One item of filmmaking and media production that people don’t often talk about a lot is the exhibition of the projects many of us work so hard to produce. I experienced a case really bad exhibition recently when I went to attend a Fathom Event at local Regal Cinema. Theatrical presentation is that one place we all strive for yet we have the least control when it comes to the presentation.
If you’re not familiar with Fathom Events they are “live event” type movie productions that are shown in theaters all around the country in a partnership amongst a number of theater chains. They show things like sporting events; operas are a common one you often see a preview for; there are special event movies and documentaries and a lot of concerts. I had the pleasure of editing a recent documentary on comedian Chonda Pierce which was shown as a Fathom event. There was a premier screening on April 25 as well as an encore presentation two weeks later. I was at NAB when the premiere happened so I was excited to get an encore on Tuesday May 9.
When talking about the exhibition one wants perfect screening conditions for the film that they have directed, edited, DPed etc. Hopefully that includes comfy seats, pleasant temperatures, optimal sound and good picture. It’s funny to talk about exhibition in this modern world because so much media is consumed on cell phones and touchscreen devices but I don’t think people think about the perfect viewing experience be it in a well-equipped home theater or an actual movie house. This particular screening began with no picture as in the screen was black and we could hear a rather muffled audio playing in the theater speaker. I knew when the promos were over and the movie began because I could hear the opening score but still no picture. I left the theater and asked first employee I saw to check the problem and restart the picture. She said that they would do just that. After a couple minutes the picture turned on but the sound was still terrible. After a several more minutes of not restarting the picture I went back out on the same poor soul that had to experienced my wrath to tell them that things were still screwed up.
After another 10 or 15 minutes of the movie playing I could see someone up in the projection booth attempting to do something and something did happen. The production stopped. There were several attempts to restart as the Fathom Events promo began playing over and over but it still sounded terrible. After about 20 minutes of this the theatre management came in and announced that they would be unable to show the production because one of the amplifiers in the theater had been blown. Apparently they had shown a Bollywood movie in this smaller theater at some point prior and “those loud Bollywood movies” were never meant to be shown in a theater that size. The Bollywood movie was so loud it “blew the amp.” Why no one monitored that is beyond me but I guess with 27 screens you just program everything in and let it go.
I immediately wondered how many other movies they had shown in the theater with the blown amplifier since it sounded like this other screening was at least the day before. A Fathom Event plays off a file so I had assumed it would be easy enough to move the showing to another screen since the Theater has 27 of them. But according to management, complications around the business side of Fathom Events means they’re unable to ever move a Fathom Event from one screening room to another. I made several attempts to reach out to both Fathom Events and Regal Cinemas by their Twitter accounts letting them know what had happened but I got no response at all. To the credit of the theater they did offer full refunds (which of course they should’ve done since the Fathom Event tickets are nearly $20) as well as offering vouchers for any other movie any other time including special events and RPX screenings. The people running the theater, and it has to be very thankless job, were very sorry about what had happened but their hands really seem to be tied as far as having another screening. They were unsure if they would be able to make up this particular screening at a later time.
The problem with the audio was a very muffled sound with the music bed actually being listenable but the dialogue was very muted. If you listened really close you could kind of understand the dialog and I was amazed by the number of people in the theatre that seemed to want to watch the production even with the bad sound. I think that speaks a lot to the subject matter and fans of the artist as opposed to people just willing to watch bad exhibition.
As the editor I wanted the best screening conditions possible. I often think about poor directors and cinematographers in the modern era who do their best to attempt to bring beautiful, cinematic images to the screen only to have them viewed in suboptimal conditions. I once chatted with a friend who hated the movie There Will Be Blood and I couldn’t understand why he hated it so much. Come to find out he watched the entire 2 hour and 38 minute movie on his phone on an airplane. There’re a lot of movies I can think about that is not properly viewed on your phone on an airplane and There Will Be Blood is right at the top of the list.
But back to the screening in the theater; box office numbers seem to be up over the last few years even if tickets sales are trending down but theaters owners and exhibitors are becoming increasingly frustrated with Hollywood. There continues to be a push to lower the theatrical window or to even have movies released in the home at the same time they’re released in the theaters … but for a higher price. The consumer wants this but the theater owner does not. You can do this today if you’re will to pay up.
To continue to have success at the box office theater owners and exhibitors need to continue to offer up a premium experience to those of us willing to pay + or – $20 per person to go to the theater. A number of “innovations” have come along in recent years that helps with that: a premium viewing experience, dinner and booze, reserved seating and kicking out cell phone users are a good start. I think that most of us that go to the theater would be fine with phones being allowed as long as the movies are identified as such and we can avoid them at all costs. But beyond the viewing experience among those kinds of movie distractions it’s the filmmaker who cringes most at the idea of a jungle gym inside the theatre or talking when everyone else is trying to watch the movie.
Back to the actual projection of the image to the screen. That is something the viewer can’t do anything about. We sit at the mercy of the theater management and some kind of almost-projectionist sitting in the booth manning a hard drive. Best we can do as theatrical consumers is complain loudly to the theatre when the exhibition goes wrong. Ask for refunds, call the theatre chain, hit them up on social media. And what the theatre chains can do is respond and reply and let the consumer know they are doing what they can do keep the customer returning to the movie house.
I tried to complain to Fathom via their Customer Experience Survey Monkey form that was advertised on-screen before the event began, but that was a bust both on mobile at the screening and on the desktop afterwards.
You know Fathom if you’re going to provide an Other category you should probably at least provide a button for Other so we could continue the survey after choosing Other … I mean … Other was my answer!
Regal doesn’t even have a category on their Send Us an Email contact form for projection and screening issues.
I never heard a reply back from either Regal Cinemas or Fathom Events after tweeting to them about the bad screening experience. Others have had similar experiences and from the several Fathom Events I’ve been to over the years it’s the ones with problems that stick out in my mind. Both Regal Cinemas and Fathom Events could take a page from some of these companies about how to handle customer service on Twitter. I guess I should have tweeted to Regal Problems instead but somehow I don’t think that’s an actual Regal Twitter account. I guess I’ll send this little rant over to them via their contact forms.