What happens in Vegas: CinemaCon celebrates year four at Caesars Palace


CinemaCon, the annual convention of the National Association of Theatre Owners, holds its fourth edition March 24-27 at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas, and managing director Mitch Neuhauser promises another memorable week.

“As always, the studios are going well beyond my wildest dreams when it comes to putting on a great show in the Colosseum,” he enthuses. “I’ve been sworn to secrecy on a certain number of programs they’re putting on and talent they’re bringing in, but it’s going to be a great show from start to finish.”

Disney, Paramount, Sony, 20th Century Fox, Universal and Warner Bros. are all hosting preview presentations of their movie rosters for 2014 and beyond, and at press time two out of three feature screenings had been announced. On Tuesday night, Universal presents Neighbors, the new comedy starring Seth Rogen and Rose Byrne as a couple dealing with the frat house next-door, led by Zac Efron. “The word out of South by Southwest was just incredible,” Neuhauser says. “And Universal and Dolby are hosting a post-screening frat party, a first for us. We’re going to turn the Octavius Ballroom into a frat party, with beer pong and fun stuff. Let your hair down and let loose!”

The following morning, we hope the CinemaCon crowd recovers in time for Disney’s screening of Million Dollar Arm, starring Jon Hamm as a sports agent who tries to groom two young Indian cricket players into Major League Baseball hopefuls. “It’s a perfect film that’s going to entertain, enchant and excite CinemaCon delegates,” Neuhauser declares.

The lunch programs, meanwhile, are taking a “one-on-one” approach this year. “Our filmmakers program has been a huge success from the beginning,” Neuhauser notes. “This year, we have a joint presentation on Thursday from Paramount Pictures and Warner Bros. Pictures International, a one-on-one session with Chris Nolan. Both companies are releasing [Nolan’s new film] Interstellar, and when it comes to our world, the darkened theatre, Chris is one of the true visionary filmmakers. People always leave the theatre talking and thinking about what they just saw. To be able to have this opportunity is huge.”

The Thursday lunch includes another one-on-one session. As Neuhauser explains, “Our industry is all about customer service. When someone gets out of the car, the first thing they do is walk up to the box office, and that’s when their great experience needs to start—with the person behind the glass who’s selling the tickets. One company that’s really renowned for customer service is Zappos.com. People revel in the business that they run. The whole thing has been masterminded and run by their CEO, Tony Hsieh. Tony’s coming in to do a 45-minute presentation on customer service. He does something that is widely respected and admired—he creates a very special company culture for employees. A lot of young people who go to work for theatre circuits are almost like transients—they work, they leave, they work, they leave. And there’s nothing better than cultivating a responsible and dedicated employee. And he’s going to touch on the importance of businesses giving back to the community—he’s been very involved in the revitalization of downtown Las Vegas.”

CinemaCon early birds are in for a special treat on Monday. “Many people arrive early on Monday,” Neuhauser notes, “so rather than just starting with the studio presentation on Monday night, we start with an afternoon program. This year, we’re teaming up with Rotten Tomatoes and they’re bringing in a group of film critics: Leonard Maltin, Scott Mantz, Claudia Puig and Christy Lemire. They’re going to talk about the relevance of film critics and how people react to them. It’s an interactive session, in which the audience will go face-to-face with critics on movies people agree and disagree on. It’s going to be a fun program.”

On a more serious note, “Wednesday night is going to be a very bittersweet moment with the Pioneers paying tribute to Tom Sherak [the late Fox executive and Motion Picture Academy president]. It’s going to be a great celebration and outpouring of love and respect for Tom.”

Hot tech topics at CinemaCon will include laser projection, immersive audio and satellite delivery. Bud Mayo of Digiplex Destinations will conduct a seminar on alternative content (aka event cinema) and 16 alternative content providers will participate in a tabletop exhibit.

Neuhauser reflects, “The biggest complaint we continue to get is that our schedule interferes with everyone having meetings. I guess if we’re going to have one complaint, that’s a good one. It’s going to be one busy week."