How Theaters Get A Movie
When a distributor has leased a movie, they will try to determine the best strategy for opening the movie. Opening refers to the official debut of a movie. There are several factors to consider:
Obviously, a movie that has everything -- major studio backing, big stars and a great story -- is probably going to open big and do very well. If it has big stars but doesn't appear to have legs (meaning that it will not stay popular for long), the distributor may opt to put the movie in as many theaters as possible during its first engagement. Fewer theaters will be interested in a movie with an unknown cast or poor buzz (unofficial information about the movie). Sometimes a movie has gotten good buzz, but isn't likely to have mass appeal because of the audience it is directed at. It might also be the wrong time of year for a particular type of movie. For example, a heartwarming Christmas story is not likely to do well opening on Memorial Day weekend.
- Target Audience
- Star power
All of these factors help the distributor determine the number of prints to make. Each print typically costs about $1,500 to $2,000 to make, so the distributor must consider the number of theaters a movie can successfully open in. Many of the 37,000 screens in the United States are concentrated in urban areas. A popular movie might fill the seats in several theaters in the same city while another movie would have a much smaller audience. Since opening a movie on 3,000 screens could cost $6 million for the prints alone, the distributor must be sure that the movie can draw enough people to make the costs worthwhile.
Most theaters use buyers to represent them in negotiating with the distribution companies. Large chains such as AMC Theatres or United Artists employ buyers while small chains and independent theaters contract with a buyer. The negotiating process is very political. The buyers often will accept a movie that the theater is not very interested in to make sure they get a film they really want. Distributors try to balance the movies they lease to theaters in the same local area to make sure all of the theaters will continue to work with them. Sometimes a theater will get an exclusive or special engagement to premiere a movie in its area. Once a buyer is interested in a movie, the lease terms are discussed.
The Need for Concessions
There are two ways for a theater to lease a movie: