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Recalling Rocky nights at the Ridge

Burnaby resident Steven Ferguson shares his thoughts on the movie biz

Burnaby resident Steven Ferguson has experienced the crazy aftermath of The Rocky Horror Picture Show as head manager of the Ridge Theatre in Vancouver.

"It's something to behold, because they absolutely trash the auditorium with the props, with the rice and the toilet paper and stuff," he says. "My first time walking in after the show and just seeing the carnage left over was amazing."

Luckily the theatre's janitor has been working there for 30 or so years and has the cleaning "down to an art," Steven says.

The Ridge, operated by Festival Cinemas since 1978, held its final showing of Rocky Horror on Halloween night.

Though the Rocky Horror viewers are messy and raucous, it's a good crowd, according to Steven.

"They don't mind standing outside in line when it's freezing cold, wearing just a negligee," he says. "It's a very, very friendly, supportive crowd."

Steven's oddest experience at the theatre was during a Rocky Horror showing, he says.

"Last year, we had people who weren't happy with their seats and wanted to sit together, so they took the couch from the lobby and took it into the auditorium, which ordinarily might be fine but our couch is bolted into the wall and the floor," he says.

"I went up and said, 'I'll pretend I didn't see what happened just so long as when the show ends and I come back down, everything is exactly as it was.'"

Lo and behold when I came down," he adds, "it was as if nothing had happened."

This is the last year for the event as the owner of the building, Cressey Developments, is building a new condo development on the site, with plans to start construction next year.

The planned closure of the theatre came as a bitter surprise, according to Steven, who says the management had a good year last year.

"We had finally turned a profit for the first time in years and years and years, this last financial year," he says. "We were all thrilled about that, and then..."

Steven, who grew up in Burnaby and lives here now with his wife and son, says it is likely Festival Cinemas will offer him another position if they have one, but there usually aren't spots available.

The 29-year-old started his career in the business when Famous Players opened the Paramount Vancouver - now Scotiabank Theatre, owned by Cineplex Odeon - in 2005.

Steven was a student and had recently been laid off from Creo when it was bought out by Kodak. He started at the Paramount as treasurer, he says, and then went on to work as assistant manager at Richmond Centre 6 Cinemas.

When that theatre closed in March 2011, he says, he was hired by Festival Cinemas to manage the Ridge Theatre.

"It's nice, it's low-key," he says of the company, which also owns Fifth Avenue Cinemas and The Park Theatre. "They prefer just running the business locally and being actively involved, which is nice."

Steven isn't the only Ferguson to work in the industry - his younger brother Nate is manager of Dolphin Cinema in Burnaby, and his brother Doug works at Starbucks and for Festival Cinemas as well.

At one point all four Ferguson brothers, including his youngest brother, Daniel, worked for Cineplex Odeon, he says.

Steven grew up watching movies, going to video stores and renting a bundle of five for $20 or $30 for the week, he says.

His favourite movies include the Back to the Future trilogy, The Secret of Nimh, Innerspace, National Lampoon's Loaded Weapon 1 and Memento, he says, but adds the list changes based on his mood.

Ferguson has seen a number of changes in the industry since he started, including the push for digital movies.

The digital films are much easier for distributors to ship, as they come on little hard drives, and also make producing a film more accessible for independent filmmakers, Steven says. But the image is not as sharp and the contrast isn't as good, he adds.

Some obscure or less popular 35mm films will likely end up sitting on dusty shelves, Steven says, and won't be converted "until they're deemed financially viable enough."

Independent theatres face a variety of threats to their survival, according to Steven. Cost-wise, theatres are caught between hefty fee percentages from distributors, high rents, and large electricity bills, he says.

"We like to blame George Lucas because Star Wars Episode 1, they basically said to all the theatres, 'OK, we'll give you this movie, but we're going to take a higher cut off the tickets than we have previously,'" he says of the distribution costs. "All the other distributors hopped on board after that."

Distribution companies are very concerned about piracy and working on technology to prevent it, he says, but they're also making it harder for people to see movies legally at theatres by demanding higher and higher percentages of ticket prices.

"They're honestly kind of like mob families, it's their way or the highway," he says.

The desire for theatre building owners to build moneymaking developments is a big threat, as well, he adds.

"Theatres have the capability of making money, but I don't think they have the capability of making as much money as a lot of these property places want," Steven says.

The high cost of tickets - as well as add-on costs such as 3D ticket prices or for VIP viewings - mean theatres rarely have people walking by who decide to catch a flick like they used to, Steven says.

"It kind of seems like a person needs to be committed," he says. "We're not getting anybody who is just walking in off the street. That crowd is basically gone."

Because of the high costs of running a theatre, Steven says, most of the money made comes from the concession counter.

While Steven is sad to see the Ridge closing, he says, he adds he is a little excited to see what might come next for him, career-wise.