The Gospel according to Ted: CinemaBarco embarks on mission of enhancing the experience


“CinemaBarco is a living, breathing entity, very much,” says Ted Schilowitz, who in March became the official “CinemaVangelist” for Barco. “It is a defining moniker to provide people with a place to learn about all that we have been up to and an opportunity to discuss all the things that we are working on. Barco is thinking about the future and wrapping a lot of their technology into what really matters most: namely, engaging the audiences in new and exciting ways. That’s what CinemaBarco is all about.”

Those who attended the CinemaBarco presentations during CinemaCon 2014 at the Cinemark Century 16 South Point and XD already know that it is about broadening the experience, quite literally, from arrival in the lobby to pre-feature engagement in the auditorium and onto the big and bigger show. And for those who did not, in addition to finding out here, we also recommend this video and, of course, FJI’s recap reporting in the May 2014 issue.

Barco’s VP of global entertainment, Todd Hoddick, introduced the “veteran cinema strategist and movie technology futurist” during CinemaCon and said Schilowitz would “spearhead bold, innovative moves” into the future. “Ted brings a refreshing, childlike enthusiasm, combined with his unique brand of disruption, toward our efforts in creating new, exhilarating and communal entertainment experiences. Best of all, he reminds us just how much we can achieve when we kick our mutual talents into high gear, and have fun doing it!”

As the onetime “Leader of the Rebellion” at Red Camera and current consultant to Twentieth Century Fox as their “futurist,” Schilowitz is no doubt having fun. “Every time I go to the movies,” he enthuses, “I feel like a kid, even though I am not one anymore, clearly. I just love the idea of escapism and being entertained. I love that technology has been able to take us places that traditional analog stuff simply could not do at all, or not quite as robustly as digital does now. Technology is putting an accelerator on this.”

At the same time, “technology for its own sake is actually not all that interesting and compelling,” he opines. “But when it accomplishes the goal of achieving a creative objective—to help artists tell stories, to help creators experience things in a different way—then technology becomes extremely interesting. And we are not the only ones that do this,” he notes, giving a shout-out to other companies. “I would mention Apple because they are so good at understanding how technology is important to enhance and elaborate upon storytelling and creativity. In fact, getting technology out of the way is the true goal here, to make it invisible as part of the user experience so that it all seems natural.”

It came equally naturally to Schilowitz to think about using the entire cinema space to augment the moviegoing experience. As evidenced at South Point Las Vegas, that encompasses digital signage and audience entertainment “from the minute you go into the lobby and see some cool stuff, and extends to the preshow experience where you get to play games and watch things in new, interactive ways.”

Moving beyond 2K/3D/4K, variable frame rate, immersive sound and laser-illuminated projection for the feature presentation, CinemaBarco introduced a veritable next-generation “Escape” with additional screens located on each side of the auditorium that augment the main and center image. “We’re not done there,” he assures. “This is just the beginning of experimenting with where we believe we are headed with this. We like to see where it goes from here. CinemaBarco was not set up with an end goal in mind.”

Since Barco covers—beyond cinema and entertainment—many other business segments that require visualization technology, does Schilowitz foresee other company divisions contributing to the development of CinemaBarco as well? “It was really designed to be a representation of the products that all fit within a certain strategy,” he responds. “If something relates to the entertainment experiences for customers that surround digital cinema right now—and the motion picture experience at large—we like the idea of defining that as CinemaBarco. And as that strategy grows,” he anticipates, “we start to look at other pieces of our company. Where the various technologies blend together, we will ask whether that is a part of the CinemaBarco universe.”

Confirming again that technology does need stories and emotions, Schilowitz continues, “We create the tool sets that enhance the storytellers’ ability to convey something that will make people want to go out and have some fun.” All the while, “the creators can dictate what they want to do with the technology. Sure, we are going to have our own opinions as to where it goes and what we think, but it is really not in our purview to say, ‘This is the way it should go.’ We just want to present the tool set in the best way possible. If they love the new tool, artists then take it over and show us what they can do with it.”

Exhibitors have done quite a few things already with other sets of tools, such as in-theatre dining and moving seats. “I actually love the idea of anything that can enhance the theatrical experience,” Schilowitz declares. While he says it is not his position “to have an opinion about moving seats in the cinema,” he believes that “the idea of blending the theme-park experience and the cinema experience is really important to the future of the moviegoing business. If you look at any of the big tentpole movies these days, you can define sections very, very clearly that are essentially rides within a motion picture. My only issue is that all of this is only happening on the one rectangle in front of you. What if we can enhance that experience by pulling the visuals all around you like ‘Escape’ does?” He also provides the answer. “I think it’s great for movies, great for the industry. I don’t think it fits every scenario, but it’s a great step to separate the home experience from the go-out-and-see-a-movie experience.”

Given “the human experience” these days, he continues, the reason behind these initiatives is to help the cinema stay competitive. “There are so many choices for entertainment that are moving away from cinema as an art form…and so many ways that pull people into their homes, into a cave-like place where they really do not interact with other people.” Schilowitz and Barco—and some other good companies too, he readily admits—believe that theatres need “to continue to enhance their world, to make the experience more compelling and turn it into something amazing that you cannot get at home.”

Is Schilowitz forecasting here or preaching? Possibly praying? “Thinking and evangelizing are one and the same in many ways,” he maintains. “I could not really define them as any separation. If you believe in something, then you are going to evangelize. If it is part of your nature—and for people like me it is—you get excited about something and you want to share your belief with the world. You don’t want to be overbearing about it, however. You don’t want to present the case that your way is the only way of thinking, but…that you are looking at and thinking about something that may happen. When we were giving our ‘Escape’ demo in Las Vegas, I said, ‘We are going to look at a lot of different ways to visualize a new experience.’ It is Barco’s position not to have one point-of-view, but to have many on a certain new style of looking at a movie.”

Calling Barco “probably one of the most serious technology companies that you’ll ever want to meet,” Schilowitz also praises the environment there. “If you go to their factory, these guys are engineers and scientists building the best imaging tools in the world. But there is also an overriding childlike attitude about everything that they do and the fun that they are having creating these tools. Even though this is very serious work, there is something very passionate and youthful about what they do as a company. And it shows through…”

In his experience, “Barco has this very pure and highly respected sensibility to who their company is, why they do what they do and why they care about the things they care about. It is less about hardcore business and more about making sure that all of their partners really succeed in the best way possible. At the end of whatever business transaction happens…Barco can be really proud of the way in which they did business and about the products they delivered. That matters a lot and was an integral part of why I was so excited about joining Barco. It felt really good to me. These are the good people and they make really good products. And it matters. It matters to the exhibitors and to the moviegoers."