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Battling big business: Valley Drive-In, Brackley Drive-In fight against Disney Studios film distribution methods

The Valley Drive-In Theatre, in the Annapolis Valley, has joined the fight with the Brackley Drive-In protesting stringent requirements around when it can show Disney films. - ANDREA BURBIDGE
The Valley Drive-In Theatre, in the Annapolis Valley, has joined the fight with the Brackley Drive-In protesting stringent requirements around when it can show Disney films. - ANDREA BURBIDGE - Contributed

CAMBRIDGE, NS - The Valley Drive-In joined the fight against Disney Studios started by P.E.I.'s Brackley Drive-In this week.

Kirk Longmire, a member of the Coldbrook Lions, which own the Annapolis Valley staple, says the rules Disney has about how many weeks its films must be played constrain the one-plex and drive-in theatre industry.

"We have to play a Disney movie for three weeks in a row, or we can't show it at all," said Longmire.

"The rules here aren't new. We'd be stuck with the same movie and dwindling profits three weeks running, but now that Disney owns Marvel and Star Wars, things are at critical mass."

This weekend, Longmire says the Valley Drive-In is playing Solo: A Star Wars Story for the first time, although it's been in theatres since May 10.

The other film on the double-bill? A third helping of Avengers: Infinity War, which blasted the box-office summer season into gear back in April.

"We don't have to play them for three weeks if we wait a month or six weeks to show them, but by then, they're so old that we won't make as much money," said Longmire.

"We're expecting less than half of what we'd make in an average weekend for July 6, 7, and 8."

A car pulls up to the Valley Drive-In.
A car pulls up to the Valley Drive-In.

‘Troubling trend’

The uprise against Disney comes after Brackley Drive-In owner Bob Boyle took to Facebook this week to tell customers why neither Incredibles 2 or Ant-Man & the Wasp, which is being released June 6, would be on screens this weekend.

"We tried to our very best to get what we thought was a great program. At this time, Disney will not play a new film on a single-screen drive-in for less than three weeks for most films. We do not think this is fair to us or our customers," wrote Boyle on the drive-in's Facebook page.

"You, as the customer, have the right to demand when and where you can watch a film. Only you can change this troubling trend. The studio will not listen to us, but they should listen to you."

Boyle's words set off a Twitter and Facebook firestorm, with Disney and the properties it owns receiving numerous messages from fans asking for policy changes.

Saltwire reached out to Disney's corporate offices July 4 and, as of noon on July 5, had not yet received a response.

"Disney is doing this in small towns and on single-screens and drive-ins all over the place, and it threatens the viability of the industry," says Boyle.

He says the Vogue Theatre in Sackville, N.B., Brackley, the Valley Drive-In and the Neptune Drive-In in Shediac, N.B. are all having issues.

Saltwire reached out to the Neptune's owner but did not receive a call back.

"Disney, as an umbrella corporation, dictates this 'three-week' rule, but in a small town with a small population, it doesn't work," said Boyle.

"Small towns are denied access. It's like we aren't worthy of their time or content unless we meet these terms. Some of us in small towns, under current standards, can't get Disney movies until six to eight weeks after release."

Breaking point

The breaking point for Boyle came with a new rule prohibiting the drive-in from playing a Disney movie in conjunction with any film the drive-in hadn't yet played, which spoiled plans for an all-Disney double-bill of the Ant-Man and Incredibles sequels.

"We could have had Ant-Man opening weekend and finally gotten the Incredibles a month after release, but because we had passed on Incredibles earlier to avoid the three-week rule, the two movies were disallowed together," he said.

"No other studio does this to us. It was the straw that broke the camel's back. If Disney cared about exhibitors and customers, they'd come to play."

And it could become worse. As it stands, Disney is also currently in a bidding war with giant Comcast to obtain the rights to FOX, including its film comment.

Some FOX properties include X-Men, Deadpool, Planet of the Apes, Alien, Predator and more. If Disney is successful, it would then own all FOX film properties, as well as Marvel and the Star Wars rights.

READ MORE:

Valley Drive-In Theatre ready to roll

Coming Soon: A new season at the drive-in

Kirk Longmire
Kirk Longmire

Longmire is worried the acquisition could change the landscape forever, and not only for the Valley Drive-In.

"You stand back and look at the marketplace, and they have so many blockbusters now. I don't know what it will look like if they gain all the FOX titles too," he said.

"This weekend is the third time we've had to show the Avengers, and we're constantly backfilling to try to fill the schedule. This is happening already this summer, and it's only July. It's beginning to get worrisome."

Longmire admires the Brackley owner's tenacity, though he isn't sure he would have done it himself.

"We do this on a break-even basis, and not for profit. I didn't want to raise the red flag, but seeing what the future holds, we need rationalization brought to this process," he said.

"We have absolutely no issue supporting and promoting this cause."

He says the amount of people supporting the cause has been overwhelming, even if they don't understand the overall arc of what's happening.

"We've been dealing with this the better part of four years, and people are surprised at how long we've been finding workarounds. They're supportive but in awe of Disney's policies that make no sense," he said.

"For some reason, they just don't want to utilize our screens. I'm not sure why we can't just find some middle-of-the-road compromise."

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