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REEL LIFE / FILM & VIDEO FILE : Discounters Put More Filmgoers in the Picture : Venues such as American Family Theatres in Oxnard lure those who save money by waiting to see a film.

July 07, 1994|PANCHO DOLL | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Call them the Wal-Mart of movie theaters.

Discount movie houses such as American Family Theatres, which is celebrating its first anniversary at The Esplanade mall in Oxnard, are doing a brisk business from dollar-conscious filmgoers willing to postpone their trip to the theater until a few months after a film is released.

Theater co-owner Tom Brand said studios are responsible for setting the ticket price on first-run films, but after a picture has been out for a month or two, the distributor will let theaters show it for a reduced price.

"The idea of a discount theater has been around forever," Brand said. "The old discount theater was 99 cents, had a single screen and was kind of a dump. It was a picture's last stop before condemnation. What's changed in the discount world is the facility. We try to provide a nice movie experience, one that's as comfortable as theaters where you spend $7."

The standard ticket price for American Family is $2 and Brand reports that the theater is making money on that. American Family, owners of 16 screens in Southern California, has increased its holdings by 50% this year and Brand projects 50% growth next year.

"The market has responded to the concept. Obviously there's a niche we're filling."

Discounting seems to be a trend, according to a study by the National Assn. of Theater Owners and the Motion Picture Assn. of America.

A survey--based on a poll of theater owners representing more than half the screens in the United States--found that the average ticket price last year was $4.14, down from $5.15 in 1989.

American has another strategy to distinguish itself from other Theaters, said co-owner Jay Brand, Tom's brother.

"We don't bring hard R in. We try to limit to family entertainment rather than the kick-ass, exploitative sort of (junk)," said Jay Brand.

Sharon Stone appeared only briefly on American Family screens in "Fatal Instinct," Jay Brand said.

"We watch more carefully now. "Beverly Hills Cop" is acceptable, even though the language was a bit tough. Freddy Krueger wouldn't make it on our screens."

It's ironic that Brand should mention the movie about the famous haunting on Elm Street since his theater is itself rumored to be haunted.

Ventura County's historian of the paranormal, Richard Senate, said former employees of the theater have told him of menacing shadows late at night and of chill winds that blow through the projection room.

The specter began after a gang-related homicide at the theater in 1979 associated with a screening of the movie "The Warriors."

Tom Brand said he was unaware of the incident and expressed surprise.

"Really? Wow, I guess I won't go there alone."

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