Film Journal International
April 1, 2010
Pg. 60(3) Vol. 113 No. 4
PICK YOUR PALACE
By Andreas Fuchs
Looking at our sixth annual overview of new cinema construction over the past few months, nor to mention the ongoing good numbers for our industry, some of you may have taken inspiration to go ahead with those long-held plans for that wonderful new theatre. After all, there are financial incentives on the horizon to help counter these economically troubled times.
"But I’m only in a small market," your business voice warns. "Does it really make sense to build there? The big guys have all the power. And what about digital cinema? Can I really afford this? Who can help?"
At ShoWest 2010, you have certainly come to the right place to investigate. And here in Film Journal lnternational, we are always happy to provide some guidance too.
We recently spoke with the team of experts behind Cinema Redux–cinema operators, architects and builders–about the promising and progressive business model that they created to "provide you with a turnkey solution to constructing your movie theatre." Exhibitors and developers can select, step-by-step, the elements and features of the six or eight-screen Redux model that best fits their aesthetic preferences, demographic needs and budget considerations.
"Think of it as kind of a ‘model home’ concept, but it’s for movie theatres," suggests MaryAnn Anderson of the consulting firm that bears her and husband J. Wayne’s well-respected name (www.andersonconsulting.net). With a combined 70-plus years of industry experience–at the National Association of Theatre Owners and R/C Theatres–they assist Cinema Redux with market research, feasibility, operations and training.
"The big circuits are able to grow by their economies of scale," Anderson observes. "With Cinema Redux, we are giving economics of scale to the independent operator. Very cool stuff."
Absolutely, concurs Michael A. Cummings, principal of TK Architects, who bring their services and design leadership at over 2,000 screens nationwide to the drawing table (www.tkarch.com). "Our objective is to help smaller exhibitors and entrepreneurs throughout the country bring the movie experience back to small-town America. We believe that there are still many underserved markets that have the critical mass to create a sustainable business model for a theatre. Cinema Redux is all about helping people identify those opportunities and giving them options for going through the process."
Those options begin with the building type and do not end at theatre size, but also include design styles and a variety of finishes. At18,000 to 24,000 square feet (2,230 sq. m.), there is plenty of room for office, staff and storage spaces. Each Cinema Redux comes with its own multifunction room of 10 by 20 feet (approx. 20 sq. m.) and a cozy lobby seating area for four to five tables. The all-digital projection set-up also provides a dedicated IT/server room. Featuring either six or eight screens and total capacities from 800 to 1,000 seats–with one 250-seat auditorium and 50-foot screen "insuring a memorable theatrical presentation"–the Cinema Redux spec sheet details that "all auditoriums are designed to be technically correct utilizing recognized industry guidelines such as SMPTE EG-18."
When it comes to outfitting these hallowed halls, the team called upon our industry past and resurrected four of its most popular picture palaces. Naming their model theatres Rialto (216 different ones from Agadir, Morocco, to York, England, are currently listed at Cinema Treasures. org), Roxy (207), Majestic (164, including last month’s LEED-approved Carmike in Chattanooga, Tenn.) and Bijou (91 from Andrews, South Carolina, to Xenia, Ohio), Cinema. Redux lives up to its name-implied mission of revival. The architects and builders may not be restoring a storied movie palace–and developers do not have to choose any one of the names–but they have certainly recognized what gave those theatres their prominence. For further proof, in their brochure, the partners mention their "appreciation of the cultural significance of a hometown theatre to the smaller community." (For a similar take, see Our Town Cinemas in this month’s "Class of 2009" article.)
From floor coverings to walls and ceilings, to cabinets and lighting, Cinema Redux offers one of three classic design themes: Art Deco, Classic Lux and Modern Chic. Pick your palace, if you will. Reviewing the available Redux option sheets for anyone of them is just like having an interior designer on your theatre’s team. Covering lavatory counters to trash container niches–and everything in between–color schemes and materials are nicely matched to standard and upgraded features. Chandeliers and sconces on the inside, for .instance, offer additional pizzazz or understated elegance, as neon accents on the outside help define the luscious looks right from the start.
To create a sense of arrival to the building, Cinema Redux makes a full-height curtain wall available for framing the theatre entrance and lobby. Or instead, one may opt for a single story of glass that rises to a protective canopy. Additional exterior highlights include three different vertical blade signs and numerous facade treatments. Depending on the type of construction chosen, blocks of embossed forms, such as brick or diamond-shaped, are available to add character alongside fluted, corrugated and textured exterior panels to further the same goal.
"There are nuances to doing a theatre that you need to know," cautions Daryl Steinbeck, VP at Whiting-Turner (www.whiting-turner.com), the national construction company which brings a century of service to the team. He names sequencing and ADA tolerances (Americans with Disabilities Act), as well as "knowing which way is the most cost-effective" as examples. "Whether it’s making sure that you have no acoustical bleed from one theatre to the next" or which type of stadium seating to use, "there are many different ways in which to accomplish the same thing. Having done all of it before, we know which ones work best," he assures.
In addition to deploying light gauge framing or structural steel or making your stadium risers out of foam, concrete tilt wall versus metal panel construction is another project-defining decision. Steinbeck mentions durability and acoustic properties as advantages of tilt wall. "While it is more economical because tilt wail is common practice in many areas, it is no done in all parts of the country … One of the advantages of metal panel over tilt is more flexibility’ in terms of future usage of the structure. Making modifications to the metal panel for expansion, let’s say, is more easily done than to the tilt wall."
What both construction methods have in common is pre-engineered design and, with that, built-in savings. "Building construction costs are 20% lower than average for a small market theatre," Cummings estimates. FF&E (furniture, fixtures and equipment) as well are "available at prices that large exhibitors pay." That includes seating, screens, projection and sound technology, concession equipment, et al. Cabinetry and restroom fixtures as well as sprinkler systems are included in the construction budget. While the traditional 35mm projection mezzanine theatre model costs "slightly more," the all-digital pods only design comes to around $100 per square foot ($1,076 per sq. m.). Given the economic climate, currently "construction is very aggressively priced," he has observed. "Depending on where you are in the country, you can do even better than $100 per square foot. We will give definite pricing for each location once it has been identified."
As it is "hard to give a national price," and even harder to predict future developments, the Cinema Redux models can be measured by their efficiency ratio of around 22%. "By that we mean square feet per seat," Cummings clarifies, lie goes on to explain how comforts and formulas have changed with larger lobbies, more amenities and stadium seating (Redux ratios are 48 inches/123cm for platforms and 18 inches/46cm for risers). "The first theatres that I worked on about 26 years ago bad about 13 square feet per seat."
Equally important, Cummings continues, are time savings and risk reduction. "Our experienced team knows what it takes to design, build, equip and operate a theatre. Project costs are determined earlier in the process. Established building designs and options speed up the start of construction by at least a month and the construction itself by a month as well."
The idea for Cinema Redux came about early last year, Cummings recalls, when his colleague and fellow principal at the firm, jack Muffoletto, was developing a small-market theatre. Visiting the TK Architects offices, Wayne Anderson "thought it was very efficient and cost-effective and believed that many-exhibitors might be interested in it. So we asked two contractors that we have worked with and trust to give us an idea of cost. They both, kit savings from their normal experience were achievable."
Meeting with the Andersons again, the architects talked about partnering on a team that could provide complete services and a turnkey theatre delivery. "MaryAnn has a real passion for small exhibitors and calls them the backbone of exhibition," Cummings says. "She has always wanted to do a book entitled So you want to build a movie theatre? Now retired from R/C Theatres, Wayne does want to be able to help people … His knowledge, experience and contacts are as comprehensive as anyone’s in the. business." With the addition of Steinbeck and Whiting-Turner, "Cinema Redux was born," he concludes. "I have done projects with Daryl that were very cost-effective, and Whiting-Turner is a nationwide contractor with, cinema experience and significant capabilities."
The latter qualifications certainly apply to all three partners of Cinema Redux. "We are really excited about this," Cummings declares."In her dealings at NATO, MaryAnn has spoken to hundreds of people who want to build a movie theatre hut have no idea how to go about it. That’s exactly what this program is set up for. The big chains aren’t too interested in the smaller markets, and while regional exhibitors can certainly benefit from the economies of scale that Cinema Reduxoffers, it is really about the independent operator. Those who don’t have a construction person or someone with all that technical expertise required. We also think it is a great opportunity for someone entrepreneurial who wants to get into the business and might consider a theatre rather than a hotel or McDonald’s franchise. Those are pretty expensive ways to get started. Besides, everybody loves the movies, right? What could be cooler than owning your own movie theatre?"
by Andreas Fuchs