Jim Patterson, director, AerenR IMAX, was in town recently to assess the performance of the theatre that had been written off as a failure, before it managed to claw its way back into the citys cinema-going crowd. He talks to t2 about the IMAX experience...
When you opened IMAX in Calcutta, what was the kind of footfall figures and business that you were looking at?
An IMAX theatre hopes to get annual footfalls in the 200,000 to 500,000 range to be successful. This was also our hope.
What was the footfall like in the initial months? You said it was not good enough...
In January we opened with a monthly footfall of just over 5,000 which dropped to about 3,500 by February, short of where we would like to be at that stage.
What do you think went against IMAX? Was it just the general downturn effect, or were people not ready for the IMAX experience or are Calcuttans just too tightfisted?
Probably a combination. The economic times were certainly bad but the biggest issue is the same one every new IMAX theatre faces. That is that the public just does not know what IMAX is, why it is better, why spend more on a ticket, and some of the films are not known. We must educate each new market and we opened with not enough communication to do this.
What did you do to woo the crowd? Can you talk us through the marketing strategy?
There is no shortcut and I have launched 10 IMAX theatres. They all have the same challenge. So we increased advertising in the newspapers, put up much more signage at Mani Square Mall (and the footfalls there continue to increase) and most importantly started doing promotions with other companies (partners) such as Vodafone, Airtel, Citibank, Honda, Mani Square Mall, Pantaloons and others in which we give special prices and offers to their customers in return for them communicating about IMAX to their customers. These have worked very well to promote trial. We conduct exit surveys and once people try IMAX they are very happy with the experience and over 90 per cent say they will return. So our objective is to promote trials to see the IMAX difference.
When did you start noticing a change and what is the footfall like now?
The improvements were fast and by March we were triple the footfall of February. We are now running at about 12,000-15,000 per month and revenues are also climbing.
Are you satisfied or do you want it to go up further?
I would like to increase to at least 20,000 footfalls per month on an average. With some of the big films coming we will have some months better than this. As word gets out that this is the best way to see a movie, we should continue to improve as is the usual experience.
Do you think IMAX needs to reassess the kind of films it is showing? Is content a problem? What are you doing to get better films in the format?
The challenge in IMAX is always the films. IMAX uses a film format that is 10 times the size of regular cinema so not all films are available in this format. They cost much more to produce. The good news is that there are more and more Hollywood films, and they tend to be the better ones, the blockbusters. We also can pick the best of the IMAX Classics (45-minute 3D fun films). For example we will bring Sea Monsters 3D which is a great film that I am sure will do well.
What are the films that we can expect at IMAX in the near future?
In addition to the Sea Monsters 3D, we are planning the enhanced version of Star Trek (not 3D but enhanced sound and picture for the giant IMAX screen) and then Harry Potter on July 15. Harry Potter is also enhanced throughout but in addition that select (exciting) scenes are in 3D and audiences will put on the glasses to be immersed in the action. Only IMAX will have this 3D and Harry Potter is very popular in Calcutta. Later in 2009 we have another couple of Hollywood classics under consideration.
| A still from Star Trek
What about changing some Bollywood films to IMAX format? Is that doable? Do we have that technology?
Many films, like Star Trek, are converted from their original 35-mm format to the large IMAX format and enhanced. This technically can be done for any film but it is a matter of the economics as the process can cost about a couple of million US dollars. So Bollywood films could be done but the economic justification is not yet there.
When can we expect these movies? And are there any expansion plans in the city?
Nobody knows when Bollywood might be converted as first we need to get more IMAX theatres up and running. There are more planned and our groups will open in Delhi over the next year so we shall see.
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