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» Film-Tech Forum   » Operations   » Ground Level   » Do one or two screen theaters actually make money? (Page 1)

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Author Topic: Do one or two screen theaters actually make money?
Frank Dubrois
Jedi Master Film Handler

Posts: 896
From: Cleveland, OH
Registered: Mar 2005

 - posted 08-11-2005 11:23 PM      Profile for Frank Dubrois     Send New Private Message       Edit/Delete Post 
I was just curious, knowing there are still plenty of these types of theaters around, how many actually make money. The smallest theater I've ever worked at was a 6 plex. I've been to many 1 or 2 screen theaters in my a kid...but now with the googleplex theaters out now, can the little guy survive? Anyone working a current run 1 or 2 screen house that knows how much your pulling in?? Just something I've been curious about for a while now.

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Adam Fraser
Master Film Handler

Posts: 498
From: Houghton Lake, MI, USA
Registered: Dec 2001

 - posted 08-12-2005 12:08 AM      Profile for Adam Fraser   Author's Homepage   Email Adam Fraser   Send New Private Message       Edit/Delete Post 
You wont get rich but can make a living. I think most of us have other businesses we own or jobs we work at. If someone had to mortgage a full purchase price of a single screen theatre they might have a pretty tough go at it. Most of us do it because we love the business, not to get rich.

We own two furniture stores and I am a licensed motorcycle mechanic on the side.

As far as your last question, Im not sure you'll get much response on what the theatre takes in on a public forum.

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Mike Blakesley
Film God

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From: Forsyth, Montana
Registered: Jun 99

 - posted 08-12-2005 01:05 AM      Profile for Mike Blakesley   Author's Homepage   Email Mike Blakesley   Send New Private Message       Edit/Delete Post 
I'm in the same situation as Adam. I have a day job at my family's business, which is a retail store (auto parts and car stereo/CDs). While I enjoy my job, I look forward every day to going to the theatre.

The theatre makes enough money that we've been able to remodel it quite nicely over the years. It will celebrate its 75th anniversary next month.

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Chase Hanson
Expert Film Handler

Posts: 172
From: San Diego, CA
Registered: Oct 2004

 - posted 08-12-2005 02:30 AM      Profile for Chase Hanson   Email Chase Hanson   Send New Private Message       Edit/Delete Post 
It always seemed like the live or die factor for most single or doubles I have seen has been booking.

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Dieter Depypere
Master Film Handler

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From: Deutsch-Wagram, Lower Austria, Austria
Registered: May 2005

 - posted 08-12-2005 04:13 AM      Profile for Dieter Depypere   Email Dieter Depypere   Send New Private Message       Edit/Delete Post 
It depends on the geographical issues. If you build your single sreen next to a megaplex you won't make a lot of money. But if you are the only theater in a big area (which is well populated too) then you make a lot more money.

Kino Drobollach (where I am currently working in) is a single screen theater which is only one mile away from a 6 plex. This results in a low costumer amount (around 20 a day for 2 shows or even less - sometimes shows are abandonned due to the fact that no one arrives).

We had a great luck with "Herbie fully loaded" When this one came out we were the only theater in Carinthia playing this movie - guess what - there were a lot of costumers.

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Kenneth Wuepper
Jedi Master Film Handler

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From: Saginaw, MI, USA
Registered: Feb 2002

 - posted 08-12-2005 06:32 AM      Profile for Kenneth Wuepper   Email Kenneth Wuepper   Send New Private Message       Edit/Delete Post 

You have experienced a wonderful opportunity. The folks who had to come to your theatre to see the film have now "DISCOVERED" you. In the future, they might return regularly since they now know what your theatre is like and how you present a great show for them.


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Dave Macaulay
Phenomenal Film Handler

Posts: 1939
From: Toronto, Canada
Registered: Apr 2001

 - posted 08-12-2005 10:37 AM      Profile for Dave Macaulay   Email Dave Macaulay   Send New Private Message       Edit/Delete Post 
A business is unlikely to survive if it loses money. There are a few cinemas we deal with that are run as a hobby for the owner or at a loss subsidized by the community or a service club in small isolated towns. In most markets competing directly with the majors is a path to bankruptcy.
In Toronto there are several single screen houses that are apparently doing OK. They all cater to niche markets - in a smaller city this likely isn't practical. There's a "chain" Festival Cinemas of 5 rep houses that books 2 second run or classic films per day (14 films a week in each booth!) and a few independent first-run releases. There's one independent rep house as well, the Bloor Cinema... formerly part of the Festival group. We also have several ethnic cinemas - Toronto has a huge ethnic population, probably 99% of immigrants to Canada start out here.
In smaller cities independent cinemas can do pretty well, there's usually a chain multi within an hour's drive but first run product is available and lots of folks will avoid the drive if your presentation is decent. Trying to keep people coming back with worn out seats, smelly dilapidated auditoria, dirty screens, low light levels, crappy ancient lenses, and Distorto-Pathetic® mono sound is not going to work.
We often have folks come in with a dream about some town's shuttered movie palace with "all the equipment still in place", wanting to resurrect it. Unfortunately even if you don't expect an income and only hope to operate at no loss the economics are unfavorable.

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Richard C. Wolfe
Master Film Handler

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From: Northampton, PA, USA
Registered: Apr 2000

 - posted 08-12-2005 04:37 PM      Profile for Richard C. Wolfe   Author's Homepage   Email Richard C. Wolfe   Send New Private Message       Edit/Delete Post 
I have made a comfortable living from my small town (10,000 pop.) single screen subrun historic (1920) theatre for the past 35 years. I am also able to maintain it in very good condition as well. Granted, I am a booker for a dozen screens, mostly singles like mine, and I deliver film to 6 theatres as well. If I didn't have that extra income I couldn't maintain my current standard of living, but if you back out that income, I could still make a decent living from the theatre building income alone. I say "theatre building" as there are two stores and two apartments that bring in income as well. I also rent the theatre out for special programing during normally dark hours, that helps the bottom line too. It's all part of the theatre business. Most theatres built back in the 20s and 30s always had retail, commercial or housing rental income units as part of the overall business plan. That is something that is seldom ever done today as the theatre operating company usually only rents the theatre portion of the center where the cinema is located.

I must admit that I know of no other single screen theatres in Pennsylvania that support the owner completely, but mine is an example that it can be done. Running a theatre part time doesn't usually give the proprietor enough time to adequately promote the business to the extent that needs to be done to make it really successful.

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Mike Spaeth
Phenomenal Film Handler

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From: Hampton, GA
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 - posted 08-12-2005 06:52 PM      Profile for Mike Spaeth   Author's Homepage   Email Mike Spaeth   Send New Private Message       Edit/Delete Post 
One theatre chain, I believe it is Cinema World, builds a nice apartment into the booth of their new theatres that the theatre manager gets to live in as a fringe "benefit." I don't know if I would like living in my building though ... talk about no time off ... knock on the door ... there's a brainwrap on #5.

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Jim Ziegler
Jedi Master Film Handler

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From: West Hollywood, CA
Registered: Jul 99

 - posted 08-12-2005 07:04 PM      Profile for Jim Ziegler   Email Jim Ziegler   Send New Private Message       Edit/Delete Post 
Well, if they paid as much as other chains, I think I could live with that chance of interrutption for free rent, utilites and not having to spend money on gas to go to work.

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Aaron Mehocic
Jedi Master Film Handler

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From: New Castle, PA, USA
Registered: Jun 99

 - posted 08-13-2005 09:06 PM      Profile for Aaron Mehocic   Email Aaron Mehocic   Send New Private Message       Edit/Delete Post 
Thats seems like too much of a liability. Clearly that type of living arrangement is designed for a young single person probably right out of college. Middle to late 20's maybe. What happens if you got a total slob living there and catches the place on fire, or some hornball who is banging his 16 year old concession wench after hours. I know those are two plausible situations even without the apartment facility, but making it available just enhances the likelihood something inappropriate would happen.

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Mike Blakesley
Film God

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From: Forsyth, Montana
Registered: Jun 99

 - posted 08-14-2005 12:21 AM      Profile for Mike Blakesley   Author's Homepage   Email Mike Blakesley   Send New Private Message       Edit/Delete Post 
I think old theatres often had an apartment (or apartments) built in. There are two of them in our neck of the woods. The apartments are laid out like a trailer house (long and narrow) and are behind the booth on the street side of the building. Neither is used for projectionists though -- in one town, the apartment is rented to an elderly guy, and the other one is used when the non-resident owners are in town.

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Robert E. Allen
Phenomenal Film Handler

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From: Checotah, Oklahoma
Registered: Jul 2002

 - posted 08-14-2005 05:00 AM      Profile for Robert E. Allen   Email Robert E. Allen   Send New Private Message       Edit/Delete Post 
You are apparently asking the question from a metro market point of view. A one or two screen house will do OK if it is located in a rural or small "no competition" market. Some one or two screen houses will make it in a metro area if they don't play what everyone else is playing.

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Steve Guttag
We forgot the crackers Gromit!!!

Posts: 11749
From: Annapolis, MD
Registered: Dec 1999

 - posted 08-14-2005 10:53 AM      Profile for Steve Guttag   Email Steve Guttag   Send New Private Message       Edit/Delete Post 
There are so many factors here that it is hard to come up with a rule of thumb that I would bet my life savings on.

The Uptown in DC, a single screen theatre, does VERY well. Had the theatre ever lost its high-end feel I don't think it would have done as well in this century. Also, being part of a chain that can force bookings or even get out of bookings give it power that an indy running the same single screen would not have had. I remember one booking where the distributor was told that the could have the Uptown for 2-weeks only, take it or leave it (the distributor took it) is a rare position to be in.

The Senator in Baltimore has to fight tooth and nail for everything it has. It is independently owned and is much more hands on.

Both the Senator and the Uptown have survived (in the past, at least) as "presenation" houses their whole 70+ year exisitances. If someone had twined these theatres back when it was popular to do...I don't think either would exist today. Note, the Senator people have also taken on a twin theatre in Baltimore (the Rotunda) to augment their operation.

We've heard Richard talk of his marvelous theatre, the Roxy and I'm sure it exists due to its "hands on" operation...but in sub-run.

We have a theatre that we occasionally service, the Watson in Watsontown, PA that probably just holds its own but the family that runs it actively participates in its operation, have added an adjoining ice creame shop and does have an apartment rented.

One thing when judging singles is that you have to think in year-to-year terms (true in any movie theatre business but it is more dramatic in a single). You hope that the product in the good times will allow you to coast (or more truthfully, fall a bit back) in the slow times. The P/L columns will most definately be filled on both sides.

Personally, I would rather have a single augment my chain than depend on it supporting the entire business.

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Mike Blakesley
Film God

Posts: 12106
From: Forsyth, Montana
Registered: Jun 99

 - posted 08-14-2005 11:20 AM      Profile for Mike Blakesley   Author's Homepage   Email Mike Blakesley   Send New Private Message       Edit/Delete Post 
quote: Steve Guttag
You hope that the product in the good times will allow you to coast (or more truthfully, fall a bit back) in the slow times.
Very true. One excellent week can make up for a lot of bad weeks. I guess it's the same in the industry at large, but maybe the effect is more dramatic in small situations.

I remember a 3 month period about 8 or 9 years ago where I was genuinely getting worried... bills were getting stacked up and I was seriously thinking about maybe going to the bank and refinancing ... and then Christmas happened, with some good kid movie, we were packed all weekend, and everything was back to normal after that. That's when I learned that the roof isn't necessarily caving in when there is the occasional slump.

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