see the movies you want to see

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(Most obvious blog title ever? Maybe. But then again, apparently not.)

I went to hear a producer speak this weekend and the question came up once again, “How can we get Hollywood to make the movies we want to see?” And he answered the way every producer who gets this question answers it – the right way. Go see the movies you want to see. Go see them in the theater, by purchasing a ticket, and do it on opening weekend.

No matter how many times I say this same thing, it’s always a mystery to people. But really there is no mystery to it at all. It’s a big, huge formula – an algorithm – and the data input comes from ticket sales on opening weekend. And I would go further and narrow that to Friday night of opening weekend.

Studios do this routine every day of the year, and they have it down to a science – a calculation for predicting how a film will do based on its opening numbers. Chances are, by the end of Friday night on the East Coast they know if their movie is going to be a success. And by Monday morning they are already deciding whether to add or kill screens and what kind of run it’s going to have.

Sadly, Monday morning some people are just realizing that a movie they wanted to see came out this weekend. But the executives have already sealed its fate.

This is exactly the reason why we could have Transformers 17 or Fast and the Furious 12… Teenagers with disposable income looking for things to do on the weekend will go see those movies on opening night, while families who want something they can enjoy together, or adults who would love a great historical drama will say, “That looks great! I’ll make sure I rent it from Redbox in a few months.” And that’s fine. Families are busy. Money is tight. Just know that those are the decisions that influence what movies get made. People who categorize movies saying “that’s one you have to see in the theater” versus “that’s a rental” are driving the system toward more movies with big effects and explosions (the ones they want to see on a bigger screen), and driving the character-driven stories to television.

I experienced this first hand with Moms’ Night Out. The movie was tracking really well – screening audiences loved it. It came out and it was gone from most big cities the second week. People lamented to me, “I really wanted to see your movie, but it left (or never came to) my theater.” That’s because we were in the heat of summer competition and opening weekend wasn’t as big as the studios hoped. So they opened small and didn’t expand, then started dropping theaters quickly to make more room for Godzilla and X-Men. And if it isn’t on as many screens, people can’t find it, it can’t make as much money, and it becomes a self-fulfilling prediction.

I’m not writing this to complain. To contrast, I had some amazing friends who understood this concept and bought tickets on opening weekend, even though they couldn’t actually go to the theater! Some had already seen the movie at a free screening so they bought tickets to “vote” their support. They knew opening weekend was critical. I also had friends who had supported me through the whole process of writing the movie and watching it come to life, but they missed actually seeing the film because they thought they had plenty of time to “catch it in a few weeks.”

For some people, movies are just one of many entertainment options on the weekend and it doesn’t matter very much. That’s fine too. I happen to be a movie enthusiast, so I get passionate about this. I believe that stories shape our culture, and that stories are becoming more one-note because of the amount of money required to support the system. It’s not bad, it’s just the business.

I enjoy inspirational sports movies, so I made sure – even though it was hard to schedule – that we saw When the Game Stands Tall on opening weekend. If you’re one of my friends who want to see better Christian movies, you’ve got two opportunities this weekend – The Song in theaters and the slightly more irreverent Believe Me in limited theatrical release but also simultaneously on digital. I don’t know if they’re good, but your ticket is a vote for what you want in the marketplace. I love family comedies, so I’m going to make sure we go see Alexander and the Terrible Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day in a few weeks. I don’t know if it will be good either – I’m hopeful – but I do know I want more movies released that are like it.

Cast your vote friends! Opening weekend. It matters. See the movies you want to see, and then you will see more of the movies you want to see.

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