Tag Archives: Los Angeles Times

Michigan’s Rialto Theater Calls Attention to the Endangered Future of Small Town Cinemas

On Wednesday the Los Angeles Times ran an op-ed piece by Jordan Stancil, who operates the Rialto Theater in Grayling, Michigan, providing him a forum to plead the case for saving independent cinemas, specifically those in small towns. With the conversion from 35mm film to digital projection, such theatres are finding it difficult or impossible to afford digital cinema equipment and are in danger of shuttering.
As we near the completion of the digital cinema conversion in North America, and as distributors (purposefully or forcibly) end the support of 35mm film the issue has slowly been gaining wider attention. Stories with headlines such as “Small Cinemas Struggle As Film Fades Out Of The Picture“, which ran on National Public Radio in January, are sure to be popping up more frequently, just as a year or two earlier the same outlets were running stories like “Ohio Movie House Screens Its Last Reel-To-Reel“.

It’s obvious why the Los Angeles Times would want to jump on the band wagon of this matter given their ties to a city dominated by the motion picture industry. They even went a step further by allowing a theatre owner to make a direct and impassioned appeal to readers. What’s more, the essay is as well written as the “Restore the Rialto Theatre” Kickstarter crowdfunding campaign it is meant to promote. This is despite a few suggested solutions which are non-starters or need more thought. More on this in a moment.

Presently no one is certain exactly how many cinemas are facing closure if they don’t convert to digital. The National Association of Theatre Owners put the number between three and four thousand screens at the Inter-Society meeting this past January. Like the Rialto, many of these theatres are located in small, remote towns of only a few thousand residents.

What makes the Rialto such an interesting case is that the cinema was originally founded in 1915 by Stancil’s great-grandfather. The theatre has remained family run throughout its history, which includes a fire that destroyed the original building. Before sound was brought to movies, Stancil’s great-grandmother provided piano accompaniment during showings. It very well may have taken the care, love and appreciation of a family to keep the Rialto afloat for almost 100 years. As Stancil explains in his piece, that family extends beyond his own to the citizens of Grayling for whom the theatre means quite a lot:

“When I consider what the Rialto means to this town of 1,884, I sense what a blow to rural America this loss of movie houses will be. The independent movie theater retains an outsize role in these communities that is quite unlike that of a city or suburban multiplex. In Grayling, our Art Deco theater (rebuilt in 1930 after a fire) is the architectural landmark on the main street of town. It is the only venue that draws large crowds to downtown year in and year out. Quite apart from any historical importance, closing this theater would irreparably deform the center of our town.

There is more at stake than just the fate of a speck on the map of northern Michigan. Small-town movie theaters still have a national purpose: the integration of far-flung places into our national culture. Every time we show a blockbuster on opening night, every time we screen a documentary or a foreign film, every time our audience feels empathy for a character the likes of whom they might never encounter in real life, we are issuing a reminder: yes, this little town is part of the wider world.”

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LA Times Shines Spotlight On Portland’s Bagdad Theater & Pub

Bagdad Theater & Pub

Bagdad Theater & Pub on Portland’s hipster Hawthorne Boulevard (Photo: Los Angeles Times)

You know how sometimes when a brand new word enters your lexicon you wind up hearing the vocabulary word being used in all sorts of different situations? It leaves you wondering how you never noticed the word before, or if, unaware of its true meaning and definition, you had simply ignored it altogether. That’s kind of the way I feel about the Bagdad Theater, a historic cinema in Portland, Oregon which was one of the first venues to serve pizza and beer during movies.

I first came across the theatre in 1992 while on a cross country road trip from Los Angeles to New York. I instantly fell in love with the City of Roses and it’s artistic vibe. I really enjoyed the specialty coffee and microbrews, which Northwest cities such as Portland and Seattle would become so well known for. Since then I’ve spent a lot of time in Portland, especially to visit the corporate office of Hollywood Theaters where the company’s president Paul Rosenfeld, a former Los Angeles resident, would always greet me with a joke referencing the city’s perpetual inclement weather. “Welcome to the darkness,” Rosenfeld would crack as he ran past.

So, in August when some friends told me they would be spending their summer vacation in Portland and asked for a few ideas of things they should do while in town, I was more than prepared. They had to visit Powell’s Books, the largest independent book retailer in the world. Have coffee at Stumptown, one of the roasters that helped launch the Third Wave coffee scene currently sweeping the nation. I haven’t eaten at Ava Gene, a brand new restaurant, though I hear great things. (In fact, Bon Appetit just named it one of the best new restaurants of 2013). It might be against the law to visit Portland without a trip to Voodoo Doughnut. And last, but not least, they just had to see a movie at the Bagdad Theater & Pub.

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Universal Hopes “Tower Heist” Will Pass The Premium-VOD Test

Tower Heist

In what the Los Angeles Times called “an audacious move” earlier this week, Universal Pictures announced earlier this week that it would allow the Eddie Murphy action comedy “Tower Heist” to be shown via premium-video-on-demand three weeks after its November 4th release date. Naturally, if Universal finds premium-VOD to be profitable without gutting their theatrical box office receipts, you can bet every other studio will follow their lead.

Of course, exhibitors aren’t big fans of premium-VOD or shortening the theatrical window from its current 90-day average in any form. Their big fear is that patrons will be accustomed to simply wait for a movie to be available at home rather than head to the theater not only lowering attendance but also permanently damaging concession sales.

The biggest downside of Universal’s plan, besides ticking off exhibitors, is the whopping USD $59.99 cost of screening “Tower Heist” in the comfort of your own home. During a time when news reports have the world headed toward another recession that kind of price might cripple sales. After all, USD $60 is roughly the price of six tickets on average at a movie theater.

However, it is tough economic times in the first place that is causing the movie industry to experiment with premium-VOD as they try to replace sagging DVD sales. But you probably already know that. In fact, you probably also know that theater owners will be just a angry about Universal’s current plans as they were this spring when the studio, along with three others, struck a deal with satellite television provider DirecTV to make a handful of titles available for premium-VOD 60 days after theatrical release for USD $29.99.

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L.A. Times’ Patrick Goldstein Debates Release Windows

Patrick Goldstein (Los Angeles Times).jpg

Patrick Goldstein of the L.A. Times

If you’ve never read Patrick Goldstein in the Los Angeles Times, you’re really missing out. Especially this past Tuesday when the subject of his weekly column, The Big Picture, was none other than release windows.

Goldstein has been writing his column for as long as I can remember and it is one of my favorite reads each week. When he started blogging back in 2008, a form of journalism he had previously criticized, I made sure to keep up with his daily posts. As the tagline on his blog states, Goldstein covers the “collision of entertainment, media and pop culture”.

On Tuesday Goldstein was covering the collision of exhibitors and distributors over theatrical release windows and some of his observations are worth mentioning. Some of his well-made points I agree with, others I do not.

The columnist cites the recent release of “Alice In Wonderland” as a “dramatic tipping point in film history”, but not because its box office success has confirmed that audiences will come to see 3D movies even when they aren’t made by James Cameron. What Goldstein believes earned Tim Burton’s version of “Alice” a place in movie history is that “It finally put the nail in the coffin of movie theater owners’ mindlessly stubborn resistance to shorter DVD windows.”

In case readers weren’t paying attention to the recent tussle over “Alice’s” DVD release window, Goldstein fills them in on the history of Disney’s decision to release the film on DVD only three months after its theatrical bow. He then goes on to detail the record breaking box office returns the film earned; biggest U.S. non-sequel opening weekend of all time with USD $116 million and a current worldwide gross of USD $366.2 million. Given the amount of press coverage over Disney’s disputed release plans for “Alice” Goldstein figures most audiences knew the film was being released on DVD in just 12 weeks. Read More »

JPMorgan Finds $700 Million For DCIP

dcip.jpg That collective sigh of relief you may have heard over this past weekend no doubt came from the North American motion picture exhibition and distribution industries. The Los Angeles Times report that investment bank JPMorgan was finally able to round up roughly USD $700 million for Digital Cinema Implementation Partners must have come as some relief.

Heaven knows we’ve been hearing about DCIP’s quest for financing for well over a year now. It seems at every ShoWest, Cinema Expo or Show East for the past 18 months we’ve been told by investment bankers that money is on the way. Though let’s face it, if the staggering amount of money being sought wasn’t enough to cause a delay, the worldwide credit crunch certainly didn’t help. Financing hasn’t been easy to come buy in any business sector and no matter how lucrative the project.

Of course, DCIP is the deployment entity founded by three of the world’s largest exhibitors; AMC Theatres, Cinemark and Regal Cinemas. With anonymous sources close to the negotiations confirming that DCIP’s financing will be announced in the next two weeks, the company can finally begin the rollout digital cinema technology on 12,000 screens across the United States and Canada.

Back in 2008 JPMorgan, armed with virtual print fee agreements from the studios, went looking for USD $1 billion for DCIP to convert 14,000 screens across all three circuits. Since then, AMC has gobbled up Kerasotes adding another 900 odd screens to the mix. There was no word on which screens or theatres will be converted or what will happen to those screens which don’t make it into the first 12,000. Nor was a time frame given to complete the transition, though it has been widely expected to take three years.

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“New Moon” Breaks Records For Internet Buzz and Midnight Box Office

Already one of the most anticipated film releases of 2009, it should come as no surprise that “Twilight Saga: New Moon” is setting all sorts of records, both at the box office and on Internet social networking sites.

According to Variety, the second installment in the “Twilight” franchise smashed the North American box office record for midnight showings by grossing $26.3 million when it screened on 3,514 screens Thursday evening (or more precisely Friday morning). The previous record of $22.2 million was set this past summer by “Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince”. On Thursday the Los Angeles Times was predicting the film would open in North America to over $90 million. Ben Fritz’s article points out that the first “Twilight” film had a significant box office drop off of 41% from Friday to Saturday in its opening weekend and a similar decline is expected this time around.

Spurring such wild daily swings of the box office is moviegoers use of Internet social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter. On Wednesday 81,000 messages were posted to Twitter and “New Moon” was the top trending topic on the site on Thursday evening and Friday.     Mashable has a post this morning detailing what people are saying about the film in their online conversations. They pull their information from a quick study put together by Crimson Hexagon, a company that analyzes social networking trends. Below is a chart measuring 4500 tweets, as Twitter postings are called, referencing the film:

New Moon Twitter Chart.jpg

Katzenberg Gets Journalistic Spanking By LA Times

Jeffrey Katzenberg may be the Moses trying to lead the industry to the Promised 3D Digital Land, but judging by this article from the LA Times (Jeffrey Katzenberg in 3-D: Hollywood is rolling its eyes), his leadership may be in question.  Patrick Goldstein, the articles author, takes Katzenberg to task for a number of recent events, ranging from the DreamWorks-Disney deal to the issue surrounding the closure of the the hospital and long-term care facility at its Woodland Hills retirement home, for which Katzenberg was the chief fundraiser.

But the article hangs the biggest question mark over the DreamWorks Animation’s head honcho’s strategy when it comes to Digital 3D and the studio’s imminent release:

Katzenberg’s biggest P.T. Barnum stunt of all — spending a reported $9 million to wow Super Bowl viewers with a 3-D ad for DreamWorks’ upcoming “Monsters vs. Aliens” 3-D film — was a fiasco, creating a backlash against Katzenberg’s own very public 3-D crusade. The blogosphere was full of mockery of the stunt. As SpoutBlog put it in a recent post: “Katzenberg may have done irreversible damage” by attempting to advertise “Monsters vs. Aliens” “by way of an anaglyphic 3D Super Bowl commercial necessitating outdated red/blue glasses.” To say that the ad missed its target audience would be an understatement. When Cinematical did a poll asking for reaction to the ad, the biggest segment of voters — 41% — checked the box saying: “I never picked up the glasses to begin with.”

The reaction was so bad that the chief executive of RealD Cinema, the company that does the projection technology used on a number of 3-D films, including “Monsters vs. Aliens,” had to issue a statement distancing his company from the Super Bowl ad, saying: “It’s important to recognize that today’s RealD in theaters is a quantum leap better than what they saw on TV.”

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Billion Dollar Box Office Seems Recession Proof In January

Media By Numbers LogoAs the entire world continues to experience a global economic meltdown, those of us living in North America have apparently decided to throw some financial support behind one of our leading exports; movies.  Box office tracker Media By Numbers is reporting that January’s box office figures top out at USD $1.03 billion, up 19% from the January of last year when a measly USD $867.2 million was taken in.  This is the first time on record. . . or ever. . . that box office revenue has surpassed USD $1 billion in January.

These figures only account for movie tickets, not concessions sold in theatres, and of course there will be skeptics who claim that the price of a movie ticket rose from one year to the next which accounts for the revenue increase.  According to Media By Numbers however, the average price of a ticket only rose 1.5% from USD $7.18 to USD $7.29, while the number of tickets sold to moviegoers rose from 121 million in January of 2008 to 141 million this year.  That’s an increase of 16%.  Go figure, one of the few industries that can report an increase in revenue and customers in these troubled times is the movie business.

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El Capitan Theatre Up For Sale

You can own a piece of Hollywood history for a mere. . . USD $31 million!

The Los Angeles Times reported yesterday that the El Capitan Theatre, located in the heart of Hollywood, has been put up for sale by its owner, CUNA Mutual Group.  The building in which the theatre resides also contains six-stories of office space filled with entertainment industry tenants, including the studio for late night talks show, “Jimmy Kimmel Live”.  The theatre sits across Hollywood Boulevard from Grauman’s Chinese Theatre and just down the street from the Egyptian Theatre.

Built in 1926 as a live theatre venue, the El Capitan has seen the entire gamut of Hollywood history.  From the first motion pictures with sound to the world premiere of “Citizen Kane” to the decline of Hollywood into filth and squalor, to its recent rise again as one of the hottest parts of Los Angeles.  Through it all the El Capitan never stopped functioning as a theatre accept during renovations.  In 1991, Walt Disney Company and Pacific Theaters spent $6 million restoring the venue to the way famed theatre designer G. Albert Lansburg had intended back in the 1920s and returned the outdoor lighting and architectural features to their original state.

Unfortunately, the restored El Capitan was open long when in 1994 the theatre suffered sever damage during the Northridge earthquake.  The building’s frame came close to being condemned and the theatre’s renovated interior was ruined by flooding when sprinkler systems malfunctioned. Read More »

Village Roadshow Brings $35 Movie Ticket To The US

Village Roadshow chairman, Robert G. Kirby [Lawrence K. Ho/LA Times]

Village Roadshow chairman, Robert G. Kirby (Lawrence K. Ho/LA Times)

Back in March of this year, Australian exhibitor Village Roadshow Ltd. announced plans to bring their Gold Class luxury cinemas concept to the United States.  Already a huge hit in Australia, Village Roadshow teamed up with television producer Norman Lear’s Act III Communications and investment firm Lambert Entertainment in a USD $200 million venture that has plans to open 50 theaters in the U.S. over a five year period.  On Tuesday, the Los Angeles Times shed some light on what moviegoers can expect from Village Roadshow’s high-end cinemas.

Specifically, they can look forward to the price of admission – up to USD $35 per ticket.

Turns out Village Roadshow’s Gold Class Cinemas, which is based in Burbank, California, will be opening three theaters in the Los Angeles area by December of 2009.  It should come as no surprise that these theatres will be built in affluent areas such as One Colorado in Pasadena, Triangle Square in Costa Mesa and at the Guasti Winery in Ontario.  Read More »