Thursday, December 24, 2009

The Filmmaker's Roadmap to Value (Part 1 of 6)

This is an article in a series. You may read all the articles in this series by clicking here.

Sacramento has a local art house cineplex called the Tower Theatre. Its billboard out front reads, "Save The Tower Theatre" and has been posted there for years because Sacramento was going to (and might still) spend millions on a competing theatre in a fancy mall area in nearby downtown. The new mall theatre's art films would compete directly with Tower, but the new theatre would also be given, rent free, to the Century Theaters Corporation. Obviously, Tower Theatre and its patrons are up in arms about the deal.

Now let's be abundantly clear: I support the arts. I support the very idea of the arts. I got my B.A. in the Humanities and love publicly supported news organizations like NPR—they play a critical role in holding other for-profit news corporations accountable. That's a long-winded way of saying I get the warm and fuzzies whenever I see the arts flourish.

That said, Darwinism is an unrelenting and unforgiving bitch. Any animal, technology, system, or concept unable to sustain itself will either adapt... or die. And, to be blunt, if it can't adapt quickly enough, it should die. The cold truth is that extinction is not anathema to evolution—it's part of evolution. In order for newer and better systems to be born and thrive, decaying and less efficient systems must die off to clear the way forward. In the words of Dennis Leary, "I once heard Keith Richards say kids should not do drugs... Keith, we can't do any more drugs because you already did them all! We'll have to wait until you die and SMOKE YOUR ASHES!!"

I hope the Tower Theatre stays afloat. I really, really do. I try to make it over there when I can, but... it's a little too far away, I have two kids keeping me busy at home, and the movies Tower shows don't always grab me right away... It's interesting how I ordered my list of objections. If I lived next to the Tower, even if I had kids and their movies didn't grab me right away, I'd still go more often than I do now.

Whenever I do get over to Tower, I don't give them my money simply to support independent movies—I give them money because I like the indie movies they show there. If the Tower can't sustain itself showing indie movies, I will of course be extremely sorry to see them go... but I also have little sympathy for a business that's failed because they didn't understand how to earn more money than they spent.

The monetization of digital distribution is shifting under our feet like tektonic plates. Take a good look around because things will not always be so: if Blockbuster doesn't act fast, it won't be around in 5–10 years. On the other end of the scale, Netflix is already migrating its DVD rentals into a Watch Instantly service. News comes this week about Apple offering a $30/month iTunes TV subscription. Things are moving quickly and the ones who can adapt will earn the privilege of sticking around.

This article is part of a series called The Filmmaker's Roadmap to Value. You may read the entire articles by clicking here, or the other articles here:

  1. Save the Tower Theatre
  2. A Plea to Consumers (12/25 09:00 PST)
  3. A Rotating Film Tour (12/26 09:00 PST)
  4. What Are You Really Selling? (12/27 09:00 PST)
  5. Transmedia: Connecting With Fans (12/28 09:00 PST)
  6. CwF + RtB For Filmmakers (12/29 09:00 PST)


Anonymous said...

I appreciate your darwinian sentiment in evaluating the "save the Tower" appeal. But you said it yourself in your introductory remarks. The City of Sacramento's dollars were going to be used to subsidize real estate expense and GIVE the new competing theater a huge financial advantage. Consider that rent is THE largest fixed cost for a theater. Its owed whether the theater is full or empty. All it would take is for the subsidized theater to show the same movie and split the audience to tip the Tower's financials into the loss column. City dollars for the new theater's land costs reduces or eliminates the risk for the new theater. How Darwinian is that? At a minimum let any new competitor bear the full costs and risks of their competitive foray. city needs jobs - great; subsidizing one new project putting existing businesses out of business add 0 Net jobs and adds to the unemployment rolls.

Ross Pruden said...

Point taken: if I were working at the Tower, I'd feel taken advantage of, too. That said, Tower has done an awful job marketing itself, and if the new theatre does get its location rent-free, the fairness issue becomes moot—Tower needs to either find new income streams, negotiate for cheaper rent (or buy the land outright), move to a cheaper location, or fold up shop. You can whine about how your business got screwed, which may or may not be true, but in the end, the only thing that matters is if your business survives and thrives. Hollywood keeps whining about piracy, but they can't stop it... So they've learned how to compete with it instead. Today's post—A Rotating Film Tour—is one simple way the Tower could compete with any other theatre, even if one of the competitors isn't paying rent.

Sheri C said...

so now I feel compelled to get your take on this article which is related to your post, but offers a differing opinion.