In the past two years we have noticed that films being produced are getting shorter and shorter. I am not sure if this is the result of budget constraints or the fact that the subjects chosen are just not interesting enough to make a 45-minute film. Whatever is the case, the fact that we get films with a running time under 45 minutes has become a real problem and adds to the demise of our industry.

In the past years we have seen films that are just around 35 minutes, and our audience notices this. The price compared to length has always been an issue, but we, more or less, educated the audience that they are getting an experience of a little less than an hour. Now the audience perception with shorter films is that they are getting a 30-minute experience for the same price.

So what can a theatre do?

Adding more trailers or short films (if you can find any matching ones) doesn’t help, because as we found out from our visitors, this only emphasizes the fact that the film is short.

Lowering the price is not really an option. For one, we have always defended our price policy when visitors asked us why they pay the same price for a 50-minute film at our place compared to a 120-minute film in a movie theater by using the argument that it’s not about quantity, but quality. Lowering the price for some films is sending the message that this is an inferior product.

Lowering the price also has an economic impact. Since most theaters do not have a brilliant bottom line, and lowering the price would lower the margin on the tickets, it could endanger the continuity of the theater, since most costs for theaters are fixed costs. The idea that cheaper tickets would grow the audience is not one I would like to dismiss, but I think most theaters have been in the business long enough to have established an optimum ticket price.

So how long should a film be?

For Omniversum the best length would be around 47 minutes. When we add two trailers to this, we can run a film every hour. I realize that this is not the case for most theaters. If you are 3D you would need more time, and some theaters like their films shorter. What I heard back from theaters was that the ideal running time is 40 to 45 minutes for the most of us.

Since we all are working to keep this great industry alive, and most of us think the future (for domes) is bright when a good digital system arrives, I really hope that producers and distributors will help us keep attendance up and visitors happy. One factor that would really help is making films that are at least 40 minutes long.

Submitted by Berend Reijnhoudt, Executive Director, Omniversum, The Netherlands

Signed by:

  • Ken Maahs, Director of Sales and Retail Operations, Science Center of Iowa & Blank IMAX Dome Theater
  • Laurent Dondey, CEO, La Geode
  • Manos Kitsonas, Eugenides Foundation Planetarium, Athens
  • Wendy M. Grant, Director of Marketing and Communications – Reuben H. Fleet Science Center