grey here). The walls were solid dark Navy blue from floor to ceiling. About six small scones along each wall provided the sidelights. (I must say that when the lights went down this theater went totally pitch black – I’ve never seen a theater so dark – (as there is always ambient light coming from somewhere).

This theater had “stadium seating” BUT we estimated it only to be at a 15-degree incline (vs. other stadium angles of about 25-30 degrees). There were 30 seats in the widest row and 19 in the row near the front. The screen was mounted about 5’ from the floor and the first row was some 15’ from the screen. From the top row of the stadium seating, the center of the screen was directly eye-level with our seats (someone had obviously done their theater design homework!).

The seats and aisles were quite wide! Seats were high-back, body contouring, and about 25” wide. Armrests were 5” wide with cloth upholstery (vs. plastic covering). The aisles were wide enough so that we could stretch our legs out straight without any problem.

Now – for the totally unexpected surprise of the day!

There was NO “pre-feature” slide show presentation (indicating we should buy our “after movie” pizza at Gino’s) and NO accompanying pre-recorded music/sound-tracks. Additionally, there was NO “in-your-face” promo telling the audience: (1) not to talk, (2) not to put you feet on the backs of the seats in front of you, (3) turn off your pager, (4) pick up your trash, and (5) report sound problems to management.

What Arclight does, and just before the lights dim, is to have an employee (one who is responsible for the showing) come to the front of the theater and introduce himself. He told us a bit about the movie, how long it runs, and gently reminded us to please turn off our pagers, keep talking to a minimum, and let him know if we have any problems. He never mentioned keeping our feet off the backs of theater seats or picking up our trash (I guess he figured he didn't have to...).

Then the lights dim about halfway and projector fires up - and NO commercial ads – even the “L.A. Times” could get in on this one. There were only three quick movie trailers – and even these were short and very clean prints (ie, no patched, scratchy, or sloppy film edits). During the “trailers” the “ushers” continued to help latecomers get seated.

“Trailers” end, and the theater goes totally pitch black. I mean deep, dark, cave-like black! The only lights are the ‘glow-in-the-dark’ safety lights on the floor. The movie starts and the stream of late-comers (into the theater) stops abruptly. (Maybe there weren’t any more latecomers in the pipeline - but all I know is no new bodies came into the theater after the movie started).

The print was beautiful, in focus, and bright! The sound was nothing short of awesome!! It never varied in sound-levels between the “trailers” and the “movie”. It was loud enough and totally overwhelms you - but it’s NOT loud enough to take you away from the movie – it really enhances the screen image. The sounds seemingly wrap-around you – from deep rumbling “crashes” of avalanches in the Andes to massive icebergs breaking apart and crashing into the Artic Ocean. Even in quiet scenes I could hear the most delicate of “chirping” birds over my left shoulder. I’m not a sound engineer but I know when the audio matches the video in its ability to take one’s breath away and send goose-bumps all over.

I am impressed at what Arclight has done with their small theaters. It’s awesome – but it’s also $11 a pop (that’s for matinee prices!!). Food & drink prices are comparable to other theaters, but Arclight is (IMHO) first-class all the way.

Alysa
The administrator has disabled public write access.

Re: Theater architectura Design - a good Career? 12 May 2003 19:35 #28206

  • revrobor
  • revrobor's Avatar
  • OFFLINE
  • Platinum Boarder
  • Posts: 1133
  • Thank you received: 23
  • Karma: -8
Thank you for sharing your experience with us Alysa. It sounds as if Arclight is returning to the days of "showmanship" which is what I hope to do when I find financing for my project. I glad SOMEONE out there is doing "film done right".

Bob Allen
The Old Showman
Bob Allen
The Old Showman
The administrator has disabled public write access.

Re: Theater architectura Design - a good Career? 13 May 2003 01:11 #28207

  • RoxyVaudeville
  • RoxyVaudeville's Avatar
  • OFFLINE
  • Platinum Boarder
  • Posts: 889
  • Thank you received: 16
  • Karma: 3
Alysa,

Well, I'm glad to hear that there is at least one theatre in the country that is doing it right... or are they?

What is right for one person may not be considered right for another. I agree from your description that it appears to be a wonderful place to experience a movie, but it still seems to stop just short of being a true showplace.

Allow me to give a few examples. These are of course my personal preferences as to how a theatre should be run, and I don't expect everyone to agree with me, nor should they. There is an old saying: "Nothing is right nor wrong, only thinking makes it so".
While I totally agree with you about the absence of slides for advertising or for any purpose for that matter, I do prefer to have some pleasant background music playing while I'm waiting for the show to start. Silence may be golden during the film, but is downright boring beforehand. I would rather get lost in some enchanting music rather then have nothing to listen to, other then what the people near me are talking about.

As there was no music, and no slides, what did you have to look at while waiting for the show to start... a beautiful curtain? I didn't see you mention anything about a curtain. Nothing is worse then having to look at a naked theatre auditorium, which is what you have if you're forced to look at a blank screen. You mentioned that you love the design of the "classic popcorn palaces of the past". I assume you mean the movie palaces of the early years of exhibition during the 20s and 30s. Back then they didn't sell popcorn in theatres as it was considered too low class. Pop corn and other concessions didn't really make it into most theatres until the mid 30s and 40s and by then the palaces were no longer being built. Theatres of that era thought that it was improper to not have a stage curtain, or several in some cases, that were opened as the houselights were slowly dimmed, and then closed and reopened after the cartoon and trailers, and reopened for the feature. A theatre without a curtain was considered "undressed". Does Arclight have curtains? If not, they are not first class.

I also do not want any staff member coming in and chatting with those of us there to see the show. This is also unshowmanlike. The only time anyone should address the audience is if they are up on the stage and part of the show. Of course there is no stage, but standing down in front of the screen just doesn't cut it in my book. I really see nothing wrong with a short well done filmclip reminding the audience to respect others while the show is going on.

I'm also surprised that the theatres are pitch black during the show. Most states and many cities have laws prohibiting total darkness in theatres. Safety comes first. Movie palaces of the past were not pitch black. They usually had low levels of rose or red light on at all times so that people could see to move about the theatre if they had to.

Other then these few items it seems that Arclight has it pretty well together, and is providing a magical environment for enjoying movies.

Most of the theatre complexes being built today are a far cry better then anything that was built in the 70s, 80, or early 90s, but certainly not up to those that were built in the 20s or early 30s. Times have changed and those movie palaces couldn't be supported today, but some of their ambiance can be designed into our current theatres to give them some of the glamour of those bygone days of true showmanship.

As an architect, theatre historian, and theatre owner myself, I can understand why the industry has made many of the changes that it has, but I also know that there are many little, and not too expensive, things that can be done to better enhance the current and future generation of theatre design.

Your interest in becoming a theatre designer, your love for classic theatre design, along with your appreciation for top quality presentation should make you an excellent candidate for that profession. Yes, there is still room, and always will be, for good theatre architects.

Just remember that there is more then bricks and mortar, and more then top quality equipment. The final ingredient is SHOWMANSHIP. Showmanship is not necessarily what you do, but rather how you do it.
The administrator has disabled public write access.

Re: Theater architectura Design - a good Career? 13 May 2003 15:13 #28208

  • revrobor
  • revrobor's Avatar
  • OFFLINE
  • Platinum Boarder
  • Posts: 1133
  • Thank you received: 23
  • Karma: -8
Hey Roxy!

I agree with what you have to say, especially about the curtain. My favorite house had a teardrop main curtain which was raised as the houselights dimmed . The distributor's logo played on the title curtain and that curtain opened during the fade between the logo and the start of the titles. If a short, cartoon or previews were run before the feature the title curtain was closed between them and the feature. It is my intention to bring this practice back in my project. Besides, the curtain helps keep the screen clean.

Bob Allen
The Old Showman
Bob Allen
The Old Showman
The administrator has disabled public write access.

Re: Theater architectura Design - a good Career? 13 May 2003 16:05 #28209

  • Alysa
  • Alysa's Avatar
  • OFFLINE
  • Senior Boarder
  • Posts: 48
  • Karma: 0
Absolutely, All your points are well taken! However, can I comment a bit further – if only to prove my ignorance & total lack of knowledge of the theater business…

I did not mention “curtains” because, in fact, there were none - and that WAS disappointing. Instead, Arclight projected a pale static waveform image that, I’m assuming, was their way of keeping the audience from seeing stars (by staring at a blank white screen). However, I’m used to slide-shows that are (1) half “washed-out” with ambient house lights, and (2) subjecting me to the same inane advertising I get at home on my 27” Sony – we seemingly can’t get away from this stuff! Talk about destroying the MAGICAL world that both the theater owner & movie producers are trying to create!! Given a choice of washed-out advertising or a blank screen with the waveform, the blank screen wins out every time.

I agree on the background music - I would have enjoyed listening to SOFT background music. That would have been nice and I wish they had done it, however, I’m not there solely to hear the same thing I can hear on an FM radio. Moreover, movie going is a social thing (unless you are a critic or you can’t get a date). I can leisurely chat with dates/friends without musical accompaniment – (including some “DJ” telling me that this music is from the latest ________ (fill-in-the-blank) rap-artist on the ____(fill-in-the-blank) label – read: more advertising). I have NO problems with “trailers” or advertising that entices me to the concession stand – to me that’s part of the movie experience/tradition – and there’s a big difference!

I could not agree more that a large aspect of movie theater business is the showmanship involved with the presentation! I think that’s one reason why I love the classic theaters so much. I love the glitter of the colorful neon lights on the outside – almost demanding one to enter the theater, no matter what horrid movie is listed on the marquee - that’s where the magic begins.

The design & architecture of the theater, once inside, should continue to create the illusion that something very special awaits them inside the auditorium. Combine this with the “technical” excellence I described @ Arclight and you have one incredible theater. You need only to add the curtains (as you suggested), chandeliers, a balcony, cartoon, and what I call the “P.T. Barnum factor”.

The “P.T. Barnum factor”, or the Vince McMahon factor (of WWE fame) for post baby-boomers, is what I call that “thing” that personalizes the experience. Without it you are simply trying to project a three-dimensional image on a two-dimensional screen – in a voluminous empty, albeit beautiful, building. Today most customers see little of the human side of the theater experience - only; (1) the person in the box-office – (encased behind 2” bullet-proof glass), (2) the person who takes the ticket, never makes eye contact, and grumbles, "downstairs, to the left, theater #23), and (3) the concession staff. Yea, I'll admit, I thought it was a nice touch to have one staff person, responsible for that auditorium/showing, introduce themselves and spend 90 seconds talking to the audience.

Last year, in a theater near where I live, the local film society showed a re-mastered version of “The Tingler”, w/”Vinnie the P”. Now, this movie is so “campy” it doesn’t even show on TV anymore. But the “P.T. Barnum factor” was alive & well and the staff understood it. They had the theater staff dressed in nurse’s uniforms (well, not the boys), a doctor, who resembled “Groucho”, taking tickets, a table where one could sign up for “fright” insurance, brochures on how to treat extreme “fright”, and a person who talked with the audience for a few minutes before the movie started – and yes, they “planted” a phony “tingler” in the audience. They had two showings. I attended the second and the place went nuts – and the screening almost sold out (1500 seats) – and these were, for the most part, 20-60 year olds!

Granted, this is an extreme example I know, and I admit – I know NOTHING of the economics of the theater business, but I feel strongly this way: Home theaters w/DVD Rentals are growing and are a threat/menace to the plain ordinary theaters that continues to bombard the patron with commercials, lousy audio/video, no atmosphere, and a management/staff that perpetuates the illusion don’t give a damn whether the customer “flops” down their $8.00 or not. If this trend continues then I won’t ever be able to get a job designing theaters!!!

(Note: I took a tour a couple of weeks back of the renovated “Orpheum” theater in downtown Los Angeles. We met with the owner who took us through the theater and went over the recent renovations. It has been lovingly restored to its original state. If you’ve not seen it, take a look at (“http://www.laorpheum.com/”)

Alysa
Thanks for listening to my ranting & wailing…

(post edited 'cause I made stupid grammatical errors - but I left a few for the perfectionists out there) :-)


[This message has been edited by Alysa (edited May 13, 2003).]
The administrator has disabled public write access.

Re: Theater architectura Design - a good Career? 14 May 2003 19:18 #28210

  • Mike
  • Mike's Avatar
  • OFFLINE
  • Administrator
  • Posts: 5036
  • Thank you received: 44
  • Karma: 15
I think movie theatre design would be atough market to break into. But movie-live- theatre-performing arts-etc would seem a wide enough field to find a home. There are a handful of movie theatre designers because film presentation is different from live theatre. Best/ Mike

Michael Hurley
Impresario
Michael Hurley
Impresario
The administrator has disabled public write access.

Re: Theater architectura Design - a good Career? 14 May 2003 19:25 #28211

  • NanEman
  • NanEman's Avatar
  • OFFLINE
  • Junior Boarder
  • Posts: 21
  • Karma: 0
I am just loving hearing about the various types of curtains that have been used in past theaters. I have lived in Miami mega-plex-land so long that it's easy to forget that theaters actually used to have curtains.

Does anyone know of a website that shows some of the different types of curtains currently available, or a company with a catalog? This thread has inspired me to rethink the concept of my curtains and perhaps try something a bit more gandeur than previously speced in my plans.

The administrator has disabled public write access.

Re: Theater architectura Design - a good Career? 14 May 2003 21:00 #28212

  • Alysa
  • Alysa's Avatar
  • OFFLINE
  • Senior Boarder
  • Posts: 48
  • Karma: 0
Hi Michael –

Thank you for your candor, although I must admit you’ve not said anything I didn’t already suspect. Sometimes I think I was born about 100 years too late – but then we wouldn’t have any of the opportunities open to us that we have today.

Maybe I can change my career and become a San Francisco Streetcar Conductor, brain surgeon, or just a mommy…

Thanks again all – and I really enjoy this forum,

Alysa
The administrator has disabled public write access.

Re: Theater architectura Design - a good Career? 29 May 2003 15:45 #28213

  • jimor
  • jimor's Avatar
  • OFFLINE
  • Platinum Boarder
  • Posts: 395
  • Karma: 0
It is nice that Alysa and others appreciate the desireability of QUALITY and SHOWMANSHIP in today's cinemas/theatres such as that so capably shown in the Movie Palaces and others of the past. For many reasons it is very difficult to economically design a true PRESENTATION HOUSE experience in a theatre today, and for that reason, it may be 'fools gold' to dream of anyone finding the VERY WEALTHY "Angel" needed to finance one. At www.theatreconsultants.org is an interesting paper (monograph) about the conflicts in building code standards now affecting theatre designers nationwide. The old movie palaces were indeed beautiful, and were built to be so, but today's theatres are almost always multiplex cinemas built for quick, cheap construction for fast audience turnaround. None of the chains are really interested in beauty, and if you find any degree of showmanship, it is more a fluke born out of a desperate desire to differentiate a showhouse from another one, than any desire for beauty. Only a few architects from BIG firms, such as those affiliated with restorer Conrad Schmitt Studios ( www.ConradSchmitt.com ) will find themselves getting any of the vary rare contracts to restore a movie palace, much less design anything of that size, cost and complexity these days. The big theatres depended upon daily admissions of many hundreds of people to sustain the income needed to maintain the corps of ushers and the elaborate theatres. They were beautiful, but NEVER practical in most senses.

Having said that, it might interest those of an appreciative nature to know that there has existed since 1969 an organization of those interested in the architecture and beauty of theatres -- especially movie palaces -- called the THEATRE HISTORICAL SOCIETY OF AMERICA. ( www.HistoricTheatres.org ) which has an Archive of some 30,000 photos, blueprints and artifacts to which hundreds of architects and others have gone to learn of the glories of yesterday's theatres. They have published a quarterly glossy magazine ("MARQUEE") since 1969 and back issues are available on their site's ARCHIVE-BACK ISSUES link. They were the co-producers of the 1988 video "The Movie Palaces" with the Smithsonian Instution, of which copies are still found in some libraries or through Inter-Library Loan. They have their annual convention (the 'Conclave') in the Chicago area this July and will tour over two dozen older theatres in this once-in-a-lifetime event. Consult 'CONCLAVE' on their sidebar.

And for those of you who share with me the special love of those absolutely gorgeous theatre draperies, especially the House Curtain below the Grand Drapery once on all the stages, the Society (THSA) mentioned above has for sale a 40-page booklet in 8-1/2x11-inches of some 50 photos of the draperies of that time (the theatres therein are indexed seperately in an Index for sale from the Society). It is as gorgeous as the drapery treatments depicted therein, if I may be forgiven some bias, since I wrote the introduction to it: "GRAND DRAPES, TORMENTORS & TEASERS" by the late Terry Helgesen. It was their ANNUAL publication for 1983 and includes a giant fold-out of a drawing of a sample elaborate stage scheme showing all the names and specifications for the "passementeries" (trimmings) of the drapery by the then foremost American maker of such large and exotic decorations: the E.L.Mansure Co., formerly of Chicago. There are several firms in this country which still make theatre draperies (usually listed in the Directory issue of THEATRE CRAFTS magazine), but none of them are equiped to replicate the extremely elaborate designs shown in that booklet. Most of the designs shown there would cost at least a million for just the outer stage draperies (the House Curtain ((so-called because it reflected the decor of the auditorium)) and the Grand Drapery above it upon the proscenium arch) if they could be reproduced today! I even wrote an article on the past glory of this art form and of the impossibility of affording it today: "Theatre Passementerie: A Forgotten Craft" It has yet to appear in their MARQUEE magazine, but suffice to say, that a simple 18-inch-long tassel which cost $8 in 1928 is about $500 now, if it werw to be done to high standards by such as Scalamandre Silks!

And when you people speak of the abysmal lack of light in today's theatres, you speak the truth. But then, today's economics are firmly against the theatres. Light bulbs were 3 cents each back then and power was 1/2 of one cent per kilowatt hour; it is many times that today. Labor to replace the thousands of bulbs typically hidden in the walls and ceilings was about 10 cents an hour. Who would work for that today? And back then cities had strict codes requiring a stated minimum of lights to remain on during the performance ("to prevent undesireable acquaintances between ladies and men in the audience" as one early writer put it). Back then most jurisdictions required aisle lights and that they be on at ALL times. Today, building inspection is often incompetent, corrupt or just understaffed, and so little supervision of 'old' codes is enforced. The lack of light and general crassness that we experience in our cinemas today is a genreal reflection of the ultra greedy society we have become, where MONEY is the only real god. At least there are a number of books (e.g. "The Best Remaining Seats" at www.Amazon.com ) and MARQUEE magazine for us to linger in to recall a better day and age. Video tape and discs (and new technology to come, no doubt) have spelled the real end of cinema/theatres -- they just don't know it yet, sad to say. Some, converted to other uses, will linger on to please those of us loving quality, but generally it is a harder world for cinema outside of the big chains. Ironically, it was the Sherman Anti-Trust Act as enforced in the landmark Paramount decision of the Supreme Court which ended the movie studios owning their theatres, and therefore their upkeep of them as part of their image and profit structure. After that, everyone became independent and it was every man for himself, as well described in that landmark book: THE BEST REMAINING SEATS; The Story of the Golden Age of the Movie Palace" by the late Ben M. Hall. Rest in Peace Mr. Hall, along with so many of the grand theatres you profiled. We can but immitate them today.

[This message has been edited by jimor (edited May 29, 2003).]
Jim R. (new E-mail: This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it ) member: www.HistoricTheatres.org
The administrator has disabled public write access.
  • Page:
  • 1
Time to create page: 0.264 seconds
attraction attraction
attraction
attraction
attraction
attraction