Rethinking The Cineplex

Movie houses have long been a refuge for Americans in troubled
times. Some of the best films in American cinema were made during the
Depression, World War II, and the last big recession in the 1970s. And
attendance at theaters was high.

So, our current economic slump should be a good time for movie
theaters — except all those previous high points were before the era of
DVDs, Netflix, movies on demand and bittorrent. For a lot of people,
staying home to save money is more attractive than a night out at the

Emagine Theaters,
a locally based chain with locations in Novi, Canton and Birch Run, is
finding innovative ways to entice people off of their couches and into
the theaters.
Even more so, the company seems determined to buck the imagine that
suburban cineplexes have to be overly corporate and impersonally

In April, they invited unemployed Detroiters and their families to
see a movie on the house — and they even threw in the popcorn. They’ve
also partnered with the Detroit Film Critics Society, arranging
screenings of movies to review for the group. They’ve even been known
to open their theaters to local filmmakers who want to screen their low
budget masterpieces. Overall, says CEO Paul Glantz, the recession
hasn’t been too much of a challenge for the company.

“I think Hollywood dealt us a pretty good hand recently,” he says.
“Also, folks are trading down. Instead of going out for a $200 dinner,
people are spending $40 on Saturday night and going to the movies.”

The recession has also allowed the company to expand in places it
previously might not have been able to, he says, thanks to lower real
estate values. Case in point is the company’s planned new facility in
Royal Oak. It’s to include multiple screens and twelve lanes of bowling.

“Now some of the forces have come together to allow us to build a
new theater and operate it profitably,” he says. “(Royal Oak) is a
wonderful underserved market.”

The theater is planned for the intersection of 11 Mile and Main Street. That’s right behind the Main Art Theater,
which draws a devoted following of film buffs with its art-house
offerings. Glantz says he doesn’t expect that they will cannibalize the
Main’s business, because they are planning to offer much more
mainstream fare at the new theater. It will, however, draw more
moviegoers to Royal Oak, and that should be a good thing for both
venues, he says.

Although Emagine feels like a larger chain, with stadium seating and
even bars serving alcohol at its theaters, it’s actually a small
locally based company. Glantz
and his business partners started out running the Clarkston Theater
from 1989 to 1997, and branched out to open Cinema Hollywood in Birch
Run in 1996. From there, they saw an opportunity in the western suburbs
for a more modern-style theater. They opened the Novi theater in 2002,
and struggled at first with getting the films they needed. They learned
a great deal about the market, however, Glantz says, and opened the
Canton theater in 2004. 

Many of the large chains went through a series of mergers and
acquisitions around the turn of the century. That left Emagine well
positioned because it did not have the baggage of debt or large numbers
of theaters. All its theaters were new construction, as well, which
meant they were already equipped with the stadium-style seating
audiences were demanding by that time.

Being small helps them in other ways as well, Glantz says. “Relative
to the large chains, there are some areas where [large chains] have
competitive advantage; so, for example, if we were purchasing soda
syrup, the AMCs and Regals
of the world can purchase soda pop at a better price than we do. By the
same token I think there’s a real value in entrepreneurial spirit.”

That homegrown business savvy helped Emagine partner with the fledgling Detroit Film Critics Society.
Detroit News film critic Tom Long and former Detroit Free Press critic
Terry Lawson approached Ruth Daniels, the company’s vice president of
sales and marketing, about acting as the administrator for the group.

“They needed someone outside the critic’s circle to run it,” Daniels
says. “I’ve been in the business a long time, and because of my
relationships with studios and agencies and critics themselves, it’s a
good fit.”

She arranges pre-release screenings for the critics group so they
can write their reviews in a timely fashion, as well as providing them
with a season pass so they can catch films they might have missed for a
review screening. She also helps compile the group’s “Best Of” list
every year.

The “Movie Magic for Michigan’s Unemployed” promotion in April drew
a lot of press, but more importantly, says Glantz, were the letters and
emails they received from people who were able to take their family out
for an evening. “The outpouring of thanks and gratitude was
heartwarming and while not inexpensive for us —we still had to pay for
film royalties and popcorn — the importance of that, even in polishing
our image as a real contributor to society, I could not be happier
about how that evolved.”

It’s an extension of how Glantz says he wants to run the business,
with exemplary customer service as the highest goal. “It’s an important
core value, and how I would characterize they way we operate the
business based on the value of serving our guests, of providing an
exemplary experience, and prospering by serving.”

Detroit freelancer Amy Kuras has written about local schools — among
a host of other topics —for more than a decade. Her previous article
for Metromode was
From Scratch:

Photographs by Detroit Photographer Marvin Shaouni Marvin Shaouni is the Managing Photographer for Metromode & Model

Contact Marvin here