Movie Theater King Speaketh




If you're gonna bitch about the state of our local theaters -- the pre-movie commercials, the dearth of foreign and indie fare, the expensive concessions... take your pick -- at least be polite. Otherwise your complaints may end up soaking in high-fructose sludge at the bottom of a theater trash can.

"We don't mind constructive criticism," says John Schweiger, owner/chairman/CEO of Ashland, Ore.-based Coming Attractions Theatres , "but we do mind the use of derogatory words." Specifically, he says, the company has received a number of comments from angry patrons of Arcata's historic Minor Theatre. Which is fine, he says. "But we tend to ignore them when they use four-letter words. It's not a lot of people, but they're very, very vocal. And we're getting tired of it."


With The Movies at the Bayshore Mall set to close forever this Thursday night, Schweiger talked to the Journal about the state of the movie industry (pretty darn good), plans for the Minor (encouraging) and the reasoning behind those five-dollar popcorn buckets and pre-film commercials. Excerpts below.

NCJ: Why close The Movies?

Schweiger: Basically, the theater is just not needed. [Closing it] is reducing our overhead. We spent over $2 million expanding the Broadway. It's a state-of-the-art facility that is overwhelmingly enjoyed by people. The mall theater is basically obsolete.

NCJ: So it's not indicative of any larger problems in the movie industry?

Schweiger: The film industry at large is having a record year. We've exceeded $10 billion in sales. Our [Coming Attraction's] business is up about 10 percent, and attendance is up six to eight percent, depending on the location. We're getting the bugs out of our system to better serve Humboldt County. We'll be installing a second 3-D projector at the Broadway and one in McKinleyville. We've operated down there for a couple of years now, and we're learning more and more.

NCJ: It seems like the Minor doesn't show as many independent or foreign movies as it used to. Is that just the nature of the business now?

Schweiger: Absolutely not. [Here's where he addressed Arcata's vocal citizenry.] We are aware that that theater specializes in art and foreign films. But, number one, you can't show them if there are none available. Supply is up and down. Those smaller films are distributed by smaller companies, and we never really know when they're coming in. Number two, we have three screens in there. Sometimes we wrestle with, do we get another [print of] Avatar ? We're trying to get away from that [and] turn the Minor into a true art theater, with foreign, documentaries and independent films.

NCJ: Really? That's exciting.

Schweiger: Yes, that is our plan.

NCJ: What about those commercials before the movies?

Schweiger: It is very, very clear that the whole world is changing as far as how information is being disseminated out there. Newspapers are going to the Web sites, and advertisers are looking for the venues where people will see their message. Also, everyone tries to hold down costs. If you watch a football game, count how many times it gets interrupted by commercials. Then count how many times a movie is interrupted by commercials. ... And we get a lot of compliments that people find them very informative and people appreciate them. We hear both sides. But if we want to eliminate screen ads, we could raise the price of tickets 35-40 percent. So take your choice.

NCJ: But with a football game, people can put commercials on mute or leave the room.

Schweiger: They can walk out of the theater, too. They're only shown before the movie starts. It's kind of like the concessions. The number one complaint in the industry is the cost of concessions. But it's because our ticket prices are so small on a comparative basis. You can't go to an NBA basketball game or a concert without paying $75 or more per ticket. We're still under $10 for crying out loud. ... Where else can you go for under $10 and spend two, three hours and get a lifetime experience? I can remember going to the movies when I was ten years old and younger. I can still remember some of the movies I saw and some of the experiences I had. ... You have to have a ticket to go in, but you don't have to have a candy bar.

NCJ: Will fewer screens mean less variety?

Schweiger: Absolutely not. We will be able to serve the market very, very well from the Broadway. It will help us be more efficient and do, I think, an even better job.

At the close of the interview, Schweiger said the Bayshore Mall already has a new tenant lined up for The Movies' spot. He said he's "not sure" what's going in, but that it won't stay a theater. Bayshore Mall Manager Sue Swanson was not available for comment.

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