I can only pretend to be in charge of the cinema, as I don’t own the place, do the programming, or take care of a lot of the maintenance, bookkeeping, and any of that other jazz. In the last few days, I’ve had to fill in as cashier, popcorn scooper, and ticket ripper, which really is great use of my higher education, eh?
I don’t mind at all. It means we’re busy. And after the terror of the CMS cacking out random lines of code while updating the website earlier this week, web updating two months of showtimes really didn’t appeal much, so any distractions were welcome.
A couple of things have come up lately that have changed the game, or could potentially change it, for our little cinema. A few weeks ago, Empire announced it was getting out of the movie business, selling off almost all their theatres to either Cineplex or Landmark. One of the handful of exceptions was the only other multiplex left downtown (yep, in a city of a million people, nearly all of our urban movie theatres have disappeared). They remain open, for now, but Empire is, allegedly, out of the game as of September 1. Their lease on that location expires on December 31. We may be the only (kinda) properly downtown theatre soon (there is another fairly central indie theatre too).
The staff of this urban chain location, as of a couple of weeks ago, didn’t know what was going to happen to their theatre or their jobs.
And yet? Something must be happening because they scooped us on playing two independent films we would have liked to have played. High profile ones that we were not able to book because we could not confirm release dates. So either someone at the (soon to disappear) head office is still putting a lot of effort in, or distributors are more interested in non-longtime bookings.
It’s probably the latter. Our schedule has always been prepared and published in two month-long programmes. That’s often ‘too long’, too abstract, even for companies that give us a release schedule weeks in advance.
As I said, I don’t do programming, but here are how I understand many of our situations to go down (except more aggressive or chummy, depending on how well a rep is known, or how frustrated a party is). Please note that this is all absolutely speculative, based on repetitive situations and observation, mind, and that this is in no way endorsed officially by my workplace or boss:
‘Can we can premiere x (a weird little indie that’ll get moderate numbers and that our customers have been asking about) at the end of October? It opens in Toronto on the 18th according to your release schedule.”
“Oh, x? We’re probably going to move the Toronto date up to October 4th.’
‘Great! I’m looking for something to premiere on the weekend of the 11th. Would that work?’
‘Oh, we can’t. You can’t possibly open before Toronto does (because Ottawa is backwater swamptown). If we don’t change the Toronto date, that won’t work.’
‘So, what date can you give us?’
‘Maybe November? We want to be sure.’
(The movie then opens Canada-wide on October 11th. It opens on one suburban screen in Ottawa a week later, and closes the week after that.)
‘I know that y (a prestige piece with semi-limited commercial appeal, but that would be ideal for our audiences) is releasing wide (meaning it will open in chain cinemas, usually in an exclusive to maximise screen numbers) in two weeks, but we’d like to play it for a few days in rep in about eight weeks. Would that work?’
‘We have to see the opening weekend numbers. And the U.S. ones. And find out what kind of Oscar push is planned for later this fall. You might have to wait until after Christmas.’
(The movie plays on four local multiplex screens for two weeks, then plays on one suburban screen for another week, then disappears forever. It gets nominated for one Oscar, for Set Design, but doesn’t win.)
‘This movie, z, was profiled on CBC Q and a few other outlets this week. Does it have a Canadian release date planned?’
‘Oh, that’s going straight to On Demand. We made a mistake on our theatrical release schedule.’
(We get dozens of emails complaining that we didn’t show this movie. When Jian Ghomeshi profiles something, we’d better bloody play it.)
‘This French movie, ω, is doing mondo business in Quebec and some of our anglophone clientele have been asking us to play it. Do you have a release date for English Canada?’
(This is unbelievably common.)
The cinema, under its present guise, has been running for 25 years, but it’s probably never been trickier to book the films our audiences (largely older, not opposed to weird and foreign, but more likely to love a costume drama or British comedy starring other older people) want to see. This fall is a bit more eclectic than usual (there’s lots of good stuff, just more risky/untested) because on top of the above, summer holidays and TIFF preparations by reps made negotiations even more difficult (this is typical for our fall programme).
I hope those risks pay off. I mean, I got a raise yesterday. We’ve got to pay for that somehow.
Incidentally, when I finally got our September showtimes posted yesterday, I almost immediately got two tweets expressing excitement that we were playing The Last Waltz. Y’know, the (legendary) concert film from 1976? Our patrons are kind of amazing and delightfully weird.
Early days, though. Maybe the new Woody Allen will get some new momentum going. I will have to perfect my pre-film trailer-choosing strategy, because that is part of my job and, believe it or not, it can make a big (well, biggish) difference. At least I like to tell myself that.