Wednesday, October 16, will see Elizabeth Frank, executive vice president, worldwide programming and chief content officer at AMC Theatres, receive ShowEast’s first-ever Empowerment Award. Presented by The Coca-Cola Company, the Empowerment Award—per Andrew Sunshine, president of the Film Expo Group—recognizes “industry champions of inclusion and diversity.”
“At Coca-Cola, we seek to empower women both in the workplace and throughout the world,” says Krista Schulte, Coca-Cola’s senior vice president, strategic partnership marketing. “We are honored to present Elizabeth Frank with the inaugural ShowEast Women’s Empowerment Award presented by Coca-Cola. Elizabeth Frank is a visionary leader who has decades of experience creating and executing successful growth strategies across industries and organizations. Her track record of delivering results is a testament to the value, leadership, and expertise she contributes to the cinema industry and beyond.”
In advance of accepting the ShowEast Empowerment Award, Frank spoke with Boxoffice Pro about AMC’s dedication to diversity both on the screen and behind the scenes.
Congratulations on receiving the ShowEast Empowerment Award. It must feel quite special, especially with this being the first time the award has been given.
Thank you. Yes. Totally aside from me, I think that it’s a good thing for the whole industry to be focused more on inclusiveness and advancement of all different types of people, and also to continue to elevate the way we engage with all types of consumers in our theaters.
There’s this narrative that streaming outfits like Netflix are the saviors of independent cinema, while theaters are best fit for big-budget tentpoles. What would be your response to that?
We recently launched AMC Artisan Films at the end of June. The reason for this programming and marketing platform for us to make a very public corporate commitment [to independent film], is appreciating that there’s a need for many of our moviegoing consumers and many of our moviemaking talent to be able to connect. We have a unique opportunity as the largest exhibitor in the country—both of big, blockbuster films and of specialty films—to create a platform to connect the specialty moviemaker with the specialty movie lover. [The specialty movie market] is a significant business today, but it has the potential to be much, much bigger and stronger. So I think the narrative is off, to answer your question.
AMC A-List has proven so successful—it puts you in a really strong position to gather data from customers and find out what specialty titles they might want to see.
Exactly. And then the next step for us is to create a platform for those movie lovers to share and to recommend films to help others discover, because there’s so much about the moviegoing experience that’s really social and community-based.
How important is diverse programming to AMC? Not independent titles per se, but niche genres like Bollywood, Latinx-targeted films, and faith-based content?
They’re each very important. We program at the neighborhood level to find films that in some cases are alternative content—nontraditional films as well—that appeal most to local entertainment interests. And in some communities, a Bollywood film can be number one at the box office on a particular weekend. We have theaters that play Mandarin films. Both Chinese films and Mandarin-language versions of some blockbusters. We at AMC are committed to programming as diverse a set of entertainment options as the diverse audience that we serve.
I go to the AMC Empire 25, where they have a lot of Asian titles. Every time I go to one, it’s always packed. The audience is obviously there.
Some of the stuff is available online. In fact, a lot of the Chinese films are available pirated almost immediately. But seeing the films in theater is better, right? They’re funnier and scarier and more dramatic. That’s obviously a theme you’ve heard before, but it really is very true.
What can companies like AMC do to increase diversity within the exhibition industry itself?
I think some of it does start with the moviegoer and works back. We seek to employ people at the theater level who reflect the neighborhoods that they represent, and we seek to provide equal opportunity and training and advancement such that we pull that diversity from the neighborhoods up through our management ranks and into the corporate structure. That’s true from theater to management to corporate. [That’s also a goal] on the programming and film and marketing sides: recruiting and developing individuals who bring a whole variety of sensibilities to what we do.
Something I’ve heard a lot in talking to women executives is the importance of giving people opportunities even if they don’t feel like they’re ready for them, or even if they don’t look perfect on paper.
I think that’s right. I think that individual passion and initiative go a long, long way. Being sensitive and receptive to ideas throughout the organization is important. And then giving people the opportunity to run with those ideas and for corporate leaders to both resource the ideas and to mentor the individual. I think that gets us all very, very far as an organization to being inclusive.
I’m sure you’ve had moments early in your career when you thought, “Oh my God, I’m not ready for this. What am I doing?” I assume everyone has.
Oh, for sure.
But you were given those opportunities, and now look where you are.
You have to be chasing something that you believe in. I think that’s where we see people succeed the most. You can see occasionally the contrary, where someone takes on the new project because they think it’s going to advance their career, whether or not they think the project is particularly important. I think that putting ambition ahead of purpose can work against people.
What is the part of your job that you are most passionate about?
I am most passionate about the team building of it, both within my groups but also across the company. The second thing I’m most excited about is the opportunity we have to connect filmmakers with their fans, building a much bigger business along the way. The third thing that I’m passionate about is using the data and insights that we have to figure out new and better ways to go about a business that’s existed for a hundred years and yet still has new things to be found and to be done.
Are there any particular mentors that you had early on in your career who stand out to you now?
There’s someone I worked with when I was first out of college who was a huge proponent of, “There’s no dumb question.” If it’s not clear to you, don’t assume it’s clear to anybody. So no matter what your role is, if you’re in the room and don’t understand, have the confidence to ask. I think that was really good advice, and it was especially good advice to give to someone who was junior and who was only going to be able to ask questions as opposed to answer them.
For any industry, that’s fitting advice, but especially in something like film exhibition, where outside-the-box thinking is so important.
I worked for someone who was very focused on competitors. Her perspective was, “There is something you can learn from everyone.” As you think about the market around you, always be on the lookout for good ideas. As an exhibition industry, one of the things that make us the strongest industry is that we’re really good at learning from each other.
How would you evaluate the progress that the women have made in the exhibition business since you joined AMC in 2010?
I can’t speak to the whole industry. I can tell you that AMC has a phenomenal group of female executives and rising stars and theater managers whom it’s an honor to work with, and it’s exciting to watch their careers progress over that time period.
I think it is important to AMC that we’re providing opportunities for everyone to develop and advance their careers. We appreciate that in the past, not everybody had the same opportunities or felt as comfortable sharing their unique circumstances.