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Who decides which trailers run before which films? Is it the theater chain or the studio behind the film I'm about to watch?
It's a combination. The studio that produces or distributes the movie will attach and enclose trailers for upcoming releases. Those need to be played with the film. Then other competing studios will also enclose trailers and ask that theirs be placed on the feature as well. At that point, we decide which ones are most appropriate.

Are there rules governing which films can be advertised ahead of other movies? For example, if a studio wants to promote the R-rated Saw 3 before a showing of the PG Monster House, what's to stop them?
Nothing, actually. Of course, individual theater circuits probably have their own policies. For instance, we don't run previews for R or PG-13 films in front of movies rated PG or G. The problem is that many films aren't rated until just prior to their release, so sometimes you have to make educated guesses as to what the rating will be. Also, we've made it a rule to show only "green-band" trailers, which are the ones approved for all audiences.

Is there a reason for the rise in pre-show commercials?
The economics of the situation demand that we find new sources of income. When a movie opens, the first couple of weekends' box-office goes straight back to the film distributor, so the huge figures you hear or read about don't represent what the theater is actually making. Selling on-screen advertising has been a way to make ends meet, mainly on things like utilities, health care costs and wages. You either have to raise ticket prices considerably—because even then you're only keeping 10 to 20 percent of it early in a film's run—or find another revenue stream. The prime spot is right before show time, and the cost to the advertiser decreases the further away from show time you get.

What about the introduction of programming such as Firstlook, which combines commercials, show-biz news and behind-the-scenes content?
It's advertising in a sense, but we're trying to make it movie-, TV- or music-based so it has entertainment value. Firstlook is produced by National CineMedia for three circuits: Regal, Cinemark and AMC. You'll see the same kind of produced program on all of those screens —roughly 13,000 across the U.S. That may be the wave of the future, because people do prefer some kind of entertainment while they wait for the movie to start.

If a parent is troubled by the trailers or commercials that play in front of a movie, what's the most effective way for them to express those concerns?
If it's in one of our theaters, they can talk to a manager or go to the "contact us" section of our Web site and write an e-mail. We do pay attention to those e-mails. But by all means, let us know. Although we're very careful about the appropriateness of trailers, sometimes mistakes are made. That goes for commercials too, in which case you should also write to the advertiser and vote with your pocketbook. Even though my children are grown up, I remember weighing whether they should go see a certain film because I felt it might be too advanced or invite questions I didn't want to answer yet. That experience stays with us. We try to be as responsible as we can to make families feel comfortable.

Published June 2006