Wednesday, May 2, 2012

5.2.12 Bee-otch of the Day: the movie industry

Bee-otch of the Day honors are awarded Monday through Thursday, Bee-otch of the Week is awarded Friday on

Name: the movie industry
Age: ~125
Occupation: the people who are supposed to give us moving entertainment
Last Seen: Hollywood, CA
Bee-otched For: not really doing the right thing
This month is a very important month for Hollywood.

100 years ago on Monday, a German immigrant named Carl Laemmle bought out several small movie studios and merged them all under one roof. That company was Universal Pictures. Over the years, Universal established itself as one of Hollywood's most-respected studios, and now, the second-oldest in the world.

Just a few days later, a Hungarian man, Adoph Zukor started another small studio, Famous Players. The studio eventually merged with another studio, Jesse Lasky Productions and even another studio, one founded in 1914 by a Utah theatre owner named W.W. Hodkinson who created his company's logo after the Ben Lomond mountain in that state. That company was Paramount.

In both their 100-year histories, Universal and Paramount had their triumphs and their tribulations. Both companies had their financial problems, but both emerged as giants in the film world. As a matter of fact, Universal actually owns most of Paramount's pre-1950 offerings.

But sadly, even though the globe and the mountain are busy blowing out 200 candles, they're both doing business in a way not all are enjoying these days.

For one thing, two films that should be playing in theatres now, Universal's Battleship and Paramount's The Avengers are already playing world-wide. Both have made over $200 million, so why aren't they playing here? Simple: the Summer movie season begins on Friday, and just maybe they wanted to test the waters, so to speak.

Here in America, we're the ones getting the sloppy seconds from the studios. As a matter of fact, there were four films that debuted and the highest of them all was Sony's stop-motion The Pirates which only made $11 million. For two weeks, the top of the movie pops has been Think Like a Man which is a film basically for 50-year-old obese black women.

Sadly, there's another good reason why Hollywood needs a good, hard kick in the ass: they just don't care about the small guy. Next year, Hollywood's studios are planning to abandon delivering films to theatres with the traditional 35 mm format. Instead, they want to switch over to a digital heard drive, since it's cheaper to ship, plus it doesn't interfere with the film quality itself, which gets scratched up over time. Right now, roughly 60% of all movie screens in America are digital, and most of them are chain cinemas like AMC, Carmike and Cinemark. However, small town theatres are now scrambling to find the financial resources to convert to digital, which has a hefty price tag of $70,000 per screen.

Already, some cinemas are being forced to wait longer for certain films, such as my old local theatre in northern Michigan, the Elk Rapids Cinema. Right now, they're playing Journey 2: The Mysterious Island, which was out three months ago. Most of the theatres now showing it are sub-run, meaning that they charge lower ticket prices for older movies. Elk Rapids Cinema normally shows films a month after its first run, but with a lack of 35 mm film prints, things are starting to become a battle for the 72-year-old theatre, which recently had a major remodel.

Even worse, it was announced on Monday that this weekend's offering is October Baby, an extremely controversial religious drama made by the American Family Association and funded by many religious groups such as Focus on the Family, Concerned Women for America and other pro-life groups. Normally, the Elk Rapids Cinema avoids showing controversial films (they traditionally avoid R-rated films and I doubt they ever played a Michael Moore film, even though Moore himself helped fund the Cinema's restoration efforts), but a critically-panned, low-budget, Z-list star-infected pile of horseshit about a girl who survived an abortion? C'mon, Joe!

But the odd thing is, despite the occasional pile of crap that the Elk Rapids Cinema throws onto its customers, it's actually one of the nicer theatres in the Grand Traverse Region, especially with its rocker seats used by cinemas here in Grand Rapids. Here in town, we have five theatres, and four are locally owned by the Loeks family. The sole non-Loeks house is the AMC Cinemas on Alpine, which once was a Star Theatre, owned by founder Jack Loeks' son Barrie. All of the major theatres in town have the usual amenities used by average theatres these days: stadium seating, digital picture and sound, reclining seats and a few other dings and whistles. Up in Traverse City, however, where 19 out of the 20 screens are operated by Georgia-based Carmike Cinemas, there's no stadium seating, no comfortable seats, cramped auditoriums, but there's digital sound and picture as part of Carmike's deal with digital projector manufacturer Christie.

However, thanks to Carmike, Traverse City now has something that Grand Rapids hasn't seen yet: the $10 movie ticket. That's right! On Friday and Saturday nights, for a regular 2D feature, it'll cost adults $10. Here in Grand Rapids, where there's decent competition between Loeks and Star (and to an even slight extent, Grand Rapids-based Goodrich which owns a cinema in Lowell), the most adults will pay for a traditional feature is $9.75. Also, bear in mind that Grand Rapids has what Traverse City doesn't: jobs. It's further proof that Carmike is just another company that doesn't know how to take care of its customers, especially in a town like Traverse City, which had been a one theatre owner town for decades.

But, thank God for Michael Moore. His non-profit Traverse City Film Festival has the sole screen in town that's NOT Carmike-owned, and it's the State Theatre. He and his volunteer staff have done wonders to that old house, converting it into what a classic cinema should act and feel like. The seats are nice and plush, the screen is big and wide and yes, there's stadium seating in the upstairs balcony. Plus, adult tickets are still only $8.

OH! Mike's done something that Carmike hasn't done since they've entered the market five or so years ago: he's announced that they're planning a second screen for the State. Yep! The screen will be in where an alley is right now, but hopefully, it will be on par with what we have here in Grand Rapids. It's sad that Traverse City has so much to offer entertainment-wise, but its aging theatres are stuck in the 80's. Carmike doesn't seem to give a damn about TC since it's all about profit. Same goes with their aging properties in Alpena and Big Rapids, and those theatres are even older.

In the end, the studios and bigger chain cinemas are all about the Benjamins. To hell with the small guy since they won't necessarily help with the CEO's salary or help with Will Smith's $20 million advance for his next movie. As long as people are willing to pay big bucks for crap on top of crap, that's what Hollywood will be all about. But if you don't like it, chances are that the first-run movies you want to see are already on your favorite P2P site, right?

So here's to 100 more years of Hollywood screwing people over!
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