Do you go to the movies? Probably not â€“ or not very often. At $10 a ticket and maybe $10 of concessions for each person, going to the show can be prohibitively expensive. And one reason itâ€™s so expensive is that not much has changed in theaters in the past 80 years to make things more productive. Sure, sound has progressed from â€œAcademy Soundâ€ (single-track mono in the old b&wâ€™s) to Dolby stereo to digital. And projection equipment has gone from reel to reel to fully automatic, self-threading projectors. But those projectors still run 35mm film at the speed of 90 ft.per minute (24 frames a second) just as it was done in the 1930â€²s. (About 20 years ago I worked at the Biograph Theater in Chicago â€“ where John Dillinger was gunned down â€“ and I couldâ€™ve sworn that the booth equipment I operated was in use the night Melvin Purvis shot Americaâ€™s Most Wanted.)
Even the distribution system hasnâ€™t changed in generations. A two-hour movie is shipped in two film cans that weigh about 40 lbs each. And the cost of printing each movie at the lab costs thousands of $. Multiply those expenses by 4,000 movie prints, add in advertising and promotion and you get a sense of the monumental risks involved before the first ticket is even sold.
And those boxoffice figures you hear about are deceptive. If a film costs $50 million to make and it has grossed $100 million, itâ€™s a big loser. Roughly one-third of that gross goes to the movie theater, another third goes to the distributer and a third goes to the producers.
There are two ways to change that matrix; make movies cheaper to produce (hence the trend to film outside union-ensconced California) or cut the distributers (the group that bears print and distribution costs) out of the loop. â€Filmingâ€ movies digitally instead of using film stock, then mailing out dvdâ€™s to theaters would do exactly that. So whatâ€™s stopping Hollywod from going 100% digital? Fear. Producers are terrified that a movie digitally shot will be copied on a laptop and sent around the world before the filmâ€™s release â€“ wiping out their $100 million investment. About ten years ago I ran a premier showing for some schlocky horror flick. When the film cans were delivered to my booth they came with their own security guard â€“ who stayed in the booth, watching my every move as I ran the film. (I donâ€™t hink the movie even had a theatrical release. I canâ€™t even remember the title.)
If the producers of â€œFâ€ rated scare fare are so worried about video-tape piracy, imagine the terror the backers of a â€œmajor motion pictureâ€ must feel about digital copying. Hence, things in the theater business have barely changed in decades. And thatâ€™s a shame becasue technolgy has changed everything else. Home theater systems compete favorable with movie theaters. Movies are now sometimes sinultaneously released into theaters and on pay-per-view. Clearly, unless some major changes occur, the future of movie theaters is in doubt. I believe their demise would be a great cultural loss.
For those of you who have read CRIMES OF A CHRISTIAN, my sentiment here might seem at odds with the crimes I committed. But I fought to save the job I loved. That feeling may not be obvious in the book but to those who have read the book I suggest you re-read page 189 â€“ it was written with the sense of loss and pain one might feel when a love affair ends.