Posts Tagged ‘Technology’

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.

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!

Transitioning to Digital IMAX at Celebration! Cinema Lansing

By Bob Brown
Chief Projectionist

Digital IMAX Transition at Celebration! Cinema LansingIn early May, the Celebration! Cinema Lansing IMAX theatre switched from the traditional film-based projection format to the latest IMAX digital format.   The transformation took about two weeks to complete.  All of the old equipment had to be removed; new projection port windows installed and new sub speakers had to be set.

The main reason behind this transition is to better serve our Lansing guest in assuring that Lansing will be showing the latest IMAX releases.  In December, Lansing was not able to receive a film print of AVATAR.  This situation made it clear to J.D. Loeks, President of Loeks Theatres, Inc. that a change needed to be made.

About the New Technology
The Digital IMAX system is based on using two 2k Christie digital projectors.  IMAX has “souped up” these projectors with their proprietary image enhancing real-time monitoring system.  This system relies on a camera that monitors the screen at all times and makes any necessary corrections to the image that you see on the screen, assuring that the show is always the best it can be.

Along with the new projectors, we upgraded the sound system by installing new amps, upgrading the current speakers with new crossovers to better reproduce the sound, and installed 16 new sub speakers.  After the speakers where upgraded, a sound engineer from IMAX “re-tuned” the speakers to the auditorium to ensure the absolute best sound reproduction for our guests.

What about the old projectors?
During the installation, the old projectors were taken out. However, during the install installation in 2003, these projectors were dropped in the booth through the ceiling using a huge crane.  We thought that we could remove these projectors, which weigh 1500 pounds using a furniture mover and lots and lots of manpower.  After some struggles, we managed to get them down from the booth and transported them to Grand Rapids where they will be used for training, a source of parts, and other uses.

See below for a gallery of some of the pictures we took during the upgrade:

Bob Brown is the chief projectionist and a certified IMAX SPP Technician 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

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.