31st October 2000

Chains Without BALLS: Why the conglomerate owned theaters are going bankrupt.

posted in `Roids |

The Studio Controlled Movie Theatres Are Crumbling. Here’s Why:
by Lloyd Kaufman and Adam Jahnke

These days it seems like you can’t get a blow job from a financial analyst without having him moan ecstatic about the “globalized economy”. However, all industries are not created equal and over the past thirty years, the communications industry has become globalized to its detriment.

Back in the early days of cinema, movie studios controlled every aspect of filmmaking: production, distribution, and exhibition. Studios owned and operated theatres across the country, which is why you see so many old theatres with names like Paramount and Fox. The studios programmed the theatres with their own movies and dictated everything from how long they’d play to what time they’d start. Then in 1948, the Supreme Court called this practice the monopoly it so obviously was and the studios were forced to unload their theatres. This freed the newly independent theatre owners to book the movies they thought would make them the most money, not just what the studio wanted to make the most money.

Not coincidentally, this new era of independent and family owned theatre chains just happened to usher in a golden age of independent cinema. In the 1960s and 70s, it was commonplace to go to your local theatre and see great independent art. Movies by Cassavetes and Warhol, documentaries like Salesman and Woodstock, and foreign films by Godard and Antonioni all received major theatrical releases. Not just in New York but also in midsize towns in the south and the midwest. Even a 16mm piece of shit like The Battle of Love’s Return, which I directed in 1970 and is barely one step above a home movie, played theatrically across the country (click here to order Battle of Love’s Return and, once you’ve ejected it from your VCR after the first 15 minutes, try to imagine how pissed you’d be if you’d actually left your house to see it). When Troma first started, theatres weren’t just willing to book our movies, they were eager to do so. In our early years, Troma was able to make about 100 prints of a movie. These prints moved around the country and we were able to compete with the majors on a more-or-less equal footing.

If only the corporate bloodsuckers
looked so good!

Then, in the mid-to-late 80s, all that started to change. Reagan, apparently longing for the studio system that made him a semi-quasi-movie star, ushered in an era of mergers, majority investments and shareholding that all but eradicated that original decree. What Reagan softened up, starstruck Hollywood wannabe Bill Clinton knocked down. We have returned to the time when major studios dictate what movies will be seen where. Today, not only do studios once again own outright theatres and theatre chains, they can own network television. Loews Cineplex is the unholy spawn of the merger of Loews Theatres (owned by Sony) and Cineplex Odeon (owned by Universal). ABC is nothing more than a seven-days-a-week prime-time infomercial for Disneyland. This situation can only get worse as the Gore/Lieberman campaign continues whoring for Hollywood. Troma can produce any number of examples that illustrate this rapid return to the studio cartel’s monopolizing ways. Back in 1980, Waitress!, one of the pre-Toxie sex comedies that Michael Herz and I directed, played in 92 theatres in New York City alone. Today, the universally acclaimed, and clearly superior, Terror Firmer has fought tooth and nail to get just one cinema in New York.

Over the last several weeks, a number of these chains have filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. Mann, Carmike Cinemas, the third largest movie theatre chain in America, and, most recently, Edwards Theatres have all been bit in the ass by aggressive expansion that has failed to pay off. Unless you make movies or popcorn for a living, you probably didn’t hear about this and, even if you did, you probably didn’t care. After all, Edwards, Carmike and Mann are all examples of those huge, devil-worshipping chains I was just talking about that show nothing but the latest multi-million dollar shit streams from the Slime Warner/Mickey Mauschwitz entertainment cartel. You’ve probably never seen a Troma movie in a Carmike cinema. That is, of course, unless you were there in the 70s or 80s, when it was called Martin Theatres. As always, it’s the public who ends up paying for this bankruptcy. First, we all pay because genuinely artistic and important films end up going unseen because the chains won’t play them. Then, after they go belly up, the shareholders that optimistically bought stock in the company when they went public are left rectally hemorrhaging. They’ve been fucked up the ass for months by a mismanaged corporate whore and its Wall Street pimps who sold them the stock. These bankruptcies are simply symptoms of what we’ve been saying all along and they are not isolated incidents. United Artists Theatres now finds itself on the brink of bankruptcy, as well. The New York Times has reported that independent auditors have warned UA that the chain is unable to continue paying its substantial debts. Discussing the Carmike bankruptcy, Michael Florin, a financial analyst with Gerard Klauer Mattison and Co., put it this way in an Associated Press article. “This is more to do with the state of the industry than anything specific to Carmike,” Florin said. “The banks are looking at the industry and getting nervous.”

The banks have every reason to be nervous. The chains found themselves in this position by spending millions of dollars building bright and shiny new multiplexes with dozens of screens, comfy chairs, and THX Dolby Buttfuck Sound to promote inner ear damage. As it happened, however, nobody came to the bright and shiny new multiplexes. Why not? Well, do that math. You build a movie theatre with a dozen screens in a small to mid-sized town (which is primarily where Carmike operates) and then put Mission Impossible 2 on more than half of those screens. Are more people going to want to see Tom Cruise kick pigeons out of the sky simply because they have more opportunities to do so? Or will the same number of people simply have extra seats upon which to keep their bags full of smuggled-in beer and candy?

The chains had (and still have, if they pull their head out of their ass) an amazing opportunity to make money, serve their customers well, and promote great movies all at the same time. Instead of clogging up ten screens with shit like The Patriot, stick Mel Gibson on one screen and fill the other nine with new, independent and foreign movies. That way, they actually WILL pull in new paying customers, people who don’t want to see George Clooney and Marky Mark get all dripping wet by a computer-generated wave. Instead of making a million dollars off of one movie, make several million off of several movies. And if they still need an ass to stick their head in, we recommend our Tromass of the Month.

The stockholders may take a spanking
this time, and a woefully less enjoyable
one than what we present.

This may sound like common sense and, for anybody who isn’t preoccupied with sucking studio cock that’s exactly what it is. If you were running a restaurant, would you try to convince your customers that you only serve dry toast because it’s so popular that you’ve got your whole staff busy all the time making nothing but dry toast? Think of it this way. Would you buy stock in the restaurant that serves nothing but dry toast? That, in essence, is what the people who bought Carmike stock have done. They are the ones who will pay for Carmike’s shortsightedness. The CEO and Board of Directors will be well taken care of with their golden parachutes. And you certainly can’t blame the people who bought Carmike stock. After all, Carmike was expanding. Their future looked bright. It isn’t their fault that the great new theatres they built showed nothing but factory-made, baby-food-flavored movie-style product. They were brainwashed by the broker-pimps on Wall Street, touting the stock like so much cinematic snake-oil.

The lesson to be learned here is painfully obvious. Movie attendance is dropping even as the number of screens is growing. It may take a bankruptcy or two for theatre owners to realize that they must wrest control of their business away from the studio cartel that provides them with product. They will not make money by filling more screens with the same soulless crap. They will not make money by trying to camouflage the braindead pabulum on screen with reclining chairs that massage your ass, cup holders, and other amenities. They cannot make any more money on their concessions, since a box of Goobers costs more than a heart transplant. They will make money if they offer their customers a genuine choice. The great movies are out there, waiting to be played. All it takes is one chain with the courage enough to program them.

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