Spill’s latest Tweet-Off
has provoked me to play my hand. A hand I was going to keep in my pants until about mid-April. But given the subject matter, I might as well come out with it.
At the risk of being found out and subsequently fired from my rather plush if frustrating job at a very nice corporately movie theatre chain, I am going to expose to you members the secrets as to where your money is going at the movies. For most of you, this is nothing new. For those few of you who don’t know this information, I hope you learn something.
So let’s begin with the most common issue involving your money at the movies!
Why the hell do ticket prices cost so damn much?!
This all depending on who owns the theatre and how they run things. Generally, someone, possibly lawyers, will draw up a contract with the various studios in Hollywood saying that they will pay them a certain percentage for showing their film to the public. Unfortunately, this is where we get screwed. Those box office numbers you read every Monday in the paper or hear Korey and Carlyle say in ACOCO? Yeah, those. The theatre showing the film gets none of those. It all goes into the studios pocket. If the theatre does get any money, it’s only enough to cover the cost of printing the movie ticket.
If a theatre has a 3D projector, you’ve probably noticed a difference in price between the two tickets. What we are suppose to tell guests is that it is to cover the glasses. That’s bullshit. What is really going on is that the price difference is to cover the conversion costs of installing/replacing a 35mm film projector with that of a digital projector with a 3D filter lens. So with those tickets, the theatre gets to keep a percentage of the money. But chances are they’ve already spent it just getting the damn projector put in.
IMAX movies are the same way, but it is mostly with maintaining the equipment. Remember, these are eight-story tall screens in some locations, and in order to project a film at that size, you need a pretty damn bright light bulb. One IMAX light bulb can cost at least $700 to replace if it burns out in the middle of a film. IMAX 3D movies are even more expensive to maintain.
For those of you who like to go to those one-night events at movie theatres, the money for that ticket does a lot of traveling. Once again, the theatre gets the shaft in the percentage cut. Why? We are the host for the event. The money actually goes to the company that is broadcasting the event, and more often than not it is a satellite provider. From there, the satellite provider gets a cut while sending the rest of the money to the people that produced the event for the movie theatre to broadcast. Another way to think about it is like watching pay-per-view on the big screen. I mean, hell, it costs just as much for PPV as it does for one ticket to a satellite feed of the latest Met Opera at the theatre.
Why can’t I see [name a movie] for free on its opening night?
Some companies run promotional programs where if you spend a certain amount of money with them, you get a free pass to any movie you want. Well, almost any. Some of these same companies don’t allow you to use these free tickets on certain movies on their opening weekend. This is part of the contracts with the studios. Basically, the studios want to make as much money as possible during the first two weeks of a film’s run. In order to maintain a good relationship with the studios, these theatre chains will have to fold and limit how many free passes they allow for those movies. So if you get a free pass and are planning on saving it for Harry Potter, don’t bet on being able to use it on its first two weeks.
Now with 3D movies, that’s a different story entirely. The reason why you cannot use the free pass for those movies is because of, again, the cost of converting the equipment in the projection booth.
Naturally, this doesn’t apply if you are (un)lucky enough to get a Re-Admission ticket. Those are good for all shows because, let’s face it, the theatre fucked up and this is their way of saying “we fucked up and we’re sorry.”
Is this why popcorn costs so much?
Yes. And, again, at the risk of being found out and fired, I’m going to tell you that you’re getting ripped off at the concession stand. But chances are you already knew that. After all, Wal-Mart sells the same box of Rainbow Nerds for $1 that we sell for $4. And popcorn? I can’t speak for all theatres, but at mine we make a 300% profit when someone buys a small bag.
The sad fact is that movie theatres really don’t make any money at the box office. Remember back in 1997 when Titanic was in theatres for nine months? All those millions of dollars it collected during that time went straight to the studio. We saw none of that. So to make up for the losses, we have to price popcorn and soda the way we do at the concession stand. That’s where the theatres make all of their money to cover employee pay, projector maintenance, and making sure your seats are replaced with a new one if you discover someone ripped a hole in the headrest.
Fuck that! I’ll just sneak my own shit in!
I will say that depending on how an individual theatre is run, you could get away with doing this, but the economic consequences for such action will only hurt those who actually buy popcorn and candy as part of their movie theatre experience.
Ideally, what we would like to happen is that every customer that comes into the lobby buy at least one bag of popcorn and one soda, even if it is a small size. Hell, I’d like it if every guest buys a kid’s meal! But we all know that will never happen. That’s another reason why the mark up on popcorn is so high. It’s to make up for those guests who don’t come to the concession stand for whatever reasons those may be.
With that said, imagine then what would happen if you snuck in your own food and didn’t bother to pay for even a small bottle of water. I can understand the outrage against paying $4 for something you can get at BP for only $1.50, but humor me. Eventually, the theatre won’t be able to cover the paycheck of the poor sap that has to clean up after you. That means that you would be responsible for making sure the theatre is clean for the next group that comes in, because chances are the manager running the theatre can’t do everything by themselves. I know this is an extreme situation, but it has happened before. I personally experienced it when we had two big family movies playing on nearly half of our screens on Father’s day. Nothing got cleaned. Why? Because I was the only person cleaning. Why? Because they couldn’t afford a larger staff. In fact, by the time I took my break, as required by labor laws, at least five theatres were not cleaned on time, and my bosses had to deal with some really angry customers that said their theatre looked like a dump.
That’s bullshit. What about all those advertisements in front of the movies?
Those are mostly contractual obligations. If they bring in any money at all, I wouldn’t know what happens with it. Nobody has told me anything about those.
Except that Disney hates the advertisements. These programs tend to advertise their competitors, which they are not against but generally don’t like. So when you don’t see an advertisement pre-show in front of Up this summer, you’ll know why. At least, that’s why we’ve never shown them in front of any of the Disney movies we’ve shown in the past 5 years.
So there you have it. You now know where all your money is going at the movies.
Around mid- to late April I’ll be posting a FAQ giving more insight into some aspects of the movie theatre to those who don’t know already. If you have any questions or curiosities about movie theatres, please ask away in the comments. And please tell your friends about this FAQ, becasue the more people that know this information, the better your movie theatre experiance will (hopefully) be.