Entertanment

IMAX Entertainment CEO Talks Making History With Marvel’s ‘Inhumans’

Greg Foster, CEO, IMAX Entertainment, at TheWrap’s 7th Annual TheGrill at Montage Beverly Hills in Beverly Hills, California. (Credit: Matt Winkelmeyer/Getty Images)

Marvel’s Inhumans is about to make history.

Premiering on ABC on September 29, 2017, with an eight-episode run, the first two episodes will debut on IMAX screens on September 1, 2017, and run for two weeks.

Not only is this first time that has taken place, Marvel’s Inhumans also has the unique honor of being the first television show ever to have the pilot and the second installment shot with both IMAX and traditional cameras.

“The lines between television and movies are blurring, in fact, I would pose that they have blurred. We have an incredible relationship with Marvel, we have for a long time and we have an amazing relationship with Disney so we started talking and Inhumans came about,” Greg Foster, CEO of IMAX Entertainment told Forbes.

I, and others, got to sit down with Foster to find out more about the trailblazing project and discuss the risks involved.

Question: A lot of people will be wondering, this is a TV show so why not just bring it to, but make it for, IMAX and why now?

Greg Foster: The genesis of it is multi-layered. First of all, our goal, IMAX’s goal, is to provide 52 weeks of compelling content and the reality is that big tent pole, blockbuster movies, which is how we now make our living, do not come out 52 weeks of the year. In North America, right around Labor Day, studios don’t release big movies. I still can’t quite figure out why, but they don’t. They didn’t use to release big movies in January, but now they do because American Sniper did so well. They don’t release them post-Thanksgiving, pre-Star Wars, which means the first two weeks of December, they don’t release them Super Bowl Sunday week, they don’t release them at the end of April – it’s just how it works. An exhibitor who’s in the IMAX business doesn’t really care that studios don’t release big time, full blockbuster movies during eight to ten weeks a year. What they care is that they have their biggest grossing screens, which are IMAX screens, and the most trafficked multiplexes, don’t have new product.

Q: So why pick Marvel’s Inhumans as the first project to do this with?

GF: The lines between television and movies are blurring, in fact, I would pose that they have blurred. We have an incredible relationship with Marvel, we have for a long time and we have an amazing relationship with Disney so we started talking and Inhumans came about. It’s something that is being designed and customized to take advantage of the IMAX footprint, the IMAX scope. It’s a television show, it’s not a movie, but it’s a television show with incredibly high production values, that features a lot of things futuristically, and in space, which lends itself to IMAX, and it’s got this window, and the window happens to conspicuously be when we don’t have big studio movies. That’s the ultimate genesis of it. It’s been an eye opener on a lot of different levels.

Q: Are there are any other reasons?

GF: There’s another part of it that I think is important to talk about, which is that we have been judged, for lack of a better expression, as a capital markets company, as a publicly traded company, actually two of them, as an exhibitor, and mostly as a North American exhibitor. So, the way our business is evaluated is under the auspice of being a North American exhibitor, but we’re in 74 countries. We have 1,200 screens. We have another 500 that are in back log, meaning they’ve been contracted, but they haven’t opened yet, and we feel that we’re a multifaceted media and technology company. So, being now in the television business for the first time, and doing so with something that has such scope, and has a connection, the Marvel IMAX Disney connection, ABC is obviously a Disney company, Marvel is a Disney company. We’ve had an outstanding relationship with everything Disney, and everything Marvel for quite some time, and to do so in a way that again, fills in this conspicuous absence of big studio product. September, for the first couple weeks, just made it too good to pass up. So, we didn’t.

Q: How will you measure the success of the project because, as you say yourself, it’s not a movie so is it by box office or ratings or some other way?

GF: Ultimately the success of the property is if the television show works. Our goal is, see it first in IMAX, and have the audience that IMAX has spent many years building, the fanboy and fangirl audiences, to come on board and to have that audience.The goal is for the television show, when it premieres here this fall on ABC, and all of the various broadcast platforms in the other countries around the world, to be able to bring incremental traffic to watching it on television, that might not have come, were it not for the fact that it was affiliated with IMAX. That’s how we ultimately are going to be judging the success ourselves.

Simon Thompson is a freelance film & entertainment journalist, broadcaster and producer. From the UK, but now living and working in LA, he can be found on Twitterand LinkedIn.

inhumans, marvel, imax, greg foster, abc, game of thrones, disney, dc, lockjaw, amcMarvel / ABC

‘Marvel’s Inhumans’ is the first television show ever to have the pilot and the second installment shot with both IMAX and traditional cameras.

Q: Do you have any expectations?

GF: We do expect the box office in the two-week window, starting September 1st, to be better than anything else that we would have released September 1st. If you go back and look at what our schedule has been on September 1st over the last three or four years, or more or less September 1st, it was a re-release of Indiana Jones, it was a re-release of The Wizard of Oz and so on. These movies are being re-released in IMAX because there’s really nothing there for the studio. So, our goal, how we will determine success, is to generate some box office. We think it will, and as we’ve seen from the social media trending, that’s come out with a release of the cast, with some of the paparazzi shots in Honolulu that got online, with the fact that this is something that has the Marvel IP – there’s a built in fan base. Ultimately, we want it to be a success on the network, but we’d also like to be able to generate this new business opportunity because we are a publicly traded company, and it’s our goal to have more people come to movies than traditionally come to movies, or come to movie multiplexes.

Q: With regards to the technological development you are doing here with Marvel’s Inhumans coupled with the fact that you’re putting this onto television and movie theaters, are you leading the market, or is the market leading you?

GF: It’s a really good question, and the only I can answer it is that there was a fork in the road that IMAX went through somewhere between 2006 and 2008 something disconnected and it was actually a really, really important thing. We changed our business model, and became more of a joint venture business model, that instead of selling people things and telling them that they had to do it our way we said, “We’re gonna give it to you, but in return, we’re gonna ask you to tell us what you want, and then it will be incumbent upon us to deliver that.” So, we went from film to digital, we went from selling our theaters to giving them our theaters in a joint venture model, we grew our network exponentially and in 2008, we released the last film only movie, which was The Dark Knight, where Chris Nolan shot about 30 minutes with IMAX cameras. When that came out, our company at the time, was 41 years old, and that came out on 147 IMAX screens. We had not gone digital yet. We had not changed our business model to a joint venture model. Four years later, our company is 45 years old, and we release The Dark Knight Rises. It was released on 605 screens. So, it took us 41 years to get 147 screens. We changed our mentality. Let’s be better partners and ask them what they want, and then deliver that to them, instead of telling them, “You have to do it this way. You have to do it this way. You have to do it this way if you want to be in IMAX.” To me, going back to your question, the market dictated to us that we needed to create 52 weeks of compelling content. Here, instead of making a movie, we decided to take advantage of the marketplace, and the fact that, not coincidentally, television shows tend to premiere in the fall. So, I think that it’s as much of them coming to us, as it is us coming to them.

Q: Marvel’s Inhumans is not the first TV show to be shown in IMAX, Game of Thrones has done that. Did those event screenings influence this project at all?

GF: Oh, it heavily influenced it. Game of Thrones played in IMAX, Super Bowl Sunday weekend two years ago, with two episodes that were strung together that were six months old, that had already played on HBO and were available to be screened six months previous so, very few people who were fans of Game of Thrones hadn’t seen it yet. We attached about three minutes of footage from season five to it. We announced it first, we announced it for 100 of our screens, no international at all and only a hundred in North America and our website crashed. Then about two weeks later, we announced that we were adding another hundred, our website crashed again. As much as we love this partnership, and we do, we know that we’re not only gonna do, in perpetuity Marvel shows, and I will tell you that as exciting as this is, and Marvel has for all intents and purposes, a first option with what we do, because they’re pioneering with us. When Game of Thrones was announced and after it happened, a lot of people come to us and say, “We want to do this.” I don’t have to name the broadcast networks or the streaming companies, you know who they are. all of the biggest ones. We had an opportunity to do something that we were pretty far along with, about six months before this project, and we elected not to. The reason we elected not to, is we didn’t think it had the pre-existing relationship, and it didn’t have the sexiness of what a Marvel property does. So, we waited and this happened. So, Game of Thrones heavily influenced it, but the business model has gotten better for this, and the opportunity to really propel the show, I think has gotten better, because we’re not repurposing old content.

Q: Being much more involved in the creative process with this was clearly more important to you, to deliver something brand new?

GF: It was critical, especially for these first two episodes. The episodes have been designed with IMAX in mind, using the IMAX RE Alexis 65 cameras, that’s not a coincidence. It’s being framed for IMAX, that’s not a coincidence. It doesn’t work for us, and it won’t work for Marvel or ABC if we don’t bring something to the party. If we aren’t able to create something incremental that you can only get with that theatrical IMAX release of the television property. It’s kind of, what’s the point? We don’t want to do it just to try and it’s not just about drawing a new business. You’re not going to be able to sustain that business if you can’t actually provide something incremental, that they can’t get, movie-goers or television viewers or content consumers can’t get anywhere else. What we do, IMAX’s secret sauce is we take them and make them better. That’s really what we do.

Marvel’s Inhumans debuts on IMAX screens on September 1, 2017, for two weeks before premiering on ABC on September 29, 2017.

Simon Thompson is a freelance film & entertainment journalist, broadcaster and producer. From the UK, but now living and working in LA, he can be found on Twitterand LinkedIn.

[“Source-forbes”]