This article was originally published in OPENWIDE back in 2015, and was written by Samah Ali
Western Film is bankrupt. But don’t worry they’re surviving, barely. It’s been a rough year financially for the University Students’ Council. The budget release in February declared a $457,000 deficit, $83,000 of which was attributed to Western Film. Now balanced with a long-term plan, the USC budget days are looking brighter – however, Western Film is not.
Western Film is a novelty to the school and, in theory, sounds like a great resource to have on campus. But in practice, the single-screen theatre has had a rough time attracting patrons to their three-months-late Blockbuster screenings. With this year’s renovations of a new screen and ‘surround sound’ speaker system, things should be looking up for them; but the recorded losses show this is not the case.
The USC-run movie theatre is an expensive venture but has the right intentions. Within the USC budget, there are planned losses for outlets that serve to benefit students. The Wave is one of these gambles. The Wave eats up student dollars but the space and the restaurant is a valuable asset on campus. It provides a convenient, classy place to host an assortment of events from formals to faculty gatherings. It employs many students and offers more options for food within the UCC. The Wave is a worthy campus resource and pays off in more than just financial means.The only question that remains is whether Western Film offers the same amount of benefit to justify its losses.
These budgetary losses are also made up in other school outlets. The Spoke picks up where Western Film and The Wave stop by providing a surplus to cover the loss upstairs. Moneymaking services come full circle and help cushion the losses from other USC amenities by pumping money back into the system. It is important to balance the losses with surpluses in other areas, but Western Film might create too big of a hole to fill.
Where The Wave and Western Film differ is their student appeal. Students will always go to The Wave for a sit down meal, but students may not always attend the latest screening at Western Film.
Let’s reflect on their year. Western Film shut down during high-income months for a renovation. The remodeling upgraded the speaker system and installed an air-pocketed screen to allow sound to seep through. Cool. But what about the basics?
The expected $13,774 loss for Western Film was multiplied to an $83,000 loss. The renovations weren’t the problem, the content was. Giving a facelift to a dying movie theatre won’t bring more patrons to the seats. Changing the movie line up will make real progress.
The lavish reopening at the beginning of January was a smart business plan: opening the doors and providing free movies to all. Anything free sounds like the gates of heaven opening up so everyone stood in line to enter the Western Film paradise. Huge movies like the psychological thriller Gone Girl and the infamous The Interview played at the theatre and attracted more people than ever. It was a great plan to reintroduce Western Film and build its presence in students’ minds, but that scheme quickly plateaued.
Since January, Western Film has made valiant attempts at maintaining their viewership: raffle contests, cult movies, film festivals, and special screenings. But screening a mediocre, stereotypical comedy for free — like, Get Hard — won’t get people to stay at the theatre, smart planning will.
In September, the USC hired a new manager who oversees and operates Western Film. They’ve done well with the programming this semester but they took a major hit with the renovations. The cult movie nights are a great way to get fans back to Western Film. Their screenings of 80’s teenage classics like Ferris Bueller’s Day Off and shared guilty pleasure The Room hold a strong and dedicated viewership. These movies will always bring in a crowd and a steady income for Western Film to rely on. But to really make up for their losses, the weekly programming needs to play off the London movie theatre scene.
The Come Up
London movie theatres function on Hollywood Blockbusters. Smaller films and independents, like Still Alice, play for minimal time or at inaccessible movie theatres for students, like Cineplex Odeon at Westmount Mall. Western Film can learn from this and take advantage by playing said films during the 7pm slot. Showing smaller films at an earlier time slot allow the Blockbusters to take the commanding 9:30pm slot while still providing a variety of film content. Continuing the poor logic of playing The Hunger Games saga months after its release is pointless, as people who were interested would have watched it opening weekend. As well as playing Big Hero Six on a university campus, the film is targeted for a younger demographic and its appeal to a young adult demographic is questionable. However, The Imitation Game and DUFF – Blockbusters students recognize – are moneymaking generators that will attract and bring patrons back to Western Film. Step one complete.
Distribution rights are also hard to play around, and yes, it’s hard to get films right after their release — a two-week playing time in a single-screen theatre can cause some serious losses: consider playing 50 Shades of Grey for two weeks after it’s release. Most patrons will attend the first week but the second week will have lower numbers that will ultimately cause economic losses in the place of a movie that could have been playing during the new week. Certain Blockbusters are worth waiting for the second round of distributions, others aren’t. This is where their research is needed. 50 Shades of Grey is a controversial Blockbuster that would still attract a large audience at a later date. Step two complete.
After the Academy Awards, Western Film made a smart move by playing two Oscar award-winning films, Whiplash and Birdman. Both films had limited playing time at London movie theatres – Westmount Mall and Hyland Cinema – and by screening these renowned movies, at a later release date, Western Film benefited off the Oscar buzz with a greater turnout. It was smart and worth it. They’re learning.
Playing select Blockbusters at a later release date is convenient, they always attract a few students and are perfect for the nightly 9:30pm time slot. The 7pm time slot is perfect for a smaller, cheaper film that differs from the standard Hollywood tropes. Playing a diverse selection of films is a strategy Western Film has been playing on with their new management and to that I say kudos.
Western Film has the opportunity to lose its spot as an on campus amenity but it also has the opportunity to thrive. The spotlight is on them and it’s their time to prove they are worthy of the USC’s time and money. If Western Film proves itself as a valued resource to students, the USC has planned to accommodate a $25,000 loss for the service. However, if Western Film does not appear as an appreciated campus service then the theatre is at risk of shutting down, regardless of the bottom line. If it operates with the presumed deficit and with customer appreciation, Western Film will continue to run with the USC’s approval. Here’s hoping Western Film doesn’t lose more than $25,000 and proves itself as a valued campus luxury, or we may have to say goodbye to the movies and hello to the McKellar Room.