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How Turner Classic Movies and Fathom Events Bring Classics to Your Local Theater

How Turner Classic Movies and Fathom Events Bring Classics to Your Local Theater

The loyal audience that arthouse cinemas rely on is the older moviegoer. And more and more, with the specialty market on the wane, theaters are reaching out to their local communities with alternative programs.

One sure way to reach them is via classic programming. Based on the success of past ad hoc screenings of studio anniversary restorations like “Roman Holiday”  and “Home Alone” in theaters, Turner Classic Movies (TCM) and digital distributor Fathom Events are rolling out a new series of Big Screen Classics for 2016, in hopes of grabbing senior as well as younger cinephiles who many not have seen the classics on view.

This year’s expanded year-long TCM Big Screen Classics series brings more classic movies to theaters each month – presented in the original aspect ratio with digital projection. Launched in January with Paul Newman and Robert Redford in “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid,” Big Screen Classics follows up on February 21 and 24 with four showings of John Huston’s classic Warner Bros.1941 film noir “The Maltese Falcon,” starring Humphrey Bogart as Detective Sam Spade, Mary Astor, Sydney Greenstreet and Peter Lorre, celebrating its 75th anniversary.

The mystery of the jewel-encrusted “black bird” will hit more than 650 screens across the country with commentary from TCM host Ben Mankiewicz before and after each screening (2 p.m. and 7 p.m. local time each day). TCM gets a lot out of this partnership, beyond revenue and brand-polishing. “A huge reason we’re growing the series,” said Genevieve McGillicuddy, VP of partnerships and brand activation for TCM in a phone interview, “is that it gives us fantastic reach, not only for our hardcore fan base coming out to see films they’re excited to see in theaters, but bringing friends and family, people who are not familiar with the movies, which is a great introduction fro TCM. It’s a fantastic awareness opportunity.”  

Programming an entire 12 months for the first time for the 2016 calendar “took time and effort to put together with multiple studios,” said McGillikuddy. “That’s a regular habit we want to build on.” The program listed below shows a range of titles and genres across the decades, from the 40s through the 80s, from “The Maltese Falcon” to Easter title “The Ten Commandments” and “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.”

Owned by theater chains AMC, Cinemark and Regal, Fathom Events is run by CEO John Rubey, an expert in digital events and pay-per-view programming. He has been expanding alternative digital programming in theaters, from anime and faith-based films to the Metropolitan Opera and National Theatre Live, usually for short runs of less than five days, plus music, video-gaming and sporting events like boxing, hockey, soccer and basketball. The recent Grateful Dead last concert pay-per-view in Chicago was huge as fans flocked to theaters to dance together as they did in concerts over three decades. Fathom’s biggest one-night event ever was the 12-screen BBC “Dr. Who” Season 8 premiere in 2013. Sharing red carpet premieres is an another emerging business.  

Fathom and TCM had been releasing the odd DVD restoration title classics since 2012. Fathom makes it possible to take an event and “scale it across all of our owners as well as affiliates, so we can put in on all screens at once,” Rubey told me in a phone interview, ranging from 490 theaters up to 650 screens in 180 markets—a lot more than the standard top 50. Fathom acts as distributor and go-between for TCM and theaters, coordinating their marketing groups. Fathom has its own digital broadcast network, but also uses live streaming via Digital Cinema Distribution Coalition (DCDC) and hard drive DCPs, depending on the title. “There is a multi-generational audience outside of New York and LA,” said McGillicuddy, who rarely get the opportunity to see these films.” 

The key for TCM was to create a theater event with content you can’t get at home, via behind-the-scenes commentary on how the movies got made from popular TCM hosts Robert Osborne and Ben Mankiewicz, who provide fresh pre-taped intros and outros for the showings. “Many people in the audience have ‘Jaws’ or “The Breakfast Club’ at home on DVD or VHS,” said Rubey, “but everybody’s got to come out and see it together. A whole generation never saw it on the big screen, and now they can see it digitally restored on a 2 or 4K cinema screen. That makes it special.”

While the average TCM demo is over 35, “The Breakfast Club” drew millennials, while “Jaws” scooped up all ages, from grandparents to their grandchildren. 

Fathom takes some of the labor-intensive work of mounting these movies on a one-off basis in theaters off the studios. The economics are strong: they provide cost-effective marketing and distribution for classic films to a national audience and help the studios monetize their libraries by stimulating sales of homevideo classic titles. Fathom runs trailers in front of the movies and promotes them on radio via promotions as well as on social media. You don’t reach a young audience via newspaper anymore. Fathom often works with Tugg and SpectiCast as digital ticketing partners on smaller-scale events. “I went to see the James Bond movie and saw an ad for ‘Roman Holiday,'” said McGillicuddy. “We’re getting awareness in front of audiences. Many people out there love movies who haven’t checked out TCM.”

Fathom has forged partnerships and master license agreements with most of the studios as well as TCM and the BBC, though not all the deals are closed. “We’re in the service business,” said Rubey.

TCM Big Screen Classics Series 2016 Schedule
Jan. 17 and 20 – Twentieth Century Fox’s Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969) – Paul Newman and Robert Redford set the standard for the buddy film with this wonderfully entertaining western classic which at once debunks the myth of the Old West and mourns its passing.
Feb. 21 and 24 – Warner Bros.’ The Maltese Falcon 75th Anniversary (1941) – Dashiell Hammett’s 1930 novel The Maltese Falcon had already been made into a movie twice before its most well known version was created in 1941 and became an American cinema classic. 
March 20 and 23 – Paramount Pictures’ The Ten Commandments (1956) – Celebrating its 60th anniversary, Cecil B. DeMille’s epic portrayal of the life of Moses made Charlton Heston a superstar and remains a cinematic triumph.
April 24 and 27 – Sony Pictures’ On The Waterfront (1954) – “The finest thing ever done by an American film actor” was how director Elia Kazan characterized the performance of Marlon Brando in On the Waterfront.   Screenplay by Budd Schulberg, this classic tale tells of crime and corruption among unionized dock workers in New York and New Jersey.
May 15 and 18 – Paramount Pictures’ Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (1986) – The seminal comedy about a high school student’s wild adventures in the Windy City during a single, glorious day off continues to be enjoyed, quoted and revered 30 years after its theatrical debut.
June 26 and 29 – Warner Bros’ Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory (1971) – Five children win special tickets entitling them to a lifetime supply of candy and a personal tour of the mysterious Willy Wonka Chocolate Factory. Directed by Mel Stuart, starring Gene Wilder as the unpredictable title character and based on the popular children’s book by Roald Dahl.
July 24 and 27 – Twentieth Century Fox’s Planet Of The Apes (1968) – Made for less than $6 million by Twentieth Century Fox in 1967, Planet of the Apes returned a 600 percent profit on its investment. Charlton Heston and Roddy McDowall star in this box office smash about an astronaut crew that crash lands on a planet in the distant future where intelligent talking apes are the dominant species.
Aug. 28 and 31 – Twentieth Century Fox’s The King and I 60th Anniversary (1951) – The lavish film adaptation of the Broadway hit starring Deborah Kerr as an English governess who brings modern ways to 19th century Siam and falls in love with its king (Yul Brynner) in the process.
Sept. 18 and 21 – Sony Pictures’ Dr. Strangelove: Or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love The Bomb (1964) – This brilliant satire on politics, nuclear Armageddon and the military industrial complex, is also a cornucopia of outrageous comic performances, not the least of which were the three roles portrayed by Peter Sellers.  Screenplay by Stanley Kubrick, Peter George and Terry Southern and directed by Stanley Kubrick.
Oct. 23 and 26 – Warner Bros’ The Shining (1980) – The seminal psychological horror film produced and directed by Stanley Kubrick, co-written with novelist Diane Johnson starring Jack Nicholson, Shelley Duvall, Danny Lloyd and Scatman Crothers and based on Stephen King’s 1977 novel The Shining.
Nov. 27 and 30 – Paramount Pictures’ Breakfast At Tiffany’s (1961) – Audrey Hepburn sparkles as the free-spirited Holly Golightly in director Blake Edwards’ wildly entertaining classic about a party girl looking for love in New York City.
Dec. 11 and 14 – Sony Pictures’ From Here To Eternity (1953) – The powerful, realistic story and fierce indictment of the lives of American military men (and their women) stationed in peacetime Hawaii in the summer and fall before the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor. Starring Burt Lancaster, Montgomery Clift, Deborah Kerr, Donna Reed and Frank Sinatra, Directed by Fred Zinnemann  and screenplay by Daniel Taradash.

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