Christopher Nolan Speaks on Need to Improve Theatrical Experience
Last week at the BFI London Film Festival, English filmmaker Christopher Nolan showed up for a few interesting discussions on film and filmmaking. During one of his chats about the importance of continuing to use real film, as opposed to digital, he briefly commented on the topic of the theatrical experience and how bad it has become. If there's anyone who knows about and should be listened to when it comes to the theatrical experience, it's Christopher Nolan, as he has always valued the big screen experience as much as the story, and that's why his films have such a cinematic feeling. "For some reason, it has become acceptable to say [to audiences] we are providing this empty room with a TV in it and just watch a film." Oh so true.
Nolan is referring to the way movie theaters now operate without much care or concern for the theatrical experience. Pretty much every movie theater chain the world over only offers a screen and seats, and some overpriced concession. Once the movie starts, the few minimum-wage staff on hand all head elsewhere and no one makes sure the actual experience is up to par. Nor do they make sure there are no talkers, texters, or other issues. Nolan emphasizes: "That has to change and if it doesn’t change, forget film, forget digital, if that experience for the audience is not valued… people stop going." He's right, and it's already happening, even though everyone (especially the theaters) try to pretend it's not. This isn't just some petty complaint.
Some may try to brush off his concerns as the typical "the times are changing and I don't like it!" plight, but I believe he is much smarter and aware than that. The Guardian, where these quotes are from, adds that Nolan said the surveys about young people not valuing going to the cinema were "complete bollocks… the experience has to be something great or of course people don’t want to come." No, he doesn't mean creating special texting-allowed theaters or be-an-asshole-and-get-away-with-it showtimes, he's genuinely talking about the fact that everyone can recognize the value of a perfect, big screen cinematic experience. Including learning to put away their damn cell phones as long as the footage on the screen can keep their attention.
Of course, Nolan also commented on film and encouraged cinephiles to focus on film as much as possible. This is such a great quote: "I have conversations with studio heads and at some point when I'm passionately advocating using film they'll say 'at the end of the day doesn't storytelling trump everything?' I say 'no it doesn’t, otherwise we'd be making radio plays, it would be a lot cheaper.'" Damn. And he's right about that. That may be a hard pill to swallow for some screenwriters and story purists, but he's right - stories come in all forms, including printed in books, as well as the radio. But the movies are all about the big screen, the cinema, the palace where we all go and sit together in a dark room and watch light bounce off of a screen.
If there's any one movie theater chain that understands the importance of the experience, it's the Alamo Drafthouse. They care about the experience as much as the movie as much as the concessions and as much as everything else. And they will happily kick out texters and talkers (the right way to do it). The other movie theater chain that seems to put an emphasis on the experience is Arclight, mostly still based around Los Angeles and Southern California. So there are places out there that do care about the experience, but they're spread thin, and all the other theater chains have a lot of work to do if they want to catch up. It's a relief to see Christopher Nolan speaking up about the need to improve the theatrical experience. Hear hear.