Regional cinema owners are urging audiences to remember the magic of movie theatres. (ABC Mid North Coast: Gabrielle Lyons)
Regional cinemas are struggling to keep the golden age of the movie experience alive, and they say Hollywood is to blame.
After an influx of films and patronage over the school holidays, the purse strings at local cinemas will again be tightened, with measures such as reduced screening sessions and closing through the middle of the day.
Independent Cinemas Australia president Scott Seddon said regional cinemas were not alone, with cinema attendance dropping internationally.
“We are all experiencing the same hit to the industry,” he said.
“Recent figures have demonstrated that summer releases in America have gone pot. [Box office] was down by 6 per cent, which is a bit of a dive.
“Hollywood is learning that franchises can’t be pushed out every 12 months. It’s a learning curve as the market changes.”
Andrew Mercado recently purchased the historic South West Roxy Cinema on the New South Wales north coast.
“It’s problematic to schedule for teenagers. They are too caught up in devices so there is no guarantee. My priority is my retiree audience,” he said.
Well-known film reviewer Andrew Mercado is single-handedly running the South West Roxy cinema. (ABC Mid North Coast: Gabrielle Lyons)
Mr Mercado said Hollywood was largely to blame for falling cinema attendances.
“[Hollywood] have been relying too much on easy fixes like sequels and franchises. Originality is at an all-time low,” he said.
“You can only do that for so long before the audience says ‘That’s enough’. It’s just laziness.
“When we can do so much of this in our homes, Hollywood needs to catch up and give people value for money the moment they leave the house.”
Mr Mercado said the recently released Dunkirk film, directed by Christopher Nolan, was a reminder cinemas would survive — it was made for the big screen and audiences flocked to see it.
Mr Seddon agreed, saying audiences responded positively to original content.
“That’s one movie that really needs to be seen in the cinema,” he said.
“Dunkirk was a really different approach to filmmaking, quite unique, and people really responded to that movie.”
Keeping the golden age alive
David McGowen, owner of the Plaza Theatre at Laurieton, south of Port Macquarie, hopes to remind audiences of the glory days of picture palaces.
“We have to keep it alive for the older generation who lived through it like I did, and they appreciate it,” he said.
Plaza Theatre owner David McGowen chooses films specifically for his regular audience. (ABC Mid North Coast: Gabrielle Lyons)
“I think of my cinema as an opportunity for people to come along on the ride with me.”
With his cinema decorated with décor from cinemas around Queensland, Mr McGowen hopes to provide his audience with an alternative to streaming at home.
“I like to think people choose to come here as a total escape,” he said.
However, Mr McGowen said technology and demand for constant entertainment was providing a new challenge for cinema owners.
“We move in different times now. Studios call films ‘content’ entertainment,” he said.
“The magic of movies in the modern world has gone, and there’s only a handful of us in Australia fighting to keep it alive.”
ICA’s Mr Seddon said passion is the key to keeping the cinema industry afloat.
“From the script to the cleaner, those who stick to the industry are the ones who are most passionate about it,” he said.
“It’s not an industry with huge financial gain, the people who are in the independent cinema industry are truly passionate.”
Hollywood needs to take some risks
Mr McGowen said Hollywood studios needed to take risks in productions in order to bring audiences back to the silver screen.
“We have Baz Luhrmann. He will bring back the glitz and glamour of the film industry,” he said.
“But he is only one person. Most [producers] find those films too risky.”
Mr McGowen said streaming and home entertainment would see the end of traditional picture houses.
“I think the bricks and mortar of cinemas will go. The current theatrical exhibition model is outdated due to the internet,” he said.
However, with a passion for theatre and the cinematic experience, Mr McGowen has no intention letting the credits roll on his cinema story.
“The Plaza Theatre will be open as long as I am alive.”
The movie Dunkirk is tailor-made for the big screen, and has brought audiences back to the cinema. (Supplied: Warner Bros)
Current climate a concern for cinemas
Donald Howard built Fay’s Twin Cinema in Taree from the ground up in memory of his late wife.
Mr Howard has had a passion for film and cinematography since he was eight years old.
“I can remember rooting around in the garbage looking for snippets of film, and looking up at the light and wondering how is that magic done,” he said.
“I would go to the cinema three or four times a week, collecting cordial bottles and cashing them in to buy a movie ticket.”
Donald Howard, owner of Fay’s Twin Cinema, has noticed a significant drop in cinema attendance numbers around the region. (ABC Mid North Coast: Gabrielle Lyons)
He has worked in the industry ever since.
Fay’s Twin Cinema opened with E.T., The Man from Snowy River, and Peter Pan in 1982.
Mr Howard said he had remained in the industry through multiple technology advancements, but the current cinema climate was a concern.
“In the last six weeks [as Dunkirk wound down], the movie business has taken a tumble. [The movie] IT is currently stacking people in, but I don’t expect it to remain,” he said.
“With Netflix and other things around, we are taking a dive.”
Regional cinemas most at risk
Mr Howard said cinemas in regional Australia were most at risk of closure.
“To run cinemas you have to be dedicated. I expect to see a close of cinemas in the western cities of New South Wales. Coasts will survive thanks to tourism,” he said.
However, he felt streaming was just the latest trend.
“I liken it to the time when we would press our faces into shop windows to look at TV sets, then colour TV in the 70s … that was just the new trend,” he said.
“The truth of the matter with streaming, yes it allows us to sit at home, but it will return to cinema and the need for a big screen fix.”
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