Cinema has always been a media that has felt under threat. Radio, television, video, DVD, BluRay, video games and so on, have all at one time or another been listed as being a reason that the medium is going to fail. And it’s true that it has adapted – or had to adapt – over the years. And despite the naysayers, it’s has evolved and survived.
Today, it’s technology that gives it a leading edge: digital projectors, 3D, and digital surround systems.
But even those are not enough to keep it on an even keel, and in many ways, they’re also becoming cinema’s biggest problem.
There are reports that 3D is not as popular as it once was, with 2D versions of films outperforming 3D versions. That’s not surprising as most 3D is rubbish, adding no more than a few cheap thrills, but at considerable cost to enjoyment of the film overall. And now we hear about considerable problems with digital projectors in some cinemas with 2D films.
I used to go to the cinema all the time. Now, it’s a much rarer treat for me. That’s not the ticket prices – although in London those don’t help – it’s because I find the experience significantly less pleasant than it once was.
Here’s my list of things cinemas, and the film industry in general, needs to do if it wants to regain my custom:
- Run a zero tolerance policy on people using phones in cinemas. I don’t mean people talking on them – although I have experienced that. I mean checking text messages, Facebook and Twitter. The industry has been scared stupid that we’re all busy pirating films by smuggling camcorders into screening, yet I’ve never ever seen a member of staff in a cinema admonish patrons for using their phones. While those Orange ads are fine, they don’t really hammer home the message. That means chains need to update those pre-film reels more than once a decade to take into account social media on mobile devices. And they need staff who will proactively tell people to stop using their devices.
- Stop selling noisy/smelly food. I realise that cinemas don’t make any cash at all from the actual screening of films – especially in the first week(s) of release. But they do need to realise that we come to the cinema for enjoyment. If I keep having unpleasant experiences, then I’ll just wait a couple of months and watch the DVD or BluRay at home.
- Don’t scrimp and save on projection or audio. The only reason I’m travelling to see a film in a cinema is because it’s going to look and sound fantastic. If you can’t be bothered to put the correct lens on a projector (I must admit that I’m not aware I’ve experienced this problem), you fail to show a film in the right ratio (I certainly have had this experience), or you fail to clean the smears off your screen or fix the sound, then I’m not going to bother coming. Again, that means employing someone who knows what they’re doing, and not giving them so much to do that they never have time to check that everything is OK.
- If I decide ahead of time that I’m coming to the cinema, and pay you for the privilige, then shouldn’t I actually be getting a discount? The ticketing process is automated. You have my money irrespective of whether I actually make it there. You’re paying smaller staff costs. So why does this cost me more? (And arguing that other forms of entertainment charge administrative costs is not an answer – they’re equally as bad) At the very least, have the decency to have working automatic machines at the cinema.
- Simply deciding that you’re going to charge more for the seats in the middle of the cinema really doesn’t make for a “Premium” experience. Yes the chairs are nicer, but all you’re really doing is subtly disincentivising me from coming more frequently.
And a few for film-makers/studios:
- If you shot your film with 2D cameras, there is absolutely no way it’s going to look better in 3D. I’m certainly not going to pay for the privilige of seeing flat characters “cut-out” of the background and some kind of Photoshop content-aware fill applied is not good enough. Indeed it’s terrible. I’m not going to see your film in 3D. And I’m quite likely to take against it in 2D no matter how good it is. Thor – I’m looking at you.
- And even if you shoot with 3D cameras, I’m still unlikely to see your film. You see it’s too dark. I hate dark films. Well Stanley Kubrick’s Barry Lyndon was OK. But that was by design. And he even had a special lens designed for that film!
So there you go. I haven’t stopped watching films. I’m just not seeing them in a cinema as much as I once did. And that’s a shame, as watching a good comedy (a rare thing I know) or a good blockbuster is a much better experience with a large audience. Yet the cinema experience is paling. I’m not a luddite. If someone makes a good film in 3D I’ll still go and see it. That means a good story (Avatar – I’m looking at you) as well as being technically good. But then if you use IMAX, high frame rates, more than 4k or whatever – I’m still interested.
The key thing here is to make it exciting to go to the cinema – a positive and pleasant experience.