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Last Updated: Friday, 23 May, 2003, 09:47 GMT 10:47 UK
Cinema Paradiso it ain't
By Jonathan Duffy
BBC News Online

Any colour you like: Blitzing Milton Keynes with leaflets
The man behind the no-frills airline Easyjet is opening a low-cost cinema along the same lines. But you won't be able to see the hotly-awaited Matrix sequel here, yet.

How much did you fork out last time you went to the cinema? It was probably considerably more than 20p.

But that's how much you can buy a seat for at Britain's newest cinema, which opens in Milton Keynes on Friday.

Easycinema is the latest venture by Stelios Haji-Ioannou, the entrepreneur who helped revolutionise flying with his no-frills airline Easyjet.

And just like a low-cost airline, the price you pay for a seat at Stelios's cinema depends on when you buy it. Book early for the cheapest deals; pay top whack if you buy just before the curtain goes up.

Advert at bus-stop
Tickets start at 20p and rise to about 5
They must be bought on the internet
There are no adverts or film trailers
And, like Easyjet, no allocated seating
But that's not the only radical idea behind this venture. At Easycinema there is no popcorn stand, hot dog stall or pick 'n' mix concession. In fact, there is not even a box office.

Seats have to be booked on the internet, either from home or at one of a half-dozen computers in the lobby of the cinema.

Instead of an ordinary ticket, customers print off a barcode which they scan at the turnstiles to get into the auditorium.

The totally automated process cuts down on staff, so keeping costs to a minimum.

Anyone who still likes to believe in the romance of a night out at the movies will be in for a shock. Cinema Paradiso it isn't.

Stelios Haji-Ioannou
The man behind the venture, Stelios Haji-Ioannou
A day before the doors are due to open to the public, there is a distinctly unfinished look to the venue, which occupies an old multiplex known as The Point in the centre of Milton Keynes.

But while there is still much work to be done by the army of builders and fitters, the plan is not for a sleek finish.

"It will be an empty experience coming in here because people are used to seeing a box office, men in velvet suits and bow ties and the smell of popcorn," says James Rothnie, of the Easygroup.

The sign above the old pick 'n' mix concession remains, but the fittings have been stripped out and it will stay empty.

We don't aspire to be professional caterers, we aspire to show films people want to see
James Rothnie, Easygroup
The same goes for the old refreshments counter. If customers want popcorn at Easycinema they will have to bring their own, says Mr Rothnie.

"When you look at the cost of serving popcorn it's actually quite expensive - you have to buy it, cook it, employ people to sell it, get a health and safety person to check it's at the right temperature.

"Then you have to employ someone to clean it up after the show. We don't aspire to be professional caterers, we aspire to show films people want to see."

But that is proving easier said than done. Easycinema says it is being denied the rights to screen the blockbusters because film distributors are opposed to the company's radical pricing policy.

In short, they don't want to see their big-budget releases being sold for a song.

Barcode turnstile
Scan your ticket here - the checkout-style turnstiles
So on its first weekend Easycinema must make do with screening minor movies and so-called "second runs". The Hugh Grant and Sandra Bullock film Two Weeks' Notice is probably the best known.

There is no sign of the year's most hotly-awaited film, The Matrix Reloaded.

Easycinema has a team of lawyers working on the case but it could be a long and expensive battle for Mr Haji-Ioannou, who will judge the cinema a success if he sells one million tickets in the first year at an average price of 1.50.

Across the road, at the plusher Cineworld multiplex (ice cream parlour in the lobby, sweet shop and oodles of popcorn), youngsters are queuing for the new Matrix movie. They give a cautious thumbs-up to the no-frills philosophy.

"I tend to buy tickets on impulse, at the last minute. But I'm not bothered about the popcorn - I go to see the film," says Matthew Dugante, 16.

Sarah Morrison, also 16, likes the idea of no adverts or trailers before the film, but admits she doesn't plan ahead enough to benefit from the 20p seats.

The dearth of blockbusters is enough to put off Paul Scarlett, 21. "Low-cost interests me and I think once people know how to use it, it will catch on.

"But they'll need to get the big films in to get me - I'm looking forward to the follow-up to The Fast and The Furious and Lord of the Rings Part III."

If Easycinema's "dynamic pricing" policy is a success, it could send shockwaves through an industry which traditionally in Britain sells only one in five of its seats, says Mr Haji-Ioannou.

Milton Keynes, home to Britain's first multiplex in 1985, could again be nursing another revolution in cinema.

E-mail your comments on this story using the form below:

I hope the seats aren't like his airline.
Tall Graham, UK

Top idea - it's the films that matter, not plush carpets or ludicrously overpriced sugary drinks and cardboard popcorn.
Tim, UK

Good luck Stelios! Its about time the over-priced cinema "experience" in the UK is tackled by fresh players. I hope you are able to expose what are probably anti-competitive, restrictive practices.
Paul, England

Trailers are an integral part of the movie experience. There are other flaws too. When everyone's brought their own popcorn and made a mess, who cleans up after them? And with no staff monitoring admissions, who will ensure that children don't go into films that the certificate doesn't allow?
Tony, UK

I think it's a great idea, especially the part about not selling popcorn! Why not ban food altogether?
Liz, UK

What an excellent idea. I literally haven't been to the cinema for about a year because I just can't justify paying five or six pounds unless there's a film I REALLY want to see.
Tom Richardson, Newbury, UK

Sounds like a good idea, but even for 20p not sure I'd be too happy to have booked a ticket ages in advance and still end up in the front row because everyone got their first.
Lee Puttock, UK

If everyone set up businesses like this then only 10% of the population would be in work. So the economy would collapse. At the end of the day people like to be pampered not herded.
Dave, England

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Big studios snub Stelios
23 May 03  |  Business
Hundreds snap up 20p cinema seats
20 May 03  |  Entertainment

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