Taylor Swift and her team are renowned for being smart, savvy, fan-sensitive, respectful to her medium, and declining any negativity for her brand. That’s what makes the 11th-hour October 11 announcement that there would be previews for “Taylor Swift: The Eras Tour” so bizarre.
For fans, the news that shows begin 6pm Thursday October 12 offered an exciting chance to see their heroine that much sooner. For the promotion, it meant another press bump. For the theaters that learned this news with less than 24 hours’ notice — the same time as the general public — it was something less than thrilling.
After Swift conveyed the preview news via social media, most theaters learned of the additional shows via email from Variance Films, the service company hired by domestic distributor AMC Theatres to coordinate bookings
Of course, theaters are very happy to host “Eras” in what would be an otherwise barren October. However, IndieWire spoke to multiple sources in distribution and exhibition who responded to the whimsical scheduling with anger, annoyance, and even some disgust. It meant neither AMC nor Swift was sensitive to the effort needed by 3,850 theaters to secure last-minute staffing and security to accommodate the potential for massive demand. Would Swift ask a concert venue to add a show on less than a day’s notice?
And then there’s the irony: While additional “Eras” screenings demand additional staff, the reality is the last-minute notice means there’s a very good chance the screenings on Thursday evening and Friday afternoon won’t be full or even close.
AMC Burbank 16, one of the top theaters in the country, has six “Eras” shows Thursday night starting at 6pm. As of 3pm, a spot check showed one screening perhaps half full, another one-third booked; others had anywhere from four to 12 seats booked. The strategy seems especially strange since “Eras” is meant to seem like a concert-like event — and for opening night in particular.
It also undermines the achievement/bragging rights of core Swifties who got the best tickets for 6 p.m. Friday shows. For some fans, being first is no small thing and they’ve lost that cachet.
It’s unclear if the idea for the new shows came from Swift or AMC, although the former is more likely given the control her team exercised in this rollout. However, exhibitors and other distributors lay the responsibility at AMC’s feet.
Beyond staffing issues, exhibition competitors are angry that once again AMC had advance knowledge that allowed it to prepare revised show times and adjust online ticket sites. (Cinemark, which handles overseas, also likely had advance word.) That put everyone else at significant disadvantage. A studio distributor would have played fair, not favoring individual circuits — but of course, no studio would have created this last-minute addition.
Points to AMC for its creativity in acquiring distribution rights, as well as expanding the kinds of events that could benefit all theaters. The execution suggests AMC lacks both the experience and the gravitas to manage powerful talent.
Had this been a studio title, or if Tom Cruise or James Cameron sought a one-day earlier release the day before, studios would block it. Beyond the theatrical disrespect, studio executives know how to manage talent. As a distributor, that skill is essential.
This reinforces the sense that AMC might be in over their heads, even for a film like this which they had no role in producing or marketing. This last-minute change has the feel of distribution on the fly, and suggests stars can push theaters around at their whim.
It’s possible “Eras” will get a boost from walk-ins, but we expect the Thursday gross will be disproportionately smaller to normal preview results. It’s also possible that a mediocre initial result could dampen reaction going into the weekend.
Then again, compared to the $115 million-plus that “Eras” will bring to the weekend, what’s a few empty seats and frustrated exhibitors? However, Swift is renowned for her album “Reputation,” with its theme of self-awareness and concern over image: Her team would have done better to think this through.