Movie Heroes rescuing rural theaters

Movie Heroes membership program installed at three new locations; Sconce and Walker eyeing international expansion

awileman@sierrastar.comJuly 1, 2014 

The newly innovated Movie Heroes membership program has recently expanded to three new sites including theaters in Red Bluff, Avenal and Coalinga.

When former Yosemite High School graduates Matt Sconce and Keith Walker returned to Oakhurst with the hopes of re-opening the Met Cinema they had little notion of where it would take them.

In 2013 the two entrepreneurs started by successfully pitching their idea to production companies like Lionsgate, Warner Brothers, and 20th Century Fox which allowed them to bring premier movies back to the once thriving Oakhurst Met Cinema.

Since convincing all major production companies to show their movies at the Met, Sconce and Walker have taken the next steps towards expansion which included attending a four-day movie industry conference in Las Vegas known as CinemaCon.

Taking the bull by the horns at CinemaCon, Walker and Sconce used the platform as a way to promote and educate the movie business on their possible industry changing idea.

The two local movie buffs pitched their idea in front of countless movie producers, actors and production companies as a revolutionary idea that would not only make movie viewing more enticing for moviegoers, but also drive up the number of movies viewed at given theaters.

Although initially nerves were twitching and hearts were racing during their presentation Walker and Sconce said they soon came to the realization they were truly the focus of many people's attention.

"You're popular because people need something to help their theaters survive and thrive," Sconce said. "They can try the same tried methods but this is something that is turning the tables on that. There are a few pockets of innovation but this is more like a heart transplant. We are taking out the heart out of the theater and administering a heart that beats two times as well."

Both Sconce and Walker understand the challenges that accompany such change, but said they relish the opportunity and are excited about the possibilities.

"We are doing something so different than the industry has ever done. It's not a evolutionary change, it's a revolutionary change that is taking place," Sconce said.

Following CinemaCon, the two have taken the development of their new membership program to the next level installing Movie Heroes at three new locations across the state.

The membership program, which costs customers anywhere from $16.95 to $19.95, depending on location, allows moviegoers to view as many movies as they want during the months of their paid memberships.

Co-owner of Red Bluff Prime Cinemas, Brian Young, said the idea was first pitched to him at CinemaCon where he decided to further investigate.

Young said he was looking into Movie Heroes trying to find flaws and reasons why he should not spend the money or waste the time.

However, to his surprise, Young came to the conclusion there was no clear indicator as to why he should not try this new concept.

On June 6, Red Bluff Prime Cinemas became the third theater to install Movie Heroes.

"We went to CinemaCon in March which is a big conference for the Movie industry and we heard Matt and Keith make a pitch to theater owners. Their story started off similar to ours, in reference to our small town theater that was struggling. That really got our attention," Young said.

Since the installation in June, Red Bluff Cinema has seen an dramatic increase in the number of patrons and within 18 days has signed up more than 3,000 members.

"It's gone very well," Young said. "We weren't sure what to expect and we were hoping to have this number (3,000) of members by the end of June and hit that number on June 24, we feel pretty good."

Red Bluff is the largest theater Movie Heroes has been installed in, having six screens. Young says they have recently sold out on numerous occasions, something the six screen movie theater was not used to in the past.

Young believes the outcome has been nothing but positive despite a small percentage of customers having a tough time comprehending the new membership program.

"The biggest challenge we have faced has been to reeducate people on this new type of model," Young said. "It's such a foreign concept that it just doesn't compute for some people. They don't believe they can come and see as many movies at they want, but this is a honeymoon phase and people are just getting used to going to the movies that often," Young said.

Young says he hopes for the best and is curious of how things will turn out with Movie Heroes but one thing for sure, without a dramatic change Red Bluff Cinema was not going to be open much longer.

"It gives us hope and we are thankful for that," Young said. "Prior to Movie Heroes we were wondering how we were going to keep it going. This has a chance to save a lot of small town theaters, I really believe that."

To make sure their concept was truly efficient, Scone and Walker discussed the reoccurring issues that found themselves prevalent in urban town theaters.

Because movie production companies decide who gets what movie at what theater, and because the choice to give specific movies to certain theaters is based on sales and revenue, theaters like Avenal and Coalinga found themselves without many of the major production movies upon first release.

Since the implementation of Movie Heroes, both theaters have been able to land premier movies which has also added to the ongoing success of the previously struggling complexes.

Both Avenal and Coalinga theaters expressed interest in the memberships system prior to CinemaCon and since their installation in June both theaters have seen a dramatic increase in ticket sales and revenue margins.

Another form of technology the two Oakhurst natives have included in their pitch, and a huge reason why production companies came on board, is the COVES (Camera Occupancy Verification System) operating system which takes live pictures of the movie theater allowing studios to actively monitor the number of viewers at each showing. The videos are then archived for ten years for audibility.

Facing higher demand, and in order to cope with the larger than life work load, Walker and Sconce say they are looking to expand their employee pool in order to compensate for the time and effort it takes to install movie heroes in certain locations.

"We are just a couple guys trying to do something huge. We are understaffed and overworked," Walker said.

The program which takes a week to install and another week to properly train the staff can take upwards near a month to get everything running smoothly.

"We need twenty Keiths to deal with the technical aspects, but we only have one," Sconce said in reference to Walker's technical abilities.

With more than 50 theaters expressing interest in Movie Heroes, the duo hopes to be able to commit to theaters in the near future but have focused on making sure things are running smoothly with their initial investors.

"We have to decide what is the best growth model for us and take a lot of time and care into each location so they can succeed," Walker said. "We are very hands on and our customers know they will be taken care of. If they succeed, we succeed."

Although legalities require Sconce and Walker to remain quiet on exactly which theaters are interested both said there is clear demand from theaters all across the globe, including theaters in Texas, the East Coast and Australia.

Walker said the program has changed the way people view movie and says they have received nearly six times the normal movie viewing opportunities.

"People were compromising on time and quality," Walker said. "With this membership members stop asking themselves that question and start watching the movies. Once people sign up to be members they watch more movies at a rate six times the national average. We look at like something magical happens when people sign up. Once they become members they become avid moviegoers."

The success of Movie Heroes and the revitalization of the Met was showcased Sunday, June 29 during a private screening of "Planes: Fire and Rescue" when Disney decided to host its press junket for the new animated film near Yosemite National Park, keeping with the theme of the newest Disney production.

Generally these pre-screenings are done at much larger venues in Los Angles, New York and London but Sconce said he and Walker were more than excited to host such a exclusive event.

"Disney was one of the first studios to come on board and support our Movie Heroes Membership system. We have always enjoyed a great relationship with them and to be selected by them for the world press premiere of Planes: Fire and Rescue was just icing on the cake, further validating what we have created here in Oakhurst."

Sconce and Walker want the people of the Mountain Area to know that regardless of the success of Movie Heroes, their initial devotion is to the Oakhurst Met Cinema and in no way will the future of Movie Heroes negativity effect the Met.

"What Movies Heroes does is separate from the Met," Sconce said. "The Met is safe no matter what. Even if something were to happen with Movie Heroes the Met will be fine. We didn't want to put the Met in jeopardy"

In fact the two believe that the monetary success of Movie Heroes could potentially help with improvements at the Met.

"This gives us more revenue to make upgrades to the Met." Sconce said. "We are looking at changing out the seating to provide more leg room, sound upgrades, lighting upgrades and dimming light capability to make going to the theater a better experience. Met members should be excited because this is where it all began."

Sconce and Walker said they will continue to pursue their goal of revolutionary change in the movie industry through hard work and motivated effort.

"We love movies, we love the industry, now we have a way to not only help independent theater survive but thrive and we are excited to role that out across the nation."

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