Behind the screen with Lone Peak Cinema

By Sally Fisher Explore Big Sky Contributor

“The Hunger Games – Mockingjay Part 1,” showing now at Lone Peak Cinema, is the 189th major Hollywood film to premiere at the Big Sky movie theater I own with my husband, Scott.

What does it take to get new films to Big Sky?

It starts by keeping our ears to the ground and understanding the preferences of the community and its visitors. The team at Lone Peak Cinema listens to what people want to see, including requests on Facebook – today’s suggestion box – and talks to frequent patrons. We read film news and reviews on imdb.com and the industry site Rentrak, and watch hours of movie trailers.

We test tubs and tubs of popcorn each week, and even order popcorn at other theaters or bars just to compare it to ours. We do our best to offer local and independent films and make them fit with blockbuster movie titles, as well as host community events.

Movie theaters across the nation pay an average of 58 percent of ticket sales to the movie distribution companies for film rental. The actual percentage starts higher than that, and then decreases as the theater continues to show the film – an incentive for cinemas to keep movies playing in their theaters longer.

On average, Lone Peak Cinema keeps a movie for two weeks, though there are some movies that require a longer lease by the distribution companies. Typically, movies are released on Fridays or holidays, and it’s cheaper and easier to acquire a film two weeks after its opening date, when there’s less competition for the movie. This lease also determines if a movie can share the screen or be stacked with another film. Theaters must comply with these restrictive rates of return and attempt to recover their operating costs through the concessions sales.

As an independent theater, Lone Peak Cinema works with a booking agent to negotiate a film’s “engagement,” or the terms of a film’s lease with distribution companies such as Warner Bros., Sony, Paramount, and Disney, to name a few.

Larger theater chains have internal booking departments that work to secure the movies shown at all of their locations across the country. Particular venues can request films that would be successful in their communities, but most have little influence in deciding what plays on their screens.

Independent movie theaters like Lone Peak Cinema have more control over the films they request, but to secure a high-demand movie, theaters may be obligated to play another film from that distributor, or agree to other restrictive terms. However, where competition with larger chains exists, the larger chain usually wins the right to show the film.

After a movie is filmed, the studio creates the film’s licensing agreement with a distribution company and decides how many prints to make and distribute. Booking agents request films from the distribution companies for their theaters. All cinemas are ranked and compete based on a national priority list.

A theater’s priority depends on a number of things including number of screens, days of the week open, type of projection and sound equipment, and ticket prices. The most critical priority factor is predicted ticket sales, so even small, independent theaters with consistently sold-out attendance are able to compete with larger chains such as Regal Gallatin Valley Cinemas in Bozeman.

Community involvement, attendance, and support are the real driving factors bringing great films to Big Sky – the more tickets we sell, the greater priority. So catch a movie at your local cinema this winter, where the popcorn is always hot and the beer is always cold.

Sally Fisher is originally from Chattanooga, Tenn. and Scott is from Avon, Colo. They fell in love at the University of Colorado in Boulder, found Big Sky in 2007 and fell in love again. Lone Peak Cinema celebrated its three-year anniversary on Nov. 19.