How Movie Theaters Could Improve When They Reopen

Published on May 18, 2020

The movie theater business is in an awful state at the moment. Theaters are closed all over the world, although Italy is opening theirs up soon. The National Theater Owners Association has lost their marbles over major studios releasing their movies on VOD, too. Theater owners have been especially fearful of VOD and streaming during this time, as it’s more popular than ever. Still, NATO and filmmakers are championing the theatrical experience, as they should be. However, there are some areas where theater owners could improve once they do reopen for business. 

How to Improve 

Obviously, the quality of projection is the last thing on theater owners’ minds right now. They have too much financial and personal stress to deal with. However, considering theater owners have been talking about the importance of experiencing a movie in a theater now more than ever, maybe this summer is the right time for them to raise the bar and set a new standard for excellence. To prove the true worth of the theatrical experience. For starters, they could ensure getting their sound and audio right.

James Mangold’s Two Cents

Many filmmakers, critics, and movie fans have pointed out the poor picture and audio quality running rampant in theaters across the globe. A lot of theaters, for example, dim the image to save money on bulbs. It’s a nasty and common trick in the business. Movies aren’t always projected properly with full brightness, and it usually shows. It drives certain filmmakers, like the man behind Logan and Ford v. Ferrari, James Mangold, nuts. 

Here’s what Mangold told Discussing Film

“The reality of theater projection has gotten so tragically bad in so many cases. The fight to put your movie in a theater that stinks and someone’s eating an enchilada next to you — half the screen is out of focus or too dim. Theatrical has its own problems, which is that if it doesn’t make itself a sterling presentation that you cannot approximate at the home then theatrical kills itself without any other delivery method even competing with it. When I talk to theater owners or theater chains, that’s the big thing… My point really is just that theatrical is a wasteland right now of a lot of shitty delivery of movies to audiences who are paying a premium to see them on a big screen.

Money First, Movies Second

The theater business is just that — a business. Not all owners of movie theaters truly care about preserving the theatrical experience for movie fans but instead themselves. It’s not all about the magic of watching a movie in the theater for them. Mangold continued to explain the problems with the theater business: 

“The theaters are, like all capitalist endeavors, in a never-ending cycle of running from bankruptcy. They pay people as little as they can. They hire as few people as they can. They serve snacks that cost them 45 cents to manufacture at prices 22 times the cost of creating. They put you in a theater that is as possible as it can be at the minimum amount of expense.”

Mangold continued: 

“Once in a while, the main theater chain will renovate and put new equipment in. But if the people running the equipment aren’t great, trained, or even give a shit because they’re paid so badly then the result is always going to be questionable. It’s just that simple. It really doesn’t matter what filmmakers say when theater owners are worried about whether they can pay rent next month. More than whether some spoiled filmmaker thinks that their sound is too low or the image brightness isn’t high enough. That’s not where their heads are.”

Honest Criticisms 

There’s some refreshing honesty from Mangold about the state of theaters. Their business is worse than ever right now, but arguably, so was the quality of the experience. Ticket prices continue going way up despite the quality often lowering. Most theater managers and owners don’t do jack if somebody is talking or texting or disrupting the experience, for example.

Last year, Edward Norton himself said owners of movie theaters need to stop worrying about streaming and worry more about creating quality experiences for their customers. Mangold and Norton aren’t the first filmmakers to publicly say what’s wrong with the theater business, but as theater owners talk about the need for theaters, maybe the need for better quality picture, sound, and prices should be in the discussion as well.  

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Jack Giroux is a Staff Writer at Grit Daily. Based in Los Angeles, he is an entertainment journalist who's previously written for Thrillist, Slash Film, Film School Rejects, and The Film Stage.

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