Traditional theatergoing experiences have changed, as everything does, over the years. From the expansion of the concession stand to 4D technology, watching movies has changed mostly for the better. But now, moviegoers might be looking at a future in which guests are allowed to text freely in theaters — or, at least, at AMC theaters — and not everyone is open to this change.
Soon after news broke that AMC theaters is considering the possibility of allowing texting in theaters during movies, popular theater chain Alamo Drafthouse (known for its unique, high-standard viewing experiences and strict ‘no texting, no talking’ guidelines) released a response to the idea, shutting down the arguments of AMC and reprimanding the theater chain for using a disrespectful generalization of millennials as their reasoning.
Alamo Drafthouse founder and CEO Tim League penned the response to the potential experiment, highlighting the Drafthouse’s commitment to the moviegoing experience and those who create films, before citing that the problem doesn’t center on one group of adults, but rather 68 percent of the adult population. Read the full letter below:
“First off, I’d like to say that I am very excited for Adam Aron to be taking the helm at AMC. I am a fan of the Starwood Hotel and Resort brand and the customer experience that his former company consistently delivers. Bringing that leadership focus to our industry will undoubtedly yield positive results and drive healthy, innovative competition.
That said, I disagree with his statements on texting in a movie theater. Innovation in this direction could seriously hurt our industry.
My first objection stems from cinema’s relationship with directors and producers, the content creators. Auteurs focus for years to complete their films. We as exhibitors rely completely on these creators for our content and have an unwritten obligation to present their films in the best possible way: on a big screen with big sound and a bright picture in a silent, dark room. You can only be immersed in a story if you are focused on it. If while watching a film you are intermittently checking your email, posting on social media, chatting with friends, etc., there is no way you are fully engaged in the story on screen. I find that to be disrespectful to the creators, those who make the very existence of cinema possible.
My second objection stems from the generalization of millennial behavior.
“When you tell a 22-year-old to turn off the phone, don’t ruin the movie, they hear please cut off your left arm above the elbow. You can’t tell a 22-year-old to turn off their cellphone. That’s not how they live their life.” – Adam Aron, quoted in Variety.
22-year-olds aren’t alone; heavy cell phone use is far more widespread. Today, 68% of U.S. adults have a smartphone, a staggering increase from 35% just five years ago.
I spend a great deal of my life on my phone, too. I check news, social media and email obsessively. If there is the slightest of lulls in my day, a 20 second pause in an elevator, for example, I impulsively break out my phone and check something. I always carry an external battery because I can’t make it through the day on the standard power. I am not alone. According to some reports, the average American checks their phone over 100 times a day.
This isn’t just a millennial behavior, it is a global attention span epidemic.
Regardless of your age, turning off your phone and focusing on a good movie is much-needed therapy. This time of focus in a darkened room is core to the experience of cinema. Only with this focus can you lose yourself completely in the story and really fall into the magic spell of the movies.
Plenty has already been written about glowing screens and unchecked chatter driving people from the cinema experience, so I won’t belabor that point further. And I’m fine with “second screen” experimentation with regards to alternative content, gaming, interactive screenings, etc.
But when it comes to our core business, creating a special environment for our customers to experience new stories for the first time, there is absolutely no place for the distraction of a lit phone screen.
At the Alamo Drafthouse we are actively engaged in trying to make sure cinema remains a compelling destination for young people, and I agree this should be a focus for the whole industry. I just don’t believe that this line of experimentation is the right tactic. A firm policy against talking and texting in the cinema is about respect: for the filmmakers and fellow cinephiles of all ages.
Outside of this issue, however, I look forward to being challenged and inspired by what innovations and enhancements Adam Aron brings to the cinema experience.”
The Alamo Drafthouse is known for its immersive theatergoing experiences, which include drinks (alcholic and otherwise), plush seating, and multi-course meals that are prepared from scratch before being discreetly delivered to your seat. The chain has grown rapidly over the past few years, with a new location opening in Downtown LA soon. In lieu of talking during their standard films, the chain even offers “Quote-Along” screenings, where that one friend of yours who repeats every line during a film can finally be among their people.
Social media has been sounding off on the matter, but with the Drafthouse’s standing and reputation, the letter stands to highlight how one’s idea of moving toward the future (in the sense of film and theaters) may not always be the right one. Daily distractions from smartphones and other devices commonly pull people away from their own projects and focuses, which is where League hits the nail on the head in this letter: you cannot fully focus on a story with distractions like that surrounding you in the theater.
Be sure to check out the PSAs from the Alamo Drafthouse that include Melissa McCarthy and Sharlto Copley reminding audience members to keep their phones and mouths in silent mode.
Source: Alamo Drafthouse