Over the past few weeks, we’ve been pretty lucky at the Coyote Twin to have some amazing films come to Vermillion. Star Wars Episode VII, The Revenant, Joy, Mockingjay Part 2, Bridge of Spies and, yes, even Alvin and the Chipmunks. What you might not know is how a theater like ours gets films at all. Here’s the (admittedly, short) story:
Big theater chains command a good portion of the attention of movie studios because they can buy films in bulk and have huge auditoriums to support attendance. So those chains drive the market. But far more numerous than the chains are smaller, independent movie theaters like some you might know well. We’re one of them and, while we don’t drive the market, we are subject to some pretty interesting film market forces.
The first of those forces is the number of prints available for a film. The movie studios produce film prints on DCPs, which are essentially hard drives for digital projectors. The number of DCPs made are based on what the studios think the film will do and, even, critical reviews up to the week or two prior to the film being released. Big films like Star Wars Episode VII had thousands of DCPs available while smaller films like Joy had fewer. What that means for theaters like ours is that we’re more likely to get big films on opening weekend and smaller films after a week or two, when more DCPs are free from the bigger chains or more established independent theaters already have run them. So, force number one is the number of prints.
The second of the forces is where you are in line. The first theaters to receive DCPs are the big chains and the next priority goes to larger independent theater chains (regionals). A good example of a regional is the Promenade in Sioux City. Once those theaters have prints, then smaller theaters like ours get a shot at a limited run print. The Coyote Twin is around number 3000+ in line so it means that we are not high on the priority list, but we have good people working to get us the best films early.
The third thing is terms. Big movies such as Star Wars dictate important terms along with showing their films. Those terms for us included a 65% return to the studio, a four-week run, and an upfront cash payment to secure the print. We often have to wire those cash payments to the studios within 24 hours, so we have to have good cash on hand. In return, the big films will often provide us with lots of good stuff like movie posters, stand-ups (cardboard displays), and digital materials like buttons for our website. Smaller films give us better terms – often a $250 charge per print at 35% per ticket beyond the $250.
And the fourth thing is timing. Big films are booked weeks in advance while smaller films – those that fill the gaps between big films – are often booked during the week they’ll show. We’re often asked at the Coyote Twin on a Friday before the next week “what’s coming next week?” And, frankly, there are a lot of Fridays and even Monday mornings when we don’t know. Business in the movie business is done on Mondays when theaters like ours find out which smaller films we’ll be getting between the big films. So “Joy” was a surprise for us this week – and a good one – as was “Bridge of Spies.” We can express our preferences about films we’d like to get and sometimes we have to take films we don’t necessarily love to have because they help us get the bigger films we really want. The real story is this: Mondays matter and we very often find out what our week looks like, what films we’ll have, and how we talk with the community by Monday at 3 p.m.
Finally, we have a booker. Some theaters and theater chains choose to work directly with the studios and some don’t. We don’t – we work with an experienced booker based in Minnesota and we’re thankful to have her on our side. We get the big movies because of her and we get really great, custom-tailored movies for our community for those in-between, Monday-rush weeks.
We always want to keep you in the know about what movies are coming and how we know. We’re also excited to let you know some of the business of the business. So, when you step into the Coyote Twin on a Friday night, you now know a little bit more about how that movie got to Vermillion in the first place: the number of prints, where you are in line, terms, timing, and people working for you!