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Author Topic: Justifying a curtain purchase
Mike Blakesley
Film God

Posts: 12108
From: Forsyth, Montana
Registered: Jun 99

 - posted 06-16-2015 02:13 AM      Profile for Mike Blakesley   Author's Homepage   Email Mike Blakesley   Send New Private Message       Edit/Delete Post 
Long-time readers will know that my theater (a single-screen in eastern Montana) has no stage curtain. It used to have one, but we took it down in about 1984 because it was old and dirty and had stopped working reliably, and besides, the ancient traveler mechanism wouldn't interface with modern automation.

Ever since then I've used colored lights that shine across the screen at angles, so the audience is never looking at a blank screen.

Over the years I've expressed on here many times how much I would love to restore a curtain to the theater, and now I have saved up the cash to do it and have gotten a quote which I think is reasonable.

My wife, Lynn, has never questioned most of the major decisions I've made for the theater, but (even though she hasn't said it) I know she thinks the curtain is going to be too costly to make sense. And, it IS very costly. But this is something I've wanted to do ever since we took the old curtain down in 1984.

So I need to convince her that this is a good idea, and this is where my fellow Film-Techers come in. I'm hoping some of you can help me come up with ways to express to her the importance of a stage curtain in a classic movie theater.

I've told her all the expected arguments (it will protect the screen, it will make the presentation classier, the audience will appreciate the added showmanship it will bring, etc.), but I have a slight feeling she thinks I'm a bit crazy for wanting to spend this kind of money on something that doesn't really add anything to the presentation of the movie itself and most likely, won't add to the appraised value of the theater either.

In other words, I know she thinks it's an awful lot of money to spend just to make our presentation look like it's really supposed to look.

If she was dead set against it I would back down; but she knows it's something I've really wanted to do for a long time and therefore she'll go along with it. Bottom line, I just don't want her to think that it's a waste of money. Your comments, please?

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Frank Cox
Phenomenal Film Handler

Posts: 1750
From: Melville Saskatchewan Canada
Registered: Apr 2011

 - posted 06-16-2015 02:36 AM      Profile for Frank Cox   Author's Homepage   Email Frank Cox   Send New Private Message       Edit/Delete Post 
If you want it and you have the money to pay for it, then by all means get it. Not everything can be measured by dollars and cents and is this thing going to bring in more customers.

I've done various things to decorate my theatre (mostly the lobby) over the years just because I want to do it; I know that this sort of thing won't bring in an extra dime of revenue but it's my theatre and I want it to look nice. And it's gratifying when people who have never been here before say, "What a great looking little theatre you have here."

I spend a lot of time in my theatre so what's the difference between putting cash into decorating that or decorating my living room. Either way I get to look at my surroundings and say, "I like that." So it's worth the price paid.

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Alan Plester
Expert Film Handler

Posts: 202
From: great yarmouth england
Registered: Apr 2001

 - posted 06-16-2015 03:36 AM      Profile for Alan Plester   Email Alan Plester   Send New Private Message       Edit/Delete Post 
Go for it Mike, so nice to read someone actually wants tabs put in, they are in my mind shear class, its like everything else, it will hurt for a while but you will get over it, go for it mate.

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Carsten Kurz
Film God

Posts: 3278
From: Cologne, NRW, Germany
Registered: Aug 2009

 - posted 06-16-2015 05:26 AM      Profile for Carsten Kurz   Email Carsten Kurz   Send New Private Message       Edit/Delete Post 
How much money do clean restrooms earn you?

Yes, it may be a difficult decision, but if it adds class to your cinema, do it.

You could easily spend the same amount of money or more on things that are not even visible to the audience.
I am sure the curtain will be valued by your patrons and it will add to their cinema experience.

- Carsten

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Lyle Romer
Phenomenal Film Handler

Posts: 1332
From: Davie, FL, USA
Registered: May 2002

 - posted 06-16-2015 06:14 AM      Profile for Lyle Romer   Email Lyle Romer   Send New Private Message       Edit/Delete Post 
I would look at it this way. You are competing with home/cell phone viewing of movies. Anything you do that makes going to your theatre more of a special experience will help your attendance in the long run. Even if it doesn't increase grosses, it could prevent them from dropping in the future.

A couple of GCC theatres down here in the 90's had 1 or 2 screens with curtains. They tended to only use them on Friday or Saturday nights. It was truly more exciting when they would dim the lights and start the opening policy trailer on the curtain and have the curtain open up to expose the screen.

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Buck Wilson
Jedi Master Film Handler

Posts: 828
From: St. Joseph MO, USA
Registered: Sep 2010

 - posted 06-16-2015 06:21 AM      Profile for Buck Wilson   Email Buck Wilson   Send New Private Message       Edit/Delete Post 
I can't tell you how excited I am for you. I can't wait for the pictures!!

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Steve Guttag
We forgot the crackers Gromit!!!

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

 - posted 06-16-2015 06:32 AM      Profile for Steve Guttag   Email Steve Guttag   Send New Private Message       Edit/Delete Post 
One could come up with similar analogies for most everything else. You could replace your kitchen table with a folding table or even an old wire spool (e.g. the college solution) and it will still function as a place to hold the food while you eat it.

When you have company over (particularly company you want to come back) do you tend to pick things up and make the place more tidy and impressive looking that how you normally live?

A curtain is sort of like that. They do bring in extra revenue but probably not enough to easily track their amount. There are people (and I''m one of them) that seek out curtained theatres over naked ones. What you are selling is an entertainment experience and it all adds into that, including the curtain. How much each piece affects the show is difficult to measure on a spreadsheet. A thing like a curtain will affect different people in different ways (even in your own household, it would seem). Young people that never grew up with such things will not "get" the difference (as a collection of that age group) yet older people will be more impressed for the refinement in your presentation. Remember when televisions came in cabinets are were furniture? Now they are like pictures one hangs on a wall. A youngster wouldn't get the cabinet thing.

There are the facts about a curtain reducing screen aging...they really do slow it down quite a bit. Over half of the theatre's life, a show isn't running so leaving the screen naked is exposing it to HVAC unnecessarily.

But on the other side...don't kid yourself, the cost of a curtain doesn't stop at its installation. Don't cheap out on ANYTHING relating to the curtain...not the machine, track, carriers, installation or the fabric itself. It ages and does need to be kept up. If the carriers start to bind up and that machine has to work harder, the cord is going to stretch, putting slack in the system...and it just goes downhill from there. You need to periodically check in on it and make sure it is tension right. Have the curtain cut short in height and, if possible, think light weight fabrics. Over time, it will stretch under its own weight and once it touches the stage/floor or whatever is under it, your system is a then have the weight of the curtain PLUS the cumulative friction of the drape dragging the floor, which if it is carpeting is just going to kill the system fast. For grand drapes, I'm VERY partial to drum based machines (with a large drum), not chains...which I prefer for masking. Before you sign on the line...if possible, go see a system your perspective installer put in and check out their work and see how pleased that owner is and what the service life has been after a few years of use. You've saved up a long time for this, get it done right.

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Martin McCaffery
Film God

Posts: 2199
From: Montgomery, AL
Registered: Jun 99

 - posted 06-16-2015 07:55 AM      Profile for Martin McCaffery   Author's Homepage   Email Martin McCaffery   Send New Private Message       Edit/Delete Post 
What everyone else said. We're a single screen non-profit, so we use other people's money. We made sure we budgeted for new curtains and moveable masking when we did our Kickstarter for digital. Curtains are like bacon. Not necessary but sure make things better;>

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Frank Bolkovac
Film Handler

Posts: 23
From: Monroeville, Pa. USA
Registered: Mar 2011

 - posted 06-16-2015 08:55 AM      Profile for Frank Bolkovac   Email Frank Bolkovac   Send New Private Message       Edit/Delete Post 
Plain and simple....It's SHOWMANSHIP. Something the big chains forgot a long time.

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Mitchell Dvoskin
Phenomenal Film Handler

Posts: 1790
From: West Milford, NJ, USA
Registered: Jan 2001

 - posted 06-16-2015 09:45 AM      Profile for Mitchell Dvoskin   Email Mitchell Dvoskin   Send New Private Message       Edit/Delete Post 
Marcus Loew once said, "I don't sell tickets to movies, I sell ticket to movie theatres" as his justification to his stock holders as to why he was building lavish theatres. His point was that he was not selling anything unique, people could see movies elsewhere. He was giving them a reason to come to his theatres. This is still true today, even more so with the many competing media choices for watching motion pictures.

As others have pointed out, you may not be able to qualify why a curtain makes sense, but just accept that it does.

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Frank Angel
Film God

Posts: 5116
From: Brooklyn NY USA
Registered: Dec 1999

 - posted 06-16-2015 02:29 PM      Profile for Frank Angel   Author's Homepage   Email Frank Angel   Send New Private Message       Edit/Delete Post 
What the all these guys said. To that I will only add, curtains in a cinema are like table cloths and candles in a restaurant...they add some style and class and distinguishes them from fast food joints. And people feel and appreciate that difference; you know it has to add to the overall experience of the establishment or restaurateurs wouldn't spend the money or the effort to do it.

Curtains on your screen will distinguish you from the character-less, cookie-cutter, assembly-line rooms of the thousands of soul-less multiplex screens which have about as much class as a toilet seat.

And here's the thing: installing a curtain assembly on your screen does not have to be the super-expensive deal you many think it is. Sure, if you go the, contracted theatrical house route, it can cost a fortune, but I can tell you, there are ways around that and I know this 1st hand because in two non-profits where I was making the decisions and would be dammed if I had to live with naked screens staring back at my audiences day in and day out. I was determined to get me screen curtains, and I did. I was able to install curtains for much less than the first numbers that we got from theatrical supply houses. MUCH less with just a little finessing.

How? First, by not doing almost all the work myself. Me and JoAnne went out and hunted through a dozen bulk material stores on Canal Street in Manhattan and found just the material we wanted -- a light-weight cream nylon/satin. Don't go with the standard heavy velour curtain material that is usually used. In once install, I got a local seamstress pleat and sew it -- she was happy to get the work; in the second, I had our wardrobe department sew the material -- they gave it as a project to their theatre students. In both cases, I got a beautiful, finished curtain for a fraction of the cost of custom-made curtains at a theatrical house like Rosebrand. Trick is to use LIGHTWEIGHT material. And anyone who tells you you need heavy velour because it will last doesn't know what they are talking about -- screen curtains are rarely ever handled by humans -- they just open and close. Ours went in in 1983 and only needed sewing repair once when a truss tore a small hole. Other than that, it still looks stunning -- folds shimmer as it moves and it catches the side lighting when it's still.

You use lightweight nylon material (be sure it is opaque enough not to reveal the black screen masking behind it); light material will allow you to use a lightweight track and that's the key to a less expensive install. I used ADC's Specifine 113 lightweight aluminum track in both theatres -- clicky here: ADC Specifine Curtain Track The track is attached to the screen frame with L brackets. In both cases the track was over 40 width and it holds the curtain material just as good as a track 4 times the weight (and 5 times the cost). The only trick is to use more support brackets on the far ends where the material gathers and where the weight gets concentrated when the curtain is fully opened. The use of the light-weight material also significantly helps as it takes a lot less room for it to gather when opened so you don't need a lot of space beyond the screen for the material to live when fully opened.

The next trick is simply not to buy a curtain motor new -- ADC motors are incredibly expensive for nothing but a motor and some control relays and a gear box. You just need to hunt around for used curtain motors that you can pick up for a fraction of what you would have to spend new. With the thousands of single screens closed over the years -- and you KNOW every one of them had curtain motors back then -- there are plenty used motors hanging around just waiting to pull a curtain across a movie screen again as the feature begins.

Bottom line is, we were able to get beautiful results without breaking the bank. All it takes is some ingenuity, a little creativity and thinking outside the lines, but, Mike, knowing you, you have these in abundance. Not to mention a sense of real showmanship -- it takes someone with a unique passion to have been able to make a single screen work successfully for all these years as you have, willing to create a unique movie-going experience for his audiences. Put in a curtain, and I tell you, you will be rewarded a hundredfold by the very positive reaction you will get from your patrons.

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Scott Norwood
Film God

Posts: 7867
From: Boston, MA. USA (1774.21 miles northeast of Dallas)
Registered: Jun 99

 - posted 06-16-2015 03:10 PM      Profile for Scott Norwood   Author's Homepage   Email Scott Norwood   Send New Private Message       Edit/Delete Post 
Frank--did you get any complaints from the fire marshall about a curtain made from nonstandard material? My (limited) experience suggests that he would want to see a specific type of label that is attached to all theatrical drapery (and which would indicate its flammability, or lack thereof), and would become upset if he could not find it. Maybe things are different in NYC, though, or you have some other documentation on its flammability.

Mike--I think that it is great that you are considering doing this. Please post pictures if you do. You have a gorgeous theatre and it would be great to add the finishing touch to the auditorium.

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Jim Cassedy
Phenomenal Film Handler

Posts: 1511
From: San Francisco, CA
Registered: Dec 2006

 - posted 06-16-2015 03:42 PM      Profile for Jim Cassedy   Email Jim Cassedy   Send New Private Message       Edit/Delete Post 
quote: Frank Angel
there are plenty used motors hanging around just waiting to pull a curtain across a movie screen again
I sincerely wish Mike the best of luck with his quest, but a couple of years ago
when I tried to find a 'used' curtain motor from a closed theater or one that wasn't
using it anymore I found most had simply been junked or had mechanisms whose
gears or bearings were frozen with rust or corrosion from non-use.

Just as we were about to give up, it was only through stroke of total luck we
were given access to a theater that was about to be demolished to pull the
curtain motor out. - - - and then we ran into problems with it passing electrical
inspection when it was installed at it's 'new' location.

I was recently involved in a discussion with some people who are building what
will be one of the most technologically advanced screening rooms in the country
when it is completed some time later this year. I guarantee you, more money is
being poured into this single auditorium than it would cost to build an entire
multi-screen 'entertainment complex' in most parts of the US.

When they were finished rattling off their mind boggle-ing list of equipment
and specs, I casually asked if they were going to install a curtain.

"NO!" was their reply.

I sheepishly smiled and said "that's nice". [Roll Eyes]

> I know 'who butters my bread'- - and I'd rather have a job than a curtain <

Besides, they probably paid some designer hundreds of thousands, of not a
million or more to tell them that a curtain wasn't necessary - - so why should
they listen to me?

You have to pick you battles.......

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Frank Angel
Film God

Posts: 5116
From: Brooklyn NY USA
Registered: Dec 1999

 - posted 06-16-2015 04:03 PM      Profile for Frank Angel   Author's Homepage   Email Frank Angel   Send New Private Message       Edit/Delete Post 
Scott, yes indeed there are regs that require materials to be flame retardant. Thing is, you can also "treat" material that doesn't have the required "pretreaded" label with a flame retardant chemical spray. We bought the spray and the fact that we had bought the chemical and had the label and the receipt attached to the corner of the curtain seemed to be all that was required to satisfy an in NYC, at least. Thing is, we are a city-owned institution -- we've never even seen an inspector. We did spray the material from the back very lightly as per instructions on the chemical; how much that actually retards combustion I have no idea.

In terms of inspections, no doubt everything depends on the individual locale and the tenacity of the inspectors. In my case, I probably could have gotten away with doing nothing given the lax attention we get from inspectors, in other situations, I have heard inspectors come in and actually demand a swatch of the curtain material and set it ablaze.

I think I am supposed to redo that application every 5 years. I would guess we probably are a bit past due. I've got to look to see where I can get more of that magic powder-to-spray chemical.

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Mark Campbell
Expert Film Handler

Posts: 134
From: Seattle, WA USA
Registered: Jul 2007

 - posted 06-16-2015 04:19 PM      Profile for Mark Campbell   Email Mark Campbell   Send New Private Message       Edit/Delete Post 
Mike - ahead of a curtain purchase I would spend the money/effort on moveable masking for your screen if possible. I read on another topic that you have been cropping scope films and filling your 30 x 15 because the blank screen space drove you nuts. Since you have always been a stickler for keeping up your theater this seems a logical step.

I was recently on a business trip in South Carolina and, being away from my wife and small kids, I took advantage of my brief freedom to catch Mad Max: Fury Road at a local Regal. Was a shoebox kind of place with fixed masking. Much of the epic scenery and action seemed less epic and many of the closing credits were cut off.

I realize that in the new world of digital that the impact of scope has been lost because of filmmakers cropping the native image down to scope to give a "cinematic look" and because of new stadium theater builds offering only common width masking. But there are those films out there whose image should be seen as the filmmakers intended. There are even filmmakers still filming with true anamorphic 35mm (next Star Wars!).

I'll admit I am an anamorphic nut and being want to watch a film 100% as intended. But I do think the first step in your showmanship should be proper screen masking. Then the curtain…

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