Days of Wine and Reels: NATO of Georgia has summer fun at the Château Elan

Cinemas Features

“As we walk the tradeshow floor and the halls at CinemaCon, people stop us and say ‘We love your show!’” says Robin Miller, executive director of NATO of Georgia’s annual trade show, ShowSouth. “That makes us feel like we are doing something right—because they say, ‘We get so much out of your show whenever we attend it.’”

Attendees from the Southeast and beyond will get a taste of that “something right” when ShowSouth’s 2017 edition takes place at Braselton, Georgia’s Château Elan Winery & Resort on Tuesday, August 22 and Wednesday, August 23. Don’t let the Southern heat throw you off—this is one trade show where the atmosphere can be properly described as “chill.”

“The hotel here has meeting rooms, and they do make them available if people want to come in and have one-on-ones,” says Miller. “That’s the main feedback that we hear back from everybody, is that they actually have time to do that because every second is not jam-packed. We do have an hour of down time here, an hour of down time there.”

Its relatively leisurely pace sets ShowSouth apart from some of its more hectic tradeshow brethren, where you’re lucky to squeeze in 15 minutes of solo time with a vendor or a fellow theatre professional. A quick scan down the show schedule indicates that, at ShowSouth, networking is king. Attendees have the chance to hobnob with new and old acquaintances alike at a number of low-key social events, among them the annual Lionsgate-sponsored cocktail party and the closing-night dinner sponsored by Coca-Cola. Other big-name sponsors throwing their weight behind various breakfasts, lunches, cocktail parties and miscellaneous entertainment include Great Western Products, NCM, Survey Me, Parrot Film, Barco, Texas Instruments and a new kid on the block in the form of Georgia-based production/distribution outfit Fun Academy Studios.

At the aforementioned Coca-Cola-sponsored Statesman’s Dinner, ShowSouth will honor Statesman of the Year Phil Zacheretti, an industry veteran and president and CEO of Tennessee-based Phoenix Theatres. “He does offer so much to the industry. He supports our show and I know he supports others,” says Miller. This year’s Mac McAfee “Big Heart” Award, presented by Variety the Children’s Charity, goes to Bill Stembler, chairman and CEO of the Georgia Theatre Company. “He and his brother John started ShowSouth years and years ago, so when Variety was looking for their Big Heart recipient, he was the obvious choice,” Miller explains. “The money that’s raised during [Variety’s] event goes to buy mobility bikes for handicapped children. They usually present one every year at the show. It’s so heart-touching. Everybody’s in tears.”

But before the tears start flowing on ShowSouth’s final night, attendees will have ample opportunity to network with vendors, studio representatives (all the major studios will be in attendance, Miller notes, plus STX Entertainment and Pure Flix Entertainment) and fellow theatre managers and owners. CinemaCon and ShowEast, Miller explains, can be too expensive for theatre chains to send owners and managers. But ShowSouth exists in that sweet spot: big enough to provide maximum value, but not such a to-do that it becomes too expensive to send all but a few key personnel.

And ShowSouth exists in a literal sweet spot, besides: just north of Atlanta, Georgia and its extremely accessible airport. “With us being located in Atlanta, it’s easier for people to get to us,” Miller explains. “Especially with Georgia becoming the new Hollywood, with the [local] film industry making features. That’s part of the draw.” In the future, Miller hopes to be able to start a Georgia Filmmakers Award as a way to recognize the booming Atlanta production industry.

That accessibility also means that “we have a great mix of the major chains, smaller chains and independent operators,” Miller notes. “That mix is what makes our show one that everyone wants to attend.” A few of those chains are having their annual managers meetings at this year’s show. Theatre managers being heavily represented at ShowSouth, Miller says, is good for everyone. After all, it’s the managers who have boots-on-the-ground knowledge of the day-to-day necessities of running a movie theatre. (Miller knows that world herself, as the general manager of Rome, Georgia-based Village Theatres.) It’s valuable to managers to be able to share tips, techniques and experiments with each other and with owners—and it’s equally valuable, Miller argues, for managers to talk to vendors. “It gives vendors an idea of [the realities]—‘We think that this type of candy is great, but in actual theatres it may not be selling, so maybe we need to look at this.’ And then talking to exhibitor relations, just to let them know what works on a day-to-day basis in the theatre.”

Speaking of vendors, this will be the second year ShowSouth’s tradeshow takes place in the Château Elan’s 10,000-square-foot Paris Ballroom, which completed construction in late 2015. Access to the space has been a real boon for the show, which per Miller has “increased attendance every year for the past ten years.”

“We were growing so much that we had to put tradeshow booths in every corner we could find!” she laughs. “We had them everywhere, just to be able to accommodate the amount of vendors that wanted to come.” Now, ShowSouth can fit approximately 78 booths in the Paris Ballroom, with an additional 30-something in the smaller ballroom that was previously ShowSouth’s tradeshow main hub. “It has really made our lives easier. People who attend the tradeshow can make sure they get every booth and not leave some out because they’re stuck in a corner somewhere.”

Vendors—approximately 100 in number—run the gamut, showcasing “everything from concessions, seating, lighting, equipment and design.” Several vendors are coming from outside the United States, as well; Miller highlights Inorca Seating, based out of Colombia, and Mexico’s Mobiliario Seating.

On top of the tradeshow and the many networking opportunities, ShowSouth hosts opportunities for education in the form of two technology-based Tuesday seminars. The first comes courtesy of Casablanca Ventures’ Wynn Salisch and will focus on credit card payments—specifically, per Miller, “how to increase profits through electronic payments.” After that comes “Living in the Age of Apps,” a seminar from Survey Me’s Penelope Atkinson that Miller believes “we can all benefit from at any stage of our career.” Later that day, NATO representatives Belinda Judson (state government and regional liaison), David Binet (director of membership) and Phil Contrino (data and research manager) will “be discussing topics on current legislation and changes that could be in store for the industry, as well as statistics from the year to date.” (Exact topics were TBD as of press time.)