Showtime playtime: Attractions make cinemas even more entertaining


Following last month’s visit to our first Cinema Entertainment Center (CEC) at Frank Theatres CineBowl & Grille, Film Journal International takes its readers on another ride that offers million-euro roller coasters, stuffed animals, slushy ice, laser tag, bumper cars, skating rinks, climbing walls, water rides and much more. Some of which are “Coming Soon” to a CEC near you—if they are not up and running already.

The International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions hosted its Euro Attractions Show (EAS) conference and trade fair in Paris, France, Sept. 18-20. Founded in 1918 and representing more than 4,500 attractions, suppliers and individual members from more than 90 countries, IAAPA is the largest international trade association for “permanently situated amusement facilities and attractions and is dedicated to the preservation and prosperity of the amusement industry.” Following ShowEast, interested readers may consider attending the next Attractions Expo in Orlando, Florida (Nov. 18-22), or heading to Beijing, China (Asian Attractions Expo, June 17-20, 2014). With regional offices in Brussels, Mexico City and Hong Kong, IAAPA is headquartered in Alexandria, Virginia.

You may ask what cinema owners and operators have in common with the likes of Disneyland and Europa-Park, Bavaria Filmstadt and Pleasure Beach, or with the Enchanted Kingdom in the Philippines. Exhibitors may not need lockers, game tokens and chips, nor replacement wheels and safety harnesses, but looking beyond such specifics, there are similarities from admissions ticketing to crowd control and food sales. Most interesting, perhaps, attractions operators believe that storytelling is a “key aspect in building a successful immersive experience for guests along with theming, architecture, design and entertainment.” Their goal is “to offer families the opportunity to experience together a unique adventure and step into a completely different world, leaving the reality of daily life behind.” Is that not what movies do in your theatre?

An entire day of EAS was devoted to advice for operators of Family Entertainment Centers (FEC) and Indoor Playgrounds, which are already proving a good match for cinemas. Other seminar topics included “how to increase in-park spend.” Replace “park” with “theatre” and one can agree with the presenters that improving per-cap is every operator’s goal indeed. “However, in a time of austerity, it can be a tough goal to achieve.” Expert tips included providing more games and installing digital kiosks “to save on lines and raise their profit margins.” Social media and how to incorporate smart-phones (and when not to) are equally shared topics between cinema and attractions managers. And the idea that “environmentally friendly operations can be profitable” should be welcome in any business.

One example of “sustainable savings” to the tune of €480,000 (US$650,000) annually was achieved by switching out no less than 70,000 incandescent bulbs so far (400 different types) to LED lighting at Tivoli Gardens in Copenhagen, Denmark. While cutting down on maintenance costs of €260,000 (US$352,000) at the same time and saving several thousand tons of CO2 emissions, the world’s second-oldest amusement park did not lose any of its signature vintage glow. (For an analysis of the opportunities in cinemas, please refer to TK Architects’ report in the March 2013 FJI).

More than 390 manufacturers, suppliers and consultants signed up for 10,000-square-meter (108,000 sq. ft.) of space in two halls, the largest exhibit floor in the 10-year history of EAS. On the attendance front, the news was equally bouncy with some 8,500 professionals registered from 100 nations. During the opening ceremony, instead of showing $100 million films, the video reel highlighted all the “spectacular new ideas” for attractions that had opened across the continent. However, just like our industry leaders, Paul Noland, president and chief executive officer of IAAPA, assured attendees that “it is a great time to be part of this growing business.”

Products and services on display during the expo came in another hundredfold. Official trade categories range from the obvious like Rides, both Dry (major, carousels, kiddie, roller-coasters) and Wet (slides, tubes, pool/beach resort), to Design, Construction (amusement facilities, fronts, scenery and sets), to Facilities and Grounds (furnishings-outdoor, dining, landscaping). Also covered were Gifts/Novelties/Souvenirs (including many movie licensees), Shows/Production (animated, animatronic, stunt, theatrical, water) and People Moving Equipment (trams, trolleys, cars).

Gold Medal (with Jimmy’s Popcorn from The Netherlands), Dippin’ Dots (entering the European markets), Berk Concession Supply and nWave Productions were names familiar to the cinema business that lined the aisles in Paris. While The Noisy Drinks company may disqualify for its name alone, its range of iced beverages even made the Slush Puppies pant with thirst. Brunswick Bowling, a choice partner for several CECs, was on hand serving up the big leagues. And QubicaAMF presented their “Highway 66” coin-operated mini-bowling set-ups.

Bowling belongs to Participatory Play equipment, a group that also includes climbing walls and caves, laser tag, interactive sports/zip lines, inflatables and mini-golf. Midway and skill as well as all arcade equipment fall under Games & Devices. Laser/special effects, aroma/fog/smoke/ice, simulation and virtual reality, along with film/music production that obviously constitute an integral part of these types of rides, belong to what the attractions industry defines as Hi-Tech Equipment & Services. In fact, “4D Theatres” earned a separate mention in IAAPA’s press release as a trending item at the show. But amusement operators have already begun to up the numbers game.

Italy-based Moviemex3D, for instance, offers a nine-seat Cinema 8D with up to 2.5G force and air blast, water spray, leg tickler, vibration, light storm, fan and bubbles all inclusive. Snow, laser, smoke, rain, aroma and heat are “optional.” From other vendors at the show we have learned that it also matters where the spray or blasts are placed (neck, face, legs, etc.) and that 4D seats can also receive “pokes” and are defined by degrees of freedom and axis of their movement. Germany’s Entertainment Resource has “over 20 effects available,” including the hitherto unmentioned “real fire blasts” and “streamers and confetti.” Hopefully not deployed at the same time.

The Canadian movers and shakers at SimEx Iwerks (over 150 attractions in more than 30 countries, attended by over 25 million people annually) are moving from “3-D Motion Theaters” to “4-D Attractions.” What have remained the same are “25 years of operating expertise,” the company noted, and the “exclusive, blockbuster content” featuring “Wild” and “4D” Rides with Green Lantern, Mumble of Happy Feet, the birds of Rio and the Ice Age gang. Journey to the Center of the Earth and Journey 2, The Polar Express, Yogi Bear and Speed Racer are other movies that inspired immersive rides.

As 4D theatres are becoming part of the theatrical exhibition mix (FJI September 2013, with more from Korea next month), cinema programmers may very well consider adding some of these ride-along shorts to expand their offerings. With Fly Me to the Moon, Sammy’s Adventures, Dolphins and Bugs!, nWave Pictures Distribution has already been at the forefront of multiple release platforms including IMAX and theatrical versions. Company newcomers at EAS included The Good, the Bad, and a Horse (“A Wild 4D Ride Through the Wild West”) and Sherlock Holmes The Great 4Detective.

The Magic Cinema 4D at Germany’s Europa-Park not only offers the latest signature ride film with its mascot Euromausi and its friends but also first-run Hollywood titles in two evening shows. In addition to featuring AirEnhancement systems “for natural room odorization” (popcorn is part of the SolidScent Food Aroma Edition line-up), Magic Box Special Effects has scented showings of the former, together with ride films at the Action Cinema of Filmpark Babelsberg and Chairman Mao’s favorite dish for Madame Tussauds Bangkok.

The full arcade that Sega had on display was another personal favorite idea at EAS, as their development package represents a one-stop solution for exhibitors interested in entering the CEC business. Starting at a scant 500 square meters (5,400 sq. ft.) for a Sega World (twice that size would cost about $4.9 million to build and fit out, the company advises), there’s even space left to turn parts of the lobby into an ice-skating rink. How about it? Ice Magic International said all it takes are regular skates on their custom-designed hard plastic flooring, formulated for low friction and guaranteed for ten years, as long as you clean it regularly. No scraping and freezing necessary ever.

Or how about scaling to new heights, literally, by adding a climbing wall to your large-format auditorium? With a recommended minimum height of six meters (20 feet), Clip N Climb offers a variety of options. While their multi-style modules are completely configurable, the company offers a complete standalone arena with up to 30 challenges (safely spaced) on 25 by 15 m (82 x 50 feet). And why not a rope-climbing course above and beyond the concession stand? Cinergy Cinemas in Midland, Texas, already has one and it’s glowing in the dark for extra effect. Jeffrey and Jamie Benson’s concept of “Eat, Play & be Movied,” which also includes go-karts, laser tag and redemption arcades, will be detailed in an upcoming CEC feature report. To quote another one of Cinergy’s energizing lines, stay tuned for “Way More Than Movies."