MCN Columnists
Gary Dretzka

By Gary Dretzka

If the seat fits …

After ShoWest, Digital Dretzka managed to get lost in the Digital Ozone, and, for a while, the business of Hollywood took a back seat to monitoring March Madness and propping up the teetering pile of DVDs awaiting scrutiny elsewhere in Movie City News. Upon venturing into the blogosphere Tuesday morning, a random search turned up this two-week-old item in Jeffrey Wells’ Hollywood Elsewhere:
“MCN columnist Gary Dretzka’s report about bigger theatre seats and implied American obesity levels doesn’t just raise intriguing questions — it could serve as the starting point for a comedy skit. Dretzka wrote from Showest that “representatives of seat manufacturers confirmed [during the festival] that the width of the average chair has expanded from around 18-20 inches, to 22-24 inches. Since volume is important to exhibitors, it’s logical to think that this adjustment was made necessary for reasons other than pampering their customers’ rear ends.” But how did this obviously major business decision (think of the revenue downscalings due to fewer seats per theatre) come to pass? Presumably theatre owners were getting complaints from their tuba-sized customers about the seats being too small, but how many (are there statistics?) and for how long a time? At precisely what point did the Jabba-sizing of America reach red-alert proportions as far as theatre seats were concerned, leaving exhibitors backed against the wall with no choice but to invest and accommodate?”
Also posted was this response from plus-size reader Roderick Durham:
“Tuba-sized customers? The Jabba-sizing of America? Funny, Jeff. I’m one of those people. Not morbidly obese, but a big guy. I’ve been this size for over ten years. I spend a lot of money going to the movies, and have loved doing so since I was about ten years old. I have never complained of the size of seats, but I have had to squeeze into some seats that seemed especially small. If new seats are being made for those of us who need it, what the fuck difference does it make to you? Do you really think you don’t have readers and fans who aren’t overweight? Please tell me you’re not this insensitive a fucking prick. I’d be the first to whoop somebody’s motherfucking ass if they said this kind of shit to my face.”
And, here DD (a.k.a. Digital Dretzka) thought the item on Floss ‘n Toss would draw the most response.
When embarking on this journey, DD was told that keeping blog items brief was the best policy. Some of what was left out might answer Jeff’s questions.
For one thing, while incidences of obesity – and, standing alongside Jeff, most of us would appear plump – have increased, so has the girth of the average American. Apparently, though, the shift toward larger seats began at approximately the same time that exhibitors finally acknowledged – duh—that their shoebox-sized auditoriums, with small screens, paper-thin walls, sticky floors, pre-fab popcorn and crappy sightlines, actually were a major factor in the abandonment of multiplexes by discerning viewers. By the late-’80s and early-’90s, the downturn had reached crisis proportions. Something drastic had to be done, and the introduction of cup-holders would only be the start of the revolution.
Borrowing a Vietnam-era defense – “We had to destroy the village, in order to save it …” – a handful of visionary exhibitors realized that it would better to start from ground up, than attempt temporary fixes. (It was also at about this time that the Americans With Disabilities Act required that theaters not only be accessible to patrons in wheelchairs, but they also had to provide them with an equivalent viewing experience.) Stadium seating offered a way to appease everyone, and, given the statistics provided by butt-oligists and seat manufacturers, adding wider seats also made ergonomic sense.
In 1995, AMC introduced its first “megaplex” complex, in Dallas, and, along with it, the “Euro-chair” concept. The rest, as they say, is history.
Even so, many adults had permanently soured on the movie-going experience, shifting their allegiances to the local video store, instead. It took something monumental to encourage these lost customers to sample the new, improved theaters, and that something turned out to be “Titanic.” In time, “love seats,” high-back chairs and other similarly plush amenities would be added to the menu, and, now, probably are taken for granted by everyone over the age of 12 (and those who fit the physical profile of an NFL lineman).
Even considering last year’s downward blip in attendance, the economic impact has been substantial, more than making up for the number of seats sacrificed in the renovations. Record attendance and box-office hauls followed in the wake of the megaplex boom, and, even if the movies weren’t significantly better, adults were far more willing to give them a try. Now, of course, arthouse chains are following suit, providing hope for a those appalled by Hollywood fare.
One manufacturer’s rep who DD met at ShoWest said that he was asked by a client in Minnesota to install new, high-end seats in his theater, but to keep them at the old standard width of about 20 inches. Oh, and be sure to add cup holders, too. After reminding the client that his theater was in Minnesota, where people wasted little energy fretting over their girths, he pleaded with him to increase the seat size by two inches, at least. Alas, no.
Naturally, four months after the seats were installed, the client’s boss called the rep, demanding to know why he put in seats that were too narrow for his customers. The “I told you so” could be heard across three state borders.

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2 Responses to “If the seat fits …”

  1. Charles Everett says:

    Now, of course, arthouse chains are following suit.
    We’ve got two good examples here in New Jersey.
    The Ritz 16 in Voorhees is all-stadium seating, all-digital sound. As this theater is part of the Philadelphia-based Ritz chain its bookings are mainly upmarket/arthouse.
    The indie Garden Theatre in Princeton was rebuilt a few years ago as all-stadium, all-digital. It’s also upmarket/arthouse but plays the occasional mainstream movie. Alas, it used to have bargain matinees but not any more.
    Now if the local AMC and Regal megaplexes would only be more aggressive in playing arty fare!

  2. Hey,

    I wanted to let you know that I have been following for a a couple of months on and off and I would like to sign up for the daily feed. I am not to computer smart so I’ll give it a try but I will need some help. This is a good find and I would hate to lose contact, and maybe never find it again.

    Anyway, thanks again and I look forward to posting again in the future!

Digital Nation

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It shows how out of it I was in trying to be in it, acknowledging that I was out of it to myself, and then thinking, “Okay, how do I stop being out of it? Well, I get some legitimate illogical narrative ideas” — some novel, you know?

So I decided on three writers that I might be able to option their material and get some producer, or myself as producer, and then get some writer to do a screenplay on it, and maybe make a movie.

And so the three projects were “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep,” “Naked Lunch” and a collection of Bukowski. Which, in 1975, forget it — I mean, that was nuts. Hollywood would not touch any of that, but I was looking for something commercial, and I thought that all of these things were coming.

There would be no Blade Runner if there was no Ray Bradbury. I couldn’t find Philip K. Dick. His agent didn’t even know where he was. And so I gave up.

I was walking down the street and I ran into Bradbury — he directed a play that I was going to do as an actor, so we know each other, but he yelled “hi” — and I’d forgot who he was.

So at my girlfriend Barbara Hershey’s urging — I was with her at that moment — she said, “Talk to him! That guy really wants to talk to you,” and I said “No, fuck him,” and keep walking.

But then I did, and then I realized who it was, and I thought, “Wait, he’s in that realm, maybe he knows Philip K. Dick.” I said, “You know a guy named—” “Yeah, sure — you want his phone number?”

My friend paid my rent for a year while I wrote, because it turned out we couldn’t get a writer. My friends kept on me about, well, if you can’t get a writer, then you write.”
~ Hampton Fancher

“That was the most disappointing thing to me in how this thing was played. Is that I’m on the phone with you now, after all that’s been said, and the fundamental distinction between what James is dealing with in these other cases is not actually brought to the fore. The fundamental difference is that James Franco didn’t seek to use his position to have sex with anyone. There’s not a case of that. He wasn’t using his position or status to try to solicit a sexual favor from anyone. If he had — if that were what the accusation involved — the show would not have gone on. We would have folded up shop and we would have not completed the show. Because then it would have been the same as Harvey Weinstein, or Les Moonves, or any of these cases that are fundamental to this new paradigm. Did you not notice that? Why did you not notice that? Is that not something notable to say, journalistically? Because nobody could find the voice to say it. I’m not just being rhetorical. Why is it that you and the other critics, none of you could find the voice to say, “You know, it’s not this, it’s that”? Because — let me go on and speak further to this. If you go back to the L.A. Times piece, that’s what it lacked. That’s what they were not able to deliver. The one example in the five that involved an issue of a sexual act was between James and a woman he was dating, who he was not working with. There was no professional dynamic in any capacity.

~ David Simon