Yesterday I visited the nearly-finished Sundance Cinemas Seattle; formerly the Metro, it’s reopening July 19 and I’ll have more to say about the theater as the date gets closer. (Short review: It’s looking pretty nice, though not yet done.) But here’s an interesting thought: I asked the Sundance exec who gave me the tour about the company’s cellphone-use policy. (Seattle is the fifth Sundance Cinema to open nationwide; others are in San Francisco, Los Angeles, Madison, and Houston.) She said they really didn’t have one because it hasn’t been an issue — people who seek out the upscale, grown-up experience at Sundance Cinemas really do want to see the movie, and don’t use their phones during screenings. (If someone did, she said, staff would do what was needed to have them stop.) Sundance Cinemas Seattle will be a 21-and-over facility, and most ticket prices will include an “amenity fee” (ranging from $1 – $3), making it more expensive than a typical multiplex — though less expensive than the non-member prices at Redmond’s iPic Cinema (which is, for a randomly chosen screening of “World War Z” tonight, $18.50). iPic was formerly Gold Class Cinemas, which was even more expensive ($32/ticket when it opened, back in 2008) — and I remember, at the press preview for Gold Class, being told by a company executive that cellphone use wasn’t a problem. “People rise to the level of the environment,” he said.
We all know that cellphones are the plague of the multiplexes, and that nobody at the major chains shows any indication of doing anything about the problem (rather than posting requests on screen, before the movie, to turn phones off — which are routinely ignored). But I’m wondering if what I’m hearing is true. I don’t remember seeing cellphones used the few times I’ve been to Cinebarre (the fun Mountlake Terrace cinemas where you can have food and drink brought to you at your seat), but that’s hardly conclusive. Anyone out there a regular at iPic, or at any other more upscale, service-oriented theater? Do you see less cellphone use there, if people have paid more for their evening? Just wondering. I remember, when Gold Class opened, that readers were pretty evenly split about it: about half thought the prices were outrageous, about half felt it was a great date-night splurge that bought a great experience for the money. Sundance, though more affordable, offers a similar dilemma. Would you pay a little more if it meant a better viewing experience?