Movies are at the forefront in Palm Springs this week as more than 130,000 people fill the theaters for a viewing of films from 77 countries. But in Hollywood, 2017 domestic box office grosses saw a loss of more than $1 billion from the year before ...
Barco Escape is a new three screen format available at Mary Pickford Theatre in Cathedral City. Xochitl Pena/The Desert Sun
Movies are at the forefront in Palm Springs this week as more than 130,000 people fill the theaters for a viewing of films from 77 countries.
But in Hollywood, 2017 domestic box office grosses saw a loss of more than $1 billion from the year before, which has some officials declaring that the cinema is dying as Netflix and other online streaming companies continue to grow in popularity.
“It’s funny, the current ‘health’ of the industry seems to be diagnosed movie by movie,” said Bryan Jeffries, vice president of marketing/promotions for Cinemark USA theaters. “If one movie doesn’t make as much as someone thinks it should it means the industry is ‘dying.’ When a film makes more than predicted the industry has ‘bounced back,’” he said.
“It’s a juicy story and it’s a great read but when you take the long view of our industry you can see we are in great health,” Jeffries said.
So what does it take to keep people coming to the movie theaters?
“Content is king … it always starts with content,” says Ray Nutt, CEO of Fathom Events which has been bringing classic movies, anime, documentaries, Broadway productions and operas live from The Metropolitan Opera in New York and other events – live and filmed – into movie theaters since 2002.
Jeffries agreed, saying said there is no real secret to drawing audiences.
Cinemark recently renovated each of the 12 auditoriums at the Century @ The River and XD cinema complex in Rancho Mirage, adding reclining seats in each of the 15 auditoriums along with technological upgrades.
(Photo: Richard Lui/The Desert Sun)
“As long as Hollywood can continue to produce compelling and entertaining content the audience will be there,” Jeffries said. “Everyone needs a little time in their life to escape for just a little while and movies are still the best way to accomplish that.”
MORE: Barco Escape three-screen format arrives in Cathedral City
There are titles and genres that rarely fail at the box office, and many of them, such as Pixar and Marvel, are under the Disney umbrella. Global earnings for the Walt Disney Studios for 2017 surpassed the $6 billion mark, thanks to “Star Wars: The Last Jedi,” which has grossed more than $1 billion worldwide since opening on Dec. 15.
While content is the driving force, theaters have been doing their part to make an outing to the movies more inviting – and worth the expense – with the addition of electronically reclining seating and expanded snack bar options to include beer, wine and food choices beyond popcorn, hot dogs and candy.
A digital projector inside a projection room at the Century @ The River Cinemark Theatre in Rancho Mirage on Saturday, January 6, 2018.
(Photo: Richard Lui/The Desert Sun)
As filmmaking technology continues to advance, the movie theaters do their best to keep up or even stay ahead of the game, said Jeffries, pointing to Cinemark’s “XD Auditoriums” with wall-to-wall screens, custom surround-sound and state-of-the-art projectors.
D’Place Entertainment, which manages the Mary Pickford Theatre in Cathedral City, in 2016 added the Barco Escape three-screen, panoramic format to one of the auditoriums.
Improved digital technology is what makes it possible for Fathom to feed live events to nearly 900 movie theaters nationwide – primarily its joint venture partners, Cinemark, Regal and AMC theater companies – making it the 12th largest overall distributor of content to movie theaters in North America. Live events are presented through Fathom’s Digital Broadcast Network.
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A variety of offerings is also important and proven successful in bringing people to the theaters, said Nutt, who was an executive with Regal Entertainment for 29 years before moving to Fathom.
Proving extremely popular are the operas, presented live from The Metropolitan Opera on select Saturdays when movie theater audiences get what The Met audiences don’t – a behind-the-scenes look at the production and live interviews that take place during the intermission. The cameras also offer the movie theater audience varying shots and close-ups of the performance The Met audience doesn’t get, Nutt said.
Last year, Fathom presented the Mayweather vs. MacGregor fight live, which was No. 1 at the box office for that night, Nutt said.
Fathom also partners with TCM to bring such favorites as “Wizard of Oz,” “Psycho” and “Casablanca” back to the big screen as well as more recent classics like “Back to the Future” and “Ghostbusters,” generally on select Sundays and Wednesdays throughout the year.
People like the nostalgia – remembering that they saw the film when it was first released and want to relive that experience and share it with their children and grandchildren, Nutt said.
The Palm Springs International Film Festival, which saw revenue grow from $1.5 million in 2016 to $1.8 million in 2017, can be seen as an example of how, for many, the experience of seeing a movie on the big screen, in a theater surrounded by friends and strangers, is something that can’t be duplicated at home, regardless of the size of a TV screen and sound system, said Michael Lerman, the festival’s artistic director.
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“In the film festival world, we are alive and kicking,” he said. “The festival is doing incredibly well.”
One draw is that festival-goers know there are movies that are headed for the small screen and this is their one chance to see them in a theater.
“Going to the theater is not just about the beautiful shots,” Lerman said. “There is the other aspect … that you’re in a room with a bunch of different people and you’re laughing together, you’re crying together and it feels warmer that way.”
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