The Future of Moviegoing: A Round-Table Discussion

Fox: Let's start with a general question. There's a perception that San Francisco is a first-rate film town. Is that true? Bill, you want to start?

Banning: Well, I think it's definitely true. It's the most vibrant scene in the country.

Wyman: More than New York or L.A.?
Banning: Certainly more than L.A.; in New York they talk about how it's all become museum, nonprofit venues. In San Francisco, Landmark probably has more art screens than any other city in the country. How many are there now, Gary?

Meyer: In the city, 14. There may be more art screens in L.A. now than anywhere else in the country, but whether they're playing movies anyone wants to see is another question. In New York, it's absolutely true, it's the nonprofits who are doing anything that's very adventurous.

Wyman: Is it just us in San Francisco saying, "We like movies here," or is it the perception nationally that we do?

Klasky: It's an A town. Grosseswise, it's an A town. We do well. We don't just like movies, we go to movies. The perception from the studios is that you play a film here, particularly a larger Hollywood film, or even an art film, it's going to gross as high here as it would anywhere else.

Meyer: San Francisco likes to think of itself as being adventurous and offbeat. But we shouldn't pat ourselves on the back though, because San Francisco is sometimes as Victorian as other places. And it does require the reviews to push people to most films.

Monga: In the '70s -- [dryly] in the halcyon days of filmgoing -- a new film would come to town and everyone would want to see it and people would take a chance; now it's really driven by who writes about it, how much coverage it gets. [At the Castro,] we use the calendar; that does bring in a certain amount of people.

Whittenberger: I think there are more hard-core moviegoers here -- by hard-core I mean people who will go see absolutely everything -- than maybe you'll find in a lot of other markets.

Meyer: But they are not what they once were. What Anita was saying was once you'd go out, and opening weekend every theater would be packed; that was the trend in a lot of cities. Everyone's college town was that way. San Francisco was even more so. Seattle was like that, and Boston was. That has just changed nationally. The audience today doesn't have the time, or the money, to go out and see movies that frequently. We used to go see three or four movies every weekend!

Fox: A single-screen theater might not have the economics to keep a film that does insufficient business. Is the single-screen theater in jeopardy? The Gateway closed, the Four Star just added a screen.

Banning: I'm laughing because I've been to the Four Star. They just carved out a new room out of the auditorium, which was actually proposed to us by an architect, but we flatly refused to do something like that. We do have a long-planned second screen where our office is, if we can cram ourselves into a smaller space. But we have the seats and some other equipment there, so it might happen one of these days.

Wyman: So you're talking about putting in an additional screen at the Roxie. How many seats would it be?

Banning: Fifty.
Meyer: If they open a film on calendar and it does really well, it gives them the ability to hold it over. It's hard to move a film to another theater, because the public has to follow it, and sometimes they lose track of it. In the Roxie listings, it's been saying, "Freeway -- now at the Opera Plaza." It makes a lot of sense to be able to [keep it instead].

Klasky: Art films [these days] have a venue like the Opera Plaza; we're very lucky that they can stay there and can be supported there.

Fox: Because the economics work, in other words.
Meyer: Take Freeway. Bill opened it at the Roxie, it had a great limited run, and now it's at the Opera Plaza and it looks like it's going to --

Banning: It's doing great.
Meyer: The numbers are really good. It can find its audience. Truly Madly Deeply is an example of a film that bombed everywhere and we opened it, I think at the Gateway, and it did a modest business. But we liked the movie and moved it to the Opera Plaza to that small theater and it played for months and months and months.

Banning: What worries me are the two megaplexes coming to town. Maybe they'll have 35 new screens. [Ground has broken for a 14-screen theater at Van Ness and O'Farrell, built by AMC; there's also a Sony multiplex the same size planned for Yerba Buena Center.] I'm worried about screens like the Alhambra, the Presidio, the Cinema 21. It seems like these multiplexes will be day-and-dating [i.e., running films simultaneously with] the single-screen theaters and I can see some of them, like the Metro, disappearing.

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