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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Small-town Eastern Washington theater makes sacrifices to show ‘Star Wars: The Last Jedi’

Dec. 14, 2017 Updated Fri., Dec. 15, 2017 at 10:21 a.m.

Jason and Brittany Totland, owners of 
The Newport Roxy Theater, pose for a photo in the lobby of their theater in August, shortly after its reopening. (TYLER TJOMSLAND/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW)
Jason and Brittany Totland, owners of The Newport Roxy Theater, pose for a photo in the lobby of their theater in August, shortly after its reopening. (TYLER TJOMSLAND/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW)
By Chris Street For The Spokesman-Review

Theaters in and around Spokane were busy this week preparing for the much-anticipated opening of “Star Wars: The Last Jedi,” but The Force may not have been completely with some cinemas.

With the opening of “Last Jedi,” the fairness and equity of Disney’s dealings with independent theaters as compared with large, corporately owned theaters – and the financial outcomes for each – are being questioned by some across the country, including at least one local theater owner.

“We were required to sign a four-week contract to run the film,” said Jason Totland, owner of The Roxy Theater, an independent movie house in Newport, Washington. “Our market is a population of 2,000 people, and it just doesn’t make much sense to have a run that long.”

The four-week obligation means all theaters must continue to screen “The Last Jedi” even though audience numbers customarily decline the longer a movie plays. Totland said the requirement disproportionally affects independents.

“The movie will show to an empty house much of the time, but we’re expecting initial attendance numbers to be high, which may carry us,” he said. “It certainly will help at the concession stand.”

To handle the crowds expected with the film’s opening, Totland planned to have his full staff of four on hand for a showing Thursday, as well as the film’s official opening today and into the weekend.

“At the door, we actually lose a dollar after Disney’s fee and our facility and labor costs,” said Totland, who also mentioned other issues with Disney. “As a small theater, we did not receive confirmation the film would be available to us until last week, which hurt.”

Disney’s policy for small theaters cost The Roxy time for marketing, decreased presales, and could have meant not getting the film at all, he said.

“For us, it’s about planning. Missing big-name films is difficult,” he said.

Totland had no problem with Disney’s stipulated 65 percent take at the box office, a figure reported by the Wall Street Journal. That’s greater than the 35 percent that is standard for films showing in independent theaters, said Joe Sheehan, special events coordinator at the Magic Lantern in Spokane, which will not be showing “Star Wars: The Last Jedi.”

A larger venue

AMC Holdings Inc., based in Leawood, Kansas, runs the AMC River Park Square, which is Spokane’s largest cinema with 20 theaters. Company spokesman Ryan Noonan said earlier this week the theater chain was prepared for large crowds with the film’s opening and in its immediate wake. The theaters at River Park Square – operated by an affiliate of Cowles Co., which publishes The Spokesman-Review – planned to use assigned seating and staggered show times in an effort to keep lines from getting too long.

Noonan said that because of strong advance ticket sales, eight showings were already sold out at and 11 were nearing capacity, and that AMC was prepared to add a showing at 2 a.m., if necessary.

Because of enthusiastic presales, AMC is anticipating record attendance, but would not comment on projected revenue figures for Spokane alone. North American ticket sales for “Star Wars: The Last Jedi” have been estimated at $500 million gross.

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