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Author Topic: Theater owners lack focus
Jeffry L. Johnson
Jedi Master Film Handler

Posts: 809
From: Cleveland, Ohio, USA
Registered: Apr 2000


 - posted 12-11-2005 11:47 AM      Profile for Jeffry L. Johnson   Author's Homepage   Email Jeffry L. Johnson   Send New Private Message       Edit/Delete Post 
Theater Owners Lack Focus
quote:
Theater owners lack focus
By STEVE PERSALL, Times Film Critic
Published November 18, 2005

AMC Theatres controls 3,475 movie screens worldwide. Perhaps the one at Tampa's Veterans 24, where a recent showing of Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang was spoiled for 14 minutes, is the only one with projection problems and a staff that can't immediately handle them.

Don't bet on it. Going to the movies and expecting satisfaction is already enough of a gamble.

You should've been there, but be glad if you weren't. A few hundred moviegoers experienced a key reason why fewer movie tickets are being sold in 2005 than any year since Ronald Reagan was president.

Theater owners have blamed the box office slump on several factors: declining Hollywood quality, a wider variety of entertainment distractions and the convenience of DVDs and pay-per-view TV.

What exhibitors don't easily admit - this is what the Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang audience suffered through - is that theaters sometimes get sloppy with their film presentation. Who wants to spend today's ticket and babysitting prices to see a movie that's out of focus, incorrectly framed and screened through the wrong projector lens?

This isn't rocket science, folks. The problem at Veterans 24 could have been quickly solved if the employee pushing the automated projector button had simply looked through the booth window to see if anything was wrong. Instead, the anonymous employee - AMC protects its "associates" - hit the button and walked away.

What he or she would have seen was like something from a fun house mirror, crunching the image from the sides. The picture was that way for the AMC promo with the dancing film guy, through the Warner Bros. logo, and lasted more than 12 minutes into the movie before it was corrected. Who knows how long it would have continued unless someone (in this case, me) hadn't gone to the lobby to complain?

Everyone else in the place remained seated, figuring someone in charge would notice and correct the problem. I knew better.

What I found in the lobby was more upsetting than the distortion: indifference, ignorance of projection techniques and a distinct lack of hustle to correct the situation.

I haven't threaded a projector since my father's last theater closed 30 years ago, but recognized the problem as an incorrect lens aperture. You see, movies are projected in two basic formats: flat and scope. Think of the flat format as your television with a squared image filling the screen, and scope as the wider, narrower image created by letterboxing.

Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang is a scope movie that was being projected through a flat aperture, resulting in the squished image. (If it were a flat movie shown in scope aperture the image would be stretched sideways and vertically crunched.) There's a switch on AMC's projectors that flips between apertures without stopping the movie if there's someone alert in the booth to flip it.

Neither of the two AMC employees I spoke with - a surly young man who didn't appreciate my complaining and a manager whose first words were "I'm not in charge of the screening" - knew what an aperture is. I've since learned that AMC employees go through a training program ironically called PicturePerfect to learn projector operation. Perhaps a remedial course is in order.

"We also have a program called GuestFirst that all associates must complete before working at an AMC theatre," spokesperson Melanie Bell said in an apologetic e-mail. "The fundamentals of GuestFirst build the foundation for our company's mission: To provide guests with the best possible moviegoing experience."

Okay, maybe a remedial course in that, too.

Incorrect apertures aren't the only problems moviegoers face in theaters, and not only AMC venues. Over the years I've heard numerous readers' complaints about blurry focus, dim projection and blaring or inaudible sound systems. (We could add expensive snacks and a lack of supervision of talkers and cell phone users, but that's another column.) Occasionally someone will wonder how movies costing millions can allow boom microphones to be seen hanging over actors' heads, or subtitles to be obscured.

Filmmakers generally don't allow such mistakes to sneak through. But exhibitors create them by framing the screen image too high. (Conversely, framing too low would chop the top off actors' heads.) A film frame is smaller than the light beam projecting it to the screen, so a framing mechanism on the projector trims the edges of the image. A simple lever controls the framing height, if anyone's paying attention.

The framing continues on the screen, where black masking material must be adjusted horizontally and vertically to fit flat or scope images. Even when Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang was finally projected in the proper aperture, the projectionist didn't adjust the masking to match it, creating a distracting spillover of light and prompting another lobby visit.

The grumpy AMC guy wasn't familiar with the exhibition industry term of "masking." By that time, I wasn't surprised.

Warner Bros. paid to rent that Veterans 24 auditorium for the Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang screening and didn't get their money's worth. Neither did those moviegoers who got in for free. These promotional shows are intended to create word-of-mouth advertising for movies. You can bet some people said more to friends about the glitches than the movie. The theater lost valuable capital with potential customers.

Are they likely to return and buy tickets? Maybe, but DVDs and microwave popcorn become more appealing with each exhibition mistake.

We're living in a world in which providing customer service is touted in commercials as a perk, after it used to be an instinctual part of business.

You would think the film industry, faltering as famously as it is, would make it a higher priority for survival.

- Steve Persall can be reached at 727 893-8365 or persall@sptimes.com
[Last modified November 17, 2005, 08:29:03]


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Daryl C. W. O'Shea
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From: Midland Ontario Canada (where Panavision & IMAX lenses come from)
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 - posted 12-11-2005 01:44 PM      Profile for Daryl C. W. O'Shea   Author's Homepage   Email Daryl C. W. O'Shea   Send New Private Message       Edit/Delete Post 
I want some of those magical apertures that squish and stretch images.

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Greg Pauley
Expert Film Handler

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From: Huntington, WV, USA
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 - posted 12-11-2005 03:51 PM      Profile for Greg Pauley   Author's Homepage   Email Greg Pauley   Send New Private Message       Edit/Delete Post 
He must not of been paying alot of attention to what Dad was showing him 30 years ago!

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Monte L Fullmer
Film God

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From: Nampa, Idaho, USA
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 - posted 12-11-2005 04:53 PM      Profile for Monte L Fullmer   Email Monte L Fullmer   Send New Private Message       Edit/Delete Post 
..yet, funny is how did he know about AMC using Christies having that flat/scope switch sequencing to change the lens/masking...

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Nick Scott
Expert Film Handler

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From: nsw austrailia
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 - posted 12-11-2005 05:20 PM      Profile for Nick Scott   Author's Homepage   Email Nick Scott   Send New Private Message       Edit/Delete Post 
I think the industry has changed just a little in 30 years. sarcasm
Or Maybe there really isnt much difference in running a single screen to a 24plex maybe hes the only one that no's???
He does make himself sound like gods gift.

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David Stambaugh
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 - posted 12-11-2005 05:44 PM      Profile for David Stambaugh   Author's Homepage   Email David Stambaugh   Send New Private Message       Edit/Delete Post 
Hmm. It's easy to trash the writer, but his points are very valid. 1) The film was projected incorrectly, and 2) Customers reporting the problem were treated with scorn (or maybe it was just indifference).

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Daryl C. W. O'Shea
Film God

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From: Midland Ontario Canada (where Panavision & IMAX lenses come from)
Registered: Jun 2002


 - posted 12-11-2005 05:53 PM      Profile for Daryl C. W. O'Shea   Author's Homepage   Email Daryl C. W. O'Shea   Send New Private Message       Edit/Delete Post 
Of course. We all know that the majority of multiplexes suck and are run by people who couldn't care less. That's nothing new.

If you're (the Times author) going to attempt to flaunt your knowledge on a subject, though, you should at least get it right.

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David Stambaugh
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 - posted 12-11-2005 05:56 PM      Profile for David Stambaugh   Author's Homepage   Email David Stambaugh   Send New Private Message       Edit/Delete Post 
Agreed. It makes the writer look foolish and undermines his point.

'Course, only a handful of readers will understand those technical details.

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Matt Fields
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 - posted 12-11-2005 07:26 PM      Profile for Matt Fields   Email Matt Fields   Send New Private Message       Edit/Delete Post 
AMC has the same problems as any large company in any industry...getting all the details right.

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Monte L Fullmer
Film God

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From: Nampa, Idaho, USA
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 - posted 12-11-2005 08:34 PM      Profile for Monte L Fullmer   Email Monte L Fullmer   Send New Private Message       Edit/Delete Post 
..another from of the "Booth Monster" - the one who doesn't check if the platter is taking up the film, let alone check focus, frame and lens settings?

There seems to be a interesting trend of work ethics that is gradually creeping among almost any workforce around the world, and it seems to be more to the attention of "teamwork", than needing quality experienced people, especially in entry level occupations - and may I include this to the theatre industry in a general term.

It used to be of yore that if an individual had qualifications and experience in any field, these were great attributes for that individual and to the workforce to help the workforce grow, move forward/upward and to be successful.

Now, it seems that if that individual who has qualifications and experience is almost considered a threat to this "teamwork" related workforce, since that individual can impose any form of leadership and "sway the masses" to his liking with his qualifications and experiences - even that individual doesn't mean to cause any "swaying of the masses". It just happens that way.

Case in point: Reading Boxoffice magazine on the history of the 70yrs of Marcus Theatres, whereas Mr. Marcus started from the ground up as a theatre M/O and established a rather interesting empire in the midwest. His tactics were simple put: invite people into his business to help it grow. Let their talents shine and established a good work ethics to where all employees feel that they are a part of a huge "team" and Mr. Marcus is the "Vince Lombardi" of the company.

The same goes with Mr. James Edwards - he started from the beginning as an employee of a silent theatre and decided to have his own theatre. Thus, in 1930 he opened up his first theatre and in a nutshell, invited anyone to help him and his company to be a very successful company until he passed on....and now you know the rest of the story...

It seems nowdays that these circuits - big and small - don't really want to invite their employees to be a part of the operation. They just want them to do the job necessary and thus the "teamwork" atmosphere comes into play where quality and experience isn't needed due to the fact that these attributes could possibly jepardize the entire delicate operation - you might say "to rock the boat".

But hey, it't just an opinion of mine and just an observation that I've been noticing. Thus, I could be wrong in all of this (and apologize if any feet are accidently being stepped on..)...but it's still a thought that I couldn't help but sharing to all.

thx-Monte

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David Stambaugh
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 - posted 12-11-2005 09:00 PM      Profile for David Stambaugh   Author's Homepage   Email David Stambaugh   Send New Private Message       Edit/Delete Post 
I met James Edwards Sr. at the grand opening of the Edwards El Toro 5, one of their better "neighborhood" builds. That was probably in 1985. He was proud of his theaters and he made sure I got a booth tour. [Cool] I probably mentioned this in some other thread a long time ago, but he liked to randomly drop in at his theaters, unannounced, so he could see for himself if things were being run properly, including walking at least one auditorium. Edwards Theatres always had curtains, even after competitors like AMC came to town and dispensed with that element of showmanship. I am rambling.

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William Hooper
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 - posted 12-12-2005 06:47 AM      Profile for William Hooper   Author's Homepage   Email William Hooper   Send New Private Message       Edit/Delete Post 
quote: Matt Fields
AMC has the same problems as any large company in any industry...getting all the details right.
So now just getting a picture on the screen right is just "details"?

Having a product that meets the expectations of its representation & is worth the money the customer pays is to this company just "details"?

The title on that article was WAY understated.

If they were a car company, they'd be bankrupt because of their product's reputation as crap & easily available competitive products.

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Mike Blakesley
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 - posted 12-12-2005 12:19 PM      Profile for Mike Blakesley   Author's Homepage   Email Mike Blakesley   Send New Private Message       Edit/Delete Post 
If people would just start avoiding that theatre and seek out ones with good presentation, the problem might be helped. The vast majority of people will choose convenience over quality, unfortunately.

And sometimes people just don't notice. Over the years when we've gotten occasional scratched prints, I've been standing there apologizing to people as they leave and probably at least 3/4 of them say they never noticed it.

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Monte L Fullmer
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From: Nampa, Idaho, USA
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 - posted 12-12-2005 02:10 PM      Profile for Monte L Fullmer   Email Monte L Fullmer   Send New Private Message       Edit/Delete Post 
No David, you're not rambling. For what Mr. Edwards was doing is the absolute way to run a business by keeping an eye on your interests.

With this interaction by the owner(s) to their theatres can bolster employee morale by letting the employees know that someone REALLY does care, thus they strive to do better.

..and keeping the employees honest.

-Monte

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Matt Fields
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From: Jackson, Ohio, United States
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 - posted 12-12-2005 02:18 PM      Profile for Matt Fields   Email Matt Fields   Send New Private Message       Edit/Delete Post 
quote: William Hooper
So now just getting a picture on the screen right is just "details"?
It's not that I think good presentation is unimportant. The movie is the reason people are at the theatre in the first place.

But, when you are AMC and you have 3000+ screens, each one with 4 or 5 screenings a day, each show becomes a small detail when you are in management, especially upper management. Thats the reality of having 15000 screenings a day as a company.

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