Film Exhibition: The Shift -Adam Sorrell



Seeing as “The Theatrical run is the largest single revenue source for most Hollywood pictures” (Balio, 2013, p.88) it is of course in the best interest of studios to maximise the capital they can get in cinemas nation/worldwide, and although “The division begins with a 90/10 split” (ibed) in terms of how much money the movie/cinema makes it then shifts to a 50/50 split in the second week of a movies showings.  In order to understand exhibition, we need to touch on the history of cinema a little. In the early days of Hollywood big movie companies controlled the production, distribution, and exhibition of film, which was called Vertical Integration. Basically, they monopolised the market and profited on these aspects of the industry. However, over time there was a shift as competition arose and made it impossible to carry on in all three of these areas. Mainly exhibition became independent of the studios but still obviously held a close bond with them in order to gain access to the products they produced.

Hayes and Bing have argued that Cinemas have “become little more than the keepers of infrastructure and capacity” (Hayes and Bing, 2004, p 97) which in a sense was true as Exhibitors main function is to create an enjoyable experience in order to draw in the audience. To create a “Spectacular experience” (Balio, 2013, p.89). There were two significant shifts from the 1990’s to the 2010’s one technologically motivated and one related to infrastructure. Both have wide reaching implications but in many ways one of these changes in exhibition is more significant than the other.

Change in Infrastructure.

From the 1980’s onwards there was a growth in the movie industry mainly because

“Mall developers included theatres in their construction plans” (Balio, 2013, p.90). No longer were there separate theatres being made in such large numbers. Instead the cinemas were being created near shops and restaurants. In other words, became almost part of every-day life rather than a special occasion. These new cinemas were not especially technologically advanced nor were they flashy, however they were clean, comfortable, and often more affordable for the everyday person. This was not a random decision to build within shopping centres.  As Gold says, “The future of exhibition was assured, ironically enough, by new forms of competition” (Gold, 1990), the fear of television, cassettes and home cinema systems (especially in the U.S) meant that Cinemas tried to move people away from the comfort of home. This competing way of watching movies also meant that “studios can no longer monopolise the movie market by simply controlling theatres” (Yarrow 1987) they instead had to try to innovate, to create an experience worthy of visiting. This was often achieved by improving the current cinemas but, especially in the US, massive cinemas with sometimes 14 or 15 screens were created. The first example was the Dallas Grand which was built in 1994 not only did it have “stadium seating … digital sound system and a ceiling to floor, wall- to wall screen” (Fabrikant, 1999) but it had atmosphere and that’s what sold the cinema to the public in the 1990’s similarly to today also but instead of pure quality we get 3-D and IMAX to draw audiences. These Massive constructions were advanced and often a spectacular experience meaning that “An unintended consequence of the building spree was the obsolesce of thousands of older multiplexes.” (Balio, 2013, p.90). Goldsmith defined this as “One of the most unusual cases of mass bankruptcy in corporate America” (Goldsmith, 2004). Smaller cinemas and older shopping centres became redundant and therefore many of these establishments had to be closed down.



Unlike change the change in infrastructure Digital projection wasn’t introduced until later. The change started when (not surprisingly) digital films started to be produced. The first recorded example of digital projection was when George Lucas showed his first movie in the prequel series in a few theatres. Although “Digital projection as it exists today does not, in any way transform the nature of the motion picture experience” (Belton, 2002) it was used to try to bring in new audiences and therefore money. Something like Cinerama (1952), 3-D (also 1952) and IMAX (1960’s) all brought something new, something revolutionary in the viewing experience. Digital Projection didn’t, it didn’t look especially different or new. It did however have a massive impact on the film industry. Firstly, this was the start of the death of film. Film projectors became useless when the prices of the Digital Camera dropped. Digital Is just purely more efficient and efficiency means money and we all know that is what cinemas want. Initially however the transformation to digital was slow because the price was just so high that many cinemas couldn’t afford to convert. Especially independent, small, cinemas. Meaning the Implications of this new technology meant that smaller cinemas were less efficient in the long-run and again many became bankrupt.  Not to say this technology is all bad though, it did reduce costs as well as inspiring many directors to film in digital too. Movies such as Attack of the Clones (Lucas, 2002) and Once upon a time in Mexico (Rodriguez, 2003) were created as the Digital takeover spread from not only projection and exhibition but also to production.


Therefore, it is obvious that the technological improvements from 1990-2010 was overall limited in terms of exhibition. The main change was the Infrastructure of the cinemas and this is the most significant change because it made cinemas more accessible and atmospheric. However Digital production may not have been great for selling tickets but was a good step in reducing production costs of running a cinema, making the industry overall more efficient.


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