Going to the movies in the modern age

Published 8:49 am Tuesday, January 16, 2024

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This week at Tryon Theatre we have a second week of the delightful film “Wonka,” starring the perfectly boyish and charming Timothee Chalamet as the titular character, as he brings Willy Wonka’s origins to life. For anyone interested in reading about this film, we ask you to reference last week’s column. 

This week, we are taking an opportunity to once again address the ins and outs of operating a movie theater in the modern age of media. Hopefully we can provide our audience with some valuable insights into how, and more importantly, why we have dedicated ourselves to providing our beloved Tryon with a local movie theater. 

Firstly, I would like to delve into how theaters, be they independent like us, or a “big-box” theater like AMC or Regal, are limited by the studio system to which we are all beholden. It is a common experience for theater goers to find themselves questioning the “high” prices of concessions, often inspiring them to bring their own beverages or snacks in pockets and purses. Understandably, these customers perceive the prices as an extension of greed on behalf of the businesses, and see no issue with subverting this perceived price gouging. However, in reality these prices are a reflection of a studio imposed restriction, not from greed. 

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While prices of theater concessions are higher relative to the costs of similar products purchased at the supermarket, this is only because concessions are movie theaters’ primary source of revenue. Ticket sales go almost entirely to the respective studio for each film. Furthermore, the studio system dictates not only our sales, but also the timing and reliability of our programming. 

When we as a theater are interested in carrying a specific title, we have to request it a minimum of a month before we are able to show it. The studio ultimately decides the timing of when we show the titles we’ve requested. We may ask for the first week of the month for a certain film, but if they decide they’d rather us carry it the second, that is out of our control. Studios can also deny us a film we’ve requested, at their discretion. 

We never have to carry a title that we didn’t choose, but we can never in advance guarantee access to our chosen titles, or the exact scheduling . However, all these industry restrictions aside, we love to be able to provide the theater experience to our community, with “experience” being the operative word!

In the current age of streaming, theaters no longer are selling access to their patrons. The average consumer has access to more media in the comfort of their home than ever before, especially with the ever tightening window between the respective theatrical and streaming releases of titles. What we as a theater provide is the experience of immersion, of a focused and uninterrupted engagement with cinema: One arrives, to cheerful greetings from friendly faces, smells the fresh popcorn as they cross the threshold, and take their seats, ensconced in soft light and rich colors. Then, at last, when the lights fall down, and the giant screen illuminates, one can be transported away from the milieu of day to day life, enraptured, if only for a few hours, by the bright and shining silver screen. 

We are honored to have a hand in providing this artistic immersion!