Multiplex Giants Battle L.A.'s Boutique Theaters for Premieres

Courtesy of AEG
The Regal Cinemas Stadium 14 at L.A. Live in downtown Los Angeles.

Luring Hollywood red carpets to downtown L.A. is still proving tough two years after AEG and Regal decided to go head-to-head with Grauman's and Westwood.

When Regal Entertainment Group and developer AEG opened a $100 million multiplex at L.A. Live in 2009, they weren't just making a run at the moviegoing business. The 14-screen complex, which features the 806-seat Regal Premiere House, was designed to attract lavish Hollywood premieres.

But nearly two years later, the downtown L.A. theater has not been widely adopted by movie studios, which for the most part continue to stage premieres in Hollywood -- at Grauman's Chinese Theatre and the Cinerama Dome at ArcLight Hollywood -- and at the Regency Village Theatre in Westwood.

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Premieres are a small but significant corner of the exhibition business. Excluding party costs, studios typically spend $50,000 to $100,000 per premiere -- on everything from theater rental to the red carpet. For a venue like the Chinese, which hosted more than 40 premieres in 2010, that's big business.

But the major studios have held no more than a handful of premieres at L.A. Live's Premiere House, citing the far-flung location and traffic as deterrents. Although the adjacent Nokia Theatre has lured a few high-profile premieres, including those for Sony's Michael Jackson documentary This Is It and Summit's 2010 Twilight installment Eclipse, Lionsgate's Aug. 10 bow of Conan the Barbarian has been one of the few big-ticket events to take place at the Regal.

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"It's a slow process to introduce a new house, but we are picking up. I think in the next year we are going to see a tremendous upswing," says Michael Roth, vp communications at AEG, owner of L.A. Live, the $2.5 billion mixed-use development located across the street from Staples Center. AEG also owns the multiplex, which is operated by Regal.

AEG and Regal are attempting to undercut the competition by positioning Premiere House, with its private entrance and lobby, as a less expensive alternative to the traditional venues. Regal charges $10,000 to $15,000 for rental of the theater, though there are additional costs, such as security and food and beverage, associated with hosting a premiere. Roth says AEG and Regal have developed comprehensive premiere plans -- which include the use of L.A. Live hotels and event space for pre- and post-screening receptions -- to reduce costs for studios. "When you bring in a premiere at the theater, it also drives business to the hotel and our 19 restaurants, and that is something we consider with our pricing," he says.

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Alwyn Hight Kushner, director of operations at Chinese Theatres Llc., the entity headed by producers Elie Samaha and Donald Kushner that purchased the Chinese in May, says premieres are an important business for the historic 1,162-seat venue built by theater pioneer Sid Grauman in 1927. "It is just a different experience from what you have in downtown or the ArcLight. It is almost apples and oranges, really," says Hight Kushner, daughter of Donald. She declined to discuss fees the theater charges for premieres.

In an effort to capitalize on premiere business, the Chinese's ownership group is renovating the lobby of its adjacent Mann Chinese 6 multiplex, housed in the Hollywood & Highland Center. The remodel by noted L.A. interior designer Gulla Jonsdottir, who also worked on the Roosevelt Hotel across the street, should be complete in October and will allow the Chinese to host lucrative premiere parties, which often take place at nearby Hollywood locales. The ability to stage such events would position the Chinese as an all-inclusive premiere destination -- which is exactly how AEG touts its Premiere House.

Studio sources question whether Premiere House's location will allow it to overcome the traffic and logistical issues associated with L.A. Live, often home to multiple events on a single night. Roth downplays such concerns. "I understand that people are reticent about a downtown premiere, but once they are here, they are surprised how quickly they get here and how quickly they get home," he says.

The Regal multiplex has been home to the Los Angeles Film Festival for the past two years, but L.A. Live lost the Film Independent Spirit Awards after only one show there in 2010. Still, Eric Kops, senior vp publicity at Summit, says studios should consider downtown more often for premieres. "They go for Adele and Lady Gaga concerts. Why wouldn't you go to a movie premiere?" he says. "It makes a lot of sense to me."


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Twitter: @DanielNMiller