It’s been more than two years since delegates assembled in Las Vegas for the National Association of Theatre Owners’ annual CinemaCon convention, the world’s largest gathering of cinema professionals. Now, with the country gradually returning to a semblance of normalcy, NATO is hosting an in-person event with protocols to ensure that attendees can mingle and network safely. Managing director Mitch Neuhauser says, “It’s probably as hectic and crazy as it’s ever been in my professional career, but I’d rather have it this way than the way it’s been for so many over the past 18 months.”
We spoke with Neuhauser in early July about CinemaCon’s return to Caesars Palace on August 23.
How does it feel to be coming back live after more than two years?
I’ve actually traveled with my family starting a year ago June and visited with studios a year ago July. I’ve traveled safely and had meetings in people’s houses, and it’s been great. Now that things are getting back to normal, it’s a great thing. There have been a lot of challenges, but we’re doing our thing. We’re dancing as fast as we can.
Are you expecting any problems enforcing the rules at CinemaCon?
Actually, no, we aren’t. We’ve gotten a lot of support from the Hollywood community and from the exhibition community. We’ve put forth our protocols and, yes, we are going to be diligent about them. Whether it’s attending an event in the Colosseum or the trade show or a food function, if you want to get into one of our officially scheduled events, you will have to show a wristband. And the only way to get that wristband is when you’re picking up your badge or credentials, you’ve shown proof of vaccination or have had a negative Covid test within 48 hours. We will have an official testing site on the premises, because we want people to know that we take this seriously and we want to provide a service to those attending this year’s convention.
With all the rules and restrictions, how close is CinemaCon going to be to the show people enjoyed back in 2019?
The real holdback for us is international travel. Right now, people from overseas, unless you’re a U.S. citizen, can’t come to the United States, for the most part. So, we have been very forthright and frank with the industry that the show will look different, that we are going to be missing a good portion of our international colleagues. But we’ve got great support from the domestic industry, and it’s important symbolically for the industry to get together. We take great pride in being the first to undertake this. Cannes is the first major film festival to do it, and I guess we’ll be the first major industry convention.
Is the programming going to address the pandemic and the new climate for theaters?
As always, we’ll focus on studios and what they’re going to showcase from a product standpoint, which is more potent than ever, and the trade show. Will there be topics of discussion about the landscape of the industry? I think we would be like ostriches with our heads in the sand if the answer to that was no. So yes, there will be some discussion. What’s that going to be? I’m just the convention guy, so I leave that to exhibition and distribution to work out. But if we can take credit for getting everyone together under the same roof at the same time, that’s a positive thing.
I’ve been saying this for over a year now: Our industry has been resilient throughout history. Whatever obstacle we’ve been faced with, we have risen to the occasion and come out mightier and stronger than ever before, whether it’s World War II, or whether it’s television or the VCR, DVD, or cable—whatever. Were there extraordinary circumstances during the pandemic, and streaming was the absolute flavor of the month? You betcha. But you can’t live your life at home morning to night. There’s a great place for streaming, and a great place for movies and getting people out of the house together to experience what we do best—to have people, laugh, cry, scream, and just involve themselves in the magic of the big screen. We’re going to be stronger than ever before, and there will be a renaissance of our industry. There were the roaring twenties in the 1900s, and there will be the roaring twenties again.
I guess one sign of that is that so many major studios are back participating in the show. [Disney, Paramount, Sony, Warner Bros., Universal, Focus, and Lionsgate will all be hosting events.]
The studios have been just unbelievable. They’re supporting the industry. To know that we even have MGM-UAR on board—I mean, they’ve had to postpone the release of No Time to Die how many times, and now to be able to have MGM-UAR showcase what we hope will be some exclusive stuff from No Time to Die leading up to its international opening is really exciting. We have Neon coming on board, and now Solstice Studios is getting involved with the party, because they want the industry to know that hey, we’re here, we’re going to have product, and we believe in you.
As you know, a lot of the service industries are having trouble filling positions right now. Is your programming going to address that issue?
We do have a session on human resources, diversity, and inclusion, and it may touch upon that. How do you get good employees? How do you retain them? What needs to be done in this day and age? But that’s a situation that’s being faced by not just the theatrical movie industry. When we’re in Vegas and we meet with nightclubs and Caesars—and you read about this all the time—it’s a major issue that needs to be addressed. But I do believe that time will heal all wounds, as they say, and things will get back to normal.
During the course of planning the show, you talk to a lot of exhibitors. What is their general mood right now?
They’re optimistic, they’re excited. When we started coming out with major tentpoles such as A Quiet Place on Memorial Day, then F9 and Black Widow, the opening grosses continue to grow. The world is recognizing that it’s safe and it’s great to get back to the movies. This is now creating a new cash flow that’s been missing for so many. It’s a domino effect, bringing people into movie theaters, selling tickets, selling popcorn, selling soda and candy. That revenue is going to filter down to the equipment companies and remodeling projects. So it’s all chugging along—we’re going to get back up to speed.
I have to believe with people stuck in their homes and their apartments for over a year, there’s probably a real longing, a nostalgia to have that social experience again.
Unless we’re destined to become a society of hermits where we can continue to get our groceries delivered to our house and watch our entertainment and work out of the house—we’ll be like Sigourney Weaver in Copycat, it’s like we’ll never leave. That’s not going to happen! It’s not human nature. We are a social people—we have a joie de vivre, a passion for life and being together. And where are you together that’s a great experience? At the movies. Home is a great place, and there’s a lot to be said for that, but there’s even more to be said about getting out into the open, going to sporting events, going to concerts, and going to the movies.
Anything we haven’t covered?
I think it’s going to be great to hear what John Fithian and Charlie Rivkin have to say. It’s going to be more than two years since they’ve addressed the industry. And it will be great to hear what the studios have to say when they’re taking the stage. It’s funny—when we met with a studio last July, we talked about moving the show to August 2021. This industry executive said, “You know, the end of August, it’s slow. There’s not a lot of product to showcase.” Well, little did we know that so much product would be pushed off until the fall holiday that we’re going to have a great roster.