February 18th, 2005

Coming Distractions: City Council Wants Theaters to Tell Truth on Movie Times

By David Saltonstall
New York Daily News

It’s the latest horror at the movies: endless ads for everything from ladies’ underwear to perfume to soda.

But a new City Council bill aims to set moviegoers free with a different kind of advertising - movie listings that reflect when movies actually begin, not the ads and previews before.

“We can’t outlaw advertising,” said City Councilwoman Gale Brewer (D-Manhattan), author of the bill. “But at least we can tell the industry that they have to be honest about when their movies start, not their ads.”

She shouldn’t have much trouble finding support among the city’s film buffs, many of whom say they feel entrapped not by previews - which many like - but by the growing number of TV-like commercials that now precede most flicks.

“I didn’t pay to see the ads,” said Lorraine Lew, 33, a dietician from Queens, as she headed to the movies yesterday. “I paid to see the movies and the previews.”

At one recent showing of the sleeper hit “Sideways” at the Loews 34th St. in Manhattan, for instance, seven ads - for everything from Coke to the Jamaica Tourist Board - competed with five previews. The result? The movie started 16 minutes after its advertised time.

If passed, Brewer’s bill would require theaters to advertise the “actual start time” of any movie, not when ads and previews begin. Any theater that doesn’t comply could face fines of $500 to $1,000 for each infraction.

Not surprisingly, the city’s larger theater chains are giving two thumbs down to the idea, saying moviegoers know to expect “pre-feature content” at any movie.

“We believe that the public understands that the feature film starts sometime after the published showtime,” said a statement from Loews Cineplex, which has 15 theaters in the five boroughs.

Some of the city’s smaller, independent theaters don’t have to be forced into providing truth in advertising. At the BAM Rose Cinemas in Brooklyn, for instance, movies start when advertised, and there are never any ads mixed among the previews. “We have to respect people’s time,” said theater manager Efi Shahar.

If passed, Brewer’s bill would be a first in the nation.

“In the scheme of things, it isn’t life or death,” said Brewer. “But people shouldn’t feel used after going to the movies.”

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