January 20, 2014

GUEST ROOM | Thou Shalt Not Movie-Hop

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My plan today was to go movie-hopping with a friend. Take a bus over to Regal Cinema, buy a matinee ticket for the first show of the day, subtly carry in a couple of Subway sandwiches, a bottle of whiskey and some Target-priced movie candy and let the day unfold. It didn’t end up happening today. It turns out I had some other things I had to do. The intense snowfall wasn’t inspiring me to leave my apartment either. But the thing is, I would’ve done it. I had every intention of doing it, and beyond that, I don’t feel any guilt about it.

This is mostly because the movie industry is not going to suffer from movie-hopping. It hasn’t so far, and, according to a number of accounts on the Internet, it is even a family tradition in some households. Even if you haven’t done it, you’ve probably thought about it and even talked over plans with some friends after realizing that your bank account is losing funds faster than you can say “Martin Scorsese.”

There are even websites that can plan out your movie-hopping for you. One such site is TheaterTag, tagline: [movie hopping for geeks]. It’s the movie-hopping equivalent of Chequerd, complete with colored blocks for each movie which you can move back and forth to create your perfect schedule. If I had followed through with today’s plans, I could have seen five movies comfortably, give or take 10 minutes hiding from an attendant in a bathroom stall playing Candy Crush. The site, conveniently, contains schedules both from Ithaca’s Regal Cinema and Cinemapolis.

Movie-hopping has become a socially acceptable form of theft, similar to streaming movies online and swiping a few (i.e. 20) extra sugar packets at Starbucks. We love movies. At least, if you’ve taken the time to read this far, I hope you do, and neither the popularity of film nor the revenue of big-budget movies is going to suffer if people try to see three movies for 15 dollars.

In 1995, the price of a movie ticket was $4.35 on average. Today, according to The Wall Street Journal, the price on average is $8.13. In Ithaca, the average is undoubtedly higher. Regal Cinema in Ithaca’s matinee price is $8.75. Do cinemas really need to charge as much as they do to make a profit? The answer seems to depend on a lot of factors like production size and buzz factor, but judging by the vast difference in movie prices across the U.S., the formula for cost seems to be whatever the market can take.

According to a Creative Skill Set article by Malcolm Ritchie, a co-managing director at Qwerty Films (I Heart Huckabees), about 45 to 55 percent of box office revenue is paid back to the distributors. What’s more, that revenue only accounts for about 25 percent of a film’s total revenue.

Once again that is 10.36 billion dollars in ticket revenue, which is only a quarter of the film industry’s profit. Give or take.

One Moviefone writer argues that movie-goers should be able to buy a ticket and try out movies when going to the theater, choosing whether he or she wants to see a given movie or not after watching the first 20 minutes. In this scenario, movie-hopping wouldn’t be encouraged, but also wouldn’t be penalized.

While this idea may not be the most effective solution to the problem, it may have some merit. Maybe, similar to the press craziness that surrounded Beyonce’s new album, viewers who do have time in their days to see many movies at once will spread the love of their favorite films on Facebook and Twitter and Tumblr, and fan promotions will urge others to see movies they wouldn’t have before.

As an outgoing Arts and Entertainment Editor at The Sun, I’m a lover and supporter of movies. I want to see 80 percent of movies that come out in theaters (you can keep the Saw movies to yourself, thank you), and I have none of the monetary capability to do so. Ticket prices around my hometown are $14 a show. Minimum wage (which is close to what I earn) is somewhere in the $8 an hour range. My wage to viewing time dollar amount is around one to one. Will the movie industry really suffer if I, or even a few hundred, or even thousand, college students, sit for a double or quadruple feature? Or will they have a little extra cash to buy the poster for the movie and a witty T-shirt referencing the film?

Wherever the heart of the problem or solution of movie-hopping lies, I refuse to be judged for doing it. When I movie-hop, money still gets paid to distributors and movie-makers. Calling it stealing wouldn’t be wrong, but wouldn’t be quite right.