I received this email today from Gene Oliver, of the RKO ALLRED5 movie theater in Pryor, Oklahoma. He’s responding to Sunday night’s Oscar diss of cineplexes by Jerry Seinfeld. (Said the comedian: “In movie theaters now, they’re trying to get you to pick up the garbage around your seat. I’m picking nothing up. I’m the one who threw it down. How many different jobs do I have to do?” Then Jerry accused movie theater owners: “You rip us off on overpriced crap.”) I live-blogged that I thought the theater owners would be pissed. (From the Internet: The Allred is located in downtown Pryor, OK. From its big triangle-shaped marquee to its tiled ticket booth to its blinking light bulbs, it dominates the street. Operational since 1919, the Allred underwent an expensive renovation to put three screens in the main building, and another two screens in an annex.)
Oliver starts: “Hello Miss Finke: I am a theater owner in small town America and read your column every day. My family has been in exhibition since 1933. Thank you for including your statement about Seinfeld and the price of concessions. My theater works on a profit margin of 8-10% and we work very hard to keep movies available to the public. The only reason that theaters MUST charge the prices for concessions is to survive. Without concessions there would be NO venues for the exhibtion of film. Without popcorn there would be no industry, it is that simple. There is distribution AND exhibition of films. One does not exist without the other. “It would be helpful if ‘stars’ understood that without concessions they would have nowhere to play their films. It is hard enough to withstand the criticism of our customers who have no idea what it takes to keep a theater profitable. Now they have an advocate who benefits in dollars for the fact that theaters are open at all.
Whether Mr. Seinfeld is on our screens or not, he is speaking in front of the people whose products are exhibited. Personally, I was insulted and irritated due to the fact that we are given such high terms for pictures. All films are 90/10. Major films usually have terms of 70/70/60/50. Run of the mill pictures are 60/50/40/35. Then dissed by those who benefit from our investment. I am sure Mr. Seinfeld will get his first dollar percentage cuts on anything he creates. His comments, while funny to him, indicate NO UNDERSTANDING at all of what it takes to keep theaters open. In regards to taking out [the garbage of] popcorn tubs and cups, we work very hard to get our customers in and out of the performances as quickly as possible. Any request for people to help is to better serve the people waiting to get in to the next performance. It is not to save on our labor cost.
“While I do not speak for all theater owners, no doubt others were upset as well. I do not believe that Mr. Seinfeld intended to hurt our business. If he understood these economics, perhaps he would have found another joke. It would be nice if someone would let him in on this information. However, I have no idea how to get this to him. Perhaps you could forward this to anyone who could educate him. This comment by me will be about as powerful as an ant in the river on a leaf. However, I was so upset by his comments, I needed to send my thoughts to someone. Your mentioning it in your column gave me that opportunity.”