Stan Durwood wants to bring back the Big Gorilla.
That’s the AMC chairman and exhibition visionary’s nickname for his long-held dream of forming a film-buying consortium with competing exhibition chains.
On a recent visit to L.A., Durwood made the rounds of studio toppers in an effort to drum up support for the idea, which would put one circuit’s film buyer in charge of all theaters in a given market.
Distributor reaction to the proposal was chilly. Studios see the plan as a thinly-veiled attempt to gain negotiating clout in an effort to reduce the price of film rentals. They also question the legality of the practice, which they claim would eliminate competition.
The Justice Dept. has in the past ruled against exhibitors getting together and deciding how to divvy up movies in a given zone.
AMC execs could not be reached for comment, but sources said Durwood highlighted potential cost-saving benefits to the studio execs: The centralizing buying policy could eventually reduce the need for field distribution reps.
That may be why Durwood chose to meet with studio heads, as opposed to distribution brass, wherever possible.
Durwood reportedly also has had meetings with a number of theater chains, but it’s not believed that any national circuits have yet signed on.
Durwood first approached AMC’s competitors and suppliers with the idea of a buying cooperative back in the early ’80s.
At the time he proposed that AMC would handle the buying for all theaters in the Houston market. The scheme was not limited to film buying. It also involved joining forces with other exhibitors to obtain volume discounts on newspaper advertising, candy, soft drinks and other supplies.
However, the plan failed to take off, at least in part because of competitor’s concerns over anti-trust issues. Exhibitors were also uncomfortable with the idea of a rival film buyer booking their theaters.