Theater Chain Gets Tough With Noisy Moviegoers

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Getting tough on noisy moviegoers, officials of the AMC movie chain announced that talkers who ignore warnings will be ousted, and children under 3 will be barred from films rated PG-13 or R.

The new "Silence Is Golden" policy takes effect two weeks from today. AMC claims that it is the first chain in the nation to impose written anti-noise rules.

The infant policy will apply at all 90 AMC theaters west of the Rockies (including four in Orange County) and in Texas. In the rest of the country, children under 6 will not be allowed into PG-13 or R movies after 6 p.m. The policies are based on focus group and survey results, which varied regionally, the officials said.

"When we asked people what the one thing we could do to encourage them (to attend theaters), 72% of them said it would be to do something about people who talk during films," Jack Holland, vice president of marketing for AMC, said Thursday at a press conference in Century City.

"The crying baby is one of the biggest complaints," Nora Dashwood, AMC district manager for Southern California, said. "We just want to ensure a quiet and uninterrupted moviegoing experience. . . . People come to the movies to escape."

Normally, AMC ushers and managers approach noisy patrons only after complaints. Now, problem customers will be warned once and ousted if they persist. Dashwood described the new policies as more preventive.

Under the new program, ushers or managers will make an announcement of the "Silence Is Golden" rules before each showing and will enter auditoriums regularly during screenings. Dashwood said the ejection policy is not directed at such "reactive" crowd noise as laughter during comedies or gasps and screams during suspense or horror films.

AMC officials said the new policies have been tested successfully at several theaters; the nearest was in City of Industry, in Los Angeles County. "The announcement alone has been met with tremendous applause," Dashwood said.

But reaction among customers waiting in line at the AMC MainPlace 6 complex in Santa Ana Thursday afternoon was mixed. Rod Falberg, 34, said he brings his infant daughter to the movies about once a month and believes that parents should be responsible for the behavior of their children.

"It doesn't sound like a nice idea," Falberg said of AMC's new blanket, no-babies approach.

Esther Rhone, 69, said she often is bothered by noise but not necessarily from infants. "I've had to ask adults to quit talking," she said, "but babies aren't the problem."

Newport Beach-based Edwards Cinemas, Orange County's biggest chain with 30 theaters, always has its ushers and managers check auditoriums regularly and evict unruly patrons, but it has no plans to follow AMC's lead and bar infants, according to founder James Edwards Sr.

Edwards said he agrees with AMC's Dashwood that moviegoers are getting more talkative. "It seems that customers have gotten quite used to talking at home when their TV set is on," he said. But, he added, parents with crying babies simply will be asked to take them to the lobby until they settle down.

The "Silence Is Golden" policies are part of a four-point program announced by Kansas City-based AMC to make attendance at movie theaters more attractive.

The company also plans to reward frequent AMC theatergoers with prizes ranging from free popcorn and movie passes to discounts at McDonald's and has instituted a summer club for children that rewards youngsters with a party and a free movie if they read at least three books during the months that school is out.

"People are just less and less entranced with going to the movies," said Jack Holland, AMC's vice president for marketing. "And we're trying to lure them back."

The number of people who attend films has been shrinking steadily, not only since the industry's '30s heyday but in recent years. Movie attendance in the United States slipped from 1.1 billion in 1989 to about 1 billion in 1990. Revenue increased that year by 4%, but only because theaters raised prices.

AMC Entertainment Inc. operates 1,621 screens at 256 theater complexes nationwide, including 24 screens in four Orange County cinemas: the Fullerton 8, the Orange Mall 6 in Orange and the Fashion Square 4 in La Habra, and Santa Ana's MainPlace 6.

Times correspondents Mary Anne Perez and Sharon Bernstein contributed to this story.

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