Sunday, January 8, 2006

Movie Theatres are Businesses

A theater megaplex in Sandy, Utah has decided not to show Brokeback Mountain. Immediately the moralists claimed victory and the gay rights activists expressed disappointment.

While the manager wouldn't comment on why the show wasn't being offered, and it may well be that the Utah Eagle Forum did some behind-the-scenes lobbying of the theater owners (which would be perfectly legal and within their rights), I'd like to propose that economic forces may have played a big part.

Look at the other films showing at the megaplex. Most of them have been pulling in a lot more money than Brokeback Mountain, and even the others have been pretty close to it. True, Brokeback's per-screen average is higher, but that doesn't guarantee that any particular theatre will get the same result.

In the slightly more than a year that I've been working as a projectionist, I've followed how films do nationally, compared with how films do at the theatre where I work. Sometimes it's pretty much the same (Harry Potter, Revenge of the Sith, The Island), sometimes it's wildly divergent (we couldn't pay people to see Ocean's Twelve). The owners of the theatre where I work also own another theatre in northern Maine, and attendance for the same film can be quite different in the two locations. Folks in The County don't really care for the sci-fi or fantasy movies that do well on the coast, but anything else that's aimed at kids will fill the house, no matter how inane.

So choosing which films to play on a theatre's screens can be sometimes akin to choosing lottery numbers. From a business standpoint, it's hard to fault the theatre owners for not showing a movie that's not really doing all that well.

But I do hope to see the movie sometime, myself. Just as I was in the middle of writing this entry, I got a phone call from my mom, and she's off to see it in Thomaston. No definitive word on whether the Colonial will get it.



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