Phoenix: a place where artists and local businesses can perish under the competition from big business. The local and alternative movie theater is one of those victims.
In the past three years, three locally-owned cinemas have closed their doors.
The first was Chandler Cinemas, which closed in June 2009 because another business (which I can’t track down the name of) offered to pay higher rent at the same location.
But after five months of cult cinema screenings and grindhouse awesomeness, Brown said the Royale closed in late December 2011 because of financial reasons.
Amidst the Royale’s entrance into community cinema, the West Wind Scottsdale 6 closed down in August 2011. Though the West Wind didn’t show cult cinema, it was a drive-in theater with historic community roots.
These places are gone, kaput. Why? I discussed the issue with Cult Classics programmer Victor Moreno and I realized 3 Reasons Why Alternative Cinemas Don’t Last in the Valley:
#1 Chain theaters
While Harkins runs 19 theaters in the Valley and AMC runs 8, only two alternative theaters are still in business in the Phoenix metro-area area: MADCAP Theaters and FilmBar (if I’m missing any, please let me know!).
Victor Moreno explained that when a local theater wants to license a new, independently-filmed movie, only a few distribution slots are available. So if a local theater wants to screen the Academy Award-nominated Tree of Life, they have to request to license it.
eHow presenter Jared Drake says, “You’re gonna have to convince them somehow that what you’re gonna do for the movie will help drive sales for them.” Chances are, the movie studio will allow a more well-known theater like Harkins Camelview to screen their movie, because they think more people will watch it.
How we can fix it:
Promote local cinema! If we get the word out about CULT CLASSICS screenings at MADCAP and showings of independent films at FilmBar, we can get more people to attend these movies, thus making the theaters more popular. Then the companies that license the bigger independent films will know about the local theaters and perhaps provide them with more films to license. Power in numbers!
#2 Phoenix is big
We are not a city of skyscrapers and high-rises. The citizens of the Valley live in suburban, spread-out environments. This city structure makes traveling to a “local” theater an hour drive on the Loop 101. We already commute to work, so why commute to a theater across town when there’s a chain-owned theater right up the street? I have no criticism of this tendency—it’s logical, cheaper and more convenient. BUT . . .
How we can fix it:
Local theaters often screen movies that viewers can’t see anywhere else in the city. Going to a movie at an alternative theater is not just buying popcorn and tickets—it’s an event.
“If you don’t make something an event, people won’t really come out to it. You have to really promote it or people just aren’t aware of it,” Moreno says.
A movie becomes an event when the theater offers activities besides just watching the movie.
For example, at the recent Back to the Future screening that I posted about, the Arizona DeLorean club presented a DeLorean in front of MADCAP theaters. A DeLorean is the car that Doc and Max used as a time-machine in the movie. This addition provided moviegoers a chance to connect with the movie they were about to watch.
I don’t even know if this needs explanation. We’re in a recession– people are careful about where they spend their discretionary income. Local businesses close because they don’t get enough customers.
How we can fix it:
Alternative theaters need to keep showing cult classics. How is that a solution? Gathering customers is a step-by-step process; it takes time to build a group of loyal consumers. But they will pay the theater’s bills. Over time, more and more people will find the theater and talk about it.
Until then, theaters must find imaginative ways to keep afloat.
One person cannot spearhead a theater—the work is exhausting and sometimes overwhelming. Local theaters will only stay open with dedication, teamwork and community spirit.
Whether through fundraisers, coverage by local news media, social networking or interesting events, you have to stay innovative to stay alive as a business.
On a side note, local Phoenix culture blogger Lightning Octopus just wrote a post about his optimism that geek culture will stay alive in the Phoenix area. I’m very excited about his musings and possible contributions to the cinema community.