"My Big Fat Greek Wedding" climbed the box office charts after word of mouth buzz helped push the small film into national prominence.
But lakes area moviegoers still will have to wait awhile before they can see the hit movie here. And moviegoers may be surprised to learn decisions about what they will see are made in Dallas.
Recently a story in Tempo stated the average moviegoer sees six films a year. For readers out there who are above that average and may have seen "The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring" six times alone, decisions on what movies play here strike close to home.
Steve Mann, president of Mann Theatres Inc., was kind enough to provide a primer on the subject of movie selection in a telephone interview from his Twin Cities offices.
Mann Theatres have been in the lakes area for a number of years and operated the three-screen theater in the Westgate Mall where Book World is now located. Mann Theatres also operates the Westport Cinema.
In 1995, Mann Theatres announced it had bought land and intended to build its own eight-screen movie complex just east of Super One. Cinemark USA Inc., Dallas, also announced it planned to lease a new 10-screen theater complex that would be constructed next to the Westgate Mall.
In the end, believing 18 new screens would saturate the market and limit profits for both theaters, Mann Theatres and Cinemark combined their efforts into a lease agreement. Developers Diversified owns the Movies 10 at Westgate building.
Mann Theatres is in charge of management and operates the Movies 10 and the Westport Cinemas in Baxter. Based on the partnership agreement, Cinemark is in charge of "buying" movies for the theaters. In getting movies, exhibitors' film buyers actually lease movie prints from distributors.
When Movies 10 opened, area film fans were told they would have a longer time to see blockbusters and have a greater opportunity to see "art" films, which tend to appeal to a smaller audience.
At least that was the expectation. And that "art" category is what "My Big Fat Greek Wedding" pushed past as the independent film surged into the big-time box office.
While Mann is not in charge of getting films for the lakes area, he knows the process. And Mann Theatres make suggestions to Cinemark regarding movies for this market, but Mann said those suggestions are not typically taken. Mann said he would like to see the Westport Cinema be booked differently with bigger movies playing there, as well as at Movies 10.
Expectations still call for the closing of the Westport screens in the future when the lease expires, even though the theater offers better-sized screens and superior, comfortable seating.
Now with 13 screens, the lakes area typically gets most commercial releases. However, Cinemark is currently in a dispute with DreamWorks, the studio behind Tom Hanks' latest movie "Road to Perdition" and Jackie Chan's new comedy "The Tuxedo."
Because of the dispute, Cinemark will not play DreamWorks films in any of its theaters.
"Until they get their conflicts ironed out, you won't see any DreamWorks picture being played," Mann said, noting such disputes can last six months to a year and usually are driven by two sides being unable to agree on terms exhibitors pay for the motion pictures.
Meanwhile, "Road to Perdition" has been playing at Mann theaters in Hibbing and Grand Rapids.
Mann said viewing the well-received romantic comedy "My Big Fat Greek Wedding" is complicated by its independent status since two people are handling the distribution for the nation. Mann said no one expected the independent film to do as well as it has. He said "My Big Fat Greek Wedding" has not played in a city the size of Brainerd yet.
With limited prints of the film, the distribution company is concentrating on larger cities with the smallest market, including what are considered "key" cities -- like Rochester, Fargo, N.D., and St. Cloud.
"On a film doing so well I would have bought additional prints," Mann said.
As it stands, the lakes area will have to wait for larger cities to finish running the film before a print is available to play here. That could be in two to six weeks. Mann said Brainerd will get the film.
Mann said he has been unable to get a print of "My Big Fat Greek Wedding" to play in a Twin Cities drive-in where he thinks the movie would do well.
It all comes down to numbers and money.
Raw cost for a film print is about $2,500 for a movie with an average running time. Longer films can cost $3,500 to $4,000 for a print.
Exhibitors' film buyers typically screen all the films and negotiate with film companies to lease the motion pictures they will play. Specialty films or those not considered general commercial releases often play in metro areas. Fewer people are expected to go to see them.
Films often are tested in front of audiences in New York, Boston and Los Angeles. If they don't do well there, they can go right to video stores because it is not economically feasible to market them for theater releases. That decision is made by the film distributor.
Films from major distributors such as Fox, Universal, Sony or Disney typically open in 300 to 500 markets across the nation. Those films usually come to the lakes area.
Mann said sometimes release patterns do not make sense to people outside the business or even to insiders. He said letters do come from customers in the Brainerd lakes area asking why a particular movie never made it here. Mann said some films won't come here because it does not make economic sense. But a film may make it weeks or months after it is released.
Also in consideration are contracts where exhibitors agree to play movies on their screens for so many weeks. Mann said a contract called for them to play "Star Wars: Episode -- Attack of the Clones" this summer for 10 weeks. But the film received mixed audience reception. And between Mann and Cinemark, they agreed to end the film's run after seven weeks even though they would be prorated a fee for the weeks they did not show the film.
"So a lot of times we'll hold films not because of what we want to do but because the price is there if we don't," Mann said.
The partnership between Cinemark and Mann Theatres is indefinite. Cinemark's film buyer probably books 250 screens on a weekly basis and Mann said the lakes area theater is not the highest on the priority list for them.
"They get the job done but I don't think they have a great feel for the town," Mann said.
But Mann said Cinemark has been a good partner and lets them operate the theaters as they do their other complexes. Mann said the lakes area is a great market in the summer. Attendance falls off beginning in September.
But for the regular residents who are still waiting to see "My Big Fat Greek Wedding," Mann had a message:
"I promise them it will be there."
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