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Dreaded Secrets of the Single Screen Movie Business

I am frequently asked, both in person, and digitally on social media and via email, why I show one movie over another. The short answer is...it's complicated. The long answer is as follows...

So, it's like this, we are a dying breed of single screen movie theatres and the big studio folk in their palatial, fashionably appointed offices in Hollywood and New York don't really care about my one screen venue all that much. I desperately need them, and they barely register my existence. But to my town...the city of Kannapolis, my theatre matters and is the site of countless memories for people decades over.

However, when working with the big studios there are several rules...

Rule One is not to tick them off in any way, and they are so easy to tick off that it is beyond belief.  If one of the majors that I've been buying from for four months and paying early without a quibble suddenly decides to send me a 25 page document that basically boils down to a guarantee that if I, Gem Theatre, Inc. fail to pay them, I (as an individual) am liable for it, personally.  That's right, they made 25 or so words into 25 pages that made my eyes swim. Of course I'll sign it quickly, scan it into a PDF, and send it to them followed by the hard copy in the mail as they asked without wondering "Why?" - aloud.  That's just the way this cookie crumbles.

When it comes to the BIG movies, the Second Rule is that if I am lucky enough to exhibit one on its opening day, I have to run it for three full weeks with nothing else on that designated screen, even if everyone sees it in the first week. Keep in mind that we only have ONE screen and our theatre seats 900 persons per showing. By weeks two and three, it is just the proverbial crickets (staying off their cell phones hopefully) in the theater for the rest of the run.

Legend has it that there are towns in the American West that are considered small, remote, and rural enough to be granted mercy and only have to show big films for two weeks, but on the Atlantic side of the Mississippi there are supposedly no towns that are small, remote, and rural. This rule can't be questioned or it would break Rule One and there would be money involved paid for by theaters of my size up and down the eastern seaboard.

The Mandatory Run-On Rule forcing us to carry the film extra weeks is probably in place to reduce the revenue drop off percentage in the subsequent weeks which is a vital industry statistic.  In this respect, every little bit helps. And if very few people show up in even the first week, I just have to ride it out. There are some movies I can't get on release day because the studios also like to compare their per screen average on opening weekend, and my low admission prices would drag down their hallowed median.

If I wait until the second week (mandatory two week run) I risk the chance that many of you will go to see the Big Blockbuster at one of my worthy, larger competitors nearby during the release week. 

The Third Rule is that being a small guy, I have to pay advances just in case I go under in the three weeks I am running their movie.  Often if the sizable percentage of the ticket sales (usually in the sixty to seventy percent range) that I have to pay them doesn't cover the advance they get to keep it all anyway.  Sometimes I don't even gross the advance and lose money. 

So, when some of you come to our Theatre, Facebook page, or email inbox and ask for specific movies, it usually breaks my heart because a) our screen is sometimes tied up so I can't swap out the film playing, b) the film you suggested would probably do great for a night but not a week and certainly not for the full needful three, c) your suggestion might be for a very narrow audience and probably wouldn't earn out the advance so I would lose money, and d) I need to choose movies that have the broadest possible appeal so I can keep the ticket prices down -- and the doors open. But I encourage you to keep the suggestions coming. I can take it!

Recently, I received a specific unfavorable message and not showing the movie "Black Panther," In that specific, it was released one week after the release of “Peter Rabbit.” Weeks one and two of “Peter Rabbit” were the two biggest attendance weekends for us so far this year. Because we did so well the first two weeks, we were required to keep it a third week. After that, I attempted to get “Black Panther” (that would have been its third week of release) and was told that it could be available to us the following week which would have been its fourth week of release. That would have meant that we would have to cancel the opening week of “A Wrinkle in Time” (our third busiest weekend of the year so far) and probably the opening weekend of “Sherlock Gnomes” as well.

And so the story goes. There is a domino effect to every booking decision we make. We hope that you will continue to make the Gem Theatre your movie-going theatre of choice, but also that you understand, to some degree why we have to make the decisions we do about what we are able to show in our theatre and for how long.

Steve Morris, Owner of the Gem Theatre