Tag Archives: IMAX

Good Dose of Reality Is the Perfect Antidote For All the Netflix Fear Mongering

Crouching Tiger Sequel on Netflix and IMAX

It’s been a week since streaming media giant Netflix announced two big agreements which signal the company is aggressively moving into a space once occupied exclusively by motion picture distributors and exhibitors. One calls for a sequel to the martial arts classic “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” to be released next August day-and-date on Netflix and in select IMAX theatres. The other sees Netflix enter into a deal with actor Adam Sandler to finance and distribute four feature films.

In their pieces on the announcements journalists used phrases such as “landmark”, “game changer” and “paradigm shift” so often the words lost all meaning. A week later, it turns out the sun still rises in the east and sets in the west, North American movie theatres were just as crowded as ever over the weekend and cinema goers still gobbled up popcorn while watching the latest releases.

This is not to say Netflix’s moves weren’t noteworthy or significant, but rather that the pots of ink (both virtual and otherwise) spilled covering the news were, more often than not, used to write overblown treatises filled with hyperbolic predictions of the industry’s demise crafted primarily to play on the fears of those who depended on it for their livelihoods. Now that everyone’s initial excitement has died down we hope to bring some sanity back into the conversation by examining a few often overlooked concepts.

Crouching Content, Hidden Sequel
Before last week, how many of you actually knew that a sequel was being made to “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon”? After last week’s Netflix news, you can more than triple the number of people who know about the movie, and that’s being extremely conservative. Mainstream media had hitherto paid little notice of the sequel being made to a fourteen-year-old Chinese-language film.

Sure, “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” was a blockbuster when it was released in 2000; the first foreign language film in the United States to earn more than USD $100 million and for years was the country’s highest grossing foreign language movie of all-time. The movie was also nominated for ten Oscars, the most Academy Award nominations ever received for a foreign language film, a record the film still holds. “Crouching Tiger” went on to win four trophies including Best Foreign Language Film and it served to jump-start the career of director Ang Lee, who was already a well respected helmer.

When it comes to the sequel none of that matters however, in part because so many of the elements which made the original “Crouching Tiger” film a success are missing. Stars Yun-Fat Chow and Ziyi Zhang are missing, leaving Michelle Yeoh as one of the few returning cast members. The screenwriters, including James Schamus, are absent as well. Perhaps most importantly, Ang Lee will not be directing.

Instead, Woo-ping Yuen has been tapped to direct the sequel being penned by John Fusco. Arguably an incredibly influential figure of the Hong Kong action genre, Yuen has only made one film in the past 20 years; “True Legend” in 2010 which cost RMB ¥122.6 million (USD $20 million) to make and only made RMB ¥46.5 million (USD $6.82 million). He has been working predominantly as a fight choreographer for movie such as “Kill Bill: Vol. 2″.

To be sure Yuen may be a fine and capable director, though currently is a bit of an open question due to his limited creative output in recent years. So too then is the quality of “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: The Green Legend” itself. When Netflix first announced they would finance and open the film it raised speculation that the sequel may not actually be any good. Realizing this, the movie’s distributor, The Weinstein Company, may have been trying to lay off some of their risk on the production, if not entirely recoup their expenditure, by selling Netflix the rights to distribute it.

Brooks Barnes of the New York Times echoed these sentiments as a guest on Showbiz Sandbox this week stating that The Weinstein Company “…got a huge big publicity pop for this sequel and that has to be viewed in that context. Yes it’s sequel to one of the best performing foreign films ever, but if you look closer at that film there are some questions about it…. you just kind of have to wonder what kind of sequel is this? Is this a route that gets them a big headline for something that may ultimately been a direct to home video title all along.”

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Early Release Of “Interstellar” On Film Is A Nostalgic Marketing Coup

Interstellar Film Ad

A heated industry debate was sparked last week by the announcement that Paramount and Warner Bros. would release director Christopher Nolan’s next movie, “Interstellar”, on film. Many of you may recall film as the sprocketed acetate material used by the motion picture industry to shoot, distribute and exhibit movies for more than a century before Hollywood studios “forced” cinema owners to install digital projectors. Adding insult to what some theatre operators see as injury, “Interstellar” will open two days early in theatres showing it on 35mm, the rarefied 70mm and IMAX.

I can understand the frustration certain exhibitors must feel at such news. Having shelled out millions to upgrade their facilities, they wind up watching those using analog technology get rewarded with exclusive access to a highly anticipated title (even if only for two days).

Maybe because of my age and generational ties, or maybe because I was trained at an educational institution commonly referred to as a “film school”, I am rather excited “Interstellar” will be shown on good old fashioned celluloid. I believe, with certain caveats, the decision can help boost the movie’s box office across all sites in which it is booked, no matter the method of projection.

Let me explain.

I used to own a phonograph. I don’t anymore, though kind of wish I did. My last turntable was part of a component stereo system which I purchased upon graduating high school. It was 1989, a time when record stores still stocked vinyl alongside shiny compact discs. Heck, it was even a time when record stores still existed. Ultimately, those reflective CDs took over more retail space and pushed vinyl records into a small corner of most stores. Some merchants just stopped carrying vinyl altogether.

I lugged that turntable around for the next 16 years from dorm room to dorm room and between every shack, apartment, and home I ever leased or owned. Even though I stopped unpacking my crate of vinyl records after moving into a new home, I’d still make certain to set up the phonograph… just in case someone stopped by with a first pressing of Led Zeppelin’s last album. At some point shortly after Napster had decimated the music industry through digital file sharing, I realized the absurdity of continuing to make room for the record player in my stereo cabinet. It was relegated to the garage… stored next to the crate of records it was meant to be playing.

The phonograph sat there gathering dust for a few years as any sentimental or psychological attachment I had to it withered. I finally gave it away to some friend of a friend. I can’t even remember who exactly. Of course, I would never give up my crate of records. There are some real gems in there dating all the way back to my days in primary school, including an autographed copy of “Bob McGrath Sings For All The Boys and Girls“.

At this point you might be wondering what my record player has to do with “Interstellar” being released on film. Technically, it doesn’t. Emotionally however, there are direct ties. To me, a phonograph and vinyl records evoke a certain nostalgia of a “simpler” time when musicians performed on real instruments, when recorded music sounded better than the compressed bytes we now listen to and when music was considered more important than it is today. Of course, the reality is that musicians were often playing instruments that required electricity, the audio quality of compact discs was far more consistent over time and music is just as important today as it was when vinyl records were en vogue. Still, the vinyl medium and technology are tied in my mind to memories that are generally positive.

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China Special Cinema Digest – Thursday 25 September 2014

Today we catch up Chinese cinema news from the last couple of weeks, which I was unable to report while travelling. As always, the Google translation is not perfect, but as we do not have a journalist on staff who can translate perfectly from Mandarin (yet!), it will have to do. We are also saving the biggest piece of cinema news to come out of China recently for a separate post.

Chen Xing technology laser

Our favourite Chinese (digital) cinema equipment manufacturer Chen Xing has issues a list of “Seven Rules for Cinema Brand Building” that heavily promotes its own technologies and solutions, while also providing an insight into the company’s thinking and strategy.

Don’t forget what we’ve written about them before: “China’s ‘Last Mile’ Plan for Digital Cinema: Ditch Western Technology.” This is as much true for smartphones and airplanes as it is for cinema equipment – China does not want to keep importing ‘Western’ technologies but build their own (then export it). Such competition and innovation should not be seen as a threat but a good thing.

The Seven Rules are: acoustical design, sound system, laser light source projection, TMS centralized management and control systems, cinema ticketing management system and service quality guarantee system.

Chen Xing talks about the alternatives it will offer up when it comes to laser (illuminated) projection, as well as immersive audio, where its Cinelab has developed 5.1, 15.1 and 17.1 audio which “get rid of the shackles of sources,” and offer “the perfect interpretation of the Dolby (ATMOS) panoramic sound studio truest sound.”

Chen Xing fires a shot across the bows of the other manufacturers by pointing out that while not being part of the original DCI elite, it is one of the largest server/media block deployers in the world today.

Digital Film for film and television industry has brought tremendous changes. Especially in distribution and exhibition side, digital cinema technology has maintained rapid growth in recent years. Of course, these are inseparable from the updated device technology. Regardless nowadays 3D, IMAX, 4K and other high-tech marketing, have become an end shadow vane hall, the market demand for high-tech also “hubbub straight on.” Christie, Barco, NEC, SONY have launched projectors with laser light source, which means Hollywood recommended type of light source laser source trend.

Among them, in the digital cinema systems, as film screenings server core products while always being SONY, GDC, Dolby, Doremi and other foreign manufacturers, “occupation”, but with the development of technology, more and more Chinese national brand manufacturers Chen Xing Technology began as “emerging” by the market influence is also rising. It is understood that the field of the world’s digital projectors DCI-compliant digital cinema server products, market share and influence were sorted by: GDC, Dolby, Doremi, Chen Xing AQ series.  LINK

Imax Tianjin

Imax screens only account for one per cent (1%) of the total Mainland screen count but an astonishing ten per cent (10%) of the box office, according to an interview with Imax’s director in China Yuan Hong. He also reiterates that China’s total box office will overtake the United States, some time between 2018 and 2020. “When will we surpass the United States? Five years ago we did not expect to ask this question, now it is just around the corner,” he observes.

Also at the box office, too, “as the movie, the theater itself is dependent on bringing new grossing film screenings, but also for the huge traffic.” Especially as the Lunar New Year stalls, summer gears up. “It also shows that, for shopping centre developers, the introduction of a cinema format still has a very good future.” At the box office, although high, it brings high turnover, but the scene, Yuan Hong also points out is “broke.” “For the cinema itself the profit margins are very limited, even if the movie is good, it is quicker to make money from popcorn, drinks, toys and other Transformers. ”  LINK

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Daily Cinema Digest – Monday 8 September 2014

Jerome Seydoux Pathe Paris

Paris is about to see the opening of a museum by the Jérôme Seydoux-Pathé Foundation, which will showcase the evolution of cinema through the Pathé film company’s history. The 2,200 square meter building itself looks hugely impressive (even if it makes people think of a ‘giant glass slug’), perhaps no surprise as it was designed by ‘starchitect’ Renzo Piano.

“Pathé was the first to make cinema into an international industry,” says cinema historian Anne Gourdet-Marès, who is in charge of the equipment section. “Pathé was a visionary, surrounding himself with engineers who could turn his ideas into equipment, like the Pathéscope or the Pathé Baby which dates from 1922. The initial studies for this camera were developed secretly with English engineers. ”

One of the draws of the Foundation, designed by the same architect who designed The Shard in London or the New York Times newspaper building, is its cosy 68-seater screening hall, equipped two 35mm projectors and a digital one – because of course the Foundation is involved in restoring and digitalising film.

A black piano at the foot of the screen is not just for show.  LINK

Cinema France

Reassuring then to know that cinema remains the favourite cultural activity of the French.

Over the past twelve months, the cinema topped the ranking with 72% against 42% for museums and 32% for concerts after LH2 study mareduc.com.

Cinemas attract 90% of 15-24 years, while 65 and older prefer the museum and exhibitions.

Next budget, the study says that more than six out of ten French, 65% spend less than 50 € monthly in cultural outings budget.  LINK

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Daily Cinema Digest – Monday 25 August 2014

Cineworld Telford

First Cineworld got in trouble with some vocal customers for introducing allocated seating. Now marketers are complaining that the cinema is keeping house lights on during the running of the adverts.

Darren Hayday, marketing consultant at Competitive Edge Marketing and former “loyal customer of Cineworld” after taking issue with the policy, says the decision to keep lights up instead of using ushers to guide customers to their seats is a problem for marketers.

He adds: “What on earth is the point of a brand manager choosing this medium to target a captive audience when to try and cut costs the cinema chain introduce this process which doesn’t benefit anyone other than senior management?”

One client-side marketer and Cineworld customer told Marketing Week: “Cinema is one of the last remaining opportunities for a fully engaged ad audience and when you factor in the site-specificity of movie trailers made especially for cinema audiences, [keeping lights up] is doubly concerning.”  LINK

Imax China

China – The importance of China to Imax was highlighted again this past weekend at the Changchun Film Festival, with the country set to overtake the United States in the next few years. Sadly can’t embed the video, so please follow the link.

August 22, the 12th Changchun Film Festival “IMAX Vision” screening unit was officially launched, Managing Director, Asia Pacific attended the launching ceremony of IMAX Corporation sand Wande said that about three years, IMAX number of IMAX theaters in China will reach about 400, then this figure will exceed North America. China is expected to become the world’s largest IMAX market.  LINK

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Daily Cinema Digest – Wednesday 20 August 2014

AMC Imax

AMC and Imax have signed a deal to deepen their business ties. What this signifies is that AMC and Wanda Cinemas, while technically different companies (though with shared ownership) are increasingly becoming indistinguishable with regards to cinema business policies. I bet they even buy popcorn kernels from the same vendor, even if they don’t put out press releases about it.

IMAX Corporation IMAX, +2.03% (IMX) and AMC Entertainment Holdings, Inc. AMC, +1.43% today announced an expansion of the companies’ existing joint revenue sharing arrangement with the addition of 11 IMAX® theatres. The theatres, which will carry 13-year lease terms from the date of installation, are expected to be installed in 2015 in cities that include Chicago, New York, Newark and Phoenix. Today’s agreement brings AMC’s total IMAX commitment to 159 theatres and reinforces its position as the largest IMAX exhibitor in North America.  LINK

Rakesh Kumar CBFC

India’s much reviled Chief Censor has been indicted for corruption. You couldn’t make this up, but it highlights what a rotten mess Indian bureaucracy is when a ‘babu’ with a railway background (!) is put in charge of a body like the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC). It is worth remembering what a let’s-clean-up-this-cinematic-filth-style moralist Kumar was when he was first appointed to the job.

The CBI arrested Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC) CEO Rakesh Kumar in an alleged bribery case on Monday.

Last week the CBI had registered a case against Kumar and also arrested an authorized censor agent and an advisory panel member of the CBFC for demanding a Rs 70,000 bribe on the behalf of the CEO to urgently clear a film from Chhattisgarh.

The CBI had conducted search on Kumar’s residence last week and had recovered Rs 10.50 lacks cash, gold jewellery and property documents.  LINK

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Daily Cinema Digest – Thursday 14 August 2014

Kino Femina in Warsaw

Polas are increasingly turning their backs on multiplexes in favour of smaller cinemas – preferring cheaper tickets, fewer adverts and more varied programming – according to the latest data from the Polish Central Statistical Office.

The share of the largest, multiplex cinemas has declined from 58.1 percent in 2012 to 55.2 percent last year.

Smaller cinemas are slowly gaining ground. Those with three to seven screens now have 30 percent of the market, compared to 27.4 percent in 2012.

The smallest venues, with one or two screens, have increased their market share from 14.5 percent to 14.8 percent. This translates into some 100,000 viewers more year-to-year.

The upward trend is also visible in the number of smaller cinemas. In 2013 there were 58 of the smallest ones in Poland, compared to 51 in 2012 and just 6 in 2001. LINK

Huayi Brothers Media

China – Having only bought into the cinema market last September, Huayi is selling out and more than doubling its money.

Huayi Brothers Media has agreed to sell its 20% stake in Jiangsu Yao Lai Studios Management, a regional cinema operator.

Huayi is selling to Songliao Automobile and will receive RMB464 (US$75 million) for the stake.

Jiangsu Yao Lai will remain 60% controlled by Beijing Sparkle Roll company.  LINK

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AMC Q2’14 Results: Revenue Down But Focus On Re-Seat, Imax, AMC Prime, F&B and Internet Ticketing Steady

AMC Wanda logo

AMC has released its quarterly figures and it was a dark cloud but with a silver lining. Revenue was down nearly five per cent (4.7%), dragged down by a 7.1% drop in admissions and despite average ticket price being up to an average of USD $9.55, with Imax and F&B (food & beverage, i.e. concessions) as the main good news. The press release highlighted this other significant milestones.

“In spite of some tough comparisons, we enter the second half of the year building momentum behind our continuing transformation of the AMC guest experience. Our five strategic action fronts continue to deliver innovation, additional revenue opportunities, improved profit flow-through and better-than-industry results,” said Gerry Lopez, AMC president and chief executive officer. “Our vision for the circuit is working and is long-term, and we’re keeping our focus on it.”

“Our comfort and convenience, and enhanced food and beverage initiatives drive significant benefits for our guests and the Company, and are helping us outperform our peers. One of the newest, best examples is open source internet ticketing. After rolling out our own ticketing engine in April, tickets to an AMC theatre are now both easier to get and available in more places on the web than any of our competitors’. So far, we’ve seen a 45 percent increase in online ticket revenues this year, and have sold approximately 13 million online tickets this year. ”  LINK

The conference call provided some ‘drill-down’ details, particularly for topics such as AMC’s re-seating (swapping regular seats for larger and more luxurious premium seats).

Let me briefly give you an update on the significant progress we have made on a few of our strategic action fronts. First, comfort and convenience remains a key focus as we continue with our recliner reseats. There are 505 screens at 44 locations; I said 505 screens at 44 locations that we have deployed to-date, delivered admissions revenue per screen growth of 33% more than doubling of the EBITDA in the second quarter of 2014.

To be sure, the solid top-line per screen growth and more than doubling of EBITDA in a period where industry admissions revenue was down 6.5 points, says we are dramatically significantly outperforming and our strategy is working. That 33% per screen admissions growth was nicely balanced as well, with 21 points coming from attendance and 10 points coming from average ticket price increase.

We believe that this type of balanced growth clearly illustrates the tremendous power of our re-seat program and their customers are not solely driven by this slate of movies, but also the experience of seeing those movies in the comfort and style of an AMC theater.  LINK

Lopez also highlights the 69% top-box get satisfaction scores, calling it “not only the highest in the circuit, but in a class by themselves when it comes to retail enterprises.” Coupled with the improved on-line ticketing and an average concession spend per customer of USD $4.22, the message is clear: even if Hollywood delivers a poor slate of film, we are getting good at extracting more money from the people who do still go to the cinema.

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Giving the Simons IMAX Theatre at the New England Aquarium a Closer Look

Simons IMAX Theatre

The Matthew and Marcia Simons IMAX Theatre at the New England Aquarium (Photo: J. Sperling Reich)

Those of you who follow me on Twitter, Facebook or Instagram are probably aware I’ve been in New England over the past two weeks. (Thus the lack of posts from me). Specifically, I was in Boston.

While there I stumbled upon the Matthew and Marcia Simons IMAX Theatre at the New England Aquarium. Though “stumble upon” is hardly the proper expression and can only be used in the most figurative sense since the theatre is enormous and hard to miss. That’s kind of the point of this post.

I happened to be dining at Boston’s world famous Legal Sea Foods at Long Wharf just across the street from the aquarium and snapped a few photos of the asymmetric metallic exterior. I figured I could dash off a quick post featuring the photo with a humorous caption along the lines of “Is it just me, or is there something fishy about this IMAX theatre?”.

Upon downloading the photo from my camera I began to wonder who designed the theatre’s rippling metal exterior, as it reminded me of some of architect Frank Gehry‘s more recent work, such as Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles or the Guggenheim Bilbao in Spain. I hope the good folks at Verner Johnson, Inc. don’t mind that I mistook their work for Mr. Gehry’s.

Actually I’m glad my curiosity led me to investigate the Simons IMAX Theatre further to discover Verner Johnson, the only architectural firm in the United States that specializes solely in planning and designing museums. I’m surprised I wasn’t aware of them already since they have designed at least 15 IMAX theatres for museums and science centers throughout the U.S. (and even one in China).

What’s noteworthy about the Simons IMAX Theatre, and the reason I chose to expand this post beyond my questionably humorous caption, is an important feature of the auditorium that might otherwise go unnoticed; its ability to market both the aquarium and IMAX.

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Quarterly Earnings: Regal, Imax and Dolby

 

Quarterly figures have been arriving thick and fast this week. We look at three key cinema companies: Regal Entertainment, Imax Corporation and Dolby Laboratories.

regal-entertainment1

The world’s largest cinema operator announced its quarterly figures and they were not what the analysts had hoped for, with revenue of USD $770.3 million, down 8.5% year-on-year and misses expectations by USD $41.41 million. There was a dividend of USD $0.22 per share. The CEO put a brave face on the drop and found a silver lining to highlight, though I’m not sure about her positive take on this year’s BO potential.

In a challenging summer box office environment, the growth in our average concession sales per patron and our focus on controlling variable costs helped drive Adjusted EBITDA margin of over 19%, stated Amy Miles, CEO of Regal Entertainment Group. With year-to-date industry box office results on par with last years record setting pace and an exciting film slate in the back half of the year, we are optimistic regarding the potential for further box office success in 2014.  LINK

In the earnings call that followed there was an acknowledgment of the harsher realities faced this summer but also some historical perspective by Ms Miles.

When viewed from a broader perspective, this year’s second quarter industry box office revenue was in line with the historical average for the last 5 years. On — one other item of note as it relates to the second quarter box office performance, we were again encouraged by the studios’ willingness to expand the summer box office season by delivering high-profile films throughout the quarter. Difficult comparisons aside, we continue to believe that a diverse film slate and a well-spaced release calendar increase the long-term potential for box office success for us and our studio partners.  LINK

Concessions, better consumer amenities, premium seats as well as Imax/RPX (premium large format) screens are the key to riding out the financial troughs.

And finally, the early returns on our initial investments in luxury, reclining seats are very promising, and in most cases, ahead of our expectations. We have fully converted 5 locations with 46 screens and are on track to complete 25 locations with 275 screens by the end of the year. As a reminder, this concept is not right for every location. Many of our theaters are simply too busy to sustain the seat loss that results from the installation of the larger recliners.

But in some situations, where the theater has been impacted by competition or simply nearing the end of its useful life, a return-minded investment in reclining seats can rejuvenate and potentially even extend the life of an existing theater. Based on the early success of these auditoriums, we believe we will have further opportunities to invest in our asset base in both 2015 and ’16. We remain excited about the potential for growth and financial returns associated with these initiatives and look forward to updating you as they progress.  LINK

Other insights: average ticket price was up by USD $0.05, premium screens attract 17% of box office, operating expenses were down by 1% (“due primarily to decreases in attendance-driven theater-level cost and lower payments associated with premium format revenue”), New York City and Washington D.C. were down by more than the market average, while alcoholic beverage serving was up from 31 to 39 locations. Interestingly the company doesn’t think it is possible to cut staffing levels any more than they already have.

Obviously, we’ll always look to reduce costs where we can in a low-attendance environment, and I think our managers and our field personnel will continue to do a great job doing that. But to ask them to do a lot more than that I think is going to be tough for us.  LINK

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