Saturday, December 20, 2014

How to get people to watch a bad movie.

I spent almost a dozen years in the movie theater business. About half of them were in Carmel, but I got my start working in two large downtown theaters in Salem, Oregon. I started out in 1978 selling popcorn, and a year later advanced to assistant manager, and later, manager. My boss was a great fellow named Jerry Proctor. His friends called him Jerry, but everyone who worked for him knew him as Mr. Proctor. He was very businesslike, but easy to get a long with, and he loved to tell stories.

One of his favorite stories involved a very bad movie. When he had managed a drive-in theater in Eugene a new coming attraction trailer hit the screen. He couldn't remember the title, but he said it was so offensive he had the projectionist remove it from the film immediately. Too late. A woman in the audience came in and told him in no uncertain terms that she would do everything in her power to keep that movie from ever being shown in Eugene.

She made good on her threat. She launched a letter-writing campaign, petitioned the city council, and got the attention of the local newspaper. She wasn't successful in keeping the movie out of town, but the whole town knew about it. On opening night the curious crowds were so huge the police had to come out to control traffic.

The theater made a fortune that weekend. Everywhere else in the country the movie bombed. On Monday morning the distributor, seeing these amazing numbers from Eugene, called Mr. Proctor and asked “What did you do?!?” I think the story even made into the trade magazine Box Office.

This story seems relevant to this week's news that Sony Pictures has shelved The Interview, a comedy about a fictional plot to assassinate the leader of North Korea. Reportedly North Korea is responsible for recent hacker attacks on Sony's computer systems, and is threatening further mayhem if Sony releases the movie.

Now, I've seen the ads for The Interview. It doesn't look like an awful movie, but based on my experience, it looks like one that would come and go fairly quickly and not get much attention. But now, thanks to North Korea or some sympathizer, a whole lot of people across the country and around the world have heard of it and are curious enough to want to see it. Good job!


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