Anatomy Of A Movie-Goer

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Is it possible?

Is the Sawmill Theatres actually inching toward its one-year anniversary in Payson?

As of Thanksgiving week, it will really have been 12 whole months since local wannabe moviegoers were frothing at the mouth, waiting for the town's very first cinema multiplex to open its doors.

Time flies when you're having fun. And it positively zooms when you also have a four-pound tub of buttered popcorn in your lap.

Brian Deveny, the theaters' director of operations, can hardly believe his movie palace is one year old, either even though he was the behind-the-scenes guy providing the fun for everyone else.

For both Deveny and his general manager, Mary Klein, the past year has been educational, too. Before the arrival of the Sawmill Theatres, the Rim country had no theater at all, and no movie audience to speak of.

But that was then, this is now. Today, Deveny and Klein are equipped to offer a very clear picture of Payson's growing movie audience and their cinematic tastes.

Lesson No. One: Payson audiences pretty much follow the Hollywood mainstream but not always.

"Mostly, we've been able to anticipate what local audiences will want to line up for," Klein said. "We thought we'd do well with 'Monsters, Inc.,' which started Friday, and we're doing good. We thought we'd do well with '102 Dalmations,' 'Pearl Harbor' and 'The Grinch Who Stole Christmas,' and we did."

That, however, is no hard and fast rule, Deveny said.

"I brought in 'Hearts in Atlantis,' because everyone was asking for it," he said. "I fought like a you-know-what to get that print, but it tanked. My heart was broken, but that's business."

Lesson No. Two: It's not always easy getting local audiences to understand that motion picture exhibition is a business with its own unique mechanics.

"We often get requests for some movies that we just can't get," Klein said. "A lot of people asked us to bring in the new (Christian church-produced) 'Omega Code' movie, which really surprised us. We didn't think anyone here would want that kind of film, especially since it didn't get good reviews.

"But the distribution company isn't releasing that film to us, because we're such a small town," she said. "There are some things we can't get, which some people just don't understand."

Deveny has also noted cases where local audience members wonder why the Sawmill offers the movies it does.

"Here's a good example of how it can work," he said. "I have a film broker who goes to the screenings, and he advises me on which films to book. He got to see 'Zoolander' pretty far in advance and told me, 'This thing is awful, it's just terrible.'

"But you know what? It was September, there weren't a lot of films coming out, and I have six screens to fill. So I had to play it. And it was bad, and it did bad.

"That's just an example," Deveny said, "but it happens quite a bit. If it's November or December, I can pick and choose. But when it's September and they're throwing garbage at you, sometimes you have to pick it up."

Lesson No. Three: Payson moviegoers are more hygienic and possess more film-etiquette skills than Valley moviegoers.

"Moviegoers here are very good about picking up their trash," Klein said. "I've worked in the Valley as an usher, and it was always a headache trying to keep those theaters clean.

"Payson audiences are more quiet, too," she said. "We don't have to constantly monitor them or tell them to be quiet, turn off their cell phone or take their crying baby outside. That's a big problem in the Valley. We've never had a problem with that here."

Lesson No. Four: Payson moviegoers love matinees.

"When we first opened, we kept the matinees on a wait-and-see list," Deveny said. "But now I can say that they will continue no matter what. We've been getting very good support for the matinees."

Lesson No. Five: Many Payson moviegoers would be much happier if the Sawmill Theatres never ever loaded an R-rated film into its projectors.

This is not strictly a Payson phenomenon, Deveny said, who also operates a single-screen theater in Wickenburg.

"In Wickenburg, I hardly run any R-rated films at all," he said. "The locals really stay away from them, and I get lots of big, giant complaints, especially on films with lots of gratuitous violence.

"I get those same complaints here, a lot," he said. "I do hear, regularly, 'You're running too many R-rated films, please don't bring those here, we don't want to see that, you need to run more films for children.' Hey, I would run more kids' films if they made them, believe me.

"But we do have a saving grace in Payson. Here, we have six screens and are able to present a variety of films to please as many people as we can."

Lesson No. Six: Payson is growing into a bona fide town of movie lovers.

"The audience has not stopped growing," Deveny said. "We're attracting people that weren't going (to the movies) six months to a year ago. I see new faces there all the time ... We have some people who only come on Wednesdays, or only on Saturdays. The matinees bring in lots of couples and seniors. And, of course, the teenage audience is always big on Friday and Saturday nights.

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