Movie Theaters Are Trying Everything: Free Tickets, Popcorn, Even the Spa Day TreatmentAfter two years of preaching the theatrical experience, exhibitors are leaning into old-fashioned promotions dressed up in energy-drink eye masks.
May 18, 2022 2:30 pm
As the Cinépolis cashier explained, this 5:30 p.m. screening in Pico Rivera, California wasn’t just any showtime for “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness.” She told the family of three that it was part of the chain’s “Self-Care Sunday” series, launched in conjunction with May’s Mental Health Awareness Month: They would be treated to gold-infused under-eye masks, a pre-show breathing exercise, and free popcorn.
“So we each get free popcorn?,” the mom asked with glee.
Cinépolis, which operates 26 theaters in the U.S., is among several circuits that hope launching new promotions and upgrading the theater experience will result in more audiences realizing that they just can’t replicate the in-theater experience at home.
Theater attendance was down 50 percent in 2021 compared to 2019, according to the Motion Picture Association. While Q1 2022 attendance was down only 40 percent compared to Q1 2019, and tentpoles like “Doctor Strange” show audiences are willing to return, there’s still a long way to go.
The bottom line is theaters need butts in seats by any means necessary, whether that means renting out theaters to businesses and government organizations during off-peak hours, live concerts, streamed plays, or competitive videogaming.
“Movie theaters are the perfect venue to put eSports in because they already exist,” said Rick Starr, owner of the East Coast’s four-location CW Theatres chain. “And now — thank you, COVID — we have capacity, right? We didn’t necessarily have capacity in 2019. It would have been a lot harder for us to come up here and say hey, listen, you’ve got 10 screens and they’re all slammed with produce and you’re running movies for sometimes 120 days. Now we have ‘Batman’ at home in six weeks.”
However, most theater owners are still hoping to support their operations in the way that the movie gods intended. For now, that means old-fashioned promotions dressed up in energy-drink eye masks.
Cinépolis Self Care Sundays target afternoon screenings, when the weekend rush slows and there’s often more empty seats, said Annelise Holyoak, the chain’s senior national director of marketing and loyalty. “Our goal is to add value and get people excited about going to the movies again,” she told IndieWire.
Inside the Cinépolis auditorium on May 15, ushers hand-delivered small boxes of popcorn to each person’s plush reclining seat, along with eye masks from beauty brand Grace & Stella and cards advertising mindfulness apps built by PSYT. Before the show began, an on-screen breathing exercise started — punctuated by some giggling teens. “Welcome to Self Care Sunday. You can sit back, relax, and completely let go,” said the voiceover.
Holyoak said the promotion, which runs through June, marks a lot of firsts for the company.
“We’ve always tried to lean into experiential activations, but they’ve been focused on the lobby with photo-ops, fan events, art exhibits,” she said. “We’ve never done anything specifically in the auditorium like this that was a regular thing. We’ve never really pulled in partners before. For movie theater chains, it’s not super-typical to do that.”
Other chains reaching for collaborations include Manhattan’s Angelika Film Center, which in April launched its “Bring a Friend Back to the Movies” promotion in collaboration with Sony Pictures Classics. The deal offered two-for-one tickets to SPC’s “The Duke,” a British dramedy that appeals to the older arthouse audience that’s been slower to return to cinemas.
“This was the first time we’ve collaborated with a distributor really closely on making sure a program like this worked,” Angelika president Ellen Cotter told IndieWire. “I think stepping back, looking at the attendance numbers, it worked. Other distributors are asking about it.”
Cotter said the film was the highest-attended title in the two weeks after it opened at the New York location. And 2.5 weeks into its release, it was the fourth most attended film at that theater in all of 2022.
The promotion was the brainchild of SPC co-president Tom Bernard, a long-time proponent of closer collaborations with theaters. “What we’ve found is that once the older audiences come back to the theater, they continue to come back when they see what they’ve been missing,” he said. “A lot of the audience for specialized films, the older audiences, they had a group of friends they went to the movies with.”
The Angelika also used the occasion to launch its first-ever loyalty program. Free to join, the Angelika Membership lets audiences earn free tickets, popcorn, and half-price tickets on Tuesdays. She said the program should allow the chain to gather valuable data and better market specific films and promotions to people.
“It’s a great way for us to understand our audience even better and make the experience at the movies more interesting to them and more fruitful,” Cotter said. “If you’re going to make the effort to leave, either getting a babysitter, or driving, whatever it is, the experience needs to be one that you remember.”
There’s a theme that connect the Angelika and Cinépolis promotions: Theaters are leaning into selling audiences the idea that the in-theater experience is one they just can’t get at home on the couch. Whether the ability to ignore your phone for two hours, enjoy hot-buttered popcorn, or convene with friends, the theme steers decisions at the biggest chains.
AMC Theatres reported in its quarterly earnings call last week that people are spending more on refreshments — per-patron food and beverage spend last quarter was up 40 percent compared to Q1 2019 — and that they’re more interested in premium-format screenings. Those screenings represented 13 percent of domestic tickets in the first quarter of 2019 compared to 16 percent last quarter.
AMC also announced its largest-scale projector upgrade since the industrywide transition to digital. It will add laser projectors to 3,500 of its auditoriums by 2026.
“With this upgrade, AMC moviegoers can expect improved picture contrast, maximum picture brightness and more vivid color,” CEO Adam Aron said on the earnings call. “In short, a much better viewing experience that will get moviegoers off their couches at home and into our theater.
Bringing back cinematic opulence
What started with a pair of art deco doors from the Tauranga Regent Theatre, will now open up a world of creative opportunity to the community with the repurposing of The Historic Village’s cinema.
Initiated by The Incubator Creative Hub, the Village Cinema has been repurposed to provide a “physical space that film can be celebrated and nurtured,” says The Incubator director Simone Anderson.
“[The cinema] has always been pitched as a cinema but it’s never really been used as a cinema. It’s been used more for lectures and training sessions probably more than it’s been used as a cinema for showing film.”
The cinema’s repurposing will see this transformed and create a space for film, creativity and community to flourish.
“Essentially we’re here to facilitate other not-for-profits and community groups to come up with their own events and whether that be once-a-month or once-a-year for festivals – we’re here to do all the nitty gritty and guide them along for it so they can take ownership of it,” says Village Cinema coordinator Melanie Mills.
The Incubator’s artists and local craftspeople have come onboard to help with the cinema’s modifications as per their kaupapa of engaging artist in all their projects.
Ray Craft of Tauranga’s Men’s Shed, based in the village, is “building a box office with carved, lathed pieces of wood. It’s absolutely amazing and way more than what we thought,” says Simone.
The repurposed cinema will feature an opera style “proscenium arch” to frame the film screen and “lead the eye”.
“It’ll be gold and painted in art deco theme by one of our artists Nick Eggleston,” says Simone.
The walls are embellished with iconic film characters in a mural by Incubator resident artists Sam Allen and Ally Drury.
“We want to put the opulence back into cinemas,” says Simone.
One of a kind
The village cinema is unique in that it is “not a commercial enterprise” but “a community social enterprise,” says Simone.
She highlights the cinema is not competing with other Tauranga cinemas as it offers a place for people to enjoy films “that might already be 30 years old”.
“Mel might source them [films] for someone in some obscure film library somewhere and find the license for it. These aren’t even films that would be shown in commercial cinemas,” says Simone.
The repurposed cinema is an accessible creative place for all.
“We want no exclusion basically. If someone has difficulties coming to the cinema we accommodate for that,” says Melanie.
‘The Creature from the Black Lagoon’ will be screened to celebrate the re-opening of Village Cinema on Friday, May 27 at 7pm.
“It’s a real old school, B grade, classic – just the vibe of the cinema – the perfect first film,” says Melanie.
Details at: https://www.theincubator.co.nz/the-village-cinema
The Village Cinema coordinator Melanie Mills and The Incubator’s Simone Anderson are excited for the community to celebrate film in the repurposed Village Cinema. Photo: John Borren.
Wairarapa stories to inspire
5:00 PM Wednesday May 18, 2022
A dark comedy starring a pre-fame Jemaine Clement, an arthouse whodunit shot on a smartphone, an up-close-and-personal musical biopic, and work from one of world’s finest indigenous directors: the 2022 Wairarapa Film Festival has no shortage of “uniquely Wairarapa” content to thrill audiences and galvanise up-and-coming filmmakers.
The second annual festival kicks off next weekend at Regent 3 Cinemas in Masterton – with screenings of short and feature-length films including Wairarapa actors, screenwriters, and production crew.
The Masterton programme features content by both emerging and veteran artists: from two visionary Masterton teenagers to pre-eminent activist filmmaker and Chanel College alumnus Barry Barclay.
Each screening will be followed by Q&A sessions with members of the films’ cast and crew, who will share their experiences, insights, and creative processes with the audience.
The festival will continue throughout the year, with events to be held in Carterton and South Wairarapa.
Festival director Jane Ross organised last year’s event to showcase Wairarapa’s many talented filmmakers – and was encouraged to make the festival an annual event after a “phenomenal” response from the community.
Ross, a television and film writer, critic, and proud cinephile, has organised various film festivals throughout the country – and said it was important for Wairarapa audiences to see themselves represented on screen.
“Wairarapa deserves to have its own event that’s dedicated to our own, unique local stories,” she said.
“There’s something so powerful in being able to recognise yourself and your community in the media you enjoy – it creates a real sense of pride.
“Plus, it’s inspiring for young and emerging filmmakers in Wairarapa – it shows them what is possible.”
The festival will open on Friday, May 27, with screenings of the 2000 short film Fizz – featuring a young Jemaine Clement as a man who faces off against a vending machine – followed by Come Morning, a backwoods mystery set in rural Arkansas.
The latter film was a collaboration between director Derrick Sims and his screenwriter wife Alaina – who relocated to Pahiatua from the US last year, and now manage the town’s Regent cinema.
The next day will begin with a matinee screening of Milk Stains, a short film by WaiCol pupils Luca Neilsen and Daniel Johnston-Kanavatoa (“about a milk man who loses his mind”), followed by the 2018 film Blue Moon, starring Mark Hadlow, Jed Brophy, and Liz Mullane, who lived in Wairarapa at the time.
Blue Moon, screened as part of the New Zealand International Film Festival, was filmed at a Motueka petrol station – using an iPhone.
Ross said she is particularly excited about the Saturday night screening of Swagger of Thieves: a documentary by director and Kuranui College old boy Julian Boshier, capturing “the high and lows” of Kiwi rockers Head Like A Hole.
The documentary, filmed over two decades, is a “hard watch”, Ross said, but is also a moving portrayal of the friendship between founding members Nigel Beazley and Nigel Regan, who met while boarding at Rathkeale College.
“It’s amazing. There’s a lot of hard stuff, like thieving, drug use, and nudity. But then there’s all these lovely scenes of the two Nigels having breakfast with their children.”
The programme will conclude on the Sunday, with screenings of The Old Man Next Door, starring veteran actor and “friend of the festival” Lawrence Wharerau, followed by Barry Barclay’s 1987’s drama Ngati – thought to be the first film to have a solely Māori cast and crew.
For this year’s festival, Ross has partnered with Wellington UNESCO City of Film – which has provided funding for Victoria and Massey university students to participate in the festival.
UNESCO will cover the cost of the students’ tickets to two of the screenings, and transport to and from Wairarapa.
“I studied film myself – and I know how hard it can be to participate in these events when you’re a student and struggling with money” Ross said.
“Having that engagement with rangatahi, and creating an accessible film culture, is so significant.”
After 43 years owner operator Peter Smith hands over the Starlight Cinema Taupō 12 May, 2022
Rachel CanningTaupō & Tūrangi Weekender
The year was 1979 and a young Peter Smith took on the job as a projectionist at the local cinema.
Two years later, the owner sold Peter his third of the shares and after making an inquiry to the managing director, he was offered the remaining shares.
Peter says the key to his success was "just being there and being a people person", for 43 years!
"Offering a good service is key, and having a good selection of movies to show. Also, the staff have been critical to the success of the cinema."
Throughout that time, Peter has employed a lot of young people, many keep in touch and he enjoys seeing them make a success of their lives. He also has a core of senior staff, one has been with him for 19 years and two staff members have been at the cinema for 11 years.
The Starlight Cinema is locally owned and independent and Peter says he has never been tempted to sell out to one of the big movie chains.
"It wouldn't be the same if the cinema was owned by a franchise. They would operate it in a different way."
He is staunchly community-minded and the Starlight Cinema Taupō has sponsored the annual fireworks and laser extravaganza, which in turn donates tens of thousands of dollars back into the community, the annual hobby show, the local harriers club, women's golf and the community patrol, to name a few.
"The local cinema is the community. They support me and I support them."
Peter is going to help the new owners out for another couple of months and is looking forward to going on holiday with his wife Robyn when he finally gets to retire.
Related articlesTammy Prince says she spent many happy hours of her childhood in the Starlight Cinema.
On Friday last week, Tammy and husband Charlie Prince bought the Starlight Cinema Centre from Peter Smith, who Tammy has known since she was 5.
When she was a child, her father Tom Clelland owned the business Xtra Clean which had the cleaning contract at the cinema.
"I worked in Dad's company in the holidays. The cinema would be my babysitter. In 1993 when The Lion King came out, I watched it 19 times over 14 days. I saw Titanic 22 times, I love movies."
Tom has sold his cleaning business now, but still keeps the carpet clean at the cinema. Tammy says Peter was more than an employer to her family.
"My dad was a single dad and so was Peter and they bonded. It wasn't like they were just co-workers."
Tammy's other childhood love was golf, moving to Texas when she was 18 on a golf scholarship to Oklahoma State University. She and Texas-born husband Charlie both have business degrees and Charlie is a big fan of superhero movies.
For a time they were both professional golfers but they didn't like the travel. During their last few years in Texas, Tammy raised their three young children while Charlie worked as a land and contracts analyst for an oil company.
"Charlie said to me 'what do you want to do?' And I said 'I want to own a movie theatre, it's so familiar to me'. We were going to either start one or buy one."
Fast forwards a few years, and the Prince family arrived in New Zealand on March 24, 2020, one day before the borders closed due to a State of National Emergency declared over the Covid-19 pandemic.
For the past few weeks, Tammy and Charlie have been learning the ropes at the Starlight Cinema, an immediate challenge being to get through this year "and make sure the business makes financial sense".
Tammy says if she and Charlie build a new cinema, people can expect something fancy but welcoming and cosy, and it will have a decent bar.
"We would keep the blockbusters but expand the boutique side. It will be a cinema designed for functions, such as birthdays."
Tammy says that dad Tom is now their primary babysitter.
"He is very excited [we have bought the cinema] and we have all been a bit terrified."
A million dollar restoration project for Embassy Theatre Wellington’s landmark cinema, Courtenay Place’s Embassy Theatre, opened in 1924, is to receive in excess of a million dollars as a loan to the Embassy Theatre Trust.
Former Wellington Mayor, Dame Kerry Prendergast and her husband, property developer and former city councillor, Rex Nicholls, are loaning the funds to restore the entrance to the treasured theatre.
The Category 1 heritage listed Embassy Theatre, has had a wonderful history providing a wide variety of entertainment in the capital city for close on 100 years. The theatre has played host to many film and arts festivals, international movie premieres, and as recent as the early 2000s, with Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, which brought 120,000 people out to line Courtenay Place.
Lower Hutt lawyer and New Zealand arts stalwart, the late Bill Sheat, who passed away in January last year, was a long time chairman of the Embassy Theatre Trust, of which Rex Nicholls has also been a trustee. Bill and his trustee colleagues put much energy into saving and restoring the Embassy Theatre over many years.
The Embassy Theatre Trust was formed in 1995 to save and restore the building. The Trust, with the help of Wellington City Council, eventually purchased the property in 1997.
Between 1998 and 2003, the Embassy was refurbished with parts of the building being sympathetically restored, and the auditorium modernised to cater for the demands of current theatre goers.
Bill Sheat had his funeral service in the Embassy Theatre in January last year and, in recognition of Bill’s deep interest in musicals and acting, was a real theatrical show by all accounts. For the several hundreds who attended Bill’s service, including me, it was a wonderful tribute to an outstanding arts leader.
Rex Nicholls is very clear on their new objective. “We are lending this money to the Trust to rebuild the entrance foyer the way it was back in the 1920s and we want to put a big digital ad up on top of the building to help pay rent for the theatre.” Just a further step in a long programme of restoration work for the Embassy.
The Embassy Theatre is a special feature looking down Courtenay Place, attracting huge numbers of people travelling through the area, and by night an entertainment drawcard for thousands of city residents and visitors.
- David Watt
Renovations underway in May 2022. This will be a large electronic billboard, spelling out EMBASSY.
Geoff Lealand was an Assoc Prof in Screen and Media Studies at the University of Waikato from 1992 to 2017. Now retired (not a word he favours), he writes social history, maintains this site, its Facebook and Instagram pages, as well as going to the cinema at least twice weekly.