Landmark Dedication: Brian McIntosh maintains growth and oversight

Cinemas Features

“Although Landmark’s ‘Mission and Values’ today are more deliberate and formalized than they were 50 years ago, the founders of this circuit espoused them in their own way in their actions and words.” Brian McIntosh, shareholder and executive chairman of Landmark Cinemas, has been in the exhibition business for 48 out of the 50 years that our industry is celebrating with him. “Over the years,” he assures, “everyone who has served on the Landmark team has always sought to ‘provide every guest, on every visit, the best moviegoing experience that ensures they have the opportunity to ‘Create Movie Memories that Last a Lifetime.’”

The road to becoming executive chairman of Canada’s second-largest cinema chain begins with working in your hometown movie theatre. McIntosh “joined the industry on a full-time basis on January 4, 1967.” He had worked on a part-time basis during high school for May Theatres in Wainwright, Alberta. (For more theatre memories, check out our sidebar.) “On graduation I was provided an opportunity to join them on a full-time basis and after deciding it was a career that I would enjoy, I accepted. The rest as they say ‘is history’…”

With so much shared history, “the role of executive chairman is a perfect fit,” McIntosh concurs. “As part of Landmark’s restructuring of executive roles in 2014, as we absorbed the Empire Theatres acquisition and planned for an orderly succession within our management team, I relinquished my position as president of the company. Neil Campbell now holds the position of president and CEO of Landmark Cinemas. I remain a director and shareholder of the company and will continue to actively contribute to our growth and development… My primary responsibility, amongst other duties, is the securing and development of new locations for our circuit.”

“Like every exhibitor who seeks to grow,” McIntosh continues, “new sites, new services and new ideas are never ‘out-of-mind’ for our team.” He foresees future growth in “some of the larger markets that we operate in. We have also identified additional markets that are currently underserved. However, our growth plans are focused on the Canadian market.” While Landmark’s history does include stints in Bellingham and Pullman, Washington; Lewiston and Moscow, Idaho; and Barstow, California, he confirms “we have no plans at the moment to look outside our borders.”

Going both inside and back, the first Landmark Cinema was the Towne Cinema, which opened in Calgary, Alberta, on March 19, 1965. “It was considered an ‘art house’ then and also by today’s standards,” McIntosh elaborates. “It was a 490-seat single-screen location that is long gone–demolished in the wave of new building expansion that has occurred in Calgary’s downtown core.”

Much has changed since. “The main highlights in the development and improvement of Landmark’s cinemas were mirrored by the entire exhibition industry–xenon lamphouses, platters rather than dual projectors, multi-channel stereo sound, stadium seating, expanded concession offerings, digital projection and 3D that actually works.” And all this has been for the better. “The greatest change that we have seen in this experience over the last 50 years has been in the quality of the physical buildings and the technology that delivers the picture and sound to our guests. Who could have envisioned the multiplex auditoriums, stadium seating, digital equipment, and the myriad of technological advances that have been made over 50 years in the methods by which we deliver the picture and sound of that storytelling to our guests?”

With that, McIntosh calls “the conversion of our cinemas from film to digital projection” the greatest opportunity. “The consistent quality of the image that we provide our guests has never been better. In addition, the conversion has opened up new avenues of revenue that are over and above our traditional movies. The opportunity for onscreen advertising and alternative content has been greatly enhanced by our digital capability.”

Given the importance that storytelling holds for him, McIntosh knows that “the greatest challenge for exhibition has always been the fact that we don’t control the product that we provide for our guests. The movies are supplied to us by others and we are dependent on others for the quality, number and release pattern of that product.” Not surprisingly, he has always maintained that “my favorite films are those that do business. That said, I have a soft spot for one of the first films that a major studio entrusted Landmark with when, as a small independent circuit, we were battling Famous Players and Odeon for product. No ‘free zones’ in those days. It was a 1970s Warner Bros. release called The Ballad of Cable Hogue, a Sam Peckinpah film starring Jason Robards and Stella Stevens. They awarded it to Landmark at the Towne Cinema, Edmonton, and we rewarded them by playing it continuously in that location for over a year,” he proudly states. “It was a time when a single cinema was awarded a title even though you were in a major city like Edmonton. Landmark held the record for the longest run of the film, anywhere in the world. We achieved that remarkable run with creative advertising, legwork and old-fashioned showmanship.” The film “still holds up well today,” he adds, albeit “if you are of a certain age.”

Since then, supply to theatres has certainly been expanded. But so have “the delivery methods of movies to our guests,” McIntosh cautions about the proliferation of access points. “The release window that exhibition relies on is under increasing pressure to be reduced.” As an industry, we need to ensure that “production and distribution remember, on a permanent basis, that there are 12 months in every year and that during each of those months exhibition can deliver substantial grosses on their films. Summer, Christmas and the key holidays aren’t the only times that exhibition can deliver the numbers. Our partners in distribution experience it from time to time, enjoy it–as we do–and then promptly seem to forget it the following year. Let’s attempt to smooth out the release patterns.”

Let’s not forget that it is our theatres that make movies unforgettable. “An enjoyable night at the movies means two hours of engaging entertainment–whether that be comedy, drama, suspense, action,” McIntosh maintains. Nothing beats “an auditorium full of patrons–preferably a Landmark auditorium,” he adds, and “sharing that experience, as only movies can, with that group of like-minded individuals. That enjoyable night at the movies today has been the same experience realized by movie patrons since the first images flickered across a screen over 100 years ago and it will still be the same 10 years from now. People are social beings and we will always enjoy gathering with others in that darkened auditorium of the cinema to watch the magic of the storytelling that unfolds before us.”

Thanking McIntosh for sharing his own stories, we wanted to close on his most treasured tale. “I have enjoyed many exciting moments throughout my career at Landmark Cinemas, so picking the ‘most’ exciting isn’t possible.” However, a number of milestones that came to his mind have also been included in our exclusive timeline. “I have had what could be considered some challenges during my time with Landmark Cinemas but never any ‘nightmares.’ Even the most challenging times have never been nightmares,” he assures, and he would do it all over again, given the opportunity. “The fun that comes from being in this industry is the fact that we are in the movie business–nothing is more interesting and fun than selling entertainment that changes almost every week. You also have the added enjoyment of doing it with colleagues and associates who enjoy the same business and have the same goals and aspirations.”

Brian McIntosh’s Personal Theatre Favorites

Although the shareholder and executive chairman of Landmark Cinemas has “too many” good theatre memories to pick a favorite, he fondly recalls his favorite location. “It’s gone now, but you can’t beat the first cinema that you managed when your career started, and for me that was the Uptown Theatre, Red Deer, Alberta–it opened April 1968 with Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner.” Today, he likes Landmark’s Avalon Cinema in Nanaimo, British Columbia, simply the best. “This eight-plex constructed in 1999 at the Woodgrove Shopping Centre has an exterior and interior with enough theatrical lighting to remind you that a cinema is a place of entertainment that you won’t find the likes of anywhere else in your community,” he promises.

Another surefire candidate is where McIntosh saw his first film. “That would have been at the long-gone Elite Theatre in my hometown of Wainwright, Alberta. I don’t remember the first title that I ever saw, but the first title that made an impression and stuck with me was Disney’s 1957 release of Old Yeller. May Theatres’ promotion and showmanship on the film included a coloring contest for all the schools in town and one of my classmates won the contest. First prize was a special/free screening for all of his classmates during school hours–it didn’t get any better than that.”

Except by enjoying the right movie snack. “You still can’t beat popcorn and a soft drink, and who doesn’t like red licorice?”

McIntosh’s Landmark Moments

“I have enjoyed many exciting moments throughout my career at Landmark Cinemas, so picking the ‘most’ exciting isn’t possible. However, a number of milestones come to mind.”

·         1967—Selected the exhibition industry as my chosen career path

·         1971—Appointed the general manager of the circuit and given an opportunity by the founders to become a shareholder

·         1972—King Cinema Services established to serve the equipment and concession needs of the circuit and also to provide those same services to independent cinema operators throughout Western Canada

·         1989—Appointed the president of Landmark Cinemas

·         1989—Consolidation of operations and film-buying functions in a common home office in Calgary, Alberta; operations had been located in Edmonton, Alberta

·         2001—Negotiated a joint venture with Empire Theatres to acquire and build cinemas in Western Canada; this JV ended in 2008

·         2001—Neil Campbell returned to exhibition with Landmark, after having been away in Canadian film distribution for over 15 years

·         2005—Assisted all of the founding shareholders to find a way to monetize their investment in Landmark Cinemas by way of a sale to private-equity firms

·         2007—Partnered with Neil Campbell and engineered a management buyout of Landmark Cinemas

·         2012—For the first time in Landmark’s history, constructed and opened the greatest number of new greenfield sites within the same year: New Westminster, BC (10-plex), West Kelowna, BC (8-plex) and Penticton, BC (7-plex)

·         2013—Acquired 22 locations from Empire Theatres and became Canada’s second-largest motion picture theatre exhibitor

·         2014—Neil Campbell, my associate since the early 1970s and my partner since 2007, is appointed the president and CEO of Landmark Cinemas and I assumed the executive chairman’s role

·         2015—March 19, 2015 marks the 50th anniversary of the opening of Landmark’s first cinema

What are the key theatres/locations in the Landmark timeline?

* First Cinema—Towne Cinema (single), Calgary, Alberta (1965)

* First Expansion—Uptown Theatre (single), Red Deer, Alberta (1968)

* First Edmonton, Alberta location—Towne Cinema (1970)

* First Drive-In Theatre—we acquired the Stettler Drive-In in Stettler, Alberta, in 1970; we operate no drive-ins today, but at the peak we operated 10

* First Major Acquisition—The Rothstein Theatre Circuit, based in Winnipeg, Manitoba; it included cinemas in all four of the Western Canadian provinces (1972)

* First Major Multiplex—We constructed and opened the eight-screen Towne Cinema, in Winnipeg, Manitoba (1981)

* First 10-plex—We acquired the Grand 10, in Kelowna, BC (1995)

* First Greater Vancouver, BC location—We constructed and opened the 10-screen Landmark Cinema in New Westminster (2012)

* First Premium Large Format location—We constructed and opened the Landmark Cinema (Xtreme) in West Kelowna, BC (2012)

* First expansion into the Province of Ontario—We acquired 22 Empire theatre locations and 10 of them are located in Ontario (2013)

* First 24-plex—As part of the Empire Theatres purchase, we acquired two with this screen count, located in Kanata and Whitby, Ontario (2013)