CINCINNATI - The controversial film "The Interview" has been the buzz of the entertainment world in recent weeks.
So when Jason Best learned that a local movie house was among the 300-plus theaters across the country that planned to debut the film on Christmas Day, he wanted in.
Due to the limited release, Best bought 50 tickets to the showings at the Esquire Theatre in Clifton. He spent $650, or $13 per ticket (with service charges), because he thought he’d get his money back when he sold them online.
Tickets are generally $7 for matinees and $9.75 for evening shows. But management considered this a special event due to the fact it's an exclusive to the Ludlow Avenue venue.
"I saw all the hype about 'The Interview' on the 23rd and thought, 'hey, folks are selling these tickets in other cities and it seems like that's the thing to do right now so why not give it a shot so see how it goes,'" said Best, adding that he planned to use one ticket for himself.
But his plan backfired once Sony, the distributor of the film, announced it was releasing the film to streaming services like YouTube, Hulu and Netflix.
"The Interview," originally canned all together because of an alleged cyber threat from North Korea, got released online Dec. 24. That made the film widely available for about half the price of what Best paid for his tickets.
The movie still collected $1.04 million at the nationwide box office on Thursday, meaning each of the 331 theaters averaged a $3,142 return on their investment.
But the demand was nowhere near as great for Best's tickets. Once he realized that the he wasn't going to be able to sell the tickets, he tried to return them to the Esquire.
"I thought I'd get my money back because the theater's website *very clearly* said the tickets were refundable," Best wrote in an email to WCPO.
The Esquire's website does not list a refund policy. However to sell tickets through their site they use an intermediary called movietickets.com.
A return policy is listed on movietickets.com. The website displays the policy again just before the purchase.
Refund Policy: Tickets can be refunded at the box office (in person) up to 30 minutes prior to showtime purchased. Service fees are non-refundable. No refunds/ticket exchanges for Special Events.
“I did call movietickets.com customer service. … They stated that they are just an information hub, and that the theater itself sets the policy and processes the payment directly,” Best said he was told.
The Esquire's management team said no.
While tickets are usually refundable, the theater's head manager, Allyson Duncan, said the return policy operates on a case-by-case basis. She said they never give refunds for special events.
Best, a self-described longtime patron of the Esquire, said he wasn't told the theater considered it a special event when he purchased the tickets.
"I was never once told by anyone at the theater, that the showing of the movie was a 'special event.' Especially since any theater was able to show the film, and again, anyone with a cell phone could see it as well, for half the price," he wrote.
Another reason the theater listed for its refusal to give Best a refund is the fact he was trying to scalp the tickets at a higher price, "which is illegal," Duncan said.
The company's president, Gary Goldman, added that Best is not considered a customer in this instance because of what he planned to do with the tickets. He said he's a businessman who was trying to recoup a loss at the theater’s expense.
Goldman did say that to show it's not about the money the theater would be willing to donate all $650 to a charity.
Best said he can’t to do it, claiming he's not in a position to be able to donate the entire amount and would like a full refund. He said he would be willing to donate $100 to charity in the name of the theater.