Film Fund-amentals: Fallout

The immediate and tragic effect of the Aurora, Colorado theater massacre is grimly obvious (except maybe to Playboy models). But the long term effects are just beginning to take shape.

With a dozen people dead and over two dozen wounded, it seems almost ghoulish to contemplate the business side of such a disturbing event. Unfortunately, that is also why it will have a business impact. The disturbance level caused by this mass shooting is extremely high. Add in the fact that American movie theater attendance is at a 25 year low, and you can see the storm clouds gathering.

First and foremost is the immediate concern regarding box office. The Dark Knight Rises had an extremely good opening weekend, but the total was $10 million lower than the original projection. Likewise, there is now a concern that the problem could affect various later releases such as Man of Steel. A lot of people in Hollywood are already jittery about the declining box office, and this incident has resulted in contained panic attacks throughout studio PR offices.

Add to this the litigation possibilities. The theater itself will undoubtedly be the first target of lawsuits, but anything can happen and anyone with a computer and some money to spare for fees can file a suit against anyone for just about anything. The sky is the limit.

Then mix in the impending political debates that will inevitably come out of this shooting. The debate will not be about gun control since that topic is largely verboten in the US (except for New York City). Even President Obama’s recent comments are extremely limited in their scope. So the debate will get focused elsewhere, beginning with the question of theater security.

Various theaters around the country have already beefed up security, but short of having a SWAT team stationed in every screening room this approach is more PR than rational reaction. Most likely, many of the major theater chains will want the staff to be more “vigilant.” Vigilant about what, I don’t know. Most of the staff are barely paid enough to squirt extra butter on your popcorn. They are neither paid nor trained to spot heavily armed nut jobs in the crowd. Likewise, a few theaters may install metal detectors at the front doors. Too bad this wouldn’t have stopped the alleged shooter in Colorado. He is accused of bringing the stuff in through the back emergency doors.

A few theaters have already started a policy of checking women’s purses as they enter the lobby. What this really has to do with anything is beyond me. Women pack all kinds of things in their purses. But they rarely have room for an AR-15. I also suspect that someone is going to come up with the bright idea of “wanding” people before they enter. Various types of metal detectors have become common place in American life. But if you are dealing with a reasonably intelligent and truly dedicated psycho, these detectors are easily circumvented.

Since show business depends upon people being able to get into the show, theater security is limited. For political debate purposes, this is going to leave the issue of content, specifically, violence in the media. Granted, controversies concerning sex in movies has always been the primary crowd pleaser. But violence is a strong number two. And, in some societies, it is the other way around.

One film has already felt the heat. The trailer for Gangster Squad was immediately yanked from theaters and its release date has been rolled back to 2013. Undoubtedly the scene in the movie (that was also in the trailer) of several machine-gun totting hit men opening fire on a movie audience will be lucky to appear in an extended play DVD in 2014. For all I know, the whole movie may get extensively re-filmed (just call it My Little Pony Squad).

Some reporters and political pundits are already raising the issue that the alleged shooter may have been influenced by scenes from the movie The Dark Knight as well as several Batman graphic novels. Films and comic books have long been a target for this type of criticism. Since the country is currently confronted by a series of massive crisis issues, it is a safe bet that someone in Congress will decide that media violence is a safer debate to pursue than anything to do with impending economic collapse. A committee on the topic could be in place by the fall, and it’s almost a shame that Fredric Wertham isn’t around for a major career revival.

So it is a safe bet that the repercussions from this event are only in the beginning stage. Too bad none of this will be of any use to either the victims or the survivors. Unfortunately, whatever happens next will be of no use to anyone.

-Dennis Toth Copyright (C) 2013 All Rights Reserved