Doing Good in Geneva: Midwestern exhibitors gather at Wisconsin’s Geneva Convention

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Cinemas Features

The number-one issue facing theatre owners and managers today, as identified by Geneva Convention co-chair John Scaletta, is “the changing landscape of the industry.” If that seems vague, well, it’s only natural. From multiplexes in major markets all the way to a single-screen independent outfit, every theatre is different. “If you talk to theatre owners, one might say studio terms and new policies” are at the forefront of their minds, Scaletta explains. “Another owner might say print availability on first-run films. And another theatre owner might say quality of product coming out from the studios.”

The key to running a successful theatre, then, is realizing that there is no one key—and that’s what makes the Geneva Convention so important to the exhibition professionals who flock to the Lake Geneva, Wisconsin show, taking place Sept. 25-27, every year.

“There’s a lot of casual interaction” at the Geneva Convention, Scaletta explains. “It’s not as fast-paced as other conventions.” Further, it’s a priority for Scaletta and co-chair George Rouman that events not overlap, giving attendees the chance to attend all the panels they want to attend and see all the people they need to see. The opening-night party, taking place at the Grand Geneva Resort and Spa’s ski chalet, “is always a great opportunity to make new friends and see old friends. And, of course, all our meals turn into social gatherings, because during lunch you’re sitting with different people each time… And after all the events are done each day, everyone gathers at the bar” to continue the conversations and cement the relationships they made during the sunlight hours.

The Geneva Convention’s reputation extends beyond the Midwest. Scaletta recalls talking to clients on the East Coast who tell him they heard of the Geneva Convention even before meeting him. “Everyone I run into in our industry has at least heard of the Geneva Convention, which I find amazing. And they all have positive things to say about it—a convention they’ve never been to, based on what other people tell them.”

The end result of the Geneva Convention’s casual, networking-friendly environment is a three-day stretch where theatre professionals from across the Midwest region can meet, chat and workshop the issues they face on a day-to-day basis, going back to their theatres with actionable ideas on how to provide a better experience for their customers. Before Scaletta and Rouman were co-chairs of the Geneva Convention, Scaletta notes, they were attendees. (Scaletta is currently the VP of F&F Management, while Rouman is the VP of Rouman Amusement Company, Inc.) That goes a long way towards explaining why they’re both so focused on providing useful, concrete information at the Geneva Convention every year.

“If I’m going to bring my managers to a convention, then I need them to find something that they can learn about and bring back to their own theatre that’s going to benefit the organization,” says Scaletta. Even if a panel they attend is on something that “they don’t really believe they need to know about, sometime down the road they’re going to come up with an idea or help determine a solution because they learned something at the Geneva Convention.”

Topics up for discussion this year at Geneva include cybersecurity, event cinema, Google Analytics and social media. There will be two screenings, one each on Tuesday and Wednesday night. Wednesday afternoon will see the annual Awards Luncheon. Twentieth Century Fox will be named the Studio of the Year, with Dolby taking home Vendor of the Year honors. “This year’s Larry D. Hanson Award is being given to Bob Bagby of B&B Theatres,” says Scaletta. “It really does give me a lot of joy each year to determine who we are going to honor with the Larry Hanson Award, because so far everyone we’ve honored Larry knew and admired.” Theatre veteran Bud Mayo, chairman of New Vision Theatres, will receive the Paul J. Rogers Leadership Award, while the Ben Marcus Award goes to Scott Forman of Warner Bros.

As always, a major component of the Geneva Convention is its charitable contributions. And we mean major. Proceeds from the Geneva Convention go to charities, including the Will Rogers Foundation and Variety—The Children’s Charity, in addition to a handful of local groups. Each year, a child in need is gifted with a mobility bike.

As anyone who’s planned a show knows, it’s no easy business—but the knowledge that they’re doing good for the world “keeps George and I going,” Scaletta says. “We both work full-time [in addition to] working on this convention. When it gets stressful, I sit back and think about another child getting a bicycle who wouldn’t otherwise have it, because they have a disability that doesn’t allow their parents to go into a store and pick up a bike. That’s what distinguishes us from every other convention in the country—around the world—that our proceeds benefit charity.”