The Weekly Moviegoer - Subscribing to the Cinema
by Christopher Campbell
April 15, 2009
I've been learning terrible things about some of my favorite movie theaters over the last couple months, so this week's column shall be a combination of mourning and business advice, the latter of which consists of an unlikely dream of mine that cinemas will one day learn from the very companies and distribution streams that are threatening to put the movie theater industry out of business forever.
First, a shout out to the Cerrito Speakeasy Theater (where that marquee photo above comes from), a favorite independent cinema of mine in El Cerrito, California, which somewhat resembles, in format and function, the Alamo Drafthouse celebrated by so many movie geeks. Speakeasy Theaters recently had to close one of their two locations, the Parkway Speakeasy in Oakland, and for that reason I implore any readers in the San Francisco area to visit the remaining location as much as possible. See a movie (new or old), have a beer and a burger (or a pizza, or a huge bowl of popcorn), and support a wonderful non-chain cinema that clearly loves movies and its community of moviegoers more than huge profits. I only wish I wasn't on the other side of the country this week, when the theater is screening such cult classics as Eraserhead, The NeverEnding Story and Rollerball, in addition to its regularly scheduled new releases.
Another shout out must be made to the Community Theatre in Fairfield, Connecticut, which I grew up with (as did a few generations before me), and which currently struggles as a non-profit, volunteer-employed, second-run cinema, which is especially deserved after getting robbed a couple months ago in what appears to be an inside job. In addition to being a great non-chain exhibitor of movies, the Community Theatre Foundation does great things for the local community, including providing college scholarships to its otherwise unpaid staff. After losing so much money to thieves, this cinema could use a lot of help from movie lovers, whether through patronage or donation.
Why should you care about either of these two movie theaters? Well, if you don't live near them, you don't necessarily have to attend to their specific needs; these are merely personal examples. But chances are there's some similar independent cinema near you that could use your support, either as a regular customer or as a benefactor. Even one of the greatest arthouse/repertory cinemas in the country, New York City's Film Forum, depends on membership donations and endowments to survive. For those of you struggling with your taxes this week, do you wish you had more write-offs? Giving money to a non-profit cinema is a way to keep moviegoing alive and it's tax-free!
Recently this column invited readers to discuss their personal cinema chain loyalties (and avoidances), so this is somewhat an opportunity for you to mention your personal indie cinema loyalties. But don't get me wrong - I'm not spotlighting non-chain cinemas as a way to discourage you from going to corporate-owned multiplexes. I advocate any kind of moviegoing, no matter who's running the theater you're seeing films at. But I see non-profit and other non-chain cinemas as being the true future of film exhibition, long after the big cinema companies go broke with their digital projection and 3D screens, their motion seats, and their increased selections of nasty fast-food-like concession items.
See, indie cinemas need not compete with the chains, which are hurting just as much, if not more (the closest chain-owned multiplex to the Communtiy, for instance, has been forced to severely cut back its amount of daily show times due to lack of customers). Rather, they need to compete with and follow the example of companies like Netflix and distribution streams like On Demand. Imagine if your local cinema had a subscription membership option, with which you could pay a monthly fee and get unlimited movie tickets. Obviously Hollywood would never let this happen with first-run movie houses, unless the studios and the media ever got sick of exploiting weekend box office figures. But if some independents could offer such a service, at least for classic and second-run screenings, I believe they would attract a lot of people who currently think moviegoing is too expensive.
In a way, a subscription-based service is similar to currently existing cinema membership programs and bulk-ticket sales, which only discount tickets to customers with promised longtime loyalty and patronage. So, I can dream that this is logically, if not likely, the next step for desperate (or simply struggling) independently owned cinemas, right? If you've got a better idea, then let's hear it. Got any ideas?
Cerrito Speakeasy marquee photo courtesy of shobster on Flickr.