Vegas Showman: CinemaCon’s Mitch Neuhauser Promises Another Lively Convention

CinemaCon, the annual convention of the National Association of Theatre Owners, is celebrating its ninth year, and from the beginning, the man at the helm has been Mitch Neuhauser. A veteran convention organizer, Neuhauser has applied his expertise to create a lively, informative, and fun event that’s filled with star-studded product presentations, networking opportunities, valuable seminars, and a bustling trade show.

The 2019 convention takes place April 1–4 at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas.

So how will the CinemaCon experience be different this year? “We’ve heard that our schedule has been so jam-packed that it doesn’t allow people enough breathing room to fully conduct the amount of business that they want to do, which not only includes meetings but also visiting the trade show floor,” Neuhauser replies. “So this year, our Wednesday lunch, rather than being a sit-down lunch, is going to be an informal buffet type of event with no formal programming. People can come and go, and basically once the Universal presentation ends on Wednesday morning, up until the Disney presentation at 3:30 p.m., people will have time to go to the trade show and do what they want to do.

“As well, the Pioneers [whose annual awards dinner has been a CinemaCon event in recent years] will be moving to Los Angeles in 2019. We’re excited for them, and we’re going to do whatever we can to make sure that they have a very successful event. So we have added a studio event on Wednesday at 7:45 p.m.—we’re excited to have a company like Amazon Studios taking center stage in the Colosseum. They’re going to be screening one of the outstanding features from this year’s Sundance Film Festival, a movie called Late Night starring Mindy Kaling and Emma Thompson, which Kaling also wrote.

“Let’s also address the fact that Sony Pictures Entertainment is taking what I hope is ‘a gap year’ in 2019. We’re certainly hopeful that they’ll be returning in 2020—I think all roads will point to that direction. We love Sony, we respect them. People make business decisions and you go with the flow when they make decisions like that. But we’ve got a full complement of studio support.”

Neuhauser continues, “CinemaCon is all about celebrating the moviegoing experience. That’s what it was created to be and that’s what it will continue to be. So we will keep people busy from morning to night with great product and events in the Colosseum. People have also asked us to possibly incorporate some more screenings into the schedule.” So, in addition to the aforementioned Late Night, CinemaCon will be screening NEON’s country-music tale Wild Rose on opening night; Warner Bros.’ Sundance hit Blinded by the Light on Tuesday night; and Lionsgate’s Charlize Theron-Seth Rogen comedy Long Shot on Thursday afternoon.

Once again, the trade show is sold out. Neuhauser says motion-seating companies D-Box, 4DX, and MediaMation will all be highly visible, as will panoramic format ScreenX. “Theaters and equipment companies are really raising the bar on creating a great experience for the industry. Sony Digital is moving forward with its own type of PLF format. There’s just a lot going on. Even companies that have been with us like Cinionic and Dolby and GDC, no one is resting on the laurels of past success and just saying, ‘Hey, we’ve done this, we’ve raised the bar, just let it be.’ Everyone continues to take what they’ve done and expand and grow it. It’s very exciting.”

A major component of CinemaCon is its Monday “International Day” programming. “Every year at the NATO International Committee meeting, Matt Pollock and I make a presentation and we ask everybody, ‘Do you feel that we should continue with International Day? Or, because the business is so global, should we just wrap everything into the show?’ But the international market, as global as everything is, loves the fact that we have some dedicated time for them to talk about issues that might still be specific to them, a time to get together and talk about what’s going on in their market. We’ve got a great set of speakers in the morning, a very high-profile panel: Tim Richards of Vue, Alejandro Ramírez Magaña of Cinépolis, Irving Chee of Golden Screen Cinemas, Cameron Mitchell of Vox Cinemas, and Jérôme Seydoux of Les Cinémas Pathé Gaumont. Jérôme Seydoux, whom we’re honoring with the Career Achievement in Exhibition Award, is a legend. The Seydoux name is synonymous with cinema, not just in France but around the world. We’re just so honored that he’s agreed to be on this panel—he’s seen so many changes; he’s seen the evolution of the industry.”

The International Day program will also focus on local production. “We all know the importance of what the major studios bring from a product standpoint, but we can’t lose sight of the fact that local and foreign productions are very meaningful to exhibition worldwide,” Neuhauser notes. “You talk about diversity and you talk about cultural inclusion, and that’s a lot where local and foreign productions come into play. So we’re delighted to have that as one of our sessions.”

The importance of culturally diverse movies will also be a topic of a Tuesday morning discussion moderated by Marcus Theatres President and CEO Rolando Rodriguez and featuring AMC Theatres’ Nikkole Denson-Randolph, Maya Cinemas’ Moctesuma Esparza, myCinema’s Glenn Morten, and Eros International USA’s Niyati Nagarsheth. (See our preview on page xx.) “That started with a conversation that we had with [myCinema’s] Tim Warner back in October,” Neuhauser recalls. “Then we found out that this topic is not only near and dear to Rolando Rodriguez, the vice chair of NATO, but is also part of a NATO strategic initiative … We try to be topical and current and really showcase what potential is out there and what our industry can be about.”

CinemaCon 2019 will also offer a session on automation and artificial intelligence moderated by Jason Guerrasio of Business Insider; a National Association of Concessionaires seminar presenting Radesh Palakurthi’s findings on moviegoer concession preferences; and an International Cinema Technology Association session on D’Place Entertainment’s adoption of solar and battery systems.

The annual Tuesday morning “State of the Industry” session (followed by STXfilms’ product preview) will include addresses by NATO President and CEO John Fithian and MPAA Chairman and CEO Charles Rivkin, plus awards to MPAA veteran Joan Graves and Studio C CEO John Loeks.

Neuhauser has high praise for Loeks: “John is one of those gentlemen who speaks softly but carries a big stick. He is such a powerhouse of a guy. His circuit operates screens solely in the state of Michigan, and yet he’s so highly regarded not only by his peers within exhibition but by distribution. He’s the former chair of NATO and his accomplishments are numerous. It was really John who lent his support and got behind the creation of the Global Cinema Federation that has now become a very, very important organization worldwide. John is truly deserving of the NATO Marquee Award, and I think people are genuinely delighted that a man of John’s stature and respect in the industry is being honored.”

On International Day, the show will honor producer Graham King, whose long-aborning Bohemian Rhapsody won four Oscars and was a Best Picture nominee. “What Graham King did with Bohemian Rhapsody is incredible,” Neuhauser observes. “He didn’t just get out and tout the film for the media, he involved exhibition—he screened the film for our members. He recognized the important role that exhibition would play in the global release of Bohemian Rhapsody. And we appreciate and value that inclusion. So we’re honored to single him out—the film is approaching $900 million worldwide, which is phenomenal.”

As always, CinemaCon concludes with the fun “Big Screen Achievement Awards” ceremony and after party. At press time, among the honorees announced were Avengers: Endgame directors Joe and Anthony Russo, Octavia Spencer, Seth Rogen, Charlize Theron, Olivia Wilde, Hellboy star David Harbour, and Crazy Rich Asians breakout Henry Golding.

Neuhauser is one of our business’s biggest champions of the theatrical experience; his enthusiasm fuels CinemaCon each year. And he predicts a long, long future for moviegoing. “Our industry is going to continue to prosper and grow in 2019, ’20, ’21, into the centuries of 2100, 2200, and beyond. Because our industry that showcases movies only in theaters is what separates movies, filmmaking, the creative community from the rest. We allow people to gather in a theater to experience laughter, horror, fear, drama, passion, emotion together, unencumbered, without their laptop in their lap, their cell phone in their hand, lights on in the room, telephones ringing, kids doing homework, to basically take you out of the moment, out of the experience. My own personal opinion is that our industry is going to become more and more important than ever before. All of the streaming services are absolutely performing a great service, and some of them are creating incredible content to be watched in the home. But there’s going to be a growth in the world of streaming services, and the amount of content that is going to proliferate on the home front is going to be overwhelming. It’s going to be a little too much. It might be sensory overload, so that people are going to need to look at that great escape and fully immerse themselves in an experience that’s in and of itself, one of a kind. And that’s going to be in a movie theater. I think filmmakers and talent, actors and actresses in front of the camera, and people behind the camera are going to realize that what theaters offer the world from an experiential and communal and societal standpoint is unmatched at home and can only be gotten in a theater. [Cinemark CEO] Mark Zoradi said he sees 2019 being a $12 billion year. Our industry is gung ho, excited, passionate, and in love with the cinemagoing and moviegoing experience, and that’s what our show is.”

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