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Laramie Movie Scope:
More screens in Cheyenne, an essay

Are more screens making Cheyenne better for cinephiles?

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by Robert Roten, Film Critic
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April 1, 2005, Updated May 16, 2005 -- I've been eagerly awaiting the opening of the new Capitol City Stadium, in Cheyenne, so I went over to see a movie there on the first weekend it opened. It is a 12-screen complex with auditoriums ranging from 80 to 300 seats and screens up to 50 feet across. It is the largest multiplex in Wyoming. When I saw “The Jacket” there on opening weekend, all the screens weren't open yet, and I only saw the one stadium I was in.

What I saw was a decent-sized stadium with a decent-sized screen, a smaller version of the larger multiplexes in Fort Collins, Loveland, Longmont and Denver. Some of the Denver multiplexes, like the 24-screen theaters in Westminster and Highlands Ranch have enough seating capacity to handle almost the entire population of Cheyenne. The Capitol City Stadium features curved screens, stadium seating, digital surround sound and high-backed chairs with fold-up armrests, pretty much what you'd expect from a modern multiplex. The theater is cleverly hidden behind another building so you can't see it from Pershing Boulevard, even though it has a Pershing address (1600 E. Pershing).

According to the theater's web page (wyomovies.com), the Capitol City Stadium boasts two 70mm projectors, “acquired from George Lucas’ private theater. These were used for test screening 70mm prints of the original 'Star Wars' and 'Indiana Jones' trilogies.” The theater currently doesn't list any 70mm films being shown there, but it is good to know they can show them. Previously, the only 70 mm projector I knew of in Wyoming was the one in the Frontier Six theater. I saw an awesome 70 mm print of “Lawrence of Arabia” when that theater inaugurated its THX sound system.

With the addition of the new Capital City Stadium, and the expansion of the Frontier Six to add three more screens (it is now the Frontier Nine), Cheyenne now has more than twice as many movie screens as it had a year ago. A year ago, there were 11 screens, this year, 26. I'm not counting the Atlas Theater, which shows movies very infrequently, nor the Fort Warren Air Force Base theater, which is not open to the non-military affiliated public. The theaters I am counting are the Frontier 9, Capitol City Stadium, Cole Square 3 and Lincoln Movie Palace. The Frontier and Cole Square theaters are operated by Carmike Cinemas, one of the largest theater chains in the U.S. The Capitol City Stadium and Lincoln Movie Palace are operated by the Wyoming partnership chain of Movie Palaces Inc., headquartered in Casper. So while there are four theaters with 26 screens in Cheyenne, there are only two competing ownership groups.

The Capitol City Stadium and Frontier Nine are geared to run first and mid-run films at full price ($7.50 at Capitol City, $7.25 at Frontier), both theaters boast bargain matinees at around $5. The Cole Square 3, which until recently was a full-price theater, has now become a deep discount theater, with all shows only $1. That is about as cheap as you'll find anywhere. It shows movies just before they go to video. The Lincoln Movie Palace is also a discount theater, except for the spring and fall art film series shows, which are full price, unless you buy a series pass. The Lincoln Movie Palace used to charge $3 for adults with $2 matinee, kid and senior prices. Now, it has lowered its price to $1 to match the price at the Cole Square theater. The Movie Palace and the Cole Square theaters are in direct competition for discount customers. For the past two weeks the two discount theaters have gone head-to-head on “Meet the Fockers” and “Are We There Yet?” So far, the Capitol City and Frontier theaters are not competing head-to-head on any movies. There must be some kind of distribution rules that prevent such competition in smaller cities, because it happens all the time in bigger cities.

So far, the extra screens are not resulting in additional quality choices for serious fans of cinema in Cheyenne. For instance, one of the best films of the year, “The Upside of Anger” is not showing on any of the 26 screens in Cheyenne, despite going to a wider national release today (1,000 theaters nationally) and despite the fact it is a top 10 box office hit. Laramie, which has only seven screens, has shown all the films showing today in Cheyenne, except one, “Diary of a Mad Black Woman.” I've noticed the same thing in Denver. Despite the large number of theaters in Denver, very few films show in Denver that don't appear in Laramie. You would think that more screens means more choices. It ain't necessarily so. What you get with scores of theaters is a herd mentality of theater chains showing the same wide-release films on multiple screens.

Of course big cities have theaters which specialize in independent and foreign films (like the Landmark chain). Denver has several Landmark theaters. It also has the Starz Film Center at the Tivoli (run by the Denver Film Society). The Regency Tammarack Square theater also features some limited run films, like “Bride and Prejudice” “Head-On” and “Paper Clips.” The problem with most of these art house theaters is they don't offer the big screens, good surround sound systems, or comfy stadium seating of the newer multi-plexes, but they do have very high prices and fewer daily showings than the multi-plexes do. If you go see a matinee in one of these places, particularly on a weekday, you've pretty much got a private screening. You could fire a machine gun down the rows of the theater and not hit anybody.

The root problem here is with the movie business itself. Most theaters do the absolute minimum when it comes to promoting the films they show. Most run a tiny advertisement in the newspaper which lists the name of the movie, MPAA rating, showtimes, running times, etc. Even most theater web pages don't go far beyond these minimal listings. Most theaters depend almost entirely on national television commercials paid for by the studios. Those commercials provide promotion only for the top 10 box office hits. The movie stars also hit the TV talk show circuit to promote their films. Holly Hunter did Herculean work trying to promote “Thirteen” on the talk show circuit. You can only do so much with talk shows, however. Without a major media campaign to support a film, the public is going to have a hard time finding it. There are exceptions to the rule, of course, like “Napoleon Dynamite” and “My Big Fat Greek Wedding.”

Distributors of art films and managers of art film theaters need to make an extra effort to reach their audience, either through newspaper advertising, e-mail lists, web pages, or a combination of all three. This is done occasionally, but not often. I am the president of the Laramie Film Society, a non-profit corporation. We've had some success promoting local art film series, using e-mail lists, web pages, newsletters and posters. On a recent showing of “Bad Education” we had more customers in one night than another local theater had showing the same film for the entire week before our show. The other theater did zero promotion of the film and got only a handfull of customers.

These are low-cost methods for promotion that anyone can do, but it does take both effort and skill. You need to know how to develop and work an e-mail list, you need to know how to write a decent synopsis, you need to know how to research a film for salient critic's comments and awards, you need to know how to design and maintain a user-friendly web page and you need to know the difference between information valuable to a movie fan and hype. Of course you need to select decent films in the first place. If a theater manager can't do all that, he should hire someone who can do it. That is what it will take for art and independent films to do better, generate more revenue and be shown in better venues.

Update: April 21. I checked the listings at the Capitol City Stadium Theater in Cheyenne today and was surprised to see a number of good films there, including “The Upside of Anger,” “The Sea Inside,” “Born into Brothels,” “Sin City,” “The Aviator,” “Million Dollar Baby” and “Hotel Rwanda.” In addition, the Lincoln Movie Palace is playing “Sideways” and “In Good Company.” That is an impressive list for any city, including cities far larger than Cheyenne. I hope they keep it up the good programming in Cheyenne. This is a much more impressive list than what I saw earlier this month.

[Strip of film rule]
Copyright © 2005 Robert Roten. All rights reserved.
Reproduced with the permission of the copyright holder.
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Robert Roten can be reached via e-mail at my last name at lariat dot org. [Mailer button: image of letter and envelope]

(If you e-mail me with a question about this or any other movie or review, please mention the name of the movie you are asking the question about, otherwise I may have no way of knowing which film you are referring to)