The Best Little CineShow in Texas: NATO educates and entertains at regional get-together


Attending our industry trade shows and conventions can be a very busy affair. Thankfully, most of us love what we do and are always happy to see one another. Nowhere did this feel more apparent than at CinéShow 2013 in Frisco, Texas, Sept. 10-12. Deemed “the Southwestern Convention with a Southern Flair,” by its organizers at NATO South Central States (which covers Arkansas, Louisiana, Oklahoma and Texas), CinéShow felt more like a gathering of friends and family than of industry people. But very often, they are one and the same.

The 15th annual edition brought some 130 exhibitors and nearly as many representatives from distribution, technology, product and services companies to the Greater Dallas area. While the attendance of the first group has been consistent with prior years, the number of tradeshow participants saw an important uptick. With some 55 booths covering the tradeshow floor, the “Vendor Preview of New Products” hosted as part of the official program had Christie introducing its Vive audio solutions and Ballantyne-Strong announcing the “Premium HGA” 3D screen; Scrabble Ventures offering details and deals on financing; Tykhe Desserts expanding their Cupcake Dippers to freshly baked cakes and desserts for in-theatre dining; Dealflicks managing price promotions to increase attendance during off times; Eisenberg grilling smoked jalapeño and cheddar cheese sausages and boasting new signage that their hot dogs are gluten-free; Greystone Seating turning up its heated VIP recliners and chilling down the integrated cupholders at the same time; and Royal Corporation finding ways to keep it all nice and clean. The fact that Royal’s latest soda nozzle product is based on a formula devised by Joel Davis, operations VP at Premiere Cinemas, shows how close we all are in this business.

This is certainly a sign of recovering economic times, but such solid numbers also underscore the importance of regional conventions, including Show South and the Geneva Convention that Film Journal International covers as well. “The regional shows are extremely important to NATO membership,” concurs Maria Angles, special consultant to the event. “They provide the greatest opportunity for the independent sector to convene, network, collaborate and motivate—themselves and others—on the latest trends in the business. These are generally attended and supported by the industry members who do not attend the larger, more expensive conventions. Accessibility and budget are huge considerations to this group, so regional shows have great appeal.”

Prior to CinéShow, we had asked NATO president and chief executive officer, John Fithian, about these regional get-togethers. “It’s all about bringing local exhibitors together to learn about products and to talk about lobbying efforts and to learn about the industry,” he replied before reviewing the basic structure of the trade association. “NATO is composed of a federal unit based here in Washington, D.C., and with an office in Hollywood. The national association addresses issues with the federal government and with the industry. We also have our affiliate organizations in many states and regions across the country. They are separate in that they have their own dues structure and bylaws, but they are affiliated through our board of directors and we coordinate on many issues, of course. The regional NATO groups address policies on the local level such as state and local legislative issues, and they host educational programming for their members.”

And, indeed, all that was part of putting on CinéShow. Theatre owners and managers gathered for a presentation by Dan Myers, director of global loss prevention at Cinemark. In addition to film theft and online ticketing fraud, “Modern Day Challenges for Theatre Operators” now sadly include “Active Shooter” scenarios as well. Myers suggested the establishment of designated lockdown areas for such emergencies, along with providing theatre blueprints and other pertinent site information to the police and scheduling training exercises with/for them (“Run Hide Fight”). He also had tips for “standard” security issues such as car break-ins and theft, advising attendees to regularly review summaries of reported incidents from the local police department to detect possible patterns.

The early morning workshop that replaced a planned report on “Food Safety Certification: What you need to know when expanding your food & beverage menu beyond traditional concessions” was equally hands-on. Group presentations on good ideas and best practices covered topics ranging from employee motivation and managing labor costs and reducing other costs to social media, new ideas for loyalty programs, and how to make your theatre more environmentally friendly.

In their update to attendees, NATO’s Kathy Conroy (VP, executive director) and Belinda Judson (state government and regional liaison) mentioned educational efforts as well. NATO training tapes will be updated, they noted, and webinars on healthcare reform and other topics are available to members. They covered business aspects explaining that NATO’s Cinema Buying Group is expanding with additional products and services, all available at a member discount; and they mentioned initiatives affecting business like raising the minimum wage for employees. General industry issues covered by the trade association include newly proposed in-theatre marketing guidelines, ratings (“Check the Box” and continuing to improve enforcement), windows and film theft, of course. Since launching their joint program to curb cinema camcording, NATO and the MPAA have rewarded more than $300,000 to theatre employees, Conroy and Judson said. On the policy compliance side, 53% of all digital screens in North America now offer closed captioning and descriptive video. Exceptions to the requirements for menu labeling proposed by the Food and Drug Administration remain on their legislative agenda, as do defending a variety of food and beverage and admission/entertainment taxes on local and state levels.

No wonder that the Honorable Harvey Hilderbran, one politician who actually lowered taxes, was invited to keynote the opening-night dinner. The chairman of the Texas House Ways & Means Committee received a standing ovation for his role in overhauling the state’s franchise tax code. Instead of “unfairly” treating Texas exhibitors, the reform will now bring them tax savings of several million dollars annually. More good deeds were recognized during the second evening event at CinéShow. Jeff Goldstein, executive VP, domestic distribution, at Warner Bros. Pictures was named “2013 Texan of the Year” during a “Boots ‘n Bling”-themed gala benefitting Variety-The Children’s Charity of Texas.

For the impressive product presentation at Cinemark Frisco Square’s XD auditorium, Lionsgate/Summit, Sony Pictures, Twentieth Century Fox, Universal Pictures and Warner Bros. Pictures sent representatives and Paramount Pictures and Walt Disney Studios provided a selection of trailers. Pablo Rico of Fox was very pleased to present, for the first and only time since CineEurope, the behind-the-scenes tour with Bryan Singer on the set of X-Men: Days of Future Past alongside 15 minutes from The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, previously shown at CinemaCon. Sony’s Hiede Craven brought the clips from The Amazing Spider-Man 2 that the studio and filmmakers had prepared for Comic Con.

Overall, event programming and smooth operations of CinéShow were in the capable hands of Rein Rabukukk (NATO SC executive director), Byron Berkley (Foothills Entertainment; chairman of the board, NATO SC), Tim Patton (Cinema Service Co.; board member, NATO SC), Joanne Hodge (Cinemas Service Co.) and a host of other dedicated volunteers.

Asked for her closing observations, Maria Angles hopes to encourage “the industry as a whole—whether they be exhibitors, suppliers, studios—to continue to support and foster the regional shows, as they will keep the positive message of moviegoing alive and well in our secondary and tertiary markets.” This author and attendee certainly agrees with her. “CinéShow was a tremendous opportunity to get acquainted with the huge base of independent theatre owners and managers in the four-state region. Personally, I enjoyed the camaraderie and the genuine love of the industry exhibited by these owners and managers. I met so many ‘lifers’ at the conference and it really invigorated me to be a part of such an emotionally vested crowd.”