Emagine’s focus on innovation sets it apart from other theater chains.
By Alan Dorich, Senior Editor at Knighthouse Media
For Paul Glantz, the chairman of Emagine Entertainment Inc., the act of providing escapism and entertainment to people brings him pride. “While it’s critically important to have jobs like manufacturing and high-technology positions, we don’t live by work alone,” he says. “To bring joy and happiness to folks is a privilege.”
Based in Troy, Mich., Emagine operates luxury theaters in Michigan, Illinois and Minnesota that feature a combined 24,500 seats and 208 screens. Glantz co-founded the company with a partner in the late 1980s after working as a CPA.
“We were convinced we knew everything to know about business, but we didn’t have two nickels to rub together,” Glantz recalls, noting that he and his partner sought a business opportunity they could acquire and expand.
Glantz found it one day while looking through the classified ads in The Detroit News: a movie theater that a couple wanted to sell. “We were able to acquire the business from them at a good price,” he says.
On the Rise
In the mid-1990s, the two men raised capital to build Cinema Hollywood, a six-screen theater with stadium seating. At the time, Glantz notes, the feature was not a guaranteed draw, since many theaters had sloped floors.
Those were easier and less expensive to build but detrimental to the viewer. “If you got behind a tall guy or a woman with big hair, you got to see only half the film,” Glantz explains, adding that it also took time for Cinema Hollywood to find a customer base.
But the location experienced a business boom in December 1997 with the release of the megahit “Titanic,” starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet. “It was a film everyone wanted to see,” Glantz recalls. “I remember teenage girls coming to see it 12 times.”
Emagine built its business from there and focused on expanding in the metropolitan Detroit area. However, “It was at a time when the industry was back on its heels,” he says. “In the late 1990s and early 2000s, virtually every major theater chain declared bankruptcy.”
Some blamed it on excess theater capacity, but Glantz accredits it to the lack of stadium seating in theaters, which gave Emagine an advantage. “We were fortunate to be on the front edge of the paradigm shift,” he says.
Over the years, Emagine continued to be a step ahead of the industry, including being the first to convert to digital projection in 2005. One of Glantz’s acquaintances, A. Dale “Bud” Mayo, the founder and CEO of Cinedigm, formed a deal with movie studios for virtual print fees.
“We agreed to pay some of the upfront cost, and the studios agreed to pay the balance over time,” Glantz recalls, noting that digital projection provides cost advantages over distributing 35-millimeter film prints. “I was happy to be a pioneer in that space.”
Today, Emagine operates 17 theaters and continues to set itself apart. Glantz notes that the company’s location in Novi, Mich., is host to the third largest screen in the world, stretching 48 feet in length and 92 feet in width.
“We put about 45,000 lumens of light on that screen,” he says. “For a kid, that is a very special place to watch an action-packed film. It was a costly endeavor, but I’m glad we did it.”
Emagine also offers customers the option of renting entire theater auditoriums for parties where they can control the movie with the help of an iPad. “It’s proving very popular with moms,” he says. “If you want to turn up the lights, you can do that. If you want to pause the film to use the restroom, you can do that too.”
The company also continues to adjust to trends, including the adoption of reclining chairs in theaters. “For years, I railed against people who put their feet on the seats,” Glantz says. “It should have dawned on me that the most comfortable position to watch a film is with your feet elevated.”
By the end of this year, all of Emagine’s theaters will feature power reclining chairs. “It’s about comfort,” he says. “It makes for a terrific out-of-home entertainment experience.”
In the Right Place
Emagine plans for continued growth. “I think we have a bright future as long as folks find it to be a good value for them to patronize our venues,” Glantz says. The company plans to open new locations in Hartland Township, Mich., and Lake Geneva, Wis., later this year.
Lake Geneva will involve the renovation of an older theater, but the company also has had success in converting retail spaces. “Three of our venues today are former grocery stores,” he says. “If they’re in the right spots and in good communities, we can repurpose that space and make it into a luxury movie theater,” notes Glantz.