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Wednesday, Jun 7, 2023

Coming Attractions

Mann Theatres CEO Peter Dobson squeezed in this interview on a day that started with a ceremony for George Clooney, Brad Pitt and Matt Damon, enshrining their hand and footprints in cement in the courtyard of the chain’s landmark Grauman’s Chinese Theater in Hollywood and ended with the premier of the trio’s “Ocean’s 13” that evening. A chain that once operated in nine states, Encino-based Mann has consolidated its holdings to the Los Angeles area, although it does have expansion plans in the works. Warner and Viacom jointly own the theater chain. Its newest theater, to open in 2008, will be a 14-screen facility in Thousand Oaks with four separate VIP balcony areas. A former owner of a theater chain in the United Kingdom, Dobson was tapped five years ago to head Mann, after a stint as a film buyer for Warner Bros., particularly because of his film buying experience. “It’s not easy to book the Grauman’s or the Santa Monicas of the world because there is very heavy competition,” Dobson said. The Grauman’s courtyard, by the way, has hosted 193 hand and footprint ceremonies and is home to 240 individual slabs of impressions left by Hollywood’s biggest stars. “There is still plenty of room,” Dobson said. Q: With all the options available these days to view entertainment, why should people still go to a movie theater? A: The main reason people go to a movie theater is to get out of the home. With home entertainment the way it is at the moment and the quality that is offered at home, it still never substitutes for a night out for people. Q: What role does Mann Theatres play to get people to come to their locations? A: Mann Theatres has a long tradition in Los Angeles. We have the famous Grauman’s Chinese in Hollywood and theaters in Westwood as well as our theaters along the 101 [Freeway] corridor and Santa Monica. Q: How is this summer going so far in box office totals? Last summer is considered to have been a rebound after a poor 2005. A: This year to date we are 5 percent up on last year, mainly through particularly good films through the beginning of May. When I say good films I mean good business-wise. There was a smattering during the spring but it was a fairly weak start to the year. It all came alive with “300” in March. Q: Being a boutique theater chain, are you going for an upscale filmgoer willing to pay for the extra amenities not found at other movie chains? A: That’s not actually true. We took over the infrastructure of eight- to nine-screen theaters or single screens as in the case of the Westwood or Grauman’s. But our future is to do precisely that. We have a very exciting project coming up in the Thousand Oaks mall. Q: Digital cinema is the latest technological change in exhibition. Do you have the equipment installed in your theaters? A: It’s something I’ve really tried to spearhead, being in the studios’ backyard as it were. We have digital projectors all over the place. Q: How is that changing the business of showing films? A: At first when we installed them it was a beta test to see how efficiently they can run and how the public responded because the picture does look different on the screen because it’s perfect. The public really have taken to it and I think they will welcome the same quality be it week one or week six of the picture. Q: You’ve teamed up with Real D to show 3-D films. A: Yes, again we were the first in the country to have Real D in the Chinese 6. We’ve done all the demonstrations for all the studios and all the various distributors from all over the world in that theater. Our belief in it was to install it in five of our theaters for “Chicken Little.” We’re very pro 3-D because we do feel that it is the way to do something a little bit special. There is a lot going on right now with 3-D. Directors and producers are realizing the value it brings to cinema. Q: And it also plays into giving the viewer something different that they can’t watch at home. A: Correct. Q: It’s like what they did in the 1950s the first time 3-D came along when theaters were in competition with television. A: Yes, but it’s so much better. It’s like wearing a pair of sunglasses. It’s not like wearing a piece of cardboard with the different color lenses. It’s a little more natural and people are embracing it. Our exit polls show that people would travel a distance to see [a film] in 3-D. Q: Now they have to start producing the product in 3-D. A: Exactly. Of course this takes a long time. Not only to produce it in 3-D but also to get it onto the set as it were from a script because the script has to be written with the 3-D in mind. It’s just isn’t a case of saying let’s make it 3-D over 2-D. Q: Any thoughts on the debate over the narrowing of the release windows for film to theaters, DVD and television? A: I feel strongly about it. I am not advocate of doing away with the windows or with the gaps we have at the moment. I think the gap we have now is probably about right. The movies cost more and more and more to make and the sooner they can get through all these different windows the quicker they can get their money back on the movie to make more movies. Unless you’ve got the theatrical shop window, as I call it, it doesn’t necessarily mean the subsequent windows are going to make money. Q: Piracy is always a big issue in the entertainment industry. What are your thoughts on that? A: I hate it. They are leeches on our business and it affects everyone from the cinema owner even to the public. Everything has to cost more. If more people went to the movies and bought it on video at the regular prices things could be a little bit cheaper. The fact that it is being stolen from us is very bad. I welcome that other countries have now made it a jailable offense to pirate movies. Q: Tell us more about the plans for Thousand Oaks. A: When I was working for Warner Bros. we had a theater in Barcelona where we developed three screens out of the 14, I think it was, with VIP balconies and bars. This was a huge success so much so that AMC and a local exhibitor opened 14 screens opposite us and it did not affect our business one bit. This is what people wanted. They wanted the opportunity to see a movie in luxury with the bar. What we are doing in Thousand Oaks is building 14 screens, four of which will be VIP balconies. We are having a French-themed bar which will serve exclusively 21 and over. We’ll have finger foods and other food and the cocktails. It will have its own separate entrance and its own VIP window at the box office to fast-track people upstairs. Peter Dobson SNAPSHOT: Title: CEO of Mann Theatres Age: 58 Personal: Separated, three children

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