Vision accomplished: Rudyard Coltman's Cinetopia expands on a grand scale
“I am a firm believer…that if you bring people the finest technology possible onto the big screen…as long as you give them a really comfortable seat and great sound and picture quality, with great food options, they really embrace the different environments and experiences.”
Rudyard Coltman, founder and developer, owner and operator of Cinetopia Theaters, has seen confirmation of that belief since he materialized his original vision in Vancouver, Washington (now called Cinetopia Mill Plain, with eight screens, 920 seats, and a 128-seat Vinotopia restaurant). When we first spoke to Coltman for the October 2007 issue of Film Journal International, he was already making plans for the next cinematic nirvana. Promising “some new and exciting design elements,” he said, for the exhibition industry to continue to be successful, “there has to be innovation. Technology has to keep up and enhance the experience.”
With Christie 2K and 4K digital projection throughout, Dolby 3D deployed and a proprietary large format developed, Klipsch speakers, and Meyer Sound EXP systems and Dolby 7.1 Surround exclusive to the market area, not to mention having been selected as one of 14 North American launching pads for the new Dolby Atmos sound system, Cinetopia makes a perfect match for this month’s focus on digital technologies. Given the manifold wining and dining options—from sit-down restaurant and widely expanded concessions to full in-theatre service and to-go/take-in everywhere—Cinetopia has also inspired FJI to invite our readers to another round of “Dinner at the Movies” over the next few months. For the first course, check out the special menu that accompanies this report.
“Our Living Room Theaters were extremely popular from the beginning, with much higher occupancy rates than ordinary theatres.” Coltman cites amenities such as private “skybox” seating, extra-large chairs and ottomans, food service, wine and beer, artwork on the walls and live music, before explaining how the new Movie Parlor Experience “takes all this even a step further.” The first three Parlors made their debut at Cinetopia Progress Ridge in Beaverton, Oregon, on June 24, 2011 (14 screens, 1,650 seats, and Vinotopia restaurant), followed by another five at Cinetopia 23 at Vancouver Mall on June 21, 2012 (23 screens, 2,650 seats, plus a Brewtopia). Coltman says his goal for these premium auditoriums was to combine “the best of many different environments and worlds of hospitality and moviegoing into one venue. It’s like a suite in a first-class hotel meets your celebrity-type home-theatre dream that you can never have at home.”
Along with the big screen (20 to 30 feet, 6 to 9 meters), big sound and big service on offer, that also includes the décor. “All our furniture is custom-designed piece by piece, section by section, creating a unique, premium seating arrangement,” especially for the front row.
“I am trying to address any displeasure that guests have with the moviegoing experience,” Coltman affirms. “The front row is always an issue, not just for us but for all exhibitors. People don’t like to sit there usually.” Not at the Movie Parlor. “When people first get seated now, many run to the front to sit on our ‘cuddle couches.’ That’s mission accomplished on our part,” he feels. And, really, what’s not to like about something that’s “loaded with pillows” and offers built-in ottomans and “breakfast-in-bed-type” swivel trays? “Within the Parlor we are trying to create another environment that is not only desirable, but maybe also a first choice.”
Listening to Coltman further describe the set-up and looking at the photos on these pages, our readers may feel hard-pressed to actually make a choice among the featured options. Taking for granted the luxurious seating with ottomans throughout and various conveniently located trays that “make it easy to dine,” the stadium-tiered room itself is divided into distinct but overall harmonious areas. “It’s three rooms and different environments in one,” Coltman proposes. “The cuddle couches are in the front. A more classic ‘parlor feel’ in the middle features a holographic fireplace that is totally indiscernible from the real thing,” he assures, “with a mantle-piece, picture frames and all.” The upper section, which Coltman calls “The Loft,” has built-in couches and moveable chairs highlighting another immersive environment, “almost like a themed attraction.” For Coltman that meant putting some 18 high-end LED panels behind picture frames and in virtual windows to creative use.
“We have several digital animators that create themed backdrops to make you look out through the trees of a forest,” he says of one example. “And otherwise transport you to the world of the movies showing.” For the last Transformers adventure, for instance, “our guests were looking at downtown Chicago with cars driving down the street. Just like looking out of a real window. And the pictures behind the frames of the parlor seating are thematically related to the film as well.” (Just don’t expect to see advertising or movie trailers hit those spaces anytime soon. Coltman prefers to keep that to the fully customized and programmed-to-match monitor panels throughout the theatre lobby and hallways.)
When Coltman finally mentions the boxed-beam ceiling of the Movie Parlor twinkling with LED lights, this author cannot help but recall the grand atmospheric theatre designs of John Eberson and others, brought to the digital megaplex age. But Coltman has accomplished Grand designs of his own. In addition to the original Grand Auditoriums, Progress Ridge and Vancouver Mall feature the new GXL-branded format. With capacities ranging from 300 to 500 seats, the 62 to 80-foot-wide (19 to 24 m) screens make them “the largest in our marketplace.” And Coltman insists that there are many more differentiating factors that make Cinetopia’s fourth type of theatre environment “equally exciting and very much sought after.”
“Our GXL screens, with G standing for Grand, are really the focal point from both a presentation and capacity standpoint. Having developed every detail and conducted extensive research with visits to manufacturers, side-by-side comparisons, light-meter readings” and the like, Coltman believes GXL “to be the finest premium large format in the industry.” He admits, “This may sound like grandstanding, but we really do research every single technology to put forth what we believe to be the best and finest. Part of our strategic planning was to create the largest screens possible and we did that with Christie 4K projectors, which are exclusive to our area.”
There is no need for stacking two of them, he clarifies. “Dual projection has mostly to do with 3D and brightness.” He credits Cinetopia’s Dolby 3D system for being “so efficient” and producing “a lot more light on the screen. So we don’t need dual projection and still produce the same if not greater brightness.”
“Meyer EXP sound is another technology that’s market-exclusive for us. Every speaker has its own built-in amplifier,” he explains. “It puts out basically three times as much power as the other premium large-format sound systems,” making a perfect match for installing the Dolby Atmos platform at Vancouver Mall. “It’s the most efficient connection of technologies,” Coltman believes, “because there is no aftermarket of adding an amplifier to an existing speaker. With Meyer EXP, we are getting a tremendous feeling of realism, as the system is using many more sub-based towers and has a much greater frequency range. Our Dolby Atmos theatre features a total of 12 sub-based towers in the auditorium, and even in our other ‘standard’ GXL screens we have eight. Your ordinary auditorium has one, maybe two…”
As with the other environments, another differentiator is the seating arrangement at GXL. Custom-designed 24-inch-wide chairs from Seating Concepts are spaced with up to a foot of extra legroom. “Very spacious,” he says, as the stadium seating goes as high as 24-inch risers “for a real premium-type sightline” and all the way down to the floor. “A lot of theatres that have been converted to premium large-screen formats actually do not have the ideal sightlines… Instead, our theatres have been designed similarly to the museum-type formats with the really steep rake all the way down to the pit.
For the lower lobby of Cinetopia 23, Coltman created his very own “Eye in the Sky.” “It looks really cool,” he enthuses. “Vancouver Mall is a two-story location with a rotunda in the middle of the lobby. If you stand on the lower level and look up through the second story all the way into the rafters, some 44 feet in the air, you can see really cool creative content as well as movie trailers and games.” He created a cut-out in the shape of an eye over a screen powered by high-end LED rear-projection. With railings surrounding the open rotunda space, there is plenty of opportunity for people-watching too, he assures. “It’s a very fun and exciting special effect. I call it, somewhat esoterically, and as someone who subscribes to Jungian philosophy, the ‘eye to collective unconscious.’ I believe part of the reason why people are drawn to going to the movies is because films are part of the shared thoughts and ideas, the archetype of stories that we all love. Regardless of where you are in the world, people like the Cinderella story, the boy-meets-girl and rags-to-riches themes.”
With his Utopian aspirations and Jungian reasoning, Rudyard Coltman has firmly established his vision for moviegoing. In closing, he proudly quotes a distribution executive from CBS Films, who during his visit proclaimed that Cinetopia looks like a movie theatre 15 years into the future. “That is one of my favorite compliments, because it adds another level to what we are trying to accomplish and create.”
A Cinetopia Smorgasbord
Since launching the original Cinetopia and associated art gallery, tropical gardens and Vinotopia Restaurant in mid-summer 2005, Rudyard Coltman and his team have expanded their all-freshly prepared menus to two more locations, with a third one on the way for late 2013/early 2014 at Prairiefire at Lionsgate in Overland Park, Kansas.
“Size adds to the complexities, as always,” Coltman concedes. “The volume of food service offers a challenge, certainly. Between our large sit-down restaurants, the Living Room and Movie Parlor in-theatre service and to-go offerings to the Grand Auditoriums and our GXL screens, we are offering a food and beverage option to every single person in the building,” he proudly states. “We’ve got a system in place that we were able to perfect over seven-and-a-half years. It’s very efficient and works well, but serving 300 to 400 people in a one-hour window on Saturday nights,” he laughs, “it turns into Hell’s Kitchen. And I’m not talking about selling popcorn and candy, but preparing everything from a New York steak to salmon of the day. Burgers, pizzas, you name it.” (To see a sample menu, click here.)
How the buildings are designed is a very strategic and thought-out process, he cautions. “Our first location? Not so efficient. Believe it or not: Though it is our smallest, it has the most challenges even with a system that works great. We’ve gone through a huge learning curve over the years.” Building anew rather than converting an existing space is essential, he agrees. “Anyone could make this work to some degree. But as far as being efficient is concerned—and to me, efficiency turns into possibility—that’s the big challenge for someone getting into the movies and dining business.”
At Cinetopia 23, five Movie Parlors and nine Living Room Theaters offer in-theatre service and 21+ environments, as Coltman’s vision for the 140–seat restaurant has evolved. “We wanted to have a little bit of differentiation,” he remarks about the addition of Brewtopia at Vancouver Mall instead of another Vinotopia. “One concept has 100 wines by the ounce or glass, and the other offers 50 different beers on tap, which gives us the largest selection in Southwest Washington, by the way. We felt it was right for the demographic of the theatre and really wanted to offer people uniquely good reasons to choose to dine at both locations.”
In another unique move, “we use all iPad menus” at the restaurants, “but you can still request a paper menu,” Coltman assures. “Our software company designed a custom program for us, where you can read about all the food items and have a look at them. The same goes for the beers and wines, with tasting notes and information about the vineyards and breweries. We have a market table section because everything is made from scratch and we try to feature local purveyors. You can rate your server and the food… And, of course, you can watch trailers for all the current and upcoming movies while you learn about our different theatre environments with photos, their features and amenities and technical data.” For Living Room Theaters and Movie Parlors, Coltman still relies on paper menus, however. At this point, “it would be just too costly” to bring iPads into the auditoriums.
In all three Cinetopias, Coltman goes “the extra mile to do one-of-a-kind things at the concession stand” as well, of which the gourmet butter bar is only one of the featured items. “Every item on the restaurant menu is available to-go inside any of the theatres. We give you a pager for when the order is ready. Our trays, which hold up to three drinks and the food, are designed for convenient carrying and to lock into the cupholder,” he assures. “Besides offering the entire restaurant menu, we also bake all sorts of cakes and cookies, seven-layer bars, especially for the concession stand.”
The two latest locations feature what Coltman calls “Classic Movie Arcades,” where all games are themed after movie titles exclusively. With games like Terminator, Lord of the Rings pinball machines, The Fast and the Furious drive games or the fortune-giving Zoltar from Big, he views the room as a themed attraction. “We’re trying to keep everything part of the experience.”
“It’s about giving people options,” Coltman summarizes. “I want to make moviegoing fun just for the sake of moviegoing. And not necessarily just based on the titles playing. We actually have a lot of customers who show up and have no idea what they are going to watch, but they just want the experience. They want to enjoy the Movie Parlor and/or Living Room, so they ask what’s playing there… I think the more creative entertaining ways of moviegoing there are, the more interest you create. Not only for your venue, but also for the business in general. The more I embrace a creative new idea, the more people seem to like it.”