You should pay more to go to the movies

This Sunday my wife and I have a rare night off. What shall we do? Maybe see Ben Folds Five play at The Greek. Or maybe see Before Midnight, the new chapter in the Hawke/Delpy/Linklater story. For the concert we can get decent seats for $60, not counting parking and any food or beverages. Too much for us to spend right now, so going to the movies is a nice consolation prize. But is it a consolation on our wallets? The closest theater to us, The Arclight, will sell us two tickets for $32, not counting parking or food/drink.

That’s still a lot of money. This also may explain why I can count on one hand the number of movies I have seen in the theater this calendar year.

Every filmmaker dreams of seeing their movie on the big screen. I’ve been fortunate enough to direct a feature that did make it to the big screen, at least for a few showings. It was wonderful. A joy to celebrate your work with 500 other people.

But realistically, that isn’t going to happen. Thousands of feature length movies are completed a year. Only a few hundred make it to the big screen, and most of those are franchises, star vehicles, or movies based on board games.

No, this doesn't really exist...yet.

No, this doesn’t really exist…yet.

These days independent movies can be considered a success if they get any distribution. While my end goal of this project is to see my movie in the theaters, I am pragmatic. I will be happy to complete it and have it available, no matter the medium.

That said, it’s a shame that we aren’t going to see smaller budget films in the theater as often. But I believe there is a solution.

People should pay MORE to see a movie in the theater.

What? You cray-cray, Alex. You are koo-koo-nuts, to use one of my wife’s favorite phrases.

Pay more? What the f&^k?

Not my idea. In a recent speech at the University of Southern California, Steven Spielberg (I think he’s a director or something) said that the future of the movie going experience is tiered pricing.

I say bring it on.

The middle class of movies (like our country, sadly) is disappearing. There are blockbusters that have budget’s north of $100 million, and there are “arty” or “indie” or “poor” movies with budgets anywhere from $1,000,000 down to a case of Red Bull and a dream. The middle ground movies are going extinct.

So why should we audience members pay the same for two entirely different cinematic experiences?

Major blockbusters are an experience. Big stars. Great effects. Sometimes nifty 3-D glasses. Often surround sound meant to scare the crap out of you. Comfortable seating for 1,000. It’s a fancy experience, and we should pay fancy prices. IMAX and 3-D screen tickets are already close to $20 each. I say, jack em’ higher, and charge more for the premium seats than the ones on the side or in the back (or lord help us, we got to the theater late and have to sit in the front row). Tiered pricing.

If you are going to see a low budget movie, you should pay less. A lot less, in my opinion. This way smaller movies will get a chance to have larger audiences. More of these movies will make it to the big screen and have longer box office runs, even if it’s screening in the janitor’s closet of the multiplex. More access means more opportunities.

Am I crazy? No, this already exists nearly everywhere else in the commercial performing arts world. You can see great off-off-Broadway theater for about $20 a ticket. Want great seats at Book of Mormon on Broadway? That will cost you anywhere from $70 to $477, depending on where you sit and which night you attend. Broadway and off-off-Broadway are both live theater in New York, but the pricing is extremely different.

What a sec…$477 for one ticket? Holy shitballs.

Praise the lord and pass the loot.

Praise the lord and pass the loot.

What about different pricing at the same event? Well, you can sit at the bleachers at Yankee stadium for $15 or you can wave to your family on TV from behind home plate for $300. Same game. Concert venues have been that way for years. Use binoculars in the cheap seats, or pay a lot more for Mick Jagger to sweat on you.

Let’s add this wrinkle: want to see Star Wars Episode 7 on opening night? Or opening weekend? That will cost you more than if you wait a week. You want to be the first of your friends to rant or rave on Facebook, then you should pay more for the bragging rights. And why not? If you want to fly the day before Thanksgiving as opposed to the week before, that will cost you. Timing is everything.

Skeptics (like you, if you are one) might say that this is a punishment for the working classes, as they are more likely to see the big blockbusters while the intellectual elite (or the cool kids) go see the lower priced indie movies. Ignoring the class-ism of that, people of all demographics go to the big movies. The smaller movies are even more varied as big budget ones, so I believe the indie audiences are even more diverse, anyway. As for paying more, people will pay. I remember when New York City started making it harder to smoke cigarettes. First they taxed smokes, then taxed them again, and again, making a pack of cigarettes more than double the national average. Smokers grumbled and (rightfully) complained about the inequity, but I do not know a single smoker who said “packs went up 30 cents? Again? That’s it, I’m quitting.” Nope. People will be willing to pay more for what moves them. It’s an event.

I don’t have a particular plan on how to do this (nor would anyone in show business listen to me if I did) but I believe that all movies are not created equal and should not be treated that way. However, experiencing art with other audience members is invaluable, and we need to be encouraged to get off their asses and their couches and SHARE an experience with other people, be it live theater, movies, sports, or music. As long as they don’t do this at concerts:

Are you REALLY going to watch that video you are shooting again?

Are you REALLY going to watch that shaky Counting Crows live video  ever again?

Stimulate your brain. Motivate your ambition. Enjoy yourself, and enjoy others. And if paying more for bigger movies means we can pay less for smaller movies, and see more movies in the theater, then count me in.

Catherine the Great, Community Theater, child pornography, and the Congo

Full disclosure: this post has very little to do with anything listed in the title. I was going to call this post “Learning while Observing” but that title makes me want to yawn. That said, I’m not outright lying to you. The elements in the title are all here.

I was fortunate to spend last week as an audience member, nearly full time. I saw two readings and two full productions. I am going to go against instinct, which would be to critique each show, but rather I will discuss what I learned from each piece specifically and how it will help me in my writing. There is far too much critique out there, anyway, and most of those doing the critiquing are more qualified to do so than I am. Plus, since the two readings are in progress, a critique is extremely premature. It’s like calling a baby fat because the expectant mother is showing more weight than normal in her second trimester.

Monday night: The Actors Studio West’s weekly reading series. As a member of the playwright/director unit I attend weekly readings and critique session. Playwrights are allowed to present an hour of their script, then after a break for coffee, water and occasionally cookies, we reconvene for the critique. They are generally rowdy events, with people not holding back on their opinions. This particular night the play was difficult to digest. Basically, a number of historical figures convene at the end of the world to discuss the decline of civilization. Moses, Joan of Arc and Catherine the Great (I told you I wasn’t lying about incorporating the title) among others gather at the behest of some unknown host (other than his name Jes, we know nothing about him) and talk, talk, talk.

Catherine has a lot to say

Catherine has a lot to say

The conversations are heady. The post-reading discussion debated if this is even a play. Whether it is or is not is irrelevant to me, but the lesson is very important. LESSON LEARNED: Film, plays, TV all revolve around conflict. If there is no conflict, there is no story. Also, always have cookies.

Wednesday night: I attended a table read of a friend’s new web series. She and her writing partners are proven funny people, and they had written the entire series, ten episodes ranging from 4 to 7 minutes long. This was a laid back event in a beautiful house in Sherman Oaks overlooking the Valley, and there was plenty of wine and food which make any reading better. The scripts were about a community theater gearing up for a new production, and had a good story, good characters, and was very funny. This was a private table read, so it was all about assistance in improving the script, which will remain private. They have work to do, but the ideas are all there and they are off to a great start. LESSON LEARNED: when dealing with comedy, details are extremely important. Jokes that are general will not land as well. Also, when you don’t have cookies, wine will do nicely.

Thursday night: My friend John and I went to The Kirk Douglas Theater in Culver City and saw the excellent play The Nether by Jennifer Haley. A biting look at a near future where everyone spends most of their time in a virtual world.

Adam Haas Hunter (as Woodnut) and Brighid Fleming (as Iris) are wonderfully creepy in Jennifer Haley's play.

Adam Haas Hunter (as Woodnut) and Brighid Fleming (as Iris) are wonderfully creepy.

The idea is not shocking or new (the idea wasn’t new when we all took the red pill in The Matrix) but what captivated me was the condensed world we were viewing. Focusing on just a few people allowed us to view the world as a whole without getting caught up in an epic story. Just a few people, their lives, and some dabbling in child pornography. LESSON LEARNED: Okay, when dealing with everything, details are important. Also, never forget visual imagery.   The way a young girl gently and briefly caressed the arm of her older companion was shocking, disturbing and only lasted a split second. But truly moving. Also, don’t eat too heavily before watching a play about child pornography.

Saturday night: Catia and I returned to Culver City (a theatrical mecca in L.A.?) for Heart of Darkness, a one-man interpretation of the famed Joseph Conrad story, at The Actors’ Gang. For much of the 90 minutes I was fidgety and impatient. The actor was certainly capable, and there was great source material and a great story. The audience was into it. But by the time Marlow goes up the Congo I was already checking my watch. So what went wrong for me? It took a few days to figure it out, but it was the nature of the show itself. While it may have remained true to the book, I wasn’t fully engaged. The actor played a number of characters capably, but his protagonist was a nearly passive observer. LESSON LEARNED: Character growth is as important as story development.

It was a pleasure to get out of my head and away from my own story, and witness visual storytelling. Seeing the end result as an audience member allows me to add an outside prospective to my own work. How will an audience view this? Will they be engaged? And if not, will there be cookies or wine?