I used to play racquetball with a guy that ran a movie theatre in San Diego. I was always jealous of his trips to a festival in Las Vegas called ShoWest. He’d hand me a few of the latest film magazines they passed out (Variety, Film Journal, etc.), and a bag of candy as if it were Halloween. A lot of candy companies would set up booths hoping theatre owners would buy their latest product. Once he showed me a picture he had taken with Sean Connery.
I was like a kid the morning after Halloween sifting through all my goodies as he put his knee brace on in preparation of our games.
ShoWest became CinemaCon a few years ago. I was all set to attend last year, but a few things came up. This year I went for the first time.
It was held in Caesar’s Palace. As I was checking into my room, I realized it was April 15th. I had a big check I was sending to the IRS that I forgot to send. I ran out, grabbed it, and put it in the mail box. Hopefully it gets post-dated properly.
While walking to my room, I noticed every gift shop had shirts of comedian Zach Galifianakis. It took me a minute to remember he had a phrase like “Caesar used to live here,” in The Hangover.
After unpacking, I got my press credentials, a $3.75 Pepsi in the casino, and headed to the Colosseum. This is usually where acts like Celine Dion and Rod Stewart perform. They were going to screen the movie Pain and Gain, with director Michael Bay. I was shuffled over to a red carpet area where we were assured we’d get to talk to him. The only catch was that we had to be there an hour before hand. That wasn’t so bad, considering the folks around me all had such interesting stories. We talked about other red carpet interviews, the latest movies we saw, and had a fun time. I was worried about what I would say to Bay. I hate his movies (Transformers).
It turns out, I didn’t need to worry about it. After outlets like Access Hollywood and Entertainment Tonight spent so much time with him (and he was already really late), no other publications had a chance to speak with him.
At least there were free bags of popcorn and bottled water for the screening.
A few big wigs in suits came out. One was introduced as Brad Pitt, and the audience laughed when he apologized for disappointing us. We were then shown a 15 minute clip of World War Z – a zombie movie starring Pitt. After the clip, the crowd erupted when the real Brad Pitt came out. He seemed uncomfortable and a bit shy. He said he was thrilled to do a zombie movie, because it’s something his kids would enjoy watching.
The cast of Star Trek – Into Darkness came out. They spoke a little before showing a clip. I spoke with them at the red carpet, but figured I’d save that for when I run my review of the movie.
MichaelBay spoke to the audience before his film was screened. He was spending a lot of time talking about the IMAX cameras used in the next Transformers.
When the movie let out, I saw Bay standing alone in the lobby. I wondered if anybody else noticed him there. Finally, a person went up and snapped a photo. I had my pen out and was ready to get a quote about the movie. Since I didn’t really care for it, I wasn’t sure what to ask. My buddy Scott Marks of the Reader has given me a hard time for telling stars or directors I didn’t like their movies. And he’s right. It makes it awkward for everybody involved, and the interview doesn’t go well. Since I had nothing nice to say, I said nothing at all, and proceeded back to my room.
The next morning I went to a breakfast put on by Harkness. It was a small crowd (less than 20 people), but I was thrilled to run into Michelle from Eclipse Magazine. She was one of the interesting people I stood next to at the red carpet. She told me she had a meltdown when complaining about how bad the Michael Bay thing went down. And by waiting there so long, she didn’t get into the Pain and Gain screening.
Harkness talked about the 3D technology and the various kinds of screens and lamp lights they were putting into theatres. It was at this point that I remembered – this convention started out as one for movie theatre owners. But similar to Comic Con, it’s become a place where movie studios push some of their upcoming films. I might get stuck in a lot of these technical conversations I have little interest in.
I went onto the trade show floor, and it was more technical stuff. I must’ve seen 18 different kinds of movie theatre chairs — some with trays in front, others that were leather recliners. There was a guy that ran his family business fixing movie theatre chairs. His grandfather started the company before World War II. Another company had a product that got rid of bad odors. I don’t think I’ve ever smelled anything bad in a movie theatre, just the intoxicating smell of buttered popcorn filling my nostrils.
One company sold various uniforms for theatre employees.
I was excited by the company JNIOR. That’s because they had their business cards (something about “theatre automation”) attached to boxes of Junior Mints. I grabbed one and went to the next exhibit. Little did I know I’d be approaching the booth promoting 4D movies. The guy convinced me to go in and try it. A blurry scene from Hansel & Gretel played, as the chair shook as they chased down a witch. I remembered the Hazard Center Theatre (now aDigiplex) had one, and it wasn’t very popular. At one point, it tossed me in the air a few inches, and I noticed some Junior Mints had flown out of the box. Damn!
The one fun moment was when the witch sticks her wand out to shoot Jeremy Renner. I felt a burst of air hit the back of my neck.
As I walked out of the booth the guy asked what I thought. I told him it was okay, but the screens 3D wasn’t working. He then said “Oh. I don’t think you had your 3D glasses turned on.” Who knew you had to do that?
I thought it was interesting meeting people from various countries. I talked with one theatre owner from Croatia. There were a few from India I had great conversation with. The owners from Japan seemed to swarm around the various speaker and camera demonstrations that were set up. One booth even had a sign with 8 flags from the countries of all the languages the spoke. Now those folks were prepared.
My favorite conversation that day was with a brother and sister that own a few theatres in Florida. They carry art house films, and the stories they told about their older audiences had me in stitches. They’d complain about the sound the film makes as it runs (something you won’t be hearing much of in the future, with everything turning digital). They told me how they handle customers (at least one a day), that want their money back because they hated the film. We ended up talking for almost an hour.
I met a PR guy from Fandango. His business card was shaped like a movie ticket. I saw his name was Harry Medved. I asked, “Any relation to Michael?”
He replied, “Yep. That’s my brother.”
Michael Medved is a movie critic and talk show host that I rarely agree with, but that I find intelligent and his show is often interesting.
Another guy was promoting the movie Walking with the Enemy, starring Ben Kingsley. Liberty Studios is heavily promoting the film. Turns out, they’re in San Diego.
The awards dinners are always great. The food is delicious and you get to see celebrities getting awards. It’s probably as close as I’ll ever get to the Oscar’s.
Melissa McCarthy was awarded Female Star of the Year. She talked a little about how their probably won’t be a Bridesmaids 2, but how she had a fondness for director Paul Fieg.
I didn’t go to the event Joseph Gordon-Levitt was hosting with Sally Field, but he was friendly with all the press he spoke with. He was awarded the Breakthrough Filmmaker Award.
Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson were named Comedy Duo of the Year. I never saw them anywhere but the 15 different movie posters plastered everywhere for their movie The Intern.
Since the movie that put Vaughn on the map was Swingers – and that involved a trip to Las Vegas – I thought surely he’d be here.
Morgan Freeman was awarded the Cinema Icon Award, Armie Hammer the Male Star of Tomorrow, Hailee Steinfeld the Female Star of Tomorrow, Chris Pine the Male Star of the Year, and Harrison Ford the Lifetime Achievement Award.
I was stoked that AubreyPlaza won Breakout Performer of the Year. Her slyly sarcastic characters crack me up. She was the only thing I liked about Damsels in Distress. She was interesting in Funny People, and made Safety Not Guaranteed one of my favorite movies of last year.
I was at a cocktail party before the screening of her latest movie The To Do List. We talked for about 15 minutes, but with the DJ loudly playing songs from the early 1990s (the year the movie takes place), I could only hear some of what she was saying. That’s a shame, too. At one point a reporter from the Wall Street Journal came over. He asked her something, and she started to talk about a tattoo they were trying to cover up and how her bra wasn’t covering it. I couldn’t tell if she was talking about something in real life, or a character she was playing. And when a star is telling a story, you don’t want to lean in with your ear a few inches from her mouth. If only that DJ could’ve turned down Baby Got Back at that moment.
When I told her I was surprised Funny People wasn’t more warmly received, she told me about a movie she did that she thought was going to be as big as Twilight. I couldn’t hear what movie she said it was, but assumed it was Scott Pilgrim vs. the World – a movie that made my Top 10 list the year it came out.
Saturday Night Live’s Bill Hader came in. Now, I don’t usually go overboard praising people, but Hader caught me off guard. I had just gotten my second glass of wine from the bar, turned around, and he was standing there. I said, “I think you’re one of the funniest guys around. Even in bad movies, if you’re on screen, I laugh.” He said “Oh man, thanks. I appreciate that.”
I continued, adding “The boss you played in Adventureland…the cop in Superbad. Everything. You’re face just cracks me up.”
He thanked me again, as I wondered if it was ever good to tell somebody their “face cracks me up.”
I grabbed one of the appetizers, and saw actor/writer/director Clark Gregg (The New Adventures of Old Christine, The Avengers). He was walking around alone, and I was wondering if anybody recognized him. I said “I think any time a movie calls for an FBI agent, they should contact you about playing the part.” He laughed and punched me in the arm.
I headed back to my table, where earlier I was having a great conversation with Andreas Fuchs, a writer for the Film Journal International. We continued right where we left off.
He had some great stories about owning a movie theatre in Germany, and he knew a lot about the industry. One of the stories he recently wrote was about the Cinepolis chain. I was surprised when he asked me what I thought of Cinepolis Luxury Theatres in Del Mar and felt foolish that I had to say I hadn’t seen a movie there yet.
When I told him about how bizarre it was to see the seminar that showed an interactive version of A Nightmare Before Christmas, he talked about how Disney was going to be showing a lot of their classic movies as sing-alongs where you participate using your smart phone. When I started to gripe about texting and talking in theatres and how this will only encourage that, he told me about another story he wrote recently called Movies a la CineMode. It was about a “rewarding the audience” program that a big cinema chain (Cinemark) is doing across 13 countries. You put the app in and when the movie is about to begin, a message darkens your screen and automatically darkens the screen and prompts you to set ringer on vibrate. After the movie, the screen will say something like “free medium drink” or “free small popcorn with candy purchase.”
Fuchs talked about going to a movie with his wife. It was the first time she saw a film that was all digital. Perhaps she was more conscious of this since he owned a theatre, but she turned around and was looking around. He asked what was wrong and she said “I don’t hear that clicking sound.”
There’s something about watching a film showing 24 frames per second, and hearing that clicking sound and seeing the light from above your head. It just seems so nostalgic and interesting to me. Much the way Ben Kingsley’s face lit up when he first watched a movie inHugo…I have memories of glancing up there as a kid.
As I was walking back to my room, I noticed a few things. I was rocking out to the J. Geils Band song Freeze Frame. It seemed the perfect up-tempo number for a casino. Then I heard a ballad by Journey, one from Boston, and Three Times a Lady by Lionel Richie. They went back up-tempo with John Cougar Mellencamp’s R.O.C.K. in the USA, but I was wondering – do casinos think music stopped being made in 1987?
As I sat playing blackjack, I noticed a blackjack table nobody was sitting at. I finally realized, it was a blackjack machine, but one that had spaces for 6 people. I was baffled. Why would anybody go to a machine to play blackjack, without a dealer, but sitting next to people playing the same machine? It even had a screen with an attractive women shuffling cards. Bizarre, but then…I just talked to movie theatre owners that no longer have projectionists upstairs changing reels of film. Not having a real dealer give me cards didn’t seem so odd.
I finally made it upstairs to sleep before the next morning of activities. I noticed the maid had cleaned my room, and did something that other hotel maids do that drives me bonkers. She took my dental floss, tooth paste, and tooth brush, and put them all inside a cup. Now, I have them set out the way I wanted them. And, I don’t want hands that were cleaning floors and toilets touching my toothbrush!
Of course, I couldn’t go to sleep. Not because of the tooth brush incident, but the horrible bombing at the Boston Marathon that I was seeing for the first time
One of the things covered at CinemaCon was the Motion Picture Association of Americaannouncing changes to the rating system. They were calling it “Check the Box” and it’s going to explain why the movie was rated the way it was. The weird thing is that the MPAA started giving descriptions for movies PG or higher in 1990. The descriptions are just going to be more prominent.
What’s so strange about all this is that some really violent movies still get a PG-13 rating, and should get an R. It’s also bizarre that movie theatres still let parents bring kids into R rated movies. I’ve seen 4 and 5-year-old kids at movies that were R, and not appropriate for children of any age. The MPAA also has problems with what the meaning of certain ratings should be, and there are theatres that won’t carry NR or NC-17 movies. And sometimes, a documentary like Bully – which would be perfect for kids to see, was initially slapped with an R rating because of the f-word. If a movie uses that word more then once, it gets an R; hence theOscar-nominated King’s Speech getting an R, merely for the language in one specific scene.
I went to a trade show the second day that was a lot more fun. Instead of all the cameras, seats, and technical stuff…it was candy, popcorn, and games. It was perfect, since I didn’t wake up early enough for breakfast.
I walked in, and Nathan’s Hot Dogs were being handed out. I finished that, and I saw a booth with popcorn. It was called Preferred Popcorn, and I preferred the decent sized bags they were handing out. This wasn’t like standing in line at Costco for a quarter-inch piece of cheese on half a cracker.
I walked by the Dippin Dots booth and hadn’t planned on stopping. The last time I tried those was 25 years ago when I first saw them pop up in the UTC mall. They had no flavor, but we were thrilled to be eating ice cream that the guy was claiming astronauts ate. This gal told me I had to try the Cookies and Cream, their most popular flavor. I have to admit, it rocked. Not only did it taste better than regular ice cream of that flavor, the sensation felt interesting in my mouth. I asked her how it was made. She told a fascinating story that involved words like “cryogenic encapsulation” and an explanation about how the super-cold freezing temperature during the transportation is so they don’t all stick together.
I noticed there was a freezer nearby where you could reach in and grab ice cream. It had a variety and I went with the Snicker cone. After finishing that, I figured I was all ice creamed out. That was until 15 minutes later when I walked by the F’real booth. They had chocolate shakes out. They were pushing their shake machines that make smoothies and frozen cappuccinos as well. The chocolate shake was good, but I was told the cake batter flavor was better. Oh, she was right. It was easily the best flavor of shake I ever had.
I walked by another hot dog stand, but wasn’t feeling it. Yet when I passed the White Castledisplay, I couldn’t resist. As I was chowing down, I asked the guy if people would feel weird spending so much for a tiny burger at the movies, when they can buy these packaged in Vons so much cheaper. He said, “Well, you can buy lots of candy cheaper in the stores than you can at the theatre. Think about how much more the popcorn and sodas are.”
He told me they don’t sell as well in the locations that are near White Castle restaurants, though. I asked him how many theatres they currently have and he said around 400. He added, “People ask movie theatres if they have hamburgers. They don’t want to go through the trouble of installing a grill and dealing with that mess, so it’s easier to just carry our burgers and pop them in the microwave.”
I passed Odell’s Popcorn, and grabbed a bag. I’m a sucker for movie theatre popcorn. Perhaps that’s because I’m used to paying $7 for a bag. As I devoured this, I was wondering how food critics are able to go to restaurants and try an appetizer, main course, and dessert. Oh well. It’s a tough job, but I had to soldier on. The movie fans need to know what products are out there.
Since my belly was stuffed, I figured it was time to try one of the many seats on display. I crashed at the Integrity Seating Company. They had these huge, white leather numbers that were really comfortable. I contemplated unbuttoning my pants like I do after a big Thanksgiving meal. I noticed a sign that said they were easy to clean. It got me thinking about a story I read years ago that the place you’re most likely to get lice is from a movie theatre seat. I’ve seen thousands of movies and have never had it, so who knows.
I glanced around and noticed the volunteers on break were in line for free Dippin Dots. I also noticed there was a display with a variety of different toilets and urinals. It looked out of place. Perhaps when I was done trying out the movie theatre chair, I could go sit on one of their displays. I’m guessing movie theatre owners interested in the product would.
I got up, figuring if I walked around for another 45 minutes, I might burn off half the White Castle burger.
The Redhot display had a variety of arcade games, mostly the ones with various hooks that grab prizes. It was fun watching all the lights. I saw one video game based on the movie Cars. I thought it was a great idea to have a game based on a film.
I heard one game playing a funky version of Stevie Wonder’s Higher Ground. I asked the vendor how much it cost to get permission for the song rights. He got a bit defensive, saying that wasn’t the song that was being played. I replied, “Sure it is. It’s the exact same song, just a different version with no vocals.” He said “No, it’s not. I know what song you mean, though.”
At this point, I wanted to tell him I wasn’t from ASCAP, and that I didn’t really care. He quickly added, “I worked for one company, and we used a song from Pennnywise in one of our games. We paid for the rights to do that, though.”
He started to go on about the games, and I pointed to my badge and explained “I’m just a movie critic from San Diego.” I didn’t want him to waste a good sales pitch that he uses on movie theatre owners. I had already had a few vendors ask “How many theatres do you own, sir?”
I walked by a nacho stand. Even if I wasn’t stuffed, something about trying to eat those as you walked around just seemed messy.
There were three different pizza booths.
I hit the Pepsi display and grabbed a drink. I had noticed a Coke stand across the way, and I wondered – do these companies even need to do this? Aren’t all the theatres well aware of their products and already carry one or the other? But I digest.
One booth had a sign that read Hello Kitty Candies. They had bowls of it set out with a spoon for you to scoop a few pieces. They had “Muddy Bears,” which were Gummi Bears covered in chocolate. I took a few of the cookie dough candies, and overheard the two guys running the booth. One of them was complaining about a guy that had just been there and took huge spoonfuls, and put them right into his mouth, before placing the spoon back into the candy. I was just hoping it was the Muddy Bears and not the cookie dough.
One company called RCM Media had something called “ground graphics.” They might have an advertisement of some kind, perhaps a future movie. It’s mad into something that’s placed on the floor. The marketer told me “In this day and age when people are walking around texting…their faces are already looking down.”
I found out they were a bit more expensive than banners, and one or two that I saw on the carpet at the convention I felt were a little slippery. Seemed like that could be a lawsuit waiting to happen.
I noticed a huge mess on the floor of one section. As I got closer, I saw it was for Oreckvacuums. I immediately thought of a scene from Taxi where Christopher Lloyd goes door-to-door as a salesman.
The person at this stand had a head set and as he started talking and doing the demonstration, it reminded me of the products you see for sale in the Bing Crosby Hall at the Del Mar Fair.
The food provided at these various events was great. And before heading back to San Diego, I went back into the ballrooms at Caesar’s Palace for some popcorn for the road. There were a few companies giving out caramel corn, but I went for the original movie theatre smack (err, snack). As I grabbed a bag, I ran into somebody I had met earlier. We were catching up on who we had interviewed, panels we attended, and things that ticked us off. I finished the popcorn during that discussion and went back for more.
As I got to my car, I thought about my late uncle Horace. As a kid, I remember asking him how he finally quit smoking. He said he went to a company that made you smoke three packs of cigarettes in an hour. They had a fan that was blowing the smoke right back in your face. He said he couldn’t stop coughing and it made him sick. He left there never wanting a cigarette again. As I drove south on the I-15, I thought that perhaps I was over my love affair with popcorn. I didn’t want to put another kernel in my mouth again.
There’s a screening of the movie Mud on Wednesday night. I’m guessing by then I’ll feel different.