Walking through the former Farmer Jacks building in Saline, Paul Glantz mused that it’s hard to believe the building used to be a grocery store. Yet, this is the third grocery store the theater chain Emagine Entertainment has turned into a theater complex.
“We have competitors say it can’t be done,” said Glantz, the CEO of the corporation. “I say ‘Oh, watch us.’”
The conversion was not done easily or cheaply. Glantz said that it cost over $10 million.
(For movie listings, click here)
A key concept in the Emagine Theatre that differentiates it from other theaters and from most home entertainment is having a large screen in proportion to the size of the room. The workers were only able create this arrangement by cutting through the floor of the store and excavating soil to expand the rooms vertically.
Efficient removal of this much dirt required cutting a hole in the wall of the store so that trucks could drive in and out. The dramatic conversion was accomplished in only five to six months.
Everything about the new theater is the latest and best of current technology and comfort. Emagine Entertainment has spared no expense “to provide you with a compelling value proposition.”
For starters, guests will sit in recliner chairs that were purchased for about $500 apiece. Since the complex has nine theaters with a total of 1014 seats, they spent about one half million just on seats.
Since the chairs recline and are comfortably wide, they require much more space than typical theater seats. Consequently, the number of seats that can be placed in each room is limited. The seating capacity in the theaters at Emagine Saline ranges from 82 to 151.
The movie projectors all use the latest digital technology. Interestingly, Emagine Entertainment was the first film company to completely switch from mechanical to digital projection, according to Glantz. This happened in 2006.
In the Saline theater, the role of projectionist has been replaced by a computer system that automatically starts the movie on schedule. A theater manager also makes rounds to make sure that everything is working as it should.
As David Zylstra, VP of Technology, explained, each theater uses Dolby surround sound with a Trinnov Ovation audio processor. In most of the theaters this includes seven speaker channels and a subwoofer. However, in theater number eight, the “E-max” theater, there are seven times more speaker channels and three subwoofers.
The Emax has a particularly large screen and will be used to show 3D movies. There are 18 four-channel amplifiers each with 4-5 thousand watts of power, so the total output is nearly 100,000 watts.
“So, we have 49 channels of sound and they can take a sound and actually pan it around the room from speaker to speaker to speaker and make you feel like something is going around you or across the ceiling,” Zylstra said.
Like most theaters, you can buy popcorn and soft drinks here, but Emagine has much more. The “E-Cuisine” area provides hot food such as pizza and quesadilla. The “E-bar” provides a wide variety of adult beverages.
The food distribution was planned with cleanliness in mind.
The system “was designed specifically so that those folks that are responsible for food service are not handling money,” Glantz said. “I think it’s more hygienic.”
The theater seats do not have attached tables, but soon Emagine will offer trays that will plug into the cup holder on the chairs. The trays can be cleaned in a dishwasher, so they are more hygienic than tables.
“I’m really very fond of cleanliness,” Glantz said.
In the 1989 movie Field of Dreams, a voice told Kevin Costner, “If you build it they will come.” Glantz doesn’t have voices to guide him. He does do careful market analysis before investing in a new project, but nothing is certain.
“It’s not for the faint of heart,” Glantz said. “To be candid with you about my business, it could either be the field of dreams or the field of nightmares.”
“All the money goes in upfront before you collect a dollar in revenue, so you build it and you hope they’ll come.”
In the Saline area, Glantz and his team found an underserved region with a reasonably long drive to the nearest theater and with good prospects for continuing population growth.
“We felt pretty comfortable that we would be able to enjoy a return on that 8-figure investment,” he said.
Considering the luxuriousness of the new theater it is a surprise to some that the movie prices are comparable to other theaters. Glantz said he would rather fill the seats at a lower price than hold out for more money.
Emagine hopes to make money on the concessions which have a higher margin than ticket sales. These days, movie producers take about a 60 percent cut of ticket sales, which shrinks the theater’s profits.
As Glantz pondered his career, he said that before becoming CEO of a successful business he had done a wide variety of service jobs.
“I’ve found that there’s no such thing as bad work,” he said. “There’s something to be learned from every job you ever do in life.”
He believes that he learned valuable lessons in all of his work that have helped him be a better CEO. It has also taught him humility.
“You know who’s more important than me [the CEO] in the operation of this business?” he asked. “It’s our janitorial staff.
“I hold every one of my colleagues in high esteem. Everyone is important.”