We were able to chat with Larry Collins, Vice President, Film for Carmike Cinemas about life in the exhibition industry and his own personal taste in movies.
Number of years he has been in the exhibition industry: 33
How did you get started?
"My first job in the industry was in high school. I had a summer job as an usher in Downtown Philadelphia and I saw Irma la Douce 47 times and I laughed every time. I just got fascinated with movies ... My stepfather owned some theatres in York, PA and as I got a little older I asked him some questions about the industry: How do the movies get there?, Who buys them?, Who sells them?
After college he got me an interview and I got a job with Universal as a student booker and I just progressed from there."
What was the first movie you saw in theatres?
"I don’t know if this was the first movie, but I saw the first Rock and Roll movie, Rock Around the Clock with Bill Haley and the Comets."
What is your favorite movie of all time?
"Lawrence of Arabia. Always has been and I think it always will be."
What does your job entail on a day-to-day basis?
"I oversee our bookings on our 2,500 screens and 300 theatres in 36 states. That’s Carmike. I negotiate the film terms. I also do inside corporate work, as far as budgeting, G & A expenses. I get involved with advertising when necessary, our website when necessary, a little bit of everything that might have to do with film."
How much do you deal with studios directly?
"That’s most of my job. I would say about 60-70% [of the time] I deal with them."
So what’s your favorite part of your job?
"Each week is different. You plan your bookings months in advance and then it gets to the week of and you fine tune it and you try to get as many prints or screens as possible or as little as possible depending on the movie. And then it’s either gratifying or disappointing depending on the weekend. Even though it’s not something that you’ve done personally, when the movie does well you’re happy."
What kind of process do you go through when booking a movie?
"Well, a lot of it is gut. It’s your own personal opinion. You have to take it market-by-market, one film may work better in this market and maybe in the North than it does in the Mid-West or in the South or in the North-West. [Carmike is] in 36 states so I have to look at each region.
Carmike is now full-steam ahead for specialty and art films. We’re trying to play as much of them as possible all year long, and we never really did before. We are playing The Visitor, we are playing Mongol... Unfortunately, it’s a very highly competitive market for screen time. Do we want four prints of Dark Knight and then play The Visitor and take one away?
It’s the maneuvering around, making sure you have enough seats for every film that is available."
How are you dealing with the digital transition?
"With digital, we’ve already done our roll-out. We’re ready to rock-and-roll, as I say ... We’ve gone through this for the last two years. If you asked me this two years ago I probably would be pulling my hair out. But today, I’m in the very comfortable position where I can use the digital screens to our advantage."
What do you think the exhibition industry needs to do in the future to make sure that younger generations keep coming to the movies?
"That’s a good question. I have a 23-year-old son, who is a big movie buff and he has his laptop, he has his iPod, he has his cell phone that can do all this, but he still loves to go to the movies. Can you imagine seeing a comedy on your cell phone or on a TV compared to seeing a comedy in a theatre? Laughter is contagious.
So, to me, if you really want to enjoy a movie, like a comedy, you really need to go to a theatre with an audience full of people. If you want to go see an epic movie like Transformers, or Batman, Iron Man, Chronicles of Narnia, can you imagine seeing something like that on your cell phone or your laptop?
As expensive as people may think it is, it’s still the cheapest form of entertainment. It’s escapism. To me, people will always need to go out to the movie theatres to escape from reality."
What movies are you looking forward to in the future?
One of the most exciting things coming up now is Sony’s Hot Ticket. They’re releasing Cirque du Soleil in August and the live, last Broadway performance of Rent as alternative content which is a part of digital screens and I think that is a big part of our industry.
We certainly have tried a lot of alternative content and some rock concerts may work and WWE wrestling may work. I’m just personally very excited about Cirque du Soleil and
Rent. I just feel that people in the small towns who can’t get to Broadway don’t have an opportunity to see these kind of shows, which now through Sony and Hot Ticket they will."