Bullish on the Movies: NATO convention enjoys upbeat year

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“We’re coming off an incredible year, and the box office is ahead of where we were last year. Everyone kept talking about 2015, but the studios are going all out, and they know their market. Look at Deadpool, look at Zootopia..”

Managing director Mitch Neuhauser is even more upbeat than usual as he prepares for the sixth annual CinemaCon at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas, organized by the National Association of Theatre Owners. “Studios are doing things they’ve never done before, there’s going to be more talent than ever,” Neuhauser promises. “The convention is going to be nonstop—it’s our version of Furious 7.”

Eight studios are hosting presentations (all with laser projection in Caesars’ Colosseum by Barco and Christie) at the April 11-14 event, including newcomer STX Entertainment. “It’s no secret that the executive hierarchy and pedigree of STX is incredible people we’ve had the honor of working with in past years when they’ve been with other companies,” Neuhauser says. “To know that they’re looking upon us to put on a presentation and to support us, we’re really appreciative. We think they will put on a great show.”

Neuhauser hastens to add, “When it comes to the studio support, all the heads of distribution and higher are unbelievably supportive. They welcome us to their offices, and they’re so forthcoming about what they want to do for the show. My team and I need to extend them our utmost thanks and gratitude.

“People in the audience don’t get to be part of the behind-the-scenes activity that goes into it. People need to understand that the studios have films to release—that’s a major undertaking and that’s their day job, and they’re doing an incredible job. And then along comes CinemaCon, and it’s an unbelievable add-on that they put their entire passion and effort into to, from a labor standpoint and time and the money they spend. CinemaCon and NATO and the worldwide industry can never take their support for granted.”

Another new participant this year is Amazon Studios, who will host the Thursday lunch and special presentation. “We welcome studios, large, mid-size and small who are dedicated to bringing more product to our theatres,” Neuhauser declares. “Amazon is embracing theatrical distribution, and they have a great lineup of product. Two of their highest-profile films will be released by Roadside: Love & Friendship and Manchester by the Sea, which was a big hit at Sundance. They also have an incredible pedigree: Bob Berney, Ted Hope, Roy Price…”

The Wednesday filmmaker lunch program is always an exciting inside look at the making of great movies. This year’s panelists include Emmanuel “Chivo” Lubezki, the acclaimed cinematographer who just won his third consecutive Oscar for The Revenant (following Gravity and Birdman) and Revenant producers Arnon Milchan and Mary Parent. Milchan will accept a special “Legend of Cinema” award during the lunch. “His resume as a producer is incredible,” Neuhauser enthuses. “Everyone at the Oscars, from Leonardo [DiCaprio] to [Alejandro] Iñárritu to Lubezki, singled out that The Revenant wouldn’t have happened without his perseverance and belief.”

On Wednesday night, the annual “Pioneer of the Year” dinner salutes Universal Pictures chairman Donna Langley. “Not only is she unbelievable for what she does off the field from a philanthropic and community-minded standpoint,” Neuhauser notes, “it goes without saying what she and her team at Universal have done this past year, breaking all kinds of records.”

Speaking of records, “the trade show is once again a huge sellout. Our suites are sold out. Technology keeps growing and expanding. Theatres are truly taking a hard look at what they need to do to provide the moviegoing audience with unbelievable places to see movies. And they’re doing it, they’re putting money back into their venues.

“I believe in the future of the motion picture theatre industry,” Neuhauser attests. “With all the challenges we’ve faced and will continue to face, we continue to set records at the box office and our ticket sales are going up year over year. So we’re doing unbelievably well. Now look at television, a top-rated show today compared to ten years ago. All these articles about cord-cutting, where people are giving up their subscriptions and cable companies are laying off people. All these activities based in the home are cannibalizing each other. And we are the most important and relevant form of social entertainment in the world. We get people out of the house, we get them laughing together in the theatre or gripping the armrests, screaming, crying. You get that in an auditorium with the lights down where you’re totally focused and paying attention, and there’s nothing like it. And that’s why and NATO are bullish.”

As always, CinemaCon ends on a high note with the star-studded Big Screen Acheivement Awards. This year’s honorees include Susan Sarandon, Anna Kendrick, Zac Efron, the cast of Independence Day: Resurgence, the cast of Bad Moms (including Mila Kunis, Kristen Bell and Christina Applegate), and Sundance sensation Nate Parker.