For the past couple of years, everyone has been telling me, “Mike, you have to go to CinemaCon, it’s just the best.” Like literally strangers off the street, “Come on, man, you have to do it.” (Okay, that second part is not true. I do actually know the people telling me this.) Honestly, I never really understood it. What exactly is CinemaCon supposed to be? Why is it called CinemaCon? If these people all like cinema so much, shouldn’t it be called CinemaPro? (Look, it’s early in the morning as I type this, cut me some slack.)
From what I knew before I came, CinemaCon is a gathering of theater owners from around the United States, who come to Las Vegas for four days, to let movie studios convince them that a particular movie slate should run in their theater. This organization that runs CinemaCon (formerly called ShoWest, the name changed in 2011) is called NATO, which stands for National Association of Theater Owners. Even though I knew this before, it never ceases to amuse me. I wish a rival, evil theater organization would form called The Warsaw Pact. Also, I wish I were in the room when this name was agreed upon, “Hey, this is a great acronym, it’s really catchy. It just rolls of the tongue.” On NATO’s Wikipedia page, it literally says, “NATO (not to be confused with the international military alliance).”
My expectations were there would be a few major theater chains here and they’d listen to a few presentations and clips and movie trailers. (These all start in earnest on Tuesday.) The reality is, every mom and pop theater in the country uses CinemaCon as an excuse to hang out in Las Vegas for a few days. (I mean, why not?) Also, there are “innovators,” who just know they can change the game and save “the theater experience,” if only they can get in front of the right person, which is why they are here. (So far, these people have been the most fascinating to watch schmooze.) So put it this way: Do you remember the local theater manager from when you were in high school? The person who was usually yelling at you for sneaking into rated-R movies? Or, perhaps, you even worked for this person? Now, imagine being in a room with 1000 clones of that person. It’s a little overwhelming.
Las Vegas is very loud, very obnoxious city that millions of people find to be “fun.” I’m staying at the Flamingo, which features a Jimmy Buffett restaurant and, horrifically, sanctioned beer pong.
My main interaction with this hotel came on Sunday evening when I sat down at a blackjack table. The woman working asked to see my identification because she thought there was a chance that I was under 21. Now, I’ve officially reached the age where this does nothing but make me feel good about myself, but it’s still a little unusual since I was born in the 1970s, a fact I mentioned to her when I handed her my driver’s license.
Now, the weird part came when she kept motioning to the t-shirt I was wearing, and kind of mumbling something about high school. (It was kind of loud in the casino and I couldn’t exactly hear what she was saying.) All I remember thinking was, “Why is she talking about high school? Anyway, whatever, life is full of mysteries.” It’s only when I was headed back up to my room, when, I noticed in a mirror what she was talking about, because I was wearing this:
Anyway, yes, I am a student from Ridgemont High School, and I have come to Las Vegas as an underage teen to play black jack and beer pong. Watch out!
When you check into CinemaCon they give you a “goodie bag.” Now this isn’t a unique experience when attending festivals. Usually these include some branded coffee mugs and a few coupons. Maybe a water bottle! At CinemaCon, I dumped out the contents of the bag, and here is what was inside:
It would be like going to the concession counter at your local theater and saying, “Hm, I’m not sure what I want, everything looks so good. You know what? Just give me everything. And don’t forget that ‘fruit and veggie blend’ with Hulk’s head attached on top. Also, could you throw in a giant Captain Marvel cup?” To get this all back home with me, I would literally have to check a bag only filled with candy. To be honest, I kind of want to do it just to see what would happen. I bet the interview in my interrogation room would be both hilarious and delicious.
On Monday night, CinemaCon hosted a party at a local nightclub. I’m not sure what we were celebrating yet, but all the members of NATO (and their rivals, The Warsaw Pact) from every corner of America seemed to be having a nice time. The highlight of the evening came when there was an announcement that “The Beatles” would be performing. There was no indication it was a Beatles cover band, just, “The Beatles.” (I suppose The Beatles are one of the few bands that the whole “cover band” aspect of it can just be assumed. If there were an announcement that Franz Ferdinand would be playing, but instead it was a Franz Ferdinand cover band, that would have probably left people confused.)
A man dressed as Ed Sullivan came on to introduce The Beatles. “Ed” asked the Beatles if they had any trouble fining Las Vegas. It’s as this point that “Paul” made a joke about Google Maps, which kind of defeated the purpose of the whole illusion. But the theater owners didn’t care. They were all dancing the night away to “I Saw Her Standing There” and, eventually, a mash-up of “Let it Be” and “Hey Jude.” The Beatles finished there show with “The End,” the second to last song on Abbey Road that would have been the last song had the real Paul not ruined the whole thing by adding “Her Majesty” at the last minute. (Strangely, this is one of the reasons that Paul is my favorite Beatle.)
As The Beatles sang the line, “the love you take is equal to the love you make,” I looked around the room and wondered if this is how these theater owners feel. Is their goal to bring love and happiness to their communities by providing the best cinematic experience possible? Is there something poignant here?
It’s at this point the lights went off, a giant strobe light fixture descended down from the ceiling, the house beat started, and theater owners from around the country started grinding.
You can contact Mike Ryan directly on Twitter.