Made in Plano: Cinemark Theatre

Behind-the-Scenes at Cinemark

The perfect movie theater experience is created here in Plano, right down the road at Cinemark headquarters. Recently, Plano Magazine took a behind-the-scenes tour. Spoiler: this might be the only “made in Plano” feature that involves a clandestine caravan to a secret compound.

Our tour guides were two of Cinemark’s own leading men, Damian Wardle, senior vice president of Global Theatres Technology & Presentation, and James Meredith, senior vice president of Marketing & Communications. Our meeting took place in the morning, beginning in the enormous XD auditorium on-site at the West Plano cinema.

“It’s strange being in an empty theater,” I said. “Eerie even.”

“It is,” Damian said. “Theaters are designed to be full.”

How ironic then that it was much easier to grasp the luxury of the theater when it was empty. A waterfall of luxury recliners cascaded down to the 75-by-38-foot screen. We were treated to a quadruple-feature trailer presentation that showcased the XD screen’s extraordinary audio/visual capabilities.

Ever wanted to see behind that little window at the back the theater? A large projector sits in the projector room, and the purple window opens out into the auditorium.

Is there a technically perfect spot to watch a movie? “We really try to create a great experience in every seat,” Damian explained. “Some people like to go for the bottom row, because they want to feel like they are right there in the movie. Some like to feel like they are basically at home.”

Damian led the way down to the screen to show some of the technical innovations. The entire screen is covered in pinprick holes. Viewers don’t notice from seats, but this allows sound from massive speakers behind the screen to spread out evenly into the seats.

The size of the screen itself was humbling. It was explained that the screen can’t be folded and had to be brought in rolled up on a truck and carefully suspended. In Latin America, where many of the screens are in malls, Cinemark has had to punch holes in both parking garages and ceilings to fit the screen into the theaters. Here in Texas, we’re lucky, because everything is bigger. Even our hallways.

In the Auro Sound installation for Cinemark, three levels of speakers combine for a completely enveloping sound: Blue, the ear-level surround sound speakers; Orange, the “height” speakers; and Red, the overhead “Voice-of-God” and effects speakers // courtesy Cinemark

We headed back to the projector room, where Damian introduced us to separate digital and laser projectors that even have their own little telephones connecting directly to a support desk. More on that later.

Cinemark is constantly investing in the newest projectors. With Cinemark headquarters being located on the Dallas North Tollway, most of the new tech comes straight to the West Plano theater next door for corporate testing. Cinemark also creates blind tests for sound and visuals here at West Plano and at the Plano Legacy location. These involve setting up the same movies and playing them on different projectors and sound systems. Then, they ask employees and guests to rank the experience according to preference. According to the experts, laser projectors are the current top-of-the-line machines.

1. Cinema Player Touch Screen Monitor 2. Projector Lamp House 3. Projector Heat Exhaust Duct 4. Projector Touch Panel (for manual operation when needed) 5. Internal Media Block (Media Player) 6. Projector Lens 7. 3D Polarizer 8. Show Vault (where movies are stored) 9. Automation (controls auditorium lights, curtains, movie playlist, etc.) 10. UPS unit (power supply) 11. IP Phone (direct line to Cinemark Support Center) 12. Power Distribution Unit
The projector’s touch panel, for manual operation when needed

A dedication to fine-tuning the movie-watching experience is apparent in everything done at Cinemark. When audience members asked for the ability to drink a beverage of choice before, during and after movies, Cinemark opened a bar. When surveys showed that viewers would enjoy a full-meal experience, tests began in Seattle. A Cinemark iOS app was created to allow guests to join the loyalty program, play custom games associated with movies and try out augmented reality projects.

What came next on our tour was sort of like being in a spy film. Damian invited us to see Cinemark’s off-site, top-secret compound. We were blindfolded, spun in a circle, and then driven to the location. (Really, we drove there ourselves, but I can’t tell you where we went. So don’t ask.)

First, we entered The Bridge. It is a substantial room with several employees plugged into a full wall of massive monitors. It was like stepping into some version of the NASA command center in the movie “Apollo 13”. Of course, this sort of makes sense considering Cinemark has sent most of us to space at least a handful of times, figuratively. From The Bridge, Cinemark monitors over 26,000 daily showings in 586 theaters, on all 5,903 screens in North America and Latin America.

The Bridge at the Cinemark Support Center // photos Luke Shertzer

Up on the monitors, the weekly attendance for all theaters showed more than three million viewers. It was only Tuesday. And those little phones on the projectors back at the theater? Those lead right to this command center. From here, the trilingual, 24/7 support staff can check the start-time of a film in Brazil and even the weather conditions at a Cinemark theater on the Amazon River.

“Most of the time, we’re monitoring quality and operations of the movie projector systems, but we can also monitor whether employees can get to work during inclement weather,” Damian said. “We don’t open without employees. Though, to be honest, from a projector standpoint everything is so efficient that the movies can still run.”

All of this combined precision makes for an ideal movie-going experience. Next time you lean back in those comfy recliners in front of the massive screen, picture Cinemark’s NASA-style Bridge and imagine the Cinemark team counting down: “5, 4, 3, 2, 1 – West Plano Theater 11 is a GO!”

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