Making an impression: Relativity's Beebee receives Al Shapiro Award


“Motivating theatres is not the challenge.”

Right from the start, Zach Beebee, VP, exhibitor marketing, at Relativity Media and recipient of the Al Shapiro Distinguished Service Award at ShowEast 2012, lauds the enthusiasm of his partners on the exhibition side. “Once you have found the right people to talk to, and work to foster those relationships over the course of various films, you have a group that will embrace promotions for all of your releases. It may not be the same mix of people that participate on each and every film, but I will run out of banners or standees or promotional items before I run out of theatre marketing managers looking to promote that film. That Rolodex of passionate theatre staff members has become our best tool.”

In general, the element that is “at the top of everyone’s mind” in exhibitor relations and marketing is trailering, he continues. “Coming into the department at New Line Cinema, that was my first priority and task as well,” Beebee recalls. “As you scratch below the surface, though, I think most of us working in this area realize that although the trailer onscreen may be the most visible example of the work we do, without a poster in the lobby or without a Facebook post from your local theatre, that trailer impression will get lost in the midst of an audience member’s experience. So my department spends the bulk of our time making sure that for every trailer we have onscreen, there are three to five other promotional assets and efforts lined up to reinforce any positive reaction to what you have seen in our trailer.”

Beginning his industry association with Allied, Beebee thanks all his colleagues there, including David McDonald and Isabelle Sugimoto, “who were the first to introduce me to this crazy world of marketing movies.” The subsequent move to New Line Cinema in 2003 was “a natural extension of the work I was already doing with Allied while working on the Los Angeles-area promotions for clients like Loews Theatres, Fox Searchlight and New Line Cinema. My good friend Eric Carr was transitioning from New Line to Focus Features at the time [where he continues his work as VP, exhibitor marketing.] I just told him, ‘You obviously get such enjoyment doing the work you do. I think it would be something that I could have a lot of fun with. Can you put in a good word for me?’ I don’t think it was even a month later and I was sitting in Kristina Warner’s office being offered a job.”

Now handling cinema marketing at RealD, Warner earns praise from Beebee “for demonstrating the value of great relationships” and for “being an encyclopedia of film data, from grosses to release dates. I also want to express my gratitude to Eric for representing a true love for film and passion for the art of marketing in theatres.”

Working for Relativity offers Beebee and his team “a lot of freedom…to define the role of marketing with the theatres,” he acknowledges. “I owe huge thanks to Kyle Davies for being a compassionate and tireless advocate of my department.” The president of worldwide distribution at Relativity had asked Beebee to set up shop after having done the same during their time at Overture Films. “Kyle is a skilled collaborator and knows just how to help me perform at my best.”

The same could certainly be said about Relativity Media’s chief executive officer. “When Ryan Kavanaugh first came in to talk with us after Relativity acquired our distribution and marketing teams from Overture, he emphasized the importance of creative solutions to achieve results that rival the major studios. I like to think that we tackle each film with that spirit and look at ways to harness all the enthusiasm and talented minds amongst the theatres’ staff members to achieve impactful results. Seeing that translate to excitement and passion in the theatre’s customers, having it come full circle, is one of the main reasons I love what we do.”

Loving movies and the theatres that show them certainly helps too, Beebee concurs. “The shared experience of watching a movie with my family or my friends means I have a new favorite movie each year.” Growing up “on the comedies of the ’80s,” he clearly remembers “the first time I saw Goonies or Ghostbusters or Planes, Trains & Automobiles and enthuses that “seeing Star Wars—Episode One over opening weekend at The Arlington in Santa Barbara was epic.” His favorite movie theatre memory, however, is “being escorted out of Ghostbusters by my mom at the age of seven. I was too scared when Slimer appeared at the beginning of the film.”

Ever the fearless film lover today, Beebee says popcorn and Coke Zero are “my go-to picks” at the concession stand. “But I am really enjoying the ‘exclusive’ options you can find at theatres too. House-made caramel corn or a cup of frozen yogurt, now and then, feel like real treats!” Just like the movie houses in Los Angeles. “We have our choice amongst some of the best theatres in the country.” Pressed for more detail, he says, “my favorite at any moment is going to be the closest theatre with the right showtime, and reserved seating. Yes, we are spoiled rotten.”

Given his humility, Beebee might actually feel the same about being honored with the Distinguished Service Award. “I am only as good as the team around me,” he insists. “My first reaction was to list colleagues of mine who deserve this just as much, or probably more, than I feel I do. At the same time, I see how hard my team has worked on film after film and achieved successes that we can be proud of, so I deeply appreciate the fact that our peers recognize and value that work.”

Not surprisingly, Beebee mentions working on Relativity’s Act of Valor as one of his favorite experiences, bringing all that’s great about the movie business together. “From the first time we had the chance to see this amazing film, we knew with the right approach and a ground-up promotional effort, it could really become a rewarding success for everyone involved. Bringing the SEALs along with the film to ShowEast 2011 was a key element of that strategy. We were able to achieve this only after months of working closely with their team. That level of trust and respect translated to just about every person who saw an early screening,” he recalls. “By the time we were heading into the February 2012 release, we had a grassroots infrastructure amongst theatre owners and managers who were seizing every opportunity at the local level to promote the film. They had the chance to shake hands with men from the movie who represent the many sacrifices of our armed forces and their families. So many of these theatres represent a meeting place for military base communities and the chance for a manager to share their passion about a film like Act of Valor directly with these customers is invaluable.”

Going forward, Beebee hopes to continue on that path. “We have a great mix of releases scheduled for early 2013,” he says, singling out Safe Haven. “Based upon consistent successes for other adaptations of Nicholas Sparks novels, especially around Valentine’s Day, we are working on a broad range of efforts to lock in ‘date night’ and ‘girls’ night out’ for that month. From ticket pre-sales to nationwide special events at theatres, this film is being treated as a tentpole release for us and you can expect a large part of that to be focused on stand-out materials and promotions in theatres.”

While “exhibitor relations” remain important, to use the traditional term for achieving those stand-out promotions, Beebee acknowledges that “the shift to ‘in-theatre marketing’ has been driven primarily by the circuits.” To him, the work of executives like Stephen Colanero at AMC or Ken Thewes at Regal is “a strong indication how theatre owners are approaching their customers and defining their brand. These guys come from the consumer retail and restaurant sectors, and the way they are able to discern and utilize valuable information on the habits of a theatre patron is powerful. By extension, we are working to offer opportunities and solutions that will enhance the experience of a ticket holder when they come to see our movie. At the same time, we are an essential part of helping the circuit demonstrate why choosing one of their theatres over a competitor can offer a better, more rewarding night at the movies.”