A couple of days ago Ryan at The Matinee wrote an interesting article about George Lucas’ vision for the future of cinema. We seem to have a similar view on Lucas’ brave new world so I decided to write a comment; not for the first time in responding to one of Ryan’s articles a quick response suddenly became 600 word rant. Rather than post it I decided to publish it here.
As I have mentioned many times I am my local multiplex’s worst customer. I pay £15 per month for a pass allowing me to attend as often as I like. I go around ten times per month. I don’t buy confectionary or drinks (that’s where the cinema’s real profit is) and I take advantage of their three hours free parking. All in all I pay around £1.50 per film (that’s around $2.25) excluding the cost of travel. I sometimes go to my local independent cinema for around £7 to se a film that isn’t on at a multiplex. I am prepared to go to the extra effort and cost for a smaller independent film, I’m not sure I would bother for a bigger film if things were the other way around. If a big movie opens I often go and see the smaller releases first as I know they won’t be out for long. It also means when I do o and see the blockbusters the cinema won’t be quite as packed. This month I have seen the big releases like World War Z and Man of Steel, but the film I was most looking forward to was Before Midnight. To put it simply the big movie isn’t always the most appealing or to of my to see list.
As you may have guessed I think George Lucas has lost the plot. The only way I can see where he came up with this is if he truly has no idea how much $40 is to the man on the street in a regular job and a regular income. The multi billionaire appears to want to make the most inclusive and accessible visual art form into something exclusive. Given his history I wouldn’t expect an idea like this to come from a man like him for two reasons: 1 – He is the man who made a film that grossed 250 times its budget (American Graffiti not Star Wars); 2 – One of the reasons the Star Wars movies make so much money is the people who go back and see them for a second or a third time.
The concept of changing prices between a bread and butter movie and an event movie isn’t that strange. English Premier League football clubs vary their ticket priced depending on who they are playing, however the price difference he is mentioning makes no sense. Forgetting any discounts a standard ticket is £7.70. if they were to drop that to £7.50 for most films put it up to £10 for “event movies” it would make a kind of sense. In a way they are already doing this with “event movies” often being in 3D and Imax, with the additional charges and the price of 3D glasses we are getting used to paying extra for certain films. They tend to be the most expensive to make but far from the best films. In that way we only have ourselves to blame if we are stupid enough to go and watch the 3D movies. In my defense I always go for the 2D version when I can, but there is often no 2D option or the time of the 3D is better for me.
Here is the interesting thing. How will distributors decide what is a $7 movie and what is $40 movie? If a studio makes a turkey like John Carter that gets panned by the critics do they hold out for the $40 a ticket to recoup their money or do they sell it cheep in the hope of getting bums on seats? If a movie has a large budget does it have to wear its $40 ticket as a badge of honour, anything cheaper would be an admission of weakness or lack of quality? I think there will be a time in the not too distant future where ticket prices will rise. There is a limit to how much the cinema’s can keep increasing the cost of food and beverages. It is unlikely that distributors will let cinemas take a larger cut so to keep on making money they will have to increase ticket prices. This is a very different thing to what Lucas has proposed.
The great successes of cinema is despite the rising prices it can still be a relatively cheep night out. That is why admissions have gone up during the recession the way they did during the great depression. By pricing a lot of people out of the cinema at a time when home systems are getting bigger and better would be counterproductive. Or to quote Ryan “Hollywood – your product makes you money because of one simple reason: you stack ‘em high and sell ‘em cheap. Don’t fuck with that.”