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.