Yes There Are Showmen…..

Do I believe in movie going? Hell yes, I believe in it deeply. I believe that a base human need is to collectively experience things. I know that humans really want to be with other humans and that movie going is a collective experience that is accessible and is deeply habit forming. If you were to ask me if I think will people still be going to the movies in 20 years, I will say yes.

What I don’t believe is that the current studio model and the business being put forward by the circuits is sustainable. Now frankly I think there are some smaller circuits, who are truthful to themselves who I think will take part in shifting the movie going model to one that is sustainable. I think the model will re-invent itself.

I know that Hollywood is about to attempt to mandate another technical “innovation” for the theaters. They are going to try to eliminate projection all together and implement a program that will force theater owners to replace the projection systems they just finished paying off with very large LED “Cinema HDR” screens or to invest in dual laser projectors.

We need leaders to step up, I think we have them, but they are not in the ranks of NATO, I think that organization, while at one time necessary, has begun to serve too many masters and it’s voice is diminished.

One is a leading force at the ICA, the other is a maverick independent thinking truth sayer.

Jeff Benson and Vince Guzzo are theater owners that are prime examples of people who I think will end up leading this business. Both possess vastly different styles but are visionaries on their own right.

Vincenzo Guzzo is a spitfire who just tells lit like it is. He does not tolerate fools and can see a pile of BS a mile away. A more than interesting guy. His father, an immigrant to Canada from Italy got him inn the business. A real showman and I feel everyone in this industry should be looking to him for both vision and leadership. He is a breath of fresh air. Vince is the force behind Montreal based Cinemas Guzzo. I was on a couple of analyst calls where Vince participated and frankly he was the only one that was making sense. He knows the cold dark hearts of the studios and does not mind calling them out. After the calls I wrote him a fan email. Vince is flashy, exuberant and painfully honest. His communication is direct and laser guided.

Keenly aware of his community and the importance of his community to his business, Vince and his wife Maria, founded the the Guzzo Family Foundation in 200 ,giving extensively to numerous hospitals and they were key to the establishment of research centers for cancer nanotechnology at Montreal’s Jewish General Hospital and McGill University. Guzzo’s contributions have been internationally recognized as he is the recipient of the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Medal, was knighted by the Order of Merit of the Italian Republic and is a distinguished member of the Order of Malta.

Jeff Benson is the king of pragmatism, a showman who masquerades as a CPA who takes calculated risks to expand the scope of his business, and really ends up winning. Jeff, along with his wife Jamie started in the exhibition industry by constructing two traditional cinemas, the first of which opened in 1999. They also founded the Movie Tavern chain of dine-in theaters which opened in Ft. Worth in 2001.

In 2005, the Benson’s re-invented the company by entering into a joint venture that allowed Movie Tavern to become the largest and fastest growing operator of dine-in theaters in the United States. The Benson’s sold their interest in Movie Tavern in 2008. At the time of the sale, Movie Tavern operated 98 screens in 12 complexes in 5 states. Jeff present chain, Cinergy started just one year later in 2009 . Right now Cinergy operates in Amarillo, Copperas Cove, Midland, Odessa and is about to open in Tulsa.

Both of these showmen share a couple of key qualities, even though in terms of style they are polar opposites. They are amazing communicators, they always answer emails, phone calls and make themselves available. They are consistently innovating and are very community and customer centric. They also both tell like it is, and they avoid self delusion at all times. They are aware of themselves and they move fast.

There is about to be some drastic changes in this business….again. We are going to need focused leadership in order counteract the next play of this industries chess board by Hollywood. VPF’s are falling away and the studios are starting to busily talk about the deep necessity to convert screens into LED Screens that will implement the spec known as Cinema HDR.

But studios are also specifying the HDR display, with expensive minimum requirements. Among the minimum feature set is 4K resolution, which in direct view LED displays costs four times that of 2K LED. In my mind this is complete folly because presently all movies for the most paet are released in 2k. Another requirement the studios are pressing is 18-bit per color drivers on the LED backplane, when 16-bit drivers are more common and would deliver an a more than fine HDR color volume for cinema.

When I see ads by LG, claiming that their Cinema HDR system maintains the filmmakers vision, I know that someone is about to ask the theaters for a check. It is easy for Netflix to boast that it is rolling our HDR, so the images on Netflix will be better than most theaters. Samsung unveiled its new Cinema Screen , which is an LED, 4K resolution screen designed specifically for theaters. The 34-foot screen delivers High Dynamic Range content and makes the claim that it can display movies at a brightness level 10 times greater than standard cinema projectors. Samsung is setting the price right now between $500,000 to $800,000 per screen. Would love to see the VPF for this, (not really) but that is not going happen. Dolby is now pressing it’s Dolby HDR spec, and has a solution which can be projected, but requires dual laser technology.

I apologize if I have embarrassed either Jeff or Vincenzo, but I want to shine a light on some of the leaders in this business who I think can make a deep difference. I wanted make sure people knew that we had terrific showmen still in our midst’s. I wanted to show examples of people who have the ability to lead by example and as well provide inspiration to invigorate this business. I admire both men greatly.

We need leadership and we need strong voices to lead all of us into the battle that is about to rise. We need industry leaders to step up, and tell the studios…..no more…we have bled all we can and what you are doing is doing nothing but killing the business of motion picture exhibition.

By the way, I voted in the ICA elections. All my choices had one thing in common they reached out to me and told me they wanted the job.