Western Film reels in cash
By Mark Brown
The box office for Western Film is enjoying record numbers this year after taking a chance and adopting several bold new operating practices.
Beginning May 1, the movie theatre experimented with a daily schedule and attempted to expand its audience beyond the campus gates. Located in the McKellar room in the University Community Centre, Western Film plans to continue to run seven days a week and has also added a second show to a now more current film line-up.
"What began as an experiment has been a resounding success," said Mark McLellan, manager of Western Film. "We always wanted to tap into the off-campus market, to make us less susceptible to the inconsistency of the student [audience]."
Before last September, Western Film was classified as a non-theatre venue because it showed films that had been out of commercial theatres from four to six months, McLellan said.
This summer, Western Film experienced sold out shows for the first time in a year and a half. Generating approximately $15,000 over the summer months was much better than expected for such a promotional experiment, McLellan said. He added only 40 people purchasing movie tickets and an average of $1.90 per person at the concession stands are needed for the movie theatre to break even in one evening.
Part of this success was due to Western Film's aggressive push to attract the public with advertisements placed in The London Free Press and an offer of free parking to movie-goers, McLellan said.
Western Film made a deal with parking services to provide free parking by giving customers a refund for the $3.50 parking charge on campus. Parking services then gives us $2.50, McLellan explained, adding a loss of $1 per car is a reasonable cost.
"During the first week of school we generated $1,700 in three nights," McLellan said. He estimates the revenue generated by Western Film per week during the school year will be double the revenue generated per week during the summer.
One of the difficulties Western Film had to face with its new schedule was the threat of conflicting with other events scheduled to take place in the McKellar room. In the case of a conflict, the movie theatre would cancel the 7 p.m. show, McLellan said.
The district supervisor for Cineplex Odeon, Tony Card, did not report any drop in business despite the apparent success of Western Film.
"Usually it is not the same crowd that goes to the original showing," he said, adding he did not feel there was a large market for discount theatres in London.
Robert Holdsworth, owner of Century Theatre Services who supplies Western Film with movies, said the success of Western Film is comparable, if not more successful, than some of the other discount theatres he supplies in Ontario.
McLellan said the only element currently missing from Western's movie theatre is digital sound, which should be arriving in October.