Friday, January 27, 2006

Movie theater owners vs. Bubble

Steven Soderbergh's BUBBLE has received a fair share of attention, but all that ink has nothing to do with the film's merits (or lack thereof). No, what has a lot of movie theater owners and studio heads in a huff is that BUBBLE is opening today on screens across the country while also getting two showings on HDNet Movies and being made available for purchase on DVD Tuesday. Theater owners are scared that this distribution model will be the death of their business. Their response to this perceived threat has been a lot of public bellyaching and refusing to book the movie. Landmark Theaters, owned by BUBBLE'S production company 2929 Entertainment, will give the film the majority of its screenings. (In Columbus it will play a one-time members-only screening at the Wexner Center on February 1.)

Mark Cuban, the outspoken owner of the Dallas Mavericks and co-owner of 2929 Entertainment, thinks the complaining is a sign that theater owners don't know their business. Cuban makes some interesting arguments about the state of theatrical exhibition on his weblog Blog Maverick. He throws a lot out there, so rather than attempt to condense his overview of the matter, check out his posts "What business are theaters in?" and "Go see Bubble".

One of his better points is that a day-and-date multiple platform model should benefit smaller films. Arthouse films face the problem of frontloaded promotion for their New York and Los Angeles openings and little media presence by the time they filter down to the midsized and small cities, if they ever get there. Cuban's strategy is to make these films available to everyone (assuming a theater in your town opens them) and see if the marketplace will support them on a wider level than the current model. In a way, it's putting Jonathan Rosenbaum's MOVIE WARS argument--more people would watch these movies if provided better access to them--to the test.

I also Cuban's onto something in giving theaters that play these films a percentage of the DVD revenues. Studios practically treat theatrical runs like the first phase of DVD marketing campaigns as it is.


  1. It premiered up in Cleveland today. Guess the Franks must not care for the release pattern. Also, I read somewhere that theatres showing BUBBLE will also be selling copies of the DVD. Any idea if this is true?

  2. Drexel management has said in The Columbus Dispatch and Alive something to effect that this release pattern is a bad idea. I think there would be an audience for the film here. After all, some of it was shot in Ohio.

    I think that Landmark Theaters are selling the DVD. I don't know if others are. If you read Cuban's posts--they're worth the time--he talks about theaters having the DVDs on hand.

    Cuban's main argument is that theater owners are saying their product, the theatrical experience, isn't good enough to compete with home video. He thinks that it can be if they put the effort into it.

  3. Yeah, I read the comments Cuban made, and I largely agree. I think that, in the end, people who prefer the theatre experience will see a movie in the theatre, while those who prefer to watch at home will watch there. It makes a lot of sense- I trekked an hour to watch a movie that I could've waited for a whopping three more days to see, after all, since I trust my reaction to a movie more in a theatre. But everyone's different, and why make people wait to see movies like this if they'll forget about them in the four months between the NY release and the DVD release? Like the argument some folks we know were making not long ago, it's better to see a movie in any form than to not see it at all. The real test to how viable this strategy is comes when a major star-studded movie gets simultaneously released in theatres and in the home-viewing market. And now that I've gotten THAT out of the way, I can get to reviewing the film itself, which is awesome.

  4. The real test, of course, is going day-and date with something the masses might want to see. Bubble is specialized fare, and even there it's an extreme case. (OK, it's a name filmmaker, but the nonprofessional cast makes it an even harder sell.) I've yet to see it and will either go the Netflix route or shell out $20 to buy it.

    I think this will become a pressing issue sooner rather than later for the mid-range studio films and low-budget arthouse films. Those are the ones that tend to suffer because the studios themselves don't lavish as much attention on them as they do the big-budget pictures or the high profile indies. In other words, I could see King Kong and Brokeback Mountain getting theatrical releases, with home video following a few months later. Meanwhile, Tristan & Isolde and Tristram Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story are released day-and-date in theaters and on home video.

    My guess is that the arthouses have more to fear than the multiplexes.