CinemaCon, the annual convention of movie theater owners, is all about flash. It is designed to excite and inspire global exhibitors over each studio’s yearly film offerings and sweeten the pot with star cameos.
Sure, the trade halls at Las Vegas’ Caesars Palace are full of the newest in reclining chairs and the latest trends in concessions, but the rank-and-file employees who populate America’s cineplexes can often get lost in the crush of comic book film footage or a fleeting glance at Scarlett Johansson next to the Wheel of Fortune slot machines.
In a year when around 115,000 U.S. theater workers saw their employers forced to shutter, Universal Pictures spent the time and money to celebrate the ushers, greeters, ticket-tearers and theater managers who kept us moving through the cinema before coronavirus devastated the industry.
On Wednesday, Universal presented some 75 minutes of footage from upcoming films including “Halloween Kills,” “Jurassic World: Dominion,” “Sing 2,” “The Black Phone,” Jennifer Lopez’s “Marry Me” and more. Remote crews were dispatched to film celebrity introductions for the convention, but added a thoughtful touch — words from the staffers of resurgent movie houses, once again facing crisis as the COVD-19 delta variant threatens theaters.
Jamie Lee Curtis hyped up her latest battle with Michael Myers, but before CinemaCon goers were treated to a trailer, she tossed to the manager of the Magic Lantern Cinema in Ketchum, Idaho. He expressed his grief over the theater’s closure, and his excitement to welcome the public back for “Halloween Kills.”
Matthew McConaughey shouted out his favorite staffer at Austin’s Alamo Drafthouse. Ethan Hawke introduced the crowd to Aaron Baseman, a worker at New Jersey’s Princeton Garden Theatre and an aspiring filmmaker. Lopez underscored the value of original storytelling for her pop star romance “Marry Me,” then deferred to a front-of-house member at the Bronx’s Concourse Plaza Multiplex named Leon. 86-year-old Katherine Lawrence of the AMC Village Theaters in Manhattan was spotlighted by Jake Gyllenhaal.
Their placement in the studio’s premium reel wasn’t just classy, but a reminder of what is at stake for theatrical exhibition. Especially in the plush CinemaCon auditorium, which was much emptier than usual this year thanks to the ongoing pandemic.