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Photo at left: AMC in Fashion Valley

June 8, 2011

Mr. Gerardo “Gerry” I. Lopez, CEO and President AMC Entertainment, Inc.,
106 West 14th Street, Kansas City, Missouri 64105

Hello Gerry,

Would it upset you to discover someone sabotaging your theaters by representing them in a manner that isn’t in your best interest? I'm guessing yes.

If a major movie studio invests tens of millions of dollars and many months or years creating a product which ends up dark and/or out of focus on one of your screens, should the studio be upset? You bet.

The food chain starts at "action" and ends at the multiplex. If what the director wanted and got -- and shipped to the theater -- doesn't show up on the screen, it is either the fault of the exhibitor or a bumbling lab technician.

According to your company perspectives, “AMC Theatres has changed the way people watch movies by transforming the experience into an adventure.“ I was at one of your complexes the other morning and, sure as it‘s summer at the movies, the adventure continues.

My week kicked off in the back end of your Fashion Valley depot. Auditorium 15 is a small, mundanely efficient bunker where just two weeks earlier I witnessed a sparkling digital presentation of The Tree of Life. By now, it’s certain that someone has brought to your attention Ty Burr’s Boston Globe piece concerning illumination problems in AMC theatres resulting from a misuse of 3D lenses on Sony 4K projectors. While the "foot Lamberts" appeared to meet industry standards, Monday morning’s presentation was anything but brilliant.

As a former theatre manager, I know full well that it’s not the audience's job to spend precious movie-going time in search of an attendant to fix a focus problem. The second the white credits hit the black background, something appeared out of whack. I flagged a security guard who said he’d get right on it. Five minutes later, the same guard assured me the problem was reported.

Tick-tock, tick-tock…

Seven minutes in, I’m out of my seat and half out of my mind. I am an ineffectual theatre manager’s worst nightmare. Don’t expect me to be chipper when I am forced to leave my stadium seat for the third time and jaunt from the back end of a multiplex, up the temporarily out-of-service escalator to the main floor to find the manager on duty. Make that managers. There were two of them.

“It’s digital,” I’m told. “We can’t focus. It’s all internal.”

I was not sure about this until the following day when I was introduced to “George Kaplan“ (he asks that I not use his real name), a budding journalist and former projectionist who is well-versed in AMC booth procedure. All I know is this: once I was blind and now I can see. George was at Monday morning’s Fashion Valley fiasco and assured me that I was not alone in my disdain for the fuzzy presentation.

George set me straight: Once a Sony 4K projector is calibrated, there is no way to adjust the focus. He pointed me in the direction of the Alamo Drafthouse blog: “When the (3D) image leaves the lens of the projector, it passes through a polarizing filter in front of the lens.” The projectionist failed to remove the polarizing filters from in front of the lens for 2D screenings, thus accounting for the focus problem.

Here is something even more troubling. The auditorium in question also showed the new 2D X-Men sequel all weekend to the paying public. The focus issue remained the same, yet nobody complained until I barked at them Monday morning!

In 2007, your revenue totaled $2.5 billion with a net income of $134 million. I know you train your staff on the art of popping corn and filling soft drink cups with glaciers. Why not spend a few dollars training them in the art of visual presentation? If only you could fill our eyes in the same gratifying manner that you do our bellies.

They're turning up the heat on you, Gerry. Even Terrence Malick's private letter, instructing projectionists on the proper manner in which to present The Tree of Life, went public. Aren't you tired of hearing people say, "The picture looks better in my living room?" Do you want to see an end to film-going as we know it? Few people are in a position of power to make a change. Step up to the plate and prove your mettle.

I left several messages with your PR underlings, but to no avail. Until you have the problems straightened out, I suggest that you alert your managers to only book press screenings in 2D houses and remove all filters before each screening. It sounds like you could use someone to travel from theatre to theatre to investigate and weed out projection problems. I'll check my availability.

Drive safely,

Scott Marks

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Comments

DanDiego June 8, 2011 @ 9:19 p.m.

What a great letter! I hope Scott hears back from AMC, preferably from someone with some clout. How hard is it to put a checklist in each projection booth to make sure at the start of each film, they check the focus and sound. This is not rocket science, just common sense.

Another pet peeve of mine is not adequately staffing the concessions prior to movie start times. This is one of the few industries where consumers want to give a business their money as fast as possible, and the peak traffic periods are clearly known. AMC is a prime offender. I have seen long concession lines staffed by one or two workers while others are folding boxes or sweeping up popcorn. For the prices being charged for food and drinks, they can afford one or two more minimum wage staff to pitch in for a few minutes.

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JimHemphill June 8, 2011 @ 10:57 p.m.

Right on! A whole generation is growing up having no idea what a properly focused film with accurate illumination looks like - I have not seen A SINGLE MOVIE this summer at an AMC or Pacific Theatre with proper presentation (and I go to the movies three or four times a week). Either the focus is soft, or the stereo is out of balance, or the picture is dark thanks to the lens issue mentioned in this article. It's depressing, and it keeps getting worse (in Los Angeles, the alleged flagship of the Pacific chain, the Arclight, shows prints that look like someone has been shaving with them - try cleaning your gates once every millennium, guys!). Unfortunately, as Mr. Marks correctly points out, the problem has become so pervasive that audiences don't know the difference and will sit through an out of focus movie because they don't know any better. But this is no excuse - come on, Gerry, you're better than that, right?

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Cinevent June 20, 2011 @ 4:56 p.m.

Total agreement here. I just schlepped all the way over to Pacific's Cinerama Dome, where the picture on the screen wasn't much brighter than the flashlight the usher failed to seat me with. SUPER 8 looked like it was projected in super 8. I left and went to the Vista, where the picture, (and the staff) are exceptionally bright and sharp.

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Cinevent June 20, 2011 @ 5:05 p.m.

Has anyone mentioned AMC's affinity for TV shaped screens with TOP instead of SIDE masking? Every AMC plex I see has an Imax-square shaped screen, with just enough curve to make 1.85 look like 1.66. When a real widescreen movie of 2.35 or more comes on, the screen shrinks from the top and ends up looking a letterboxed movie on an old square TV. And they wonder why we stay home.

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