Leading Specialized Circuit Redefines Art-House Experience

"We have crafted a cinema that is more akin to a boutique hotel," explains Tom Rael of PleskowRael Architecture(s) and principal-in-charge of the $20 million, over-a-decade-in-the-making, new 2,000-seat 12-plex at Westside Pavilion in West Los Angeles. "We didn't design a cinema per se; we designed a club lounge that screens independent film," he says about The Landmark, "a serious architectural project for the serious exhibition of film."

Given materials such as Venetian plastered walls behind a reed-embedded, glowing box-office counter, a concierge desk of basalt stone and granite, plus bronze-clad doors that have been conceived as "threshold moments to extend like outreached arms into the theatre's entry lobbies," crafted is indeed the key word. "Our vision for the project was to create a sophisticated architectural setting that acknowledges Landmark's discerning audience, and elevates the moviegoing experience to a level of cultural significance."

All that and more is exactly what Ted Mundorff, chief operating officer of North America's largest circuit dedicated primarily to exhibiting and marketing independent film in 61 theatres in 24 markets, had in mind. "Our mission is to provide an adult atmosphere in which to watch movies," he states. "Throughout Landmark's history we have shown sophisticated films in older but well-maintained classic theatres and we will continue to do that. But we are also building new theatres." Landmark's Harbor East (seven screens) in Baltimore, Maryland, and The Landmark Theatres (six screens) in the Greenwood Village area of Denver, Colorado, follow later this summer.

The segment of the public that enjoys films "not as popcorn-oriented as the ones the chains play," in Mundorff's words, is not going to the same multiplex where teenagers gather around videogames before their movie. "Our audience can come to our facilities and enjoy a glass of wine. We will play film that the smaller independent distributors provide...but also look for film released by major studios. The specialty divisions of the studios too have recognized that the audience base is broader--as have we. Not only in West L.A., but around the circuit, we look to expand the menu, if you will, for film."

To accommodate such choices, Landmark has installed an interesting mix of technology options (as listed in our sidebar) in the all-stadium "brown-box" auditoria, where LED-based equipment projects strong yet unobtrusive strands of white light. In addition to three of the highest-end 4K SXRD projectors, three lower-grade 1.4K DLP units "will be used for smaller events," Mundorff envisions, "and to display independent film that is not required to be DCI-compliant. This gives us huge possibilities in terms of presentations of either motion pictures or for rental uses of the auditoria."

All 12 houses still have 35mm projectors, as Mundorff believes "film will be around for a while." Throughout the complex, over 40 flat-screen plasma monitors are working as an "informational vehicle" with electronic one-sheets, movie trailers and a countdown to start times shown in the bar areas. "It's like being in an airline VIP lounge," he says, designed "to make the experience very, very relaxing for patrons while they are enjoying a pre-movie meal, drink or cappuccino and then knowing when to go and see the show." To further promote the feeling of "not being hurried," the theatre features reserved seating for individual seats and not by sections.

With the largest house seating just fewer than 300 on very soft, faux-leather-covered and NASA-developed foam-filled 26-inch (66 cm) recliners from Seating Concepts, three screens have been dubbed "Living Rooms" for their use of couches and fauteuils by Martin Brattrud throughout. Is that name a good idea to differentiate the moviegoing experience from the home? "I think people are very comfortable in their living rooms," Mundorff responds, "and we want them to be comfortable in our theatre. And you still can't buy screens for the home in the sizes we have." Besides, "it's the communal experience. We want people to enjoy where they are sitting and how they are sitting, what they are doing. We really want people to come back."

Better yet, The Landmark offers three different food and beverage options that should make patrons come early and stay late. "The Lounge" has a bar in the round overlooking activity on Pico Boulevard and features a "candle fireplace" along with sectionals, love seats and other equally comfortable chairs. In addition to Stella Artois beer, sake, a full California wine bar, Peet's Coffee, Pom Tea and Odwalla fruit drinks, snack options include Pizza Rustica, roasted almonds, and Wasabi and Sahale snacks, to name but a few. A full selection of fine dining is offered at the Westside Tavern. Though not operated by Landmark, this self-described "upscale, chef-driven, modern interpretation of the classic American tavern" is an integral part of the cinema experience. "We have a partnership in terms of accessibility to private dining rooms for events and parties," Mundorff assures. Moviegoers will be able to purchase their tickets at the restaurant in addition to the Internet, four box-office stations and seven kiosks. Located next to the concierge station, a shop offers a variety of books, soundtracks and DVDs.

The concession areas in the main lobby have been designed and stocked to feed the senses. Landmark's director of concessions and retail sales, Rita Meno, has included healthy offerings such as Orville Redenbacher corn popped with Odell sunflower oil and topped with 100% real butter, vegan cookies and Yogurberry frozen yogurt. Hebrew National hot dogs and Coca-Cola products complement specialty items from Pocky, Haribo Gold Bears, Tim Tam, Godiva Belgian Blends coffee drinks and Art Bars, which are made from fair-trade organic Swiss chocolate and contribute a minimum of 10% of sales to local and global art education organizations.

The artisans from LoPresti Architectural Elements and PleskowRael--the firm also designed Landmark's Sunshine Cinema in Manhattan--found the "Andy Warhol-inspired candy cases" to hold it all. Topped by a rosewood canopy and faced in rough-hewn basalt stone tile, the cantilevered counters are backed by a taupe-colored wall of glass and light.

With so many intricate elements to choose from, what is The Landmark's defining design element? For architect Rael, "One of our favorite features is the dynamic capture of space below the sloping underside of auditoria for the cinema lobby, the main auditorium lobby and the wine bar Lounge."

"It's really creative and imaginative how capturing the under-slopes lends volume and opens up the space," concurs Michael Fant, Landmark's VP of real estate and development. "It gives a lot of curvature and angles you wouldn't typically find in a movie theatre. Although this adds to the cost of construction and design, it makes a very exciting-looking theatre."

Speaking of construction, which only started in August of last year, for Fant "putting out fires on a daily basis" comes with the territory. "That's just what you do." Nonetheless, he is happy to report with a laugh the fact that even though "every major studio executive that came through here hit their head on the scaffolding over the master stairwell," there were no repercussions. "They still left with a very positive impression."
None of the premiere night's and opening weekend's guests had a similar run-in, and everybody agreed: It's a landmark opening of a landmark theatre.

Ted Mundorff's
History of Landmarks

Favorite movie of all time? The Godfather
Favorite theatre? The 1927 Landmark Oriental in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
Favorite snack at the movies? Popcorn and Sprite.
Favorite aspect of The Landmark West L.A.? Spoken like a true Los Angelino, "the ease of free parking." The Landmark boasts "the largest amount of movie theatre parking available in the City of Los Angeles," with access to over 3,000 spaces.

"I was probably the last film buyer for the Picwood Theatre," Ted Mundorff laughs, having begun at General Cinema over 20 years ago. The 1948 S. Charles Lee-designed "tropical island"-themed neighborhood palace was updated during the 1960s and torn down in 1985 to make room for an extension to the very same Westside Pavilion. It never caught on with the public, but now rules as The Landmark again. "What goes around comes around," he observes.

The existing four-plex in the mall was opened in the early 1990s by The Samuel Goldwyn Company and closed in March with the end of awards season. The Departed played for 11 weeks.

Before shutting down, the Picwood had been operated by Pacific Theatres, where Mundorff held executive positions in operations and film until joining Landmark four years ago as head film buyer.

Mundorff saw his first film at the fabulous Fox Theatre on Market Street in San Francisco, opened in June 1929 as "The Showplace of the West" and demolished in February 1963. Today, its gorgeous curtain and additional embroidered wall hangings have come to new life at Allen Michaan's Grand Lake in Oakland, while its Wurlitzer pipe organ enlivens the shows at Pacific Theatres/Disney's El Capitan in Hollywood. As Pacific's VP of film, Mundorff instituted a booking strategy for the Grove Theatre at Farmers Market in Los Angeles that resulted in cinemagoers enjoying the wider range of both independent as well as mainstream film product. Mundorff, who currently serves on the board of NATO of California and Nevada, plans to institute that same policy for West Los Angeles. "The Landmark will become the destination for the Westside."

Landmark Theatres is part of the Wagner/Cuban companies, a vertically integrated group of media properties co-owned by Todd Wagner and Mark Cuban that also includes Magnolia Pictures, Magnolia Home Entertainment, HDNet Films, 2929 Productions, HDNet and HDNet Movies. (landmarktheatres.com)

Sound & Vision Technology

According to The Landmark's press notes, "The theatre's premium technology partners were chosen to provide a complete solution for patrons' pre-movie, special-events and in-theatre viewing pleasure."
* Dolby Digital Surround EX Sound, using the CP650 technology to process all Dolby sound formats
* High-performance speakers from Klipsch Premium Sound System
* Wall coverings by Universal Cinema Services
* Sony SXRD 4K digital projectors in three auditoria
* Panasonic 1.4K DLP projectors in three auditoria
* Simplex Apogee 35mm projectors that exceed SMPTE projection standards in all 12 auditoria
* SCDC platters
* ISCO Ultra-Star HD Plus lenses-the fastest f1.8 lenses available for the cinema industry-along with LTI Helios xenon lamps
* Samsung Flat Screens and Plasmas ranging from 42" to 63" (107 to 160 cm)

The Video Simulcast system allows real-time broadcasting to additional theatres in the complex to produce screenings, presentations and interactive Q&As.
An HD video camera is available to record such presentations and panel discussions.
Built-in and adjustable spotlights illuminate speakers, with under-screen connections for audio, computer and data from presentations to the projection booth.
The WiFi-enabled facility offers free Internet access.

Tom Rael, Principal-in-Charge
David Kim, Senior Project Designer
PleskowRael Architecture(s) is a design-intensive boutique architecture firm located in Marina del Rey, CA. Tony Pleskow and Tom Rael employ an exploratory design process to craft unique guest experiences within sophisticated architectural settings. (pleskowrael.com)