“The Watch” and Other Myopic Endeavors

Exhibitors by nature are a cautious lot. They are at the bottom of the feeding frenzy that is called the film business. Producers aka studios make films. Distributors set the advertising and get the films to the theaters. Exhibitors are the theaters. They are totally reliant on the films Hollywood sends them, and without them they would not be able to charge $7 for a box of popcorn that costs about 75ยข to produce.

Exhibition is a business. The people that run them are businessmen and women. Certainly they may be knowledgable and certainly they may be above average in intelligence, but the business does not require an abundance of creativity. It has a tendency to make the people in it become conservative in thought and speech. Exhibitors are constantly amazed when a film they hardly understand becomes a hit. They’ll shrug their collective shoulders and say, “Who knew?” It is this mentality of not understanding the art side of the business that was one of the imperatives towards creating megaplexes. If you play every single film available, it mitigates the chance of missing something that might sell more popcorn, er tickets.

So it comes as little surprise that the industry is abuzz with the Arizona exhibition chain that recently nixed playing THE WATCH. THE WATCH is distributed by 20th-Century Fox. Fox is a ‘firm terms’ company. They disdain and officially put the kibosh on the age old industry dance called negotiations.

In the good old days, when a film finished playing, the person who was responsible for putting the film into the movie theater and the person responsible for selling that film would ‘settle’ the film. Or in a more colloquially manner of speaking, they’d start acting as if the film were a bag of potatoes being purchased by a frugal minded grandmother at an open market dealing with an old established adversary, the grocer. They would start with a standard dance. One would say, “The film tanked.” The response would be, “No it didn’t, you made money.” Then a counter, “It was flawed p.o.s.” Followed by the standard, “You made money.” Which would yield, “What are you talking about?! People walked out.” “Yeah, they may have walked out, but that’s because your floors are sticky.” The argument would go back and forth in a good natured dance. Ultimately they would arrive at an acceptable price for all. The movie industry was like that for years.

Firm term means we will not negotiate. It is what it is, take it or leave it. Remember exhibitors don’t want to miss out on any potential hit, so they will take it. They will grumble, but they will take it. They are over the proverbially barrel. Now comes that 30 screen Arizona theater chain that said “No!”. They said no to Fox’s THE WATCH. On some level you applaud them, but of course they took a film that most knew was a dog, had positioning problems in the marketplace and at a time when there was plenty of product to fill the other screens. They bold statement was hardly bold. Of course, they said it was because an agreement on the rental feel couldn’t be achieved. Hardly. Fox offered what it always does. The exhibitor saw a bad film with little chance to make any money and made a public case of it. They look bold. They appear strong.

Don’t believe it. They are positioning themselves for Fox’s next film. They hope, probably erroneously that they will get a better deal. The distributors doesn’t really care about exhibitors as long as they pay whatever they dictate. It is part of the problem with the film distribution model that was created a century ago. It is archaic and dictated by people who don’t truly care about what’s best for the industry.

So it goes.