Beer and Floating in Las Vegas — CinemaCon 2017

The Focus Features center piece displayed various movie posters.

The best way to describe the excitement of CinemaCon is like this. It’s the way comic book geeks feel about ComicCon. That’s how movie theatre owners and insiders feel about CinemaCon. There are trade shows, big Hollywood stars, and it’s in Las Vegas. It’s one occasion where “What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas” is something folks don’t say. The studios want the theatre owners talking about their new films. The trade show that has displays of new products for movie theatres — they want purchased by small theatres as well as the big chains. They want everyone talking about it.

So the wife and I drove east to Vegas to check things out at the week long event.

After she spent more time than necessary checking out the statue of David, I dragged her away to the trade show floors in the ballroom of Caesar’s Palace.

She was surprised to see a bowling pin (no, we’re not still talking about David). Brunswick Bowling was there, and they were trying to convince theatre owners that folks might like to bowl before and after a movie. I’ve only seen one movie theatre that combined them both (it was also in Las Vegas), but what they promoted showed that you don’t need a regulation lane. They had regular balls and pins, but could offer reduced-length lanes for spacing.

There were lots of different styles of seats on display. For anybody that’s been to those comfortable reclining seats at Angelika Film Center or AMC La Jolla…you know how much more comfortable it makes the movie-going experience (although I have been known to doze off if too comfortable).

There were displays of companies that made uniforms, name tags, and even janitorial supplies. The wife said, “I’m sure those will be the least interesting things we look at today, but important nonetheless.”

There were a few popcorn companies. Some made popcorn, others made machines. C. Creators and Company had the Poppi XL, which is a compact air popping machine that uses no oil. Food costs are reduced, it’s healthier, and less mess to clean up. Best of all — free samples! You think the folks at Costco clog the aisles for a free sample of cheese, you ain’t seen nothing until you see me grabbing a free bag of popcorn. The wife was more impressed with the pens that Odell’s Popcorn were giving out. They were shaped and colored like ears of corn.

Icee was there, and when handing out their slushy treats, I asked for cherry. The salesman said, “You’re like my wife! That’s so boring. We have all these new flavors.”

That sold my wife. She tried one of the other flavors, but didn’t like the birthday cake flavor it had. She then opted for a coffee flavor, which at first she liked. Then she was a bit bothered by the carbonation in it, telling me it was like an ice coffee with soda poured into it. I was surprised to find out they only had 8 calories per ounce.

Dippin’ Dots ice cream was there. It’s the one thing we all walk by in malls, but after CinemaCon, I wonder why. Their berry flavor was incredibly more flavorful than I remembered Dippin’ Dots being. My wife tried the “Purple Rain” and said it tasted like a bunch of lollipops. I was going to ask if they had to pay the Prince estate for that name, but I was quickly handed a cup of chocolate with chocolate chunks in it. I immediately forgot my question as my taste buds were in heaven.

Red Vines were passing out bags. I grabbed one, telling the person there that they blow away Twizzlers. And I wasn’t just saying that because they were there. I just wish they’d design a package that is easier to open. I’m tired of the person behind me at a movie spending 5 minutes on the thing, when it’s a few inches from my ear.

There were some sit down video games we got to try out. I went with the old school — Space Invaders. My wife went with her favorite show — The Walking Dead. She was shooting zombies in the head left and right. She just kept forgetting to reload her gun (women and video games, I swear).

Nathan’s Hot Dogs had the biggest line. I didn’t bother waiting for a free weiner. I went over to White Castle to get a few cheeseburgers.

A few displays for various menu boards looked interesting.

There was also a display of carpets. Many of them looked ugly, but I loved the one that had a scene from Casablanca.

I was intrigued by the Enomatic wine serving system, but less intrigued when I saw they weren’t passing out samples of wine. Just as well. I would’ve probably spilled some red on the cool Casablanca rug.

There was a candy called Cookie Dough Bites. They had various styles of cookie dough, all delicious.

I tried an M&M ice cream sandwich. It was okay, but didn’t hold a candle to the ice cream Snicker’s bars. I think I ate a total of eight during the week.

One display was incredible. They had popcorn buckets, with various movie scenes or characters. There was one for Cars, Guardians of the Galaxy, and a few other movies. The theatre owners loved them. Who wouldn’t want to buy a large tub of popcorn, and at least feel like they weren’t wasting so much money on popcorn. At least they’d get a collectable for their kids.

One theatre owner saw my name badge and said, “You’re from San Diego! I love it there.”

We talked for a few minutes, and when I walked away, she said “Stay classy, San Diego.”

I always find the luncheons to be interesting. Nothing will ever beat the year I was at one listening to three of the biggest directors in Hollywood talk about their craft. And sometimes all the industry stuff goes over my head, but it’s interesting to hear about the technological advances.

Real D and Dolby had some amazing food, and as we were enjoying it, we listened to a speaker talk about sound quality. My wife reminded me of the Hillcrest Landmark, and how the sound was so loud from one theatre, it was bleeding into the quiet movie we were trying to enjoy in another.

The opening night party was incredible. They were promoting the Spider-Man movie, and they had a stuntman in a Spider-Man outfit swinging high from a pole. The crowd watched in amazement. I wondered if he was ever going to take a fall. A little later in the evening, as the DJ got louder, bikini clad women in webs were lowered from the ceiling like something out of Cirque du Soleil.

The food looked incredible, but I was stuffed after a number of appetizers that were brought out on trays. I must’ve eaten about six tri-tip steak on crackers.

They also had an old-fashioned candy station, which had a bigger crowd than the turkey carving station.

I was lounging on a couch watching Spider-Man fly through the air, and struck up a conversation with a guy on the couch next to me. He spent well over a thousand dollars to come to the event, hoping to sell his new product to theatres. I asked what it was, and he said he couldn’t tell me. I’m not sure why he couldn’t, but he said that it will enable 8% of the population to hear movies that currently can’t. As I inquired about what it was, he kept insisting he couldn’t tell me. So, we ended up spending the next 45 minutes talking about our fantasy football teams.

The next day Focus Features had a great luncheon. They were celebrating 15 years in the business, and had these incredible centerpieces at the table that looked like movie theatres with various movie posters on it. It was fun looking at the posters of the movies I’ve loved — Shaun of the Dead, Burn After Reading, The Kids Are All Right, and Moonrise Kingdom.

The person from Focus that was talking about their successful year — Kong, Split, and Get Out — said, “How can you not like a movie that shows TSA agents in a good light?”

The next day at a luncheon, various stars came out to talk about their movies. Director Sofia Coppola, as well as stars Kirsten Dunst, Colin Farrell took the stage  to talk about Beguiled. Farrell was in good spirits, even singing “Luck be a lady tonight.”

When the host asked Farrell what happened in the dungeon the women put him in, he smiled and said, “Just like in Vegas…What happens in the dungeon, stays in the dungeon.”

The director of The Book of Henry, Colin Trevvorow, talked about how he did Jurassic World. He said, “The Book of Henry will end up making what Jurassic World made…on the third Tuesday of its release.”

The crowd laughed.

The laughter turned to tears as we saw the trailer for the film. I’m really looking forward to it.

Charlize Theron came onstage to talk about Atomic Blonde. My wife and I decided to leave. We had a friend in town from New Jersey that we wanted to hang out with, so no matter how gorgeous Theron looked, we walked. As we left the hall, my wife nudged me. She said, “There’s Gary Oldman!”

He had been inside earlier talking about his work playing Winston Churchill in Darkest Hour. I got nervous as he smiled at us, and we were walking down the hall together. I thought about telling him he was great in Sid and Nancy. That I liked him as much as I liked Heath Ledger in The Dark Knight. I was afraid I’d blurt out, “Why was Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy so damn boring?!”

Instead I meekly said, “Can I have your autograph?”

He gave me his signature, and I told him I enjoy his work. He thanked me, and as someone was taking his picture near the poster of his movie, we left the casino.

It seemed every company was giving out tote bags. One did come in handy when I was grabbing candy from various vendors. I leaned into my wife and said, “It’s like trick or treating for adults.”

At one lunch, Charlie Hunnam (Sons of Anarchy) came out to talk about his movie The Lost City of Z. He told an amazing story about some of the location shots, and how he was insisting they film during a torrential downpour. The crew was saying it wasn’t safe, as they started packing up their gear. The river was overflowing, and as he stood there, saying this is exactly the type of time they should do the shoot…lightning struck and hit the ground 10 feet from him, knocking him down. He stood up and said, “Okay, we can go now!”

Another story he told was about a beetle burrowing in his ear. He woke up hearing the scratching sound. He said, “I knew exactly what it was, because it happened to a girlfriend I had once.”

The direction that story took was equally compelling.

When the host was starting to talk about who the next guest was to come out, there was a huge explosion. Loud trumpets blared, a fog machine was in full effect, and an announcer yelled, “John Cena!”

It was like a wrestling intro, which was perfect for the wrestler. He seemed very thankful for the opportunity, and talked about how his war picture The Wall was filmed on a low budget. Again, when I was leaving, I happened to run into him in the hallway. He was taking a few selfies with fans and couldn’t have been nicer. I didn’t want to bother him, but when I saw comedian Kumail Nanjiani, I had to bug him. His scene as the massage therapist in Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates was one of the few funny things in the movie. He rubbed his bare butt on a woman, and I never heard harder laughter in the theatre. His new movie was written with his wife, and it’s about their real-life courtship. She being a Caucasian that went into a coma after they first started dating, and him trying to make it as a stand-up comedian. Judd Apatow produced and it looked great.

Kumail laughed as he said, “Since it’s an Apatow movie, we did say ‘f**k’ a few times. He does have a quota to fill.”

When his wife talked about the picture, he interrupted to say, “It’s a happy movie. See, she lived! She’s a walking, talking spoiler alert. This isn’t a rom-com. It’s a rom-coma-dy.”

Someone asked him for a picture, and as they stood there, they had nobody to take the photo. I was going to offer to do it, before Kumail said, “Just do a selfie.”

Since he and his wife were so funny on stage talking to the crowd, I said, “I like Zoe Kazan. She was great in Ruby Sparks, but…why does she have to play your wife in the movie? Why couldn’t your real wife?”

He smiled and said, “Because she’s not an actress. She’s a writer.”

There was a screening for the latest Pirates of the Caribbean movie. We didn’t attend that, but went to the IMAX afterparty. They did a terrific job with the pirate theme. There was lots of seafood. My wife had some of that, while I was downing the Blackbeard’s Rum Punch. The first few glasses were painful. I had burned my tongue on tea in the morning and the pineapple juice in the punch was killing me. Yet not enough to slow down my drinking.

There was a screening of The Hitman’s Bodyguard, and one of the stars, Salma Hayek came out to talk about it. She was in great spirits and surprisingly funny.

At a lot of the events, the stars talked about the importance of movie theatres. That was in contrast to what Sue Kroll, marketing and distribution president of Warner Brothers had to say. She told theatre owners they needed to adapt to fast changing consumer demands and the way business is done. This implying that watching movies at home was the wave of the future. When director Christopher Nolan followed, to promote his war picture Dunkirk (already an Oscar contender), he talked about the importance of the theatrical experience. The crowd seemed a lot more receptive to that.

The closing night awards ceremony was a blast. One weird thing happened, though. When we walked in and showed our media credentials, the usher brought us down to the second row. That seemed odd, but we were thrilled to be sitting so close. As we snacked on the Raisinets that were given out at the door, who sits in front of us? John Cena, who was receiving an award. It was crazy to see how many people sitting nearby approached him. A few thanked him for his charitable work, but most wanted selfies. A few wanted autographs. Many times he’d stand up to take photos, other times, the folks would lean in for the selfie. My wife finally leaned into him and said, “You know John, I’ve been in the background of more pictures people are taking of you…then I had taken of me at my wedding.”

He threw his head back and laughed, and they chatted for a minute. There might not be a nicer person on the planet. There also might not be a person with a bigger head. I was just staring at the back of his head. I’m convinced he could kill somebody with a head-butt.

And right before the show started, the ushers came over and told us we were put in the wrong seats. Now I know how people feel at the press screenings when they’re told to leave the seats that are roped off for the critics and media.

Kumail then came down and sat in the seats we had, with Salma Hayek nearby.

The award show started with Goldie Hawn getting the “icon award.” Amy Schumer came out to present it to her. She told the movie theatre owners how important it is to go on dates to movies. She then talked about an experience she had with a guy in a theatre (too X-rated to print here). She was hysterical, and Hawn was as adorable as ever.

Jessica Chastain came out and talked about how much she loved movies, mentioning the fact that she had a single mother and they couldn’t always afford to go. She shared fond memories of seeing Goonies in 1985. The Oscar nominee and “female star of the year” has come a long way from those days.

Charlie Hunnam had a similar tale. His family didn’t have a lot of money, and the fun thing they did was a trip to the movies each week. He grew up in Newcastle, and remembers the last movie he saw before the theatre shut down — Dances With Wolves. He said it’s his dream to buy that theatre and open it back up so others in that town can enjoy it as he had.

Isabela Moner, who started on Nickelodeon shows, got a “newcomer of the year” award. She was very thankful. The funniest person she thanked was Paramount. She thanked them for seating her on a plane next to Zac Efron. The 15-year-old singer/actress said, “I thought about lying about my age.”

Naomi Watts got up and talked about her time as an usher at a movie theatre, and also working for a company that edited film.

Salma Hayek talked about a movie theatre in the poor town she grew up in. She said it didn’t have air conditioning and got to over 110 degrees in the summer. People passed out. She passed out the first time she saw a film there. Occasionally, rats would run across the floor, and everyone would just lift their legs, as they kept their eyes on the screen.

She then went into her love of the food at concession stands. She said, “Even the nachos, which…really aren’t that Mexican at all.”

Ansel Elgort, who the teenagers fell in love with after The Fault in Our Stars, talked about all the dates he’s had at movie theatres. He told the location of the AMC theatre he had his first kiss in. He then added, “But Loews, Regal, UltraStar…I’ve made out in all your theatres, too.”

The only disappointment was that Jordan Peele couldn’t be there. As a huge fan of his show Key & Peele — and his first movie Keanu — I was really looking forward to hearing his schtick live. He received the “director of the year” award. His horror film Get Out was made for $5 million and has already grossed over $150 mil. He’s the first African-American to write and direct a movie that grossed over $100 million. Yet because of the high winds and dust storms, they cancelled his flight into sin city. He thanked us via video.

There was another after party sponsored by Coca Cola, and it was filled with delicious ahi tuna, prime rib, pastas, fresh fruits, and lots of desserts. There were lots of open bars, with very small lines.

And as I was lamenting the fact that I didn’t get to meet Jordan Peele, I notice these photo booths set up around the ballroom. There were various scenes from movies, and you could go inside, and they’d take your photo and superimpose it next to the stars of the film. I saw a photo of Key and Peele from Keanu, holding guns. I grabbed my wife, who was still working on her food, and marched her over to one. We waited behind a few other couples. As we combed our hair (or in my case, what’s left of my hair), I said, “I’m finally going to get my picture next to Jordan Peele.”

Yet when we searched the various options, it wasn’t there. I asked the guy working the booth what was wrong. He said, “Oh, oh….no. That was from last year’s promotion. That option is no longer available.”

We instead got our picture taken in the car with the cast of Baby Driver. And I sounded like a baby, moping all the way back to the hotel about how I couldn’t even get a fake picture with Peele.