Yesterday Landmark Theatres announced they will soon be opening a six-screen cinema at the Atlantic Plumbing Building, just a few blocks from the 9:30 Club. This is the latest in a series of DC movie theater announcements: there are plans for a ten-screen cinema in NoMa, an Angelika Film Center in Union Market, plus another one near the Navy Yard. Between these planned theaters and the five that are already in DC, it is unclear whether there is enough demand to meet supply, which means the new theaters will have to find innovative ways to distinguish themselves. With that in mind, here are my ideas to improve the movie-going experience in DC.
Before I continue, let me explain how I approach movie-going. Unlike most people, I don’t find the movies a relaxing endeavor. In fact, a movie theater is where I experience my highest levels of concentration. As a result, I’m hyper-sensitive to any distraction, no matter how innocuous. While some of my suggestions are sensible, I’ll admit others are downright Draconian. Either way, if a theater adopted these policies, I’m certain serious-minded movie goers will put their asses in seats every damn day.
- No child under thirteen admitted to R-rated films. You’ve seen it happen before. You go to see the latest R-rated orgy of violence, and the moment you get in your seat, you see a parent bring their young kids into the theater. Not only is the decision irresponsible – the kid could be disturbed by what they see – often times the kid starts wailing out of boredom, and the parent has to escort them out of the theater out of embarrassment. It’s annoying at best, irresponsible as worst. Note: this is a similar age policy as Baltimore’s Rotunda Cinema, which is admirably no-nonsense.
- Hire a security staff. These men and women would be somewhere between an usher and a bouncer. Not only would help with seating – I hate HATE when moviegoers leave a gap of one seat between themselves and others even when a screening is sold out – but they’d also enforce basic theater-going decency. After a warning for disruptive behavior (i.e. taking a phone call once the movie starts), the staff would have the authority to eject customers from the theater. No refunds.
- Include cheeky PSAs, minimal trailers. There’s no denying trailers are a fun part of the movie-going experience, but nowadays there are entirely too many before the feature. I saw The Wolf of Wall Street again, for example, and there were five or six before the movie began (it’s worth noting Wolf is three hours long). One or two will whet the movie-going appetite, any more is too much. Oh, and before every screening, the audience would see this old anti-smoking PSA from John Waters.
- No popcorn. I don’t care that this snack is synonymous with movie-going. I don’t care that some of you buy popcorn as a Pavlovian response to being in a movie theater. Popcorn is the loudest, smelliest, most disruptive snack in the known universe, and we’ve tolerated its deafening crunch for all too long. I’m not anti-snack, but no food in a movie theater should create a negative externality when it’s consumed. There are better, saltier alternatives that are just as tasty.
- Crowd-source the midnight slate. E Street has done a great job of advertising its late weekend options. I know I’ve gone to see Ghostbusters at midnight at more than one occasion. Still, the staff there are benevolent dictators, and it’d be a novel idea to create a poll to determine what movies are shown at midnight. For example, if I stuffed my ballot with Wild Zero, the best damn Japanese punk rock zombie musical I’ve ever seen, I’d take ownership of the week when it’d finally screen. I’d get my friends to come, and they’d bring their friends. It’s a win-win.
- Maintain a list of banned customers. Some people never learn, some people think they’re better than everyone else, and some people think the rules don’t apply to them. These people have no place in a movie theater, let alone most public space. Once the security staff ejects someone from a theater, they’re put on a list and not allowed to return. I realize the enforcement of this rule is challenging, difficult even, yet I think it’d act as a successful deterrent after a few successful enforced bans.
Take heed, DC theaters. Competition is about to get real fierce, real fast, and with these simple steps you’ll be able to distinguish yourself in the best possible way.