Crystal Ball Fail



Look, I’m well aware it’s not coal mining but this job can be incredibly frustrating at times. I have to live in a perpetual sort of Mystic Meg trance.

An important part of my job is knowing what films are coming and furthermore what films are most likely to appeal to the good citizens of Uckfield and the surrounding district.

In the absence of a film with Judi Dench and Colin Firth making a nude calendar while stuttering Abba songs on a sinking boat, I have to make an educated guess at what you all might want to see.

Not only that, I have to guess how long you might want to see it for. Patrons around here can be notoriously slow at getting round to seeing a film sometimes.

I’ve often seen diaries at twenty paces in the foyer. As long as the matinée on Thursday doesn’t clash with Mrs Barrington’s bridge game we might sell a few tickets.

Then consider the large number of films released, particularly at this time of year, add in the distributors reluctance to talk about sharing shows with other films after the first week and you can see how even Nostradamus’ legendary skills might be stretched to the limit.

Of course it’s all dead easy if you’ve got 46 screens. What do multiplex bookers do all day? There can’t be a great deal of skill in just booking everything. I suppose they have to say no to anything with subtitles or a budgets under £2 million, which probably wears them out a bit.

As we only have three screens, during the summer season there are any number of permutations and I’ve not got it entirely right this year.

We missed out this weekend on Rise of the Planet of the Apes and more surprisingly The Smurfs movie. I’ve had more than a few exclamations of surprise and dissapointment we aren’t playing these films so by way of explanation and to give you an insight into how all this works let me explain.

When putting the bookings together some weeks ago I had to consider a number of possibilities, not least that Hary Potter needed a clear run, I also had more faith in Cars 2 than it ultimately deserved.

Bridesmaids had much stronger legs than anticipated and I also thought that Super 8 was going to do better than it has.

When I looked at Apes a shudder ran down my spine. The Tim Burton film from several years ago absolutely tanked in Uckfield so with the might of my business accumen I assumed it was one less titile to worry about.  Considering The Smurfs I think my age played against me. I remember them the first time round and how much we hated them.

That was stupid. Nobody with any critical faculties whatever would ever defend Alvin & The Chipmunks as a great movie, but those films were huge. The Smurfs movie is very similar and I should have realised that. Daft schoolboy error.

So, Harry Potter aside, we had a rather rough weekend,  I imagine every other cinema in the land was partying all night on the spectacular grosses from the two films I left out.

I’ve been really cross with myself all week.

What makes this business brilliant though, is we constantly change what we’re selling. So however spectacularly I can get it wrong sometimes, something will come along and save me.

We’re already looking forward to great business on The Inbetweeners movie, which I admit I had doubts about but the advance sales are very good indeed.

You truly never can tell. However hard you polish your crystal ball.

15 thoughts on “Crystal Ball Fail

    • The problem with that idea is we deal with a mass market. Requests tend to come for niche films, which despite appearing to get a lot of requests actually have a very small audience.
      I’m in no way discounting requests and take them seriously but rather like top ten votes on TV shows they are more of a poll of people who can be arsed to get up and vote. Most people don’t bother.

  1. Is it possible to monitor independent cinemas in the US? I imagine reviews aren’t always predictive of opening weekend receipts though I imagine the correlation is better for total sales.

    • Quality is not always a barometer of box office success. I didn’t mean to suggest I’m clueless about what to play, nobody in the business would have been able to accurately predict how the summer has gone. My main point is given the large number of films released at this time of year getting it spot on is quite tricky. Overall the summer has been very good. I just could have done it better. And I always want to do it better.

  2. Maybe go off the Metacritic review scores? How far in advance do you have to book films?

    Personally I would be keen to see more one off showings of classic films, like Apocalypse Now from a few weeks ago. The Cornerhouse cinema in Manchester used to put the classic film showings on a Sunday morning and tie it in with a breakfast deal, which I thought was a fantastic idea!

  3. In your situation, Kevin, maybe you have a Radio Four problem. Your core audience is, ahem, over 45, middle class, can afford to go to the cinema when it chooses? (Don’t see why that should upset anyone, but it might). Radio Four, when it periodically tries to attract ‘more young people’, enrages its core audience by rearranging schedules to which its audience has become accustomed and is comfortable with. Any new broom that introduces more radical, more ‘edgy’ (horrible word) material, is condemned, very few new listeners result (how many people trying to hold down a job and pay rent or mortgage can have the luxury of listening to a serious talk-based radio channel during the working day anyway?), and the traditional audience is upset and disorientated. I wonder how many ‘younger people’ come to the PH to see much other than the HarrySuperSpiderVampireDragon type of film? Have you tried any research on age attendance? I’m not saying for a moment that you should stick to King’s Speech style, but an analysis of what films draw which age groups might help your choice when the summer blockbusters aren’t there to boost the coffers. No survey can take account of serendipitous attendance, however. I’d never heard of Sarah’s Key, but on seeing it in your schedules email and looking into it, we came and liked it, despite being busy this week. (Review to follow!)

  4. Can’t find the forum part of the Digital Alfie site to park my review, so I’m inserting it here. Sorry it’s not strictly relevant to Kevin’s recent post.

    Review of Sarah’s Key

    Not having paid attention, I didn’t know anything about this film, but when I saw it on Kevin’s schedules email, looked into it, saw it contained Kristin Scott Thomas and concerned the round up of Jews in Paris in WWII, I guessed it was for us. I since see that some reviews have sniffed at the adherence to the framing story in the book on which the film is based, rather than on ‘the Holocaust victims it purports to be about’. Well, if based on a book, why not stick to the book’s emphasis? Otherwise, there are plenty of documentaries and other material and places to cover the Holocaust (Schindler’s List/Ark, The Reader, The Pianist, Holocaust Exhibition at the IWM, Jewish Museum in Berlin, etc, etc). I’ve not read the book, so can only comment on the film, which I thought was rounded enough to add another look at this serious and appalling period in our history, whilst offering a credible story set in the present to interact with it. The time shifts kept the two periods tied together, and the family at the centre (Scott Thomas being the journalist wife, Julia, doing the research), have typical enough problems besetting them as to be realistic. The plot evolves from this modern family moving in to an apartment that, it transpires, belonged in 1942 to a Jewish family who were rounded up in the infamous Vel d’Hiv incident, when thousands of Jews were crowded into a Parisian velodrome, disgracefully by the French (not the Nazis) in advance of being transported to the death camps. The eponymous Sarah is the courageous little Jewish girl of this unfortunate family, around whom the plot develops. There are too many possibilities for spoilers here, so suffice to say that the most shocking moment in the film for me was thankfully, and all the more powerfully, handled by concentrating on the faces of the onlookers. There were quite enough scenes of horror, sadness, disgust and regret to keep the film involving. The family relationships unearthed by Julia are just about easy enough to follow. Scott Thomas is fine as usual in her role, speaking French and American as required. Some of the subtitles are not completely accurately translated, but not enough to spoil the sense. There are other good performances in the film, especially the girl playing the young Sarah. The period detail is good, especially the hairstyles, and some really oppressive French wallpaper surrounding dark furniture in poky flats. I was glad that the polemic wasn’t in black and white. One can be outraged at the idea of Parisians turning in their neighbours, but who can say for certain how one would react in a similar context, retrospectively from our different lives today? As we’ve seen recently, civilisation, empathy and restraint are only skin deep.

  5. The re-released Ealing comedies marking the studio’s 80th anniversary would get a fair audience I reckon, especially as Sir Michael Balcon lived up the road in Forest Row for many years. Yes, such a suggestion rather over-fits the demographic round Uckfield and yes, I could watch them all at home on DVD; but I want to watch them in The Picture House; see them on the big screen for the first time in years. And so would my kids (15 & 17) who love Ealing.

  6. Predictably, there was a fair number in the audience for the showing of ‘The Cherry Orchard’, but probably no more than twenty for the showing of the ballet ‘Les Enfants du Paradis’ from Paris. it was even more stunning than the Cherry Orchard. I can only guess that the name wasn’t familiar enough to attract more audience. They missed a real treat.

    Kevin, could you get more explanatory introduction notes to enlighten us on the less well known showings?

    I can’t stop telling everyone about these events.Thank you for your imagination and enterprise!

    Michele T

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