Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Why Disney? Why?

There was a small furor raised by the release of the new Marvel movie Captain America: Civil War. It was so small that most people didn't even realize a furor was going on, but everyone will feel the effects of this furor in the very near future. When your local movie theater closes because of a lack of business, you can thank the Disney Corporation for that. For some reason, the Disney Corporation hates your small town.

When a studio releases a new movie, the studio attaches a percentage to that movie that all theaters showing the movie have to pay. For example, the latest movie from Sony may require all theaters to give 60 percent of the box office back to Sony for the right to show the film. That was just an example as I do not know the real percentage attached to the latest Sony movie, but the number of 60 percent is in the ball park.

This high percentage is the reason your theater ticket costs $10 and why a large pop is $7. Drive-ins have always operated under different rules because they show double features on every screen. The drive-in might have to pay 60 percent to Sony for the first feature, but the financial demands for the second feature (which is usually a second run movie) are much less. That is why drive-ins can charge slightly lower ticket prices and also how drive-ins are able to keep their concessions reasonably priced (compare the drive-in concessions with Regal's concessions and you will see what I mean).

For many years now, the Disney Corporation has been bullies and gluttons, especially with drive-ins. It was the Disney Corporation that forced every theater in the world to switch from 35mm film to a digital format to show movies. While the decision is a smart business decision for Disney (pumping out thousands of reels of 35mm for every movie is extremely expensive) and a decision that helped the environment (getting rid of thousands of reels of 35mm film when the movies come back after being shown is a problem), it was a decision that put hundreds of hardtop and drive-in theaters out of business. Disney did not care.

Those of us that live in the movie business on the theater side could eventually live with Disney's digital decision because, in reality, it offers a better product to the customer. But the problem was that drive-ins usually serve smaller communities, and some of those drive-ins are now gone. The only multi-screen theaters that serve our own community are the Transit Drive-in and the Sunset Drive-in. Both of the owners of those drive-ins had to make difficult choices to invest hundreds of thousands of dollars to upgrade to digital. Luckily for all of us, both theaters made the upgrade.

But while we can kind of give Disney a pass on forcing digital down everyone's throats, we cannot give a pass on Disney's latest money grab. The percentage for Captain America: Civil War exceeds any previous percentage for any movie from any theater by a lot. The local drive-ins could have banded together and refused to show the movie, but things did not work out that way. All of our local drive-ins will carry Captain America: Civil War, and all of the drive-ins will lose a ton of money in the process.

If you want to help your local drive-in when you go see Captain America:Civil War this weekend, then buy a lot of concessions. While drive-ins do not rely on ticket sales for a significant portion of their revenue, they do rely on ticket sales to pay some of the bills. This weekend, your local drive-in needs to pay its bills by selling concessions because the Disney Corporation is taking almost all of the ticket money. So when you sit at the drive-in in your car and see a sea of cars around you, do not assume the drive-in is making a fortune. More than likely, the drive-in will struggle to break even showing this movie.

So what does this mean to you? If you live in New York City or Boston, then it probably means nothing. You are already paying obscenely high prices for tickets and concessions, and your theater can absorb this rise in costs. But just because you already pay more does not mean that you cannot expect to pay even more after this is over. If Disney is allowed to get away with this, then all of the blockbusters from all of the studios will do it, and your $15 movie ticket will quickly become $20 to see a movie in your big city.

What about us small town folks? The people who own your drive-in and hardtop theaters already know that movies are too expensive for people to attend. The drive-ins are always packed, but people are still bringing their own food to the drive-ins to save money. If this Disney pricing policy becomes the norm in the movie business, the first thing everyone can expect is higher ticket prices. The next thing you can expect is concessions at the hard top theaters to go up, and the drive-ins to start cracking down on people who bring in their own food.

As usual, the customers will blame the movie theaters for the price increases and the new policies on food, but the theaters are not to blame. Most drive-ins and hardtops struggle to show any profit, and that is with the prices they charge now. If the prices have to go up, then attendance will go down. The end result could be that Mickey Mouse killed your drive-in or local hardtop theater, and the big-eared bastard doesn't care.

For me, I have to support my drive-in so I will be going and eating at the concession stands. It is a battle no one but Disney can win. It is impossible to ask the entire population to start boycotting the happiest place around just because that happy place has a dark side that intends to kill all movie theaters and drive-ins that serve small towns.

Disney had a dark side before it bought Lucasfilm. But now that dark side is about to show itself to the world, and the world is not going to like the result. The mouse doesn't care, and there is nothing anyone can do about it.

George N Root III is a drive-in fanatic who has to support the drive-ins in the face of tremendous greed. Follow him on Twitter @georgenroot3 or send him a message at