The Mike Hurley Column today faces the theme of running a movie theatre. An owner of a cinema tells us about all troubles behind the curtains

Mike Hurley
Mike Hurley

Owning and running a movie theatre can be a lonely business. Few know the troubles we’ve seen. People spend hours at movie theatres, and think they know a lot about movies and cinema even though they primarily know what they read about movie stars.

People who go to the movies are very helpful with suggestions. “When are you going to get ..?,” etc. This is usually offered after you closed a disappointing run of exactly that movie. Or when you can’t get a print of the film for blood nor money. Either way, you feel a bit like sobbing.

Useless complaints

After the film, in the lobby we hear “There were people talking during the whole show“. Well, thanks for telling us when we can do nothing about the problem. Or, “The sound was too high, too low. The theatre was too cold, too hot.” And so it goes (sigh). Theatre-goers also talk about weekend grosses like it was the stock market. $100m! [Mwhahhh, Mwahhhh!]. Knowing I have my 1/20,000 of that $100m helps keep me warm at night.

“You make all your money on popcorn and candy, don’t you?” (Another sigh). About the time I find myself trying to explain the 90/10 vs the house allowance or the pros and cons of firm terms vs. aggregates, I have lost my audience.

Troubles behind the curtains

The truth is, few people have worked in a movie theatre. Most probably have no idea and don’t care what goes on behind the curtains. One time, I brought friends up into the booth and one said “I feel the mystique of not knowing where the movie comes from has been shattered. All the big, ugly equipment made it all seem less magical.” Rather than peeking behind the curtain, it seems they’d rather keep the illusion pristine.

It all leaves a guy with a movie theatre feeling kind of lonely. Even my accountant wants to talk about Brad Pitt. It makes me reach out to my fellow theatre owners. We love each other. As long as there’s not less than an hour’s drive between our theatres.
Running a movie theatre or cinema has its troubles

Some of the problems

I’ve been known to contact fellow owners when I see their information in Screentrade. First question is always, “What are you playing?”. If they have a 24-plex the answer is simple: everything. Any fewer screens and let the games begin. Films are the first target, followed by discussions of: booking problems, prints we can’t or won’t get, employees gone bad, energy costs, advertising schemes, trailers, promotional materials, equipment.

And not forgetting the longest-running show on earth: Digital Cinema. A peaceful camaraderie exists after these discussions. It’s always the same, unless their theatre is less than 60 minutes away. Then, we’re more like Pit Bulls circling each other, in which case the conversation goes more like:

Exhib A: “How’s everything?”

Exhib B: “Okay. You?”

Even a competitor knows just what you do and how it feels to be a part of the greatest story-telling medium ever.

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