There is a tendency at events of the nature of ShoWest - the largest congregation of family-rated film exhibitors - to offer advice. The agenda is rife with forums that allow one to wax philosophical, from panels with crystal ball premises, to homage and tributes that turn the spotlight on both the worthy and the conveniently available.

For example, at last year's 2007 edition, attendees were told to brace themselves for an unprecedented onslaught of cinema-goers. The slate of summer blockbusters would act as magnets like never before. The fact that prognosticators were wrong did not appear to carry any attendant rancour. Nor did it curtail another round of upbeat pronouncements at this year's event for theatre owners anxious to hear a rousing movie revivalist.

National Association of Theater Owners (Nato) president John Fithian admitted to having a Pollyanna-like attitude when it came to talking about record box-office figures. The fact that admissions remained stagnant in 2007 appeared to be a trivial detail, whereas the widening of the window between theatrical exhibition and DVD release by four days was presented with the appropriate weight of a major medical breakthrough.

Cautionary note

However, one sensed Fithian was grasping for something to balance the blinding light of good news. His cautionary note was that things would be even better if film distributors (tacitly glancing towards six suspects) would release blockbuster titles in traditionally "slower" film-going periods such as April and September.

No-one appeared to blink at the Nato president's suggestion - perhaps because it was one piece of advice that would not be heeded. There are a lot of reasons to question the premise Fithian put forth. Is there any assurance that one of last summer's top-grossing movies - Transformers, for instance - would have generated a comparable box office if it had debuted in early April'

It can also be said that as the spokesman for theatre owners, Fithian stepped over one of those lines where his jurisdiction has no authority. His remarks are a form of armchair quarterbacking that's apt to rankle people who get paid top dollar to ruminate when best to open a film when the market is most receptive and the competition poses little or limited threat to its appeal.

Or, to put the shoe on the other foot, would Fithian's nose be put out of joint if Dan Glickman, representing the Hollywood majors, criticised Nato for stodgy selections at the candy counter that he implied were keeping patrons away from the multiplex.

Poster children

But casting aside the possibility that Nato is swimming into areas beyond its depth, the most chilling aspect of the comment is its underlying confidence that simple solutions can resolve complex problems. Presumably Fithian is opining that the next Indiana Jones or James Bond will be successful regardless of the date it's released. The fallacy (just one of many) is that opting for a predictive model is likely to, at best, generate no better than a typical success.

It's fair to assume that the intention is not aimed towards business as usual but to expand the audience. The poster children in that regard are movies such as The Passion Of The Christ and Fahrenheit 9/11 - unexpectedly popular films that attracted a significant audience comprised of people that rarely or never went to the movies. In other words, it's a scenario that cannot be manufactured by committee but exists, if you will, against reason.

However, there may indeed be a means of boosting attendance other than by happenstance. It would require a concerted effort between the exhibition and production communities to make and display only a slate of diverse pictures with inherently popular appeal.