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Megaplexes freeze out some indie theaters

Megaplexes freeze out some indie theaters.
Clout of big chains can keep small outlets from showing newest releases.

By Bill Briggs contributor
March. 2, 2010

Megaplexes freeze out some indie theaters Beneath crystal chandeliers, nestled in foam seats and surrounded by purple draperies, patrons of the Big Picture theater can sample Hollywood films in cocktail-bar splendor. Martinis are hand-delivered. Cheddar-cheese popcorn is served in champagne buckets. Tickets cost $11. No kids are allowed.

"Welcome to heaven!" proclaims Mark Stern, co-owner of the Redmond, Washington cinema.

There's just one problem at Stern's single-screen nirvana - and it is flickering up front for all to see. His latest feature is stale, having opened nationally 11 weeks earlier. Stern only recently was given permission to offer the film. The title: "It's Complicated" - an apt description of today's independent theater market.

In Redmond — emblematic of dozens of towns where indie-owned cinemas compete with movie megaplexes — Big Picture is barred by some film studios from playing the newest releases. In legal lingo, such Hollywood freeze-outs are called "clearances," and they’re typically requested by large theater chains seeking exclusive use in certain cities. Studios can approve a clearance petition or not. But because the vast majority of the nation's screens are owned by a small handful of giant theater circuits, the chains carry enormous clout with film distributors.

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