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Nancy’s 20th Anniversary with Loeks Theatres

Nancy Hagan, more recently

Nancy, more recently

By Nancy Hagan
Chief Financial Officer and 20-year employee at Celebration! Cinema

One of my first days on the job at Jack Loeks Theatres, I watched Days of Thunder in theatre #1 at Studio 28, as part of a circuit manager meeting.  The sparks were flying off the race track and between Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman.  In June, 1990, as Controller of the company, and on the job less than a month, I recall thinking “what a cool and fun accounting job.  I get to see movies all in a day’s work.”

June 18, 2010, 20 years later, working for Loeks Theatres, I watched a 7:30 a.m. “training video” – Toy Story 3 in IMAX 3D at Celebration! Cinema North.  (I outlasted Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman!)  I am still thinking “what a cool & fun job.”  For that thought, I am grateful.

Jeremy Bronson, Loeks Theatres’ E-Marketing Coordinator and a relative rookie here, asked me to reflect on the changes in the company and my job over the last 20 years I’ve been with Loeks.  It was fun to go strolling down memory lane…

Observations & recollections

Loeks Theatres Management, early 1990s

Loeks Theatres Management, early 1990s

I’d like to share some of my observations and recollections of 20 years.  There have been many changes – and, much remains the same.  In 1990, Jack Loeks Theatres operated 54 screens at 11 locations, plus a carwash, a mini storage facility, a flea market, and was landlord for a few retail properties.  The circuit included 3 single screen theatres and 3 twin theatres!  The average screen count at a location was only 5.  The theatre operations commanded a dominant market share in West Michigan.  Jack Loeks was known as an innovator in the industry and clearly his vision put the company in a very strong market position.  John Loeks had joined his dad two months earlier to run the company.  Jack taught me some valuable lessons in key areas of the business where I had little experience – a few that come to mind are:

  • Cash – get it and keep it!  It provides freedom and flexibility.
  • Property taxes – when much of the asset value is real estate – learn the appropriate valuation and use that information wisely with the assessor to keep your property taxes at the lowest level possible.
  • Suppliers and vendors – seek bids periodically to keep the suppliers and vendors competitive and honest.  I also learned it is the owner’s prerogative to choose with whom to do business.

For the first few years Jack challenged his new team, and after listening to our rationale he would often share his approach or perspective.  He brought ideas and perspective to an issue that we had not considered.  After a few years and presumably more confidence Jack made a strong effort to let John run the business without a heavy hand.  It was a delicate balance for a “showman” whose name was synonymous with the business he built.

Now…
In 2010, Loeks Theatres operates 150 screens at 11 locations, plus a flea market, and is landlord for a few retail properties.  The average screen count per location is 14.  The theatres command a dominant market share in West Michigan.  I am thankful for John’s vision and willingness to take risk.  The risks and investment John has made in the company are considerable!  His early adoption of stadium seating, brilliant site selection, vision for Celebration! Cinema North, commitment to quality, and aggressive strategic moves or acquisitions are keys to the stability of the circuit today.

In 2009 John appointed his son JD to President of Loeks Theatres.  From my perspective, there are many similarities today to the view of the company in the early 1990’s: A management transition, a new President with a strong early track record – ready for new challenges and opportunities. JD’s leadership skills are very strong enabling the company to grow in limitless ways.

The path from 1990 to 2010

Nancy receives a gift on a corporate retreat

Nancy receives a gift on a corporate retreat

As an accountant by education and work history, I recall best by transactions!  Indulge my accountant viewpoint of company growth and changes over 20 years.  Certainly this chronology of events also reflects some of the joys and challenges in my role as Controller, VP, CFO and board member of Loeks Theatres.

My job certainly has not been dull!  Much has been accomplished by Loeks Theatres and related companies, as I reflect on the past 20 years.

  • 1990 to 2002 – sale of theatres: Cinema 4, Broadway, Ward, Grand, Alpine, Eastowne 5, Plaza 2.
  • 1992 – Acquisition of Plaza Theatre in Muskegon from United Artists
  • 1997 1st Celebration! Cinema opens in Benton Harbor & Celebration! brand is launched
  • 1997 Cinema Carousel expanded to 16 screens from 12
  • 1998 Conversion of Studio 28 to stadium seating from sloped floor seating
  • 1998 Celebration! Cinema opens in Lansing
  • 2000 Celebration! Cinema opens in Mt. Pleasant
  • 2001 Celebration! Cinema North and IMAX opens in Grand Rapids
  • 2003 2nd IMAX theatre added to Celebration! Cinema in Lansing
  • 2003 Company redeems Jack Loeks stock and John’s sisters Lannie and Meria become shareholders
  • 2004 Jack Loeks, founder, passes on
  • 2005 Company redeems Lannie & Meria’s stock
  • 2004 & 2005  Portage, MI 10 screen theatre acquired from United Artist and opened as 15 screen Celebration! Cinema
  • 2005 Celebration! Cinema South opens in Grand Rapids
  • 2006 Jackson Entertainment merges operations into Loeks Theatres
  • 2007 Two GR theatres acquired from Cinemark and reopened as Celebration! Cinema Rivertown and Celebration! Cinema Woodland
  • 2007 Conversion to digital projection from 35 millimeter projection
  • 2008 Studio 28 closes, a bittersweet, memorable day
  • 2009  JD Loeks named President
  • 2010 and beyond – the best is yet to come!

What’s changed?

Nancy at a company dinner in 2000

Nancy at a company dinner in 2000

Technology has changed most dramatically.  The digital sound and projection presentation technology is beautiful!  It also enables the theatre to show a greater variety of content.  Toy Story 3 in IMAX 3D is a good example of great technology.

Computers, cell phone, multi-function printers, and information technology have provided the most positive & significant change in job productivity.  Imagine this – in 1990, just 20 years ago, – the theatre manager called the office at the end of every day and left a message on an answering machine with the box office admissions of each movie, and other business transaction totals.  The next morning, an accounting team member hand recorded all the information!  Today, information is transferred electronically, and before the weekend is over, the media can pretty accurately report the current box office admissions for the weekend.

One thing remains unchanged in 20 years. The best part of my job, for all 20 years, is the people with whom I work, both inside and outside the company.  I have had the good fortune of working with wonderful people that I respect, trust and admire.

I look forward to what is ahead!  With Toy Story 3 on my mind, to infinity and beyond!

Approved for Appropriate Audiences: Movie Ratings at Celebration! Cinema

Jeannie DeibisBy Jeannie Deibis
Celebration! Cinema Programming Coordinator

I was asked to write a blog post about movie ratings and I had a bit of concern about it, as ratings, in my opinion are very different today than just a few years ago.

Indiana JonesThe Motion Picture Association Of America (MPAA) began to assign ratings (G, PG and R) during the 1960’s.  The ratings system was also designed to help parents protect their children from ‘mature material’.  This ratings system was and still is voluntary (not mandatory) and is designed to inform movie-goers of content in movies they might see.  PG-13 was added in 1984, when “Indiana Jones And The Temple Of Doom” and “Gremlins” were deemed too violent for PG.  Incidentally, it was just 1990, when NC-17 was added and this rating is meant to keep children under the age of 17 from seeing the movie (not admitted at theatres).  This rating differs from the R rating, in that the R rating is intended for adults and parents to understand there is adult material and it is generally not appropriate to allow children under the age of 17 without a parent or a guardian attending.  It is also noteworthy to know that the rating process is largely subjective, and ever changing.  Please see www.filmratings.com for additional information.

How Movies Are Rated
Criteria for ratings, well, seem again subjective.  Taken from www.howstuffworks.com:

A Policy Review Committee comprising of MPAA and National Association Of Theatre Owners (NATO) officials monitors the Review Board and provides guidelines to follow when rating movies. At this time, the Rating Board, located in Los Angeles, California (Classification and Rating Administration – CARA) rates movies as follows:

  • G — “General Audience – All Ages Admitted”: Applied when a film contains no nudity, sexual content, drug use or strong language. Violence is minimal and the theme of the movie is deemed appropriate for young children. According to the MPAA, a G rating does not indicate the film is a children’s movie.
  • PG — “Parental Guidance Suggested. Some Material May Not Be Suitable For Children”: The Rating Board applies this rating when the members believe the film contains themes or content that parents may find inappropriate for younger children. The film can contain some profanity, violence or brief nudity, but only in relatively mild intensity. A PG film should not include drug use.
  • PG-13 — “Parents Strongly Cautioned. Some Material May Be Inappropriate For Children Under 13.” The MPAA added this rating in 1984 to denote films in which violence, profanity or sexual content is intense enough that many parents would not want to expose their younger children to the film, but not so intense as to warrant an R rating. Any movie featuring drug use will get at least a PG-13 rating. A PG-13 movie can include a single use of what the board deems a “harsher, sexually derived word,” as long as it is only used as an expletive, not in a sexual context.
  • R –“Restricted. Under 17 Requires Accompanying Parent or Adult Guardian”: The Rating Board applies this rating to movies the members believe contain a high level of adult content, such as harsh profanity, intense violence, explicit sexual content and extensive drug use. In some states, the minimum age to see an R rated movie unaccompanied is 18.
  • NC-17: “No One 17 And Under Admitted”: Originally called X, this rating is applied to films the board believes most parents will consider inappropriate for children. It indicates only that adult content is more intense than in an R movie; it does not imply any sort of obscenity. As with films rated R, the minimum age to see a NC-17 movie is 18 in some states.

R-Rated Movie Trailers
Preview ScreenHow does a movie trailer that might be rated R end up on a PG13 movie, you might want to know?  Again, the MPAA approves a trailer for ‘appropriate audiences’, the newest lingo you now see on your green movie preview screen.  The lingo used to read ‘this trailer is approved for all ages’.  Many times, the movie trailer requested to be on a movie ‘has not been rated yet’ and again, approved by the MPAA for placement on the PG13 movie.  This makes for some tough judgment calls. Most recently, a film company wanted their trailer ‘not yet rated’ on the PG rated “Karate Kid”, so after previewing the trailer, our theatres deemed it ‘inappropriate’ for “Karate Kid”, even though the MPAA approved the placement.

Today, a movie, if animated, can retain a G rating, even when there is mention of death (dare we discuss the ‘classic, beloved’ G rated “Snow White”, where the wicked Queen wants Snow White ‘killed’) or scenes of violence (“The Lion King” has one of the most violent death scenes ever shown, in my opinion and is rated G).

Many movies are animated with computer generated images (CGI) and many carry a PG rating, which really does attract today’s families.  Noting that the rating PG carries this message:  PARENTS ARE URGED TO USE “PARENTAL GUIDANCE”, AS THE MOTION PICTURE MAY CONTAIN SOME MATERIAL PARENTS MIGHT NOT LIKE FOR THEIR YOUNGER CHILDREN TO VIEW.  Yet, there are many young, impressionable children viewing, my children included.  It is also noted that most parents are upset with ‘violence’ in animated movies.  It amazes me for instance that “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice” is rated PG, this summer from Disney (a family icon and trustworthy brand), and it’s PG for fantasy action violence, some mild rude humor and brief language.

In defense of the MPAA
The ratings system is entirely optional.  And movies carry many messages that can help teach our children valuable life lessons.  “How To Train Your Dragon” is a great example, rated PG for sequences of intense action and some scary images, and brief mild language. The film can teach our children life lessons including: be proud of who you are, be kind to animals, listen to children (for parents), and even learning about Vikings.   We, as parents can leverage a movie’s content and provide excellent in depth discussions with our children of all ages.  I also had an excellent teachable experience with “Where The Wild Things Are”, rated PG.

All of this to say, gather as much information as you can before you see a movie.  A PG movie today seems to be what PG-13 used to be, while a PG-13 movie certainly seems like R rated fare from just a few years ago.

Celebration! Cinema Helps
Some great resources we utilize at Celebration! Cinema to assist in movie-going decision making: www.dove.org and www.kidsinmind.com.  One other really great review site is: www.screenit.com that lists ‘all content’ scene by scene, very detailed, however it’s a subscription site, so you have to pay to see any of the reviews.

It is a really tough decision, but as a parent or anyone wanting to see a movie, there are many resources out there to help make an informed decision.

Please feel free to email or call me directly as well anytime with questions about movies, I am happy to help!

Jeannie Deibis is the Programming Coordinator at Celebration! Cinema.

Celebrating the Getty Drive-In

By Kevin Sims

Manager, Getty Drive-In

Getty Grand Opening

The Getty-4 Drive-In has a long and storied history. The Getty-4 was originally a one screen theatre built in 1948 called the NK Drive-In. In 1966, Jack Loeks Theatres purchased the Drive-In and changed the name to the Getty Drive-In. In 1978, Loeks added three additional screens making the Getty-4 Drive-In one of the largest outdoor theatres in the United States.

In 1993, the Getty-4 introduced radio sound to all of its patrons. This innovation allows theatregoers to enjoy their outdoor movie by listening to nostalgic Drive-In speakers, or by tuning in a specific FM frequency on their car radio for a superior stereo sound experience. The Getty-4 has been a popular entertainment destination for people of all ages in the west Michigan area and beyond.

2010 Season

The Getty-4 will open the 2010 season on Friday, April 16. Do not miss out on first-run double features on all four huge outdoor screens 7 nights a week. Call 231-798-2608 for showtimes and information, or visit the Getty Drive In Page on the Celebration! Cinema website to see the current lineup!

Getty Drive-In

Celebrating the Classics at Celebration! Cinema

February 25, 2010 4 comments

Jeannie DeibisBy Jeannie Deibis
Celebration! Cinema Programming Coordinator

Recall the glamour of classical Hollywood, with its leading ladies and charmingly handsome men starring in some of the best movies ever… now, Celebration! Cinema has them on the big screen!

When our local movie reviewer, John Douglas, retired from the Grand Rapids Press about 3 years ago, he brought us an idea about resurrecting a classics series on the big screen. Celebrating the Classics was born. We now run it with a Winter Series (current), a Spring Series (beginning March 2), a Fall Series and a Holiday Series each year.

Celebrating the Classics

This series brings movies in both black and white and dazzling ‘first time’ Technicolor. We show them using our DLP Digital Cinema projectors, on Blu-Ray (if the movie is available in Blu-Ray) or widescreen DVD.

About the Hosts
John introduces each movie to the audience at Celebration! North, and he includes some great trivia and history that usually ties in with an interview with a star or two who appeared in the movie.  We expanded to Lansing last year and Dr. Michael V. Doyle, MSU professor and film historian, introduces our classics there and provides great history and trivia as well.

The series has found a wonderful audience that enjoys the great classics, and the affordable ticket admission, on the big screen in their original splendor.  They meet their friends and family each week and are treated to film trivia and introductions by our hosts.

The Spring Series (beginning March 2 with West Side Story) expands the theatres in the Classics lineup, as it will play at Celebration! Cinema Benton Harbor and Mt. Pleasant!  Showtimes and days remain the same: Tuesdays and Thursdays at 1:30 pm and 5:45 pm.

The Film Lineup
Celebrating the Classics movies generally are chosen utilizing the AFI Best 100 Films list, although we must have permission from the film companies to license their movies, so some are not available to us. We take requests as well and will be launching a new series at our Celebration! Cinema Woodland in late March or early April.  These movies will be more edgy, artsy, diverse – but still fun and worthy!  While we’re still finalizing the lineup, I can say that the original Star Trek and Pee Wee’s Big Adventure are just a couple of those movies hitting Woodland’s big screen in all their awe and wonder this spring.

What movies would you like to see us show for a Celebrating the Classics series?

The Evolution of Projection Technology

January 29, 2010 4 comments

By Matthew Rick
Director/Digital Projectionist

LMS System

LMS System at Celebration! Lansing

If you have been to any one of our digitally equipped theaters or visited our website lately, you have probably seen some signs, or the DLP tag that plays before a movie, informing you of our new digital projection technology. You may have asked yourself  “What is digital projection? How does it work? How is it different?”

Projection technology has made many advances over the years that have changed the roles of theatre projectionists and the design of theatre booths while aiming to create the best possible experience for the moviegoer.

When Film Was King

My dad was a projectionist at a number of drive-in theaters in Saginaw during the late ‘60s. In those days, the light source use was a carbon-arc lamp. This consisted of two carbon rods through which a massive amount of DC electrical current passed, causing the electricity to ‘arc’ between the two, resulting in a massive amount of light, as well as heat, in a process similar to that used by welders. The ‘carbons’ would burn-down over the course of 20-minutes, and would need several replacements each show.

Projection Booth at Alpine

Alpine theatre projection booth

The film came on 20-minute reels, so each screen required two projectors to show a full length movie. The film fed into the projector from the reel of film placed on top of the projector. The projectionist threaded the film through the projector, and it would be taken up on another reel below. Each film print has what are called ‘changeover cues’ for this reason. When a reel of film reaches its end, a little circle, dot or ‘X’ appears in the upper right-hand corner of the picture. This tells the projectionist to start the motor on the next projector. Eight seconds later, another cue flashes, which is when the projectionist flips a lever or presses a foot-pedal, shutting down the first projector and changing-over to the second projector. If properly executed, the audience does not notice. If the projectionist’s timing is off, the audience notices a little jump-cut in the action of the film. If the projectionist accidentally threads the reels out of order or miss a changeover altogether – well, that would be very, very bad.

The projectionist then changed the carbons in the first projector, threaded up the next reel for the next changeover, and rewound the first reel of film. Projection booths were often hot and dirty places with little to no automation of any kind. My dad once told me about when a cooling line to one of the projectors burst, rendering it inoperative. He had to interrupt the movie over the drive-in’s loudspeaker to announce a brief intermission between reels. Every 20 minutes, he had to hurriedly re-thread the one working projector as all of the cars in the drive-in impatiently honked their horns.

Multiplexes and Automation

35mm Film

35mm movie ready to start

In the 1970s, technological advances introduced many systems still in use today. Rather than having two projectors at each auditorium, there was just one. The film still came in 20-minute reels to accommodate theaters that still use a two-projector changeover system, but we began to connect them all using a technique called “splicing” into one giant reel of film.

The reel sits on a circular table called a ‘platter’, is fed through a series of rollers, threaded through the projector, and taken up on another platter. For the next show, the projectionist can then thread the film from the second platter without rewinding anything. See this in action in the photo to the left.

The light source changed, too. Instead of carbon rods, projectors began to use high-tech bulbs that pass electricity between two pieces of tungsten encased in a bulb of xenon gas. They can run for thousands of hours before needing changing, and are air-cooled.

As theater owners started building ‘multiplexes’ with multiple screens – some with eight or more – surely each would need a platoon of projectionists! Fortunately, More automation freed projectionists to work on multiple screens simultaneously. The projectionists could now use ‘cue tape’ to mark points the film for the projector to dim the house lights down or up. The projector can turn itself off when the film is through or sound an alarm if it detects something wrong with the film. The projectionist just threads the projector when it is through, starts it up at showtime and stops by periodically to check on focus and sound. This allows one projectionist to singlehandedly run a dozen screens.

Modern Projection Booths
Today, projection booths are climate- controlled to keep the computerized equipment cool, and clean to keep dirt and dust from getting to the film. They tend to appear more institutional, with cinderblock walls and tile floors – though the digital/35mm projection team in Lansing has been working to make our booth a more lively place to work (we seem to have a very ‘eclectic’ decorating style between the nine of us).

The Digital Revolution
Playing film is a deleterious process. Similar to how playing a vinyl record eventually wears the record out from the friction of the needle, passing film through a very hot projector at 24 frames per second over and over causes wear and tear. When played on properly maintained equipment by a competent projectionist, a brand new 35mm film print can look pretty close to perfect. Over time, however, the film will develop small scratches and dust (even in the cleanest of projection booths), will shed little bits of itself, and start to look less-than-sharp.

DLP Projector

DLP Digital Projector

Digital projection suffers none of these issues. A digitally projected picture looks perfect the first time it is run, the last time it is run, and each time in between, because there is no film, and far fewer moving parts. It’s clean, durable, and reliable. Instead of coming to us on a bulky film reel and requiring splicing, the movie comes on a digitally encrypted hard drive, or sometimes via satellite.

The Current Process
When a movie arrives at the theater on a hard drive, we load it into our building’s Library Management Server – or LMS for short. This is called ‘ingesting’ the movie. Once it is ingested into our LMS, we can piece the feature together with whatever coming attractions, trailers, or advertisements we are to play during pre-show. We also input cues to control the dimming and raising of house lights, among other things. We can even use one complete movie file to show a movie on multiple screens – in fact, with the midnight showings for New Moon, we were showing the same movie on 18 screens at the same time – something impossible with film!

We now input showtimes into the computer system beforehand, so each auditorium knows when its next show is. If everything is working perfectly, a theatre shows preshow ads, then runs the pre-show and the entire movie with minimal intervention from a projectionist. Digital cinema is still a relatively new and complicated technology, though, so a projectionist still has to check on each movie to make sure that everything is running perfectly. Occasionally a computerized component malfunctions, which is why we still ALWAYS have a projectionist on-duty.

In addition to a flawless picture, increased automation and improved scheduling options, it is also a very flexible technology.  Because some movies are still only available on film – particularly independent movies and documentaries – we have several auditoriums equipped for both digital and film presentations. In the case of a show on film, the digital projector will play the pre-show and trailers, then will hand-off to the film projector, which a projectionist will adjust for focus and framing.

Digital projectors allow us to offer a lot of alternative content options to our guests. We can show DVDs and Blu-Ray discs for our ‘Celebrating the Classics’ series; we can show live sporting events in HD; we can partner with NCM Fathom to receive events via satellite – anything from the Metropolitan Opera to A Prairie Home Companion to rock concerts with a crystal-clear picture through our digital projectors.

We also have the ability to display specially-released movies in 3D, which itself is a technology worthy of its own blog post [editor’s note: coming soon!].

The Future
Digital cinema is still a new technology, which continues to develop and expand. As more theaters make the digital conversion, more programming options will be become available, so we can truly show something that will fit anybody’s interests.

What do you think the future holds for movie projection? Let us know your thoughts and questions in the comments!

Matthew Rick is a Director and Digital Projectionist at Celebration! Cinema Lansing.