Show, Tell & Give: Mid-Atlantic NATO's Doug Murdoch shares the tenets of regional conference


Less than two months after the nation’s largest gathering of movie theatre owners concluded its 2014 event in Las Vegas, the Mid-Atlantic branch of the National Association of Theatre Owners will host its own industry conference. Some who were present for the glitz and celebrity sightings (Angelina Jolie! Jon Hamm!) of CinemaCon will also attend the smaller NATO happening in northern Virginia May 13-14. Additionally, and perhaps more importantly, those who are unable to visit national assemblages will be given their chance to participate in the broader industry discussion.

“Just from an affordability standpoint, we feel like we offer a better avenue toward feeling like you’re part of the bigger picture,” says Mid-Atlantic NATO executive director Doug Murdoch of his organization’s regional seminar, Cinema Show & Tell. Now in its fifth year, Cinema Show & Tell welcomes area theatre managers as well as vendors and studio partners for a two-day spate of events that includes presentations, discussions, and a film viewing. Last year, over 450 attendees met in Springfield, VA.

“The regional shows offer access to local managers,” Murdoch says. “With the regional shows, we get a lot of local managers that would otherwise not have access to see the studio people. We get a lot of independent owners that otherwise might not have the ability to talk directly with the vendors.”

Events like Cinema Show & Tell complement the national conventions, explains Murdoch. “I think they work in tandem with each other,” although a smaller venue provides greater intimacy. “You can meet people one-on-one. It’s not so overwhelming. When you have three or four thousand folks attending a convention in a large venue, you don’t have the chance to really shake hands with your studio reps.”

As of publication, the final agenda for this year’s Cinema Show & Tell had not been finalized. (“A lot of it happens at CinemaCon,” when Murdoch takes advantage of the networking opportunity to cement plans.) NATO president John Fithian has been confirmed and will present the NATO Issues Briefing/State of the Industry Address the morning of May 13. There are also a handful of topics that recur each year.

“There’s usually an element of customer service, and concessions,” lists Murdoch. “We usually have the Motion Picture Association of America present something,” and theatre accessibility is always a major point of discussion.

“I survey the managers at the end of the event, to say, ‘What would you like to see next year?’” More often than not, they express an eagerness to learn more about subjects Cinema Show & Tell has covered before. Many of the same issues remain relevant to industry personnel year after year.

One element of the 2014 conference that will differ from events past is the focus placed on digital projection. “Last year, we had a thing on the latest apps for digital screens. We had digital screen conversion discussions. And now, it’s more ‘Now that you’ve converted, what are you going to do to keep up with it?’”

Cinema Show & Tell’s positive difference—that which sets it apart from other conventions, as well as the type of change it seeks to foster—is something Murdoch is quick to highlight. “Each of the regionals seems to have their big event. Most of them honor somebody from the industry, but the thing Mid-Atlantic NATO did and has been doing is we have a scholarship program, where we offer scholarships to employees of the Mid-Atlantic NATO theatres.”

Begun in 1985 by Murdoch’s predecessor, Jerry Gordon, Mid-Atlantic NATO’s Scholarship Program has awarded over $500,000, a benchmark the organization officially crosses this year. The 2014 class of recipients, who are judged on need, job performance, school record, and a letter they have written to the scholarship committee, will receive close to $40,000 in total grant money. “It’s an exciting time. I tell them they’ve got a scholarship, but they won’t find out the amount until the evening [of the banquet, Tuesday, May 13], when we announce it.”

Support for the initiative, like the event itself, has grown over the years. Cinema Show & Tell evolved out of Mid-Atlantic NATO’s annual manager seminars, during which studio reps screened their product reels for local managers. “We thought we would enhance that by bringing in some vendors,” says Murdoch. Now, many of these vendors are not only regular conference attendees but active contributors to Mid-Atlantic NATO’s Scholarship Program. Harkness Screens, MasterImage 3D, Fandango and others have all lent their support to what is “just a really nice program.”

“It’s just a nice way to give back to the people who are actually ripping your tickets and selling your popcorn,” says Murdoch, and he is grateful for all involved. “We can’t say thank you enough to all the studio partners and vendor reps that support us from year to year. We couldn’t do it without them."