At the beginning of July, two films were released in the UK. One was Richard Linklater’s twelve-year odyssey Boyhood, which has been hailed as a landmark of American cinema. The other was Transformers: Age of Extinction, which is another noisefest from the mind of Michael Bay.
Desperate to see Boyhood, I visited the website of the Stratford-upon-Avon Picturehouse cinema, certain that their sensibilities would lean towards showing Linklater’s film over Bay’s mess. I was wrong. They weren’t showing the film until much later in the month.
After a brief Twitter discussion, I decided to quiz the cinema manager about the factors that went into this scheduling decision.
From a cinema’s perspective, Boyhood and Age of Extinction aren’t especially different. Both are around 165 minutes long and both have received a lot of word of mouth amongst film fans in recent weeks. The difference comes in the reaction to the films, as shown by their ratings on Rotten Tomatoes at the time of writing.
Not only did critics love Boyhood and hate Transformers, but audience reaction was broadly the same. Tonnes of people paid to see Age of Extinction, but only about half of those people actually liked it.
However, according to Tom Roberts, General Manager of the Picturehouse cinema in Stratford-upon-Avon, there was a lot more audience interest in Bay’s orgy of metal mayhem than Linklater’s coming of age yarn.
“We put a lot of thought into our programming as there are many factors to consider which change from week to week with the different films and distributors,” he said.
“For us, the choice to show Transformers 4 on date over Boyhood was more to do with customer demand rather than which film creates the most income. During advanced screenings, Transformers 4 was far more popular. When booking films in on date, distributors will demand that all shows of a particular screen are devoted to that film, which is why some films get many more shows than others.”
Mr Roberts was also keen to stress that Picturehouse Cinemas do aim to showcase as much alternative content as possible in amongst the films that are going to pull in larger audiences.
“We play an incredibly diverse range of films – our Discover Tuesdays strand, for example, is intended to promote more alternative product. These films can be very poorly attended, however, so while we would love to play more, we have to keep in mind that bills need paying!
“Personally I would love to have many more ‘arthouse’ films playing as part of our general programme, but ultimately we must respond to our local audience and play the films that the town want to see.”
It’s difficult to argue with a cinema chain that does attempt to show as much non-mainstream content as possible when they make decisions due to audience demand. The role of any cinema, whether it’s an enormous chain or a local independent establishment, is to show the films that its audience wants. Unfortunately, that appears to be Transformers.
The Stratford-upon-Avon Picturehouse is still showing both Boyhood and Transformers: Age of Extinction.