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Moore writes: "Listed as #1 is the historic State Theatre of Traverse City, Michigan, an incredible movie palace which I restored and now run as a nonprofit theater - along with a few hundred great volunteers!"

Michael Moore standing in front of the Traverse City Theatre. (photo: AP)
Michael Moore standing in front of the Traverse City Theatre. (photo: AP)

Here's How We Built a Movie Theater for the People

By Michael Moore,

08 June 13


his past week, the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA), the main federation of Hollywood's six major studios, posted on their web site a list of what they believe are some of the best movie theaters in the world.

And listed as #1 is the historic State Theatre of Traverse City, Michigan, an incredible movie palace which I restored and now run as a nonprofit theater - along with a few hundred great volunteers!

This month, we will sell our one-millionth admission ticket since we opened five-and-a-half years ago. What makes this statistic even more remarkable is that Traverse City's year-round population here in remote northern Michigan is only 16,000 people. And mostly we show only "smaller" indie and foreign films that open nationwide on less than 200 screens.

Even with those limitations, in the 289 weeks we've been open, for 78 of those weeks, the State Theatre has been the #1 grossing theater in the country for the movie we happen to be showing. We've placed in the top 10 grossing cities for 171 of those weeks (the other cities on that list are usually New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, D.C., Dallas, Boston, etc.).

So how in the name of trees that are right height does this happen?

Here is our basic recipe:

  1. We only show really good movies. Nothing that aspires to the mediocre is shown at the State.
  2. We reject the need to make a profit and, by doing so, we've been in the black since day one.
  3. We don't rip people off. You can see a first-run movie for $8 and $6 (kids are less). Late night on the weekend is 2 for $5. We have 25-cent kids matinees on Saturday mornings (often packed with 580 people in attendance) and 25-cent classic movie matinees on Wednesdays. As for the concessions: No $10 popcorn at our place! Popcorn is as low as $2, soda $2 and candy as low as $1. We believe everyone should be able to afford to go to the movies.
  4. This is the community's theater. Like in a co-op, everyone pitches in as a volunteer. Volunteers pop the corn, take the tickets and run the box office. Community groups pick the shift they'd like to work each month, which means on any given night you'll have a county judge and a single mom working the concession counter, the high school English staff working as the ushers, and the Boy Scout troop on clean-up. Everybody gets free movies tickets for this - and the knowledge that they are the true "owners" of this theater.
  5. (The paid positions, like the theater managers and our professional projectionists, are paid a good livable wage with full health benefits.)

  6. This theater has perhaps the best projection and sound in the country. We show movies the way they were meant to be seen (and on a huge 50-foot screen). We have the most comfortable theater seats that you'll ever sit in (made in Michigan, like many things in the theater). There's a theater organ that rises out of the stage. A red velvet curtain ascends at the beginning of every movie, and the ceiling above you has 3,000 tiny lights that make up the constellations as they actually appear in the night sky over Traverse City in the fall.
  7. Filmmakers from Wim Wenders to Paul Mazursky to David O. Russell have shown their films in person at the State, and they will tell you that the State Theatre is one of a kind. I tell them, "If they'd let us filmmakers design the theaters, the public would be amazed at the difference in the theater-going experience."

  8. Other than our coming attractions, we will never show a commercial before any of our films. You came here to see a movie, not watch TV.
  9. Our cell phone policy is simple: If we catch you talking on the phone, texting or checking your mail, you will be banned from the theater for life. Zero tolerance for those who are there to annoy the people who are there to watch a movie in peace.
  10. Each summer we present the Traverse City Film Festival at the State Theatre and seven other venues. We have 100,000 admissions each year and and this year's fest will take place July 30-August 4.

There's a lot more, but you get the picture. We've created a comfortable, pleasant place to disappear into the dark and be transported by an excellent movie. Shouldn't every town - especially the small ones - have this? We'd be happy to share with anyone who'd like our help.

In three years, in 2016, we'll celebrate the 100th anniversary of movies being shown on the site of the State Theatre in Traverse City, Michigan. If you love the cinema and if you are ever in our area, please stop by to experience what going to the movie palace was like many, many years ago.

We offer our deep appreciation to the Motion Picture Association of America for this honor of being named one of the best places in the world to see a movie.


Michael Moore
President, State Theatre and Traverse City Film Festival

Board of Directors

Terry George (director, 'Hotel Rwanda,' Oscar winner)
Larry Charles (director, 'Borat')
Christine Lahti (actress, Oscar winner)
Rod Birleson (co-producer, 'Roger & Me,' 'Sicko,' 'Capitalism: A Love Story')
Sabina Guzanti (acclaimed Italian filmmaker and satirist)
John Robert Williams (photographer) your social media marketing partner


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+36 # CDS2 2013-06-08 14:24
Way to go, Michael!

Here in Philthadelphia, the only thing we have even close to this experience is the Ritz at the Bourse near Society Hill. Tickets are more affordable and concessions are ridiculously cheap. Come visit us sometime!
+56 # brux 2013-06-08 21:52
Restoring and using movie theaters for social team building is such a great idea I cannot believe someone did not think of it before.

Surely it must be possible to have an auditorium in every neighborhood where people can meet and watch movies and maybe discuss them and brain storm about how to re-take out democracy? Is this a start ... I sure hope so.

Way to go Michael Moore.
+36 # abstract668 2013-06-08 21:55
Moviegoing in Traverse City sounds far superior to what we have here in Santa Monica, California, even at our beloved Laemmle theaters. If they banned the cell phone texters, the theaters would be empty. I want to come to Michigan!
+33 # AMLLLLL 2013-06-08 22:02
I lived in Santa Cruz in the 80's & 90's and we had three such theatres. Multiplex's just don't get it. Love to come visit one day.
+23 # Elin48 2013-06-08 22:36
Quoting AMLLLLL:
I lived in Santa Cruz in the 80's & 90's and we had three such theatres. Multiplex's just don't get it. Love to come visit one day.

Hi there we in Oakland, CA have the Grand Lake Theater owned by a man whose sponsored many wonderful, and similar films as Michael Moore would have, and also there have been speakers too. He also puts progressive messages (ones I agree with wholeheartedly) up on the marquee. The theater not only is the venue for liberal politics, but also an original movie theater brought back to it's vintage look, playing mainstream films too.
+12 # womyn 2013-06-09 09:07
I love the Grand Lake Theater! Fabulous!
0 # brux 2013-06-13 18:02
in palo alto we have the stanford theater that plays very old movies, but it is not political in any way, sadly.
+14 # DPM 2013-06-08 22:34
I live outside Traverse City and love going to the State. Many people actually "dress up" to attend special attractions like opera simulcasts.
It isn't the biggest or most opulent, but it IS the BEST!
+12 # jerry6665 2013-06-08 22:52
to abstract668...
i live just up the hill from santa monica and couldn't agree with you more. and, i, too, want to go to traverse - it sounds like it's worth the trip. and, for what the culver city rave imax charges for popcorn and a soda, we could probably pay for the trip to traverse with the money we'd save!
congrats, michael. way to go,
+15 # Billsy 2013-06-08 23:41
What a great concept, a true "community" movie theater. Those of us living in San Francisco are blessed with the family owned Castro theater which shows a mix of contemporary and repertory films while hosting several film festivals, live shows and kids matinees. It also has a well maintained wurlitzer organ played before most feature films. But Michael Moore has taken it one full step further with a non-profit theater supported by community volunteers. Hope this spreads to other towns.
+19 # mickeynow 2013-06-09 00:22
Moore is a cool guy and a good man. Keep up the ongoing fight for all of us, Michael.
+11 # Uppity Woman 2013-06-09 00:22
In Nashville, Tn we have the Belcourt Theatre. It's not as fancy as the one you have in Traverse City, but we love it just the same!
+8 # Rick Levy 2013-06-09 00:58
As for recipe ingredient #7 I hope that other disruptive conduct is also banned, such as audience members conversing with each other during the show and putting their feet up on the seats in front of them.
+1 # brux 2013-06-13 18:05
> If we catch you talking on the phone, texting or checking your mail, you will be banned from the theater for life. Zero tolerance for those who are there to annoy the people who are there to watch a movie in peace.

I wonder how do they ban someone for life? That would mean they would have to check IDs of everyone who came into the theater against a list?
+13 # unitedwestand 2013-06-09 01:14
Michael, you make us all proud to live in the same country that you love and live in. I
+15 # cherylpetro 2013-06-09 04:51
Bravo, Michael!!!
-25 # no jojo 2013-06-09 05:53
I'll bet my life savings, that Moore wouldn,t allow any documentary about Sept 11 2001
one of many;
+8 # Merschrod 2013-06-09 05:55
In Ithaca we have a State Theater, restored and all and supported by volunters. We also have Cinamapolis (Sp?) Also great many great films.
Way to go Traverse City and Michael.
+11 # RnR 2013-06-09 06:42
If you build it they will come :) *lol*
+13 # politicaleconomist 2013-06-09 08:40
SICKO scared the bejesus out of the health insurance industry and most politicians as well. Now we have the unfortunate Obamacare rather than what poll after poll shows that the majority wants: single payer. Michael please make SICKO 2. It was powerful and gave hope to those of us who cannot get proper health care that you know that Obamacare will not.
0 # brux 2013-06-13 18:06
I'd like to see SickO 2 also as well as some of the extra matter about northern Europe and more on FDR's second bill of rights.
+4 # kalpal 2013-06-09 08:45
The powers that be in this nation intensely dislike anyone who does not worhip Mammon fulltime. Nothing that fails to financially enrich an individual should be permitted to exist.

The people should be discouraged from doing anything collectively except worshipping Mammon.
+16 # Flora 2013-06-09 10:32
Michael Moore demonstrates with this simple action that another world is possible. We should all look inside us our passion, work on it with the determination Michael has done to make this theater. The world would then be a better place to live if all of us would do our "project" true. It doesn't have to be as big as a theater, every small effot counts. It is the sum of "wills" come true what counts. Flora Fernandez, Costa Rica. Central America
-6 # frederico 2013-06-09 20:10
Michael, This is perhaps your greatest achievement, along with some of the movies you have made. Your support of Obama the fascist murderer is so lame. Perhaps you should stick to the non-profit cooperative movie theater business? Check out
-2 # hammermann 2013-06-10 16:35
Sounds like paradise except for the facist crackdown on cell phones (texts dont hurt nobody and who hasn't forgot to turn off ringer- I have 3 of them). Cheap popcorn is $2?- really a small cup is about 5-10 cents. And $8 doesn't sound cheap to someone used to $2 12-cinema multiplex that allows unlimited switching. Maybe make all jobs co-op. But still, sounds like a dream- real constellations in ceiling? Youza.
-1 # hammermann 2013-06-10 16:37
And one more thing, outside USA at least, what theaters are competing with isn't $12 seats and $4 popcorn- it's high-res 12 minutes download of almost anything on the Web.
0 # MichaelSSmithNJ 2013-06-10 17:26
What do you consider good movies my idea of a good or great movie may not be the same as yours I like acton advendture films sci fi films especialy if there space war films fils like star wars and the star treck films the older ones I alike war films and ahy that has to do with history and I also loke comedies like Porkeys and the Police Academy films
0 # egbegb 2013-06-10 18:07
OMG!! Is Michael Moore a capitalist.
For SHAME!!!

[Capitalism is not ONLY about profit. Non-profits
excel with employee wages and more importantly
executive wages. The "non-profit" scam is well known
to those who pursue the "non-profit" path to morality.
Non-profits are capitalists just as much as "profits".]

However, he is right. Give the customers what they
want and HE WINS!

Hundreds of volunteers, notwithstanding.

Congratulations for discovering how to create and execute
a small business. How many employees do you have? What do you pay your employees? Do they get health care? Is your idea scalable and if it is, tell us why? How many people does it take to run State Theater of Traverse City, Michigan and how many
are paid? Idea is excellent. Is it remunerative or a welfare program where many will help for free?

If I am in Michigan, I will drive whatever it takes to go to the State Theater of Traverse City, Michigan.

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