A Special Academy Award for the Best Run Theater?

posted by TheaterBuff1 on December 2, 2005 at 7:05 am

Back in the era when movie theaters were in their prime, it amazes me that the Academy Awards never thought to hand out a special award to the best run movie theater or the best run movie theater chain. For all the work and love and dedication that movie theater operators poured into running their theaters in the best possible way, it must have been terribly disheartening each year when the Academy Awards rolled around that they never got any sort of acknowledgment, let alone an Academy Award. It’s as if that aspect of the artistry and presentation was nonexistent, or so it must have felt to the movie theater operators. And today, many in Hollywood wonder why their films don’t fare well at the theater, such as director Ron Howard in recent times wondering what went wrong with his “Cinderella Man” theater-wise.

So if Hollywood hopes to enter an exciting new age of cinema, it could start up the process by giving strong recognition to where it has failed to before.

Not something that Academy Award viewers would want to see, you say? Well, I’d be quick to dispute that if this special award is presented and packaged properly.

Right now the MPAA is totally obsessed with cracking down on piracy, feeling that if the cost of movie production cannot be recouped through the sale of DVDs, the overall industry is doomed. Trouble is, in league with Prohibition, piracy can’t be stopped. But on the other hand, the experience of movies presented well in theaters cannot be pirated. Meaning that to get full force behind the movie theaters and to forget worrying about piracy is a winning proposition for Hollywood, whereby the reverse of that is the surest way to run Hollywood straight into the ground.

So Hollywood can start by giving an Academy Award to the best theater operator and make a very big deal of it as it does so. And thereafter, direct a much bigger percentage of its profits towards the theaters than it ever did before. And that, to me, will be the surest basis to Hollywood’s next new phase. But for Hollywood to do otherwise, the time will surely come when everyone will say, “Remember how great Hollywood once was? Where did it all go wrong?” And some are saying that now, while the theater operators themselves know full well why. But little can they do if Hollywood insists on keeping its eyes shut on this front.

Comments (18)

bazookadave on December 2, 2005 at 10:49 am

This is an EXCELLENT IDEA!!!!!! The movie theatre venue is VERY important to me. I don’t return to theatres where I have had poor quality of life or bad service. If theatres competed for this Oscar honor, maybe there would be a resurgence in good service, and perhaps theatre builders would once again focus on bringing great beauty to their buildings. Imagine actually creating cinemas that are palatial (or near palatial) again!

Ed Solero
Ed Solero on December 2, 2005 at 1:56 pm

Interesting idea, TheaterBuff1… but then, the Academy would have to greatly expand on its membership – or at least its pool of voters for this particular category. I don’t believe there are enough members to sample a wide enough variety of movie theaters – not to mention that the vast majority are concentrated on the two coasts, primarily in New York and L.A. Now, if the Academy wanted to consider a special award that was voted upon by movie-goers across the nation, perhaps based on polls taken at various theater locations or via mail-in slips or – most cost-effective of all – via the internet, we may be on to something. However, then it wouldn’t really be an “Academy” Award since it wouldn’t be coming from the Academy membership. I’m not sure how they’d take to such a thought. And if they did, they’d have to face: (a) the high costs of getting ballots out to movie-goers somehow; and/or (b) how to deal with “ballot-stuffing” or multiple electronic submissions.

As for the problems with piracy, just read the latest industry news about the initiative being waged by some to have new films released in theaters, on DVD and to PPV-TV simultaneously! It’s a big roll of the dice and might further damage theatrical B.O. receipts (and once again change the nature of theatrical film distribution and presentation), but it would surely put a lot of these pirates out of business. I’m sure NATO is battling this plan tooth and nail, but I’m also sure that we’ll be seeing some form of this scheme implemented in the near future. At the very least, they will shorten the window between theatrical release and home video marketing.

Perhaps there’s be a compromise which might make some sense… like, say, simultaneously releasing a film “for sale only” on DVD and then holding back rentals and PPV availability for some reasonable period of time. Still… do the math. Two people want to go to the movies to catch a flick. Without considering concession stand purchases, that’s at least $20-$22 bucks right there in admissions (at least here in NYC it is). Most films come on the DVD market for $19.99-$29.99. With the costs relatively the same, will most folks opt to pick up a copy and get some use out of their $7500 home theater systems while relaxing on the sofa with their shoes off and belts undone? Or will they put up with the crowds and the $4.00 candy bars to go see it in a theater? That is, if crowds would even be an issue, if this all goes down. Or will they still risk the lousy $5 bucks to see if that pirated copy for sale down on the subway platform isn’t too horrible?

Lots of reasons to be concerned… and to stay tuned to see what develops. Evolution of some kind appears to be just over the horizon.

BradE41 on December 2, 2005 at 2:26 pm

Maybe not the Oscars, but perhaps there should be a Movie Theatre Award handed out at the end of each year. Why Not? There seem to be Awards for everything else lately>?

My vote for 2005 is the Arclight in Hollywood, CA.

jnjeisen on December 2, 2005 at 7:05 pm

As a theatre owner I appreciate any effort to increase awareness of the importance of well run quality theatre. Much attention recently has gone to the 10% decline in ticket sales in 2005. My industry deserves this decline and it will continue unless we adjust out thinking and business plan. In my opinion (based on 35 years in the industry) here are the primary reasons for our decline.
Fewer chains own a growing percentage of theatres. The larger the chain the harder it is to give personal service to patrons.
Event pricing. We keep raising prices and now have driven the family out of regularly attending the theatre. Now they go out only for event movies such as Star Wars etc.
Commercials. I saw an ad at a Regal Theatre advertising the ABC television lineup. It made me sick. Patrons hate screen ads.
High concession prices. Concession prices are so outrageously high now it is almost a joke. People sneak food into the theatre in huge numbers and now we have lost a generation of popcorn eaters and the percentage of persons buying concessions at the theatre continues to decline. Patrons actually resent the theatre for charging so much.
*The art of showmanship is dying. When was th last time you were greeted at the door by the owner/manager? When was the last time you were ushered to your seat? When was the last time you were thanked by name for coming to the theatre? When was the last time a live person made announcements prior to the show starting?

My theatre has bucked the trend this year and is enjoying a record year for attendance. Here is a link to a feature story which ran last year and kind of gives you an idea of what we try to accomplish.
http://www.thejournal-news.net/orpheum.htm Also you can see our website for a feel of our theatre http://www.bestmoviedeal.com

TheaterBuff1 on December 2, 2005 at 9:24 pm

Thank you all for your excellent feedback as I pursue this idea further! Meantime, I just want to say the idea was born from my experience as a child when my family and I saw the premiere of “Ben Hur” at the Boyd Theatre in Philadelphia. It was by far the most memorable theater-going experience I ever had, and for many years I regarded “Ben Hur” as one of the best movies ever made. Many many years later I saw “Ben Hur” again, this time on TV, but as I watched I wondered why I had thought “Ben Hur” had been so great for so many years. For so much seemed to be missing that time around. And I realized then and there that when I’d seen “Ben Hur” with my family years before at the Boyd, the theater itself and the remarkable way it was run had been two-thirds of the over all experience and artistry! But how much of which Hollywood was willing to give credit for I have no idea. But if Hollywood could come to gain a greater understanding and appreciation of just how vital well-run theaters are to them, and share its profitability and fame with them accordingly, there’s no question in my mind that the motion picture industry would enter an exciting new age, bigger than it ever had been before, with the well-run theaters themselves being very much a part of the celebrity. For they most certainly are a major part of the over all artistry. Or at least that had been the case back when “Ben Hur” premiered at the Boyd. And that experience as I say can never be pirated. As for the Boyd today, it’s been closed for many years now. with activist community groups struggling to find ways to bring it back to life once more. But for this ongoing struggle the city of Philadelphia has no money, private benefactors in Philadelphia have no money, and wealthy individuals out in the suburbs who do have money are wrapped up in restoring their own suburban theaters instead, while Hollywood itself appears disconnected from it all in both cases. And then Ron Howard — who, to be sure, is one of the greatest living directors today — scratches his head wondering why his “Cinderella Man” didn’t do so hot at the theaters. And the theater operators can report back, “Well, we tried.” To which Hollywood right now might reply, “Well, what’s that got to do with anything?” So all told there’s that total disconnect I keep seeing, so unlike how it was back at the Boyd, when the stars of “Ben Hur” itself were there at the premiere.

TheaterBuff1 on December 4, 2005 at 7:36 pm

To EdSolero:

The DVD piracy you refer to is that which is being done for profit, which the movie industry has had some successes in cracking down on. But what absolutely cannot be stopped, however, is DVD piracy where profit is not a motive. And this is so obvious that for Hollywood’s sake it’s starting to get very embarassing as it keeps trying to do the impossible. “Pride cometh before a fall,” as they say. But for that dark side of digital technology, perhaps this same technology will provide something very positive as well, such as indie directors being able to create works that only the big studios right now are capable of cranking out. We’re still a long way from the latter, but if that point comes, the seemingly unsinkable Hollywood will go down faster than the Titanic, and as surely as the British invasion brought to us rock & roll as if it were a thing of its own. I hope Hollywood has enough sense not to let it come to that, for its own sake if not ours, but if it does it does…

JimRankin on December 5, 2005 at 3:55 am

Awards for Good Theatre operation might seem like a workable concept, but in reality it would be more difficult than it might seem. First of all, there is no universal idea of what is good theatre operation. The chains are obviously run by accountants who work for the conglomerates which own them, and are strictly bottom-line oriented: the highest profit for the current quarter is all they look at. In their MBA-trained minds, any business is seen as a sacrifice for immediate profits, so the future of Hollywood and cinemas is no conern of theirs, only the immediate profits to stockholders. True capitalists would bristle at the idea that things should be otherwise!

Secondly, for this to have any impact, it would have to be on a national level, and that would instantly involve regionalism. Remember that everyone has pride of place, and it would soon degenerate to North vs. South (the Civil War has never really ended in the South), or ‘sophisticated’ East vs. ‘bucolic’ West, or Feminist owners vs. male owners, or Black owners vs. White owners, etc. etc. The divisions in society would soon trump any attempt at fairness, unless they determined every year to choose another theatre/cinema in a different area, run by a different gender of a different race, etc. And how genuine would such a judgement be then as to quality? It would become another excersize in public diversity sentiment.

How would judgements be made? Mom-‘n’-Pop single screen operations are really not the same as chain multiplexes, and it would be dicey to try to compare what are actually two different business models and yet expect the same results from them. Would this make the contest seem too arbitrary and capricious to seriously judge? Where would one find highly experienced (unpaid?) judges who had visited a site remote from their homes enough to really get a feel for the site and its consistancy of operation? How would one eliminate the personal bias that each one has for theatres/cinemas of his youthful locale? If a site disagreed with the write-up about their place, how would they appeal such a personal opinion to a central group? Would there then be a governing body that would review all the judges' write-ups and referee the clamors for special favor, or the accusations of special favor given to someone else? Since this might, in time, affect someone’s profit picture, could the national authority be sued for Restraint Of Trade, or fraud via conspiracy? Would you like to be a national judge accused of bias or conspiracy and criticized in print for such “incompetence” or favoritism? What compensation would such judges receive, and if they are to be volunteers with only their expenses met, are they to be accused of being mere “amateurs” who by implication are clueless as to the real nature of today’s exhibition? Who pays the bills for an office, personnel, supplies, transportation, publicity, awards, etc. etc.?

If the competition is to be more than a tempest in a teapot, then how would one pay a sizeable award that would encourage operators to go beyone the minimalist payment for the maximum profit? If it is to be only a token award such as a plaque, then who will design it, make it, deliver/present it, and at whose cost? Shold a theatre or exhibitor be allowed to ‘donate’ to the judges' expenses? Would such a donation be construed as self-interest in the industry, or a bribe? Would giving the same award to the same theatre/cinema twice in a row reflect a lack of suitable subjects, or a fixation on someone’s favorite cinema?

I think we begin to see the problems, desireable though the concept might otherwise be.

John Fink
John Fink on December 5, 2005 at 6:05 am

It sounds like Cinema Treasures needs to start giving out awards, maybe by region.

Maybe a Cinema Tour members choice award.

stevebob on December 5, 2005 at 2:23 pm

I think that the very choice of the Hollywood Pantages during the years that the Academy Awards ceremony was held there must have been implicit recognition of that theater being the prize winner in this category.

Or was it all a matter of behind-the-scenes political wrangling, and just demonstrated the clout of RKO?

TheaterBuff1 on December 5, 2005 at 10:13 pm

You make excellent points all! And many of the problems you’ve cited go on behind the scenes of the Academy Awards already with regard to who they do hand out awards to. So what I’m thinking is, before it could ever be made a special Academy Award, at the very least, at some moment during the awards ceremony they could run a mini-documentary that acknowledges those who run the many theaters throughout the U.S. Or, since it’s a global economy now, throughout the world. The documentary would show flashes of this theater and that with no partcular bias, simply showing all the many different variations, and maybe with very brief interviews with various theater operators where they get to express the great honor it means to them to be able present Hollywood’s work to the public in the best possible way they can and to be a part of the over all artistry in the process. The flashes of theaters could show palaces that still are alive and well today, as well as small mom & pop (“Last Picture Show”) type theaters in small isolated towns of Wyoming or wherever. And please note, the flashes would only show theaters where love and true dedication to presenting the film is a major factor, not the callously indifferent multiplex chains. And quite frankly I think audiences watching this on the Academy Awards would love it! Especially if when watching they could say, “Hey, I know that theater!” when this or that one flashes by. Viewers would be glued to the screen in hopes they’ll see their favorite one, or that of their childhood memories. And the documentary could also quickly run through the history of theaters, starting with those of ancient Greece, to the first of the silent movie houses, to the most futuristically advanced digital or Imax theaters of today, with the message being that no matter what, there will always be this strong want in humankind where many can come out to see the movies collectively. The documentary could show the long lines of people pouring into the theaters in droves, and the many varied reactions of audiences faces as they watch the spectaculars, or the comedies, or the suspense films and so on. I.e, flashes of peoples' faces all reacting as one, at least for that very special moment at the theater, whether it be to “Ben Hur” ’s famous chariot race, or to Billy Wilder’s “Some Like it Hot,” or the sudden invasion from the sky in Alfred Hitchcock’s “The Birds.” And with all emphasis on the theater itself as making it all possible, not to mention the dedication of those who choose to run them well.

JimRankin on December 6, 2005 at 2:29 am

There is the 1948 filmette: “Your Theatre” which shows some of those audience reactions and other scenes that you describe, but it is dated and rarely seen anymore. I don’t know who produced it, but one would imagine it to be from the National Assn. of Theatre Owners (NATO). It was last seen as a trailer at the close of a segment of the PBS series in the early ‘90s of “Matinee at the Bijou” and possibly a library has a set of the tapes of it from which one could look for the trailer. This short subject was never a popularity contest, but it showed the economic importance of the local theatre to the local economy as well as being the major entertainment focus for a community.

It would be seen as a curio today to a TV station, but maybe someone could get the rights to show it on a local station by contacting the Copyright Cleareance Office at the Library of Congress which might itself have a copy of the 10-minute black and white film. A company called Criterion supplies many ‘shorts’ and possibly they will have it. The Theatre Historical Soc. of America may have a copy of it, but as they will tell you, mere possession of a copy is not the same thing as the legal right to exhibit it, though it might possibly be in the public domain which is what the Copyright Clearance Office can tell you.

This is not exactly what you wanted, but it may be as close as you can get in stimulating public appreciation of an exhibition form that seems to be fading. One could contact the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (the OSCARS) in Pasadena, but remember that every year the TV production of the “Oscars” is criticized as being too long, sometimes approaching four hours! For all that time, the MPAAS must find a sponsor willing to pay for each segment of the show, and I doubt highly that NATO would have the many thousands of dollars for commercial payment even if they would agree with your idea and intent. Ah, theatrebuff1, if there were an easy way to implement your idea, it would be grand, so do keep on thinking on the matter. You may have the makings of a producer in you, and his job is always to first find backers and their money.

TheaterBuff1 on December 6, 2005 at 8:27 pm

When people criticize the “Oscars” as being too long, it’s only in reference to portions of it which they cannot especially relate to, such as that especially God-awful segment where the MPAA’s Jack Valanti comes out and then goes on and on about the horrors of DVD piracy and how it must be stopped at all costs to secure Hollywood’s future. Unfortunately, because downloading movies has become so easy, whether legally or illegally, and college students as a general rule — the ones who download movies the most — don’t have a lot of money to spend given what tuitions are these days, it comes down to a crackdown on college students who for the most part are innocent. But Valanti’s attitude seems to be, “No, no, lock them all up if we have to!”

So I would suggest that that episode be replaced with what I’m suggesting, and that Mr. Valanti, who does have a very good PR image otherwise, be the one designated to introduce this mini documentary. A smiling and happy Jack Valanti as opposed to this soberingly serious man he is now.

As for the 1948 filmette, “Your Theatre,” which I’d very much like to see, certainly it sounds as if very good ideas could be drawn from it, but what I’m envisioning should be updatedly fresh, just as I’m sure that filmette was back in 1948.

In going forward with this proposal, we have to think in terms of future as opposed to the past, to think in terms of theaters as being things of the future rather than of the past. For ultimately there’s nothing new under the sun anyway. And now that a generation or so has grown up without theaters, aside from impersonal and generic multiplexes, it’s now very possible I believe that single-screen well-run theaters can be reintroduced to appear as if the idea is all new. And as surely as when the Beatles, Beach Boys and others reintroduced the barbershop quartet idea back in the early ‘60s in a way so fresh, so contemporary, that it appeared such had never come before.

So that’s my latest thoughts on the matter as I continue thinking on this further, and again, thank you for your great feedback!

JimRankin on December 7, 2005 at 4:50 am

Theatrebuff1: you give some very good comments, but if you want people to contact you privately on this matter, you must leave your E-mail address or other contact information. When one clicks on the blue name line at the bottom of a message here, he is taken to that person’s Profile Page where such information is recorded. You should go to yours and update the CONTACT entry which is now blank.

TheaterBuff1 on March 5, 2006 at 6:55 pm

Though I’m sure it was pure coincidence in relation to this essay, I’m delighted that the 2006 Oscars gave recognition to the invaluableness of seeing a movie on a giant screen, and how with some movies there just is no other way to see them and hope to see them at their absolute best. To be sure, I would have liked them to have gone further and given full recognition to how great theatrical architecture plays a major role in seeing a great movie at its best, too, not to mention the artistic sensitivity of a theater’s management. But that is only something that audiences of the past with good memories — and hopefully those of the future — would readily be able to appreciate. There are theaters that match that description now, but to be sure, far too few at this moment. But take heart, as things do change. No one can predict when or why, but they do, as, assuredly, history has always taught us.

raydeas on April 15, 2006 at 4:30 pm

I’ve just read this entire page solely because our local affiliate elected to delay “Ten Commandments” an hour and therefore it will not be in HD. I, too caught the Awards show reference to giant screens, but wanted to ask him what rock he’s been under. Due to the aforementioned decision, my 10' wide Da-Lite is dark and rolled up to the ceiling tonight. Once HD-DVD arrives, all I will lack will be the curtains in front of the screen—oh—and four or five hundred people with whom to share the experience. I did the curtain sweeps in the run-down old theater I operated in Cleveland in the 70’s, emulating the neighborhood theater I grew up in. Who even has curtains anymore? I’m on your side, guys; just not in a position to do much about it. I’ll tell one thing I’m not doing, is buying into their cable/satellite push. I get six channels of Free HD on my rabbit ears!

TheaterBuff1 on April 16, 2006 at 8:56 pm

As Paul Klieman, who operated Philadelphia, Pennsylvania’s last independent movie theater, and who passed away recently, put it so well:

“"You see all this narcotics, it’s a result of boredom… . Even with cable and VCRs and all that stuff, you get claustrophobic in the same room in the same apartment. The movies are a means of getting away. It’s recreation.”

And as a Philadelphia resident I can attest to the fact that parts of this city where well-run movie theaters once existed but that exist no more have become very dismal, boring places to reside in or pay a visit to as a result. Meaning that there’s more to movie theaters than their simply having large screens, although that certainly remains a huge plus. And to be sure, Philadelphia is now all the poorer for its recent loss of Paul Klieman and the theaters he ran so masterfully.

But other parts of the U.S. are very lucky. For instance, jnjeisen, who posted a comment earlier on this page, appears to be doing a fabulous job running the Orpheum Theatre in Hillsboro, Illinois. And equally impressive is how well the Majestic Theatre in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania (which was recently fully restored) is currently being run. And the trick is in running a movie theater as an art form, as an extension of the movie itself, rather than merely as a business. For this artistry — which not just anyone can do — there most definitely should be awards and full Academy recognition for.

Mike Rogers
Mike Rogers on June 7, 2010 at 10:43 pm

What a laughable Topic.Who thinks this stuff up,Harpo Marx.Maybe back in the 50’s 60’s or 70’s,but once this multiplexing started it would be a joke,2010 question to a 14 year old moviegoer;“WHAT IS AN USHER?” What a stupid topic.Academy Award for the best theatre.Heck,they call them all Cinemas.now.

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