Spotlighting the brand: AMC aligns theatres with awards excitement
With another great awards season barely behind us, Film Journal International is offering an exclusive look at some of the creative ways exhibitors tie in their theatres to the very best that our great industry has to offer. With polls and sweepstakes, plus fundraisers, special exhibits, screening series and live broadcasts, theatre audiences and teams have been getting in touch with their inner Oscars.
Beginning with a shining example (more to follow in our Hollywood roundup next month), we had the opportunity to catch up with Sun Dee Larson, AMC Entertainment’s director of external communications, right between her return from Sundance and a trip to Los Angeles. Over the past several years, the circuit has developed what she calls “an effort to bring our brand to a new level within our own industry.” And indeed—with all due respect to the initiatives featured in the sidebars below—the continuous sponsorship and participation in six key events that celebrate talent and achievement is the most comprehensive program mounted by an exhibitor to date.
According to Larson, “AMC is looking for an audience of entertainment influencers that we believe to very important, which includes not just celebrities but also high-profile folks in the entertainment industry, including media, producers, directors, production staff… Before, we had been getting a lot of requests that we were handling from a somewhat reactive perspective. With this program, of course, we now have been more proactive.”
Aside from having enjoyed “great success thus far,” she explains the reasons to be two-fold. “One is to create relationships with that key influencer group and to turn them into AMC loyalists. The second, clearly, is about media coverage. Initially, we chose to be present at high-profile events that celebrate film, including the Golden Globes, Spirit Awards and Sundance. During this past fiscal year, we added the MTV Movie Awards and, taking our first step outside the film industry, went to the Emmy Awards as well. Since there is so much crossover talent between television and film, we thought it made good sense.”
Being able to be backstage at the Emmys—underneath the Nokia Theater’s stage to be exact—was “such a terrific opportunity,” Larson declares. “We were present during rehearsals and the actual show, so a lot of folks stopped by on both days.” The MTV Movie Awards were less hands-on, she notes, as presenters were invited via a certificate to write in for their AMC gift.
“The number of partners and other sponsors varies with each event,” Larson says of AMC’s participation in what essentially are gifting suites. “We’re interacting with all the people who come through, telling them about our brand and what makes moviegoing special at AMC.” At the Spirit Awards and Emmys, for instance, “invitation lists to the suites include mainly the presenters and performers… Both of these opportunities also happen during the events, so everybody’s there and comes through.”
AMC’s gift for them is a “Signature Pass” that offers special moviegoing benefits for the bearer and one guest. “Believe it or not,” Larson enthuses, “the gift is overwhelmingly popular because it is also something that they cannot buy. We’re really starting to create loyalists and I’ve heard at different events, ‘Oh, we’re so glad you guys are here… I love going to this and that theatre.’ It has been very beneficial to AMC and the media coverage too has been phenomenal.”
The Golden Globe meet-and-greet takes place off-site in a hotel and a couple of days leading up to the festivities. Attracting a different type of talent, she says, “Those are longer events in a much slower-paced environment where we actually have a lot more time to have conversations and to explain all the great amenities that AMC has to offer. We like to find out if they already have a favorite AMC theatre and how they feel about the brand, which is also great information to use internally.” In addition, “lounges are beginning to honor different causes and charities where contributions are made for every celebrity that attends.” The one at the Globes, for instance, was operated by “Access Hollywood” and helped raised some $100,000 for the charities of hosts Nancy O’Dell and Billy Bush.
On a personal note, Larson definitely enjoys giving too. “Kristin Chenoweth was at the Emmy Awards and I just about flipped out with joy,” she laughs. “Growing up, I wanted to be her, so I was pretty excited... For lack of a better word, I geeked out a little bit.”
Larson has also been promoting the circuit’s initiatives for specialized film at the Spirits and during Sundance. “These are great outlets for us to platform the ‘AMC Select’ program. Although this is typically not something that we talk about with the movie talent…they were overjoyed to hear about this AMC initiative. ‘Oh, really? That’s great. We didn’t know you were doing that.’ They were a lot more excited than we anticipated. We talk to the directors and writers of the Sundance films, and they are always excited to hear about the program. Making a concerted effort of bringing more specialty-type films into our theatres [is appreciated]. That way, you can see them in a more comfortable environment and you don’t necessarily have to seek out the art house. It may be more convenient because they are showing at your local theatre.”
Celebrating its third year, the “AMC Best Picture Showcase” may very well be the ultimate in convenience. Beginning at 10:30 a.m. on the day before the Oscars, almost 100 theatres in 47 North American markets showed all five Academy Award-nominated titles. “For the third year, four are once again ‘AMC Select’ titles,” Larson points out. “It’s a fun atmosphere that almost feels like a mini film festival where a whole group of people are together for an entire day, doing a little bonding and having a good time.” Not to mention a whole lotta munching that comes with the unlimited popcorn included in the special price.
More Oscar Promotions
Showing the season’s favorite, Slumdog Millionaire, on its program since mid-December, along with platforms of Milk and Waltz with Bashir, the Avon in Stamford, Connecticut, had to literally go out of its way, and off-schedule, to bring in even more nominated films. Every Saturday morning throughout February, and at select other performances, film fans were able to see no less than ten additional titles in the running. The series culminated in a live Oscar telecast party at the 1939 movie house. In its second year, the gala has not only become a celebrated society event but also a key fundraiser for the membership-based, not-for-profit art house.
“The Oscar ceremony is the main event in the entertainment world, and through this nationwide sweepstakes, members of our Regal Crown Club have a chance to win a trip to see the Red Carpet arrivals of their favorite stars,” stated Dick Westerling, senior VP of marketing and advertising at the world’s largest circuit. For the fourth exclusive year, “Regal Entertainment Group is proud to be working directly with the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences,” he continued. “Every year we hear from the winners who are amazed by this opportunity to get the full star treatment in Hollywood... We’ve received thank you letters, ‘Wish you were here’ postcards and very grateful phone calls from these lucky moviegoers.”
What makes this promotion special is that it actually encourages moviegoers to see the honored films. In addition to receiving extra credits on their loyalty card for each ticket purchased for a nominated title in the Best Picture and Best Director categories, all qualifying visits are automatically entered for a chance to win. Given Regal’s technological savvy in administering its 14-million-member program, the entire process is fully automated.
Publicity for this sweepstakes includes in-theatre posters, on-screen pre-feature programming, online promotions and e-mails through the Regal Crown Club database.