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This story first appeared in the Oct. 31 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.
Cinema owners were outraged earlier in October when Netflix and Imax — one of their own — closed an exclusive pact to simultaneously carry The Weinstein Co.’s Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: The Green Legend, cutting out traditional theaters. Less than 48 hours later, Netflix trumpeted a new four-picture deal with Adam Sandler.
Netflix’s encroachment is sure to prompt a call to arms when exhibitors gather at ShowEast, their annual fall convention, which runs Oct. 27 to 30 in Hollywood, Fla. On the eve of the event, Malco Theatres senior vp Bobby Levy, 61, gave his opinion on Sandler, Christopher Nolan‘s controversial Interstellar experiment (another sore point) and glimmers of a box-office recovery.
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Malco, a family-owned, Southern theater circuit with 33 locations, celebrates its 100th anniversary in 2015 and is among this year’s ShowEast honorees. On Oct. 30, Levy will accept the Salah M. Hassanein Humanitarian Award on behalf of the Memphis-based company, where he works with numerous family members, including cousins Steve Lightman, Jimmy Tashie and David Tashie. (ShowEast is run by Film Expo Group, a division of THR‘s parent company, Prometheus Global Media.)
Were you taken aback by the Netflix-Imax deal?
The way to maximize the box-office gross of a movie is to preserve windows. It’s the theatrical release that creates the buzz.
Sandler always has enjoyed favored status with theater owners. Does that change because of the Netflix deal?
If he wants to be a TV star, I guess that’s the path he’s going to take. I guess he’s had his run on the big screen. For him, maybe that’s a good thing. If filmmakers and stars want to make movies for iPads and small screens, let them get into the television industry. If they want to be a movie star, they should encourage the primacy of the theatrical release.
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Theaters equipped to play film are getting Interstellar from Paramount two days early, on Nov. 5. Some are bringing projectors back to do so, a pricey proposition. Will Malco participate?
No. There was so much pressure on us from Hollywood to go all digital, and it was very expensive. It’s surprising and a little disingenuous on the distributor’s side to try to push that as a competitive advantage.
You had a front-row seat to the dismal summer. Why did so many films flatline?
People weren’t talking about movies this summer — except for the lack of good movies. Fortunately, we have turned the corner in a big way.
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There was speculation Gone Girl wouldn’t work in more conservative parts of the country, like the South, because of its edgy, R-rated content. How has it done in your theaters?
It has done very well and is crossing all lines. The adult moviegoing population was really looking for something to see after this summer’s dearth. Gone Girl has helped get people back into going to the movies. One good film can create demand.
Why did you follow in the footsteps of your grandfather, M.A. Lightman Sr.?
[Growing up,] I had the good fortune of having a screening room attached to the house. Malco’s film buyer and my uncle would come over several nights a week to preview upcoming movies. We had couches and a bar. It was a very nice thing to have in the backyard. Why would I not go into the business?
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Portia de Rossi
James Gordon Meek